If you haven’t discovered the Golden Isles of Georgia, you may be missing out on the best-kept secret in the South. This spectacular area is made up of Brunswick (the mainland) and 4 barrier islands. The islands include St. Simons (the most well-known), Jekyll, Little St. Simons, and Sea. They lie halfway between Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. Here are some suggestions for what to see and do on Georgia’s Golden Isles on your visit.
Brunswick is a heavy hitter port town, a coastally rich city with import and domestic cars being shipped in by the thousands at a time. It is harbor-side with the Atlantic Ocean, but the Intracoastal Waterway separates it from the other barrier islands.
Fun fact, Brunswick was one of the five entry ports for the original colonies, christened by none other than George Washington.
Historic Downtown Brunswick has a few noteworthy churches and buildings with jaw-dropping architecture. The main part of town has eclectic shops, restaurants, and businesses, plus offers free parking. Be sure to check out the gorgeous Historic Ritz Theatre, circa 1899. You’ll find year-round performances, educational programs, and shows in the restored venue. Upcoming performances include Deana Carter and H2O: The Hall and Oates Project.
No matter which island you are on, the streets are provocatively draped with Spanish moss from the live oak trees that bend and sway with the breeze. You’ll find many picturesque spots to take photos in historic Brunswick and a handful of tasty eateries. Don’t miss the majestic Old City Hall, easily one of the most gorgeous buildings in Georgia.
For a tasty meal, consider comfort-food Italian dishes at Fox’s Pizza Downtown Brunswick or home-cooked bbq with delicious sides from Gary Lee’s Market. Fox’s Newcastle Salad, with craisins, mandarin oranges, candied walnuts, and feta is out of this world! The Italian Baked Ziti is a perfect main course choice.
For a glimpse of the abundant nature trails and scenery of Brunswick, head over to the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, a Georgia State Park and former rice plantation along the Altamaha River.
St. Simons Island
St. Simons Island is a laid-back family-friendly vacation destination that includes some of Georgia’s best scenery. You’ll have several beach areas to splash around in, plus a charming area for locally-owned boutiques, tasty restaurants, and historic attractions. Redfern Village and Pier Village are two places you’ll want to check out for St. Simons Island shopping.
Neptune Park is an excellent area for sightseeing and waterfront views. You’ll find a picnic area, children’s playground, and attractive public swimming pool, as well. Kids will love the fun waterslides. Consider shelling and birding on St. Simons Island beaches as well as typical water activities. Kayaking through the island marshes is a great way to explore the natural side of the island, while dolphin hunting cruises are another popular activity.
For lunch, try Porch for shrimp, chicken, or catfish with perfectly prepared southern side dishes. Or, load up with the Motherclucker, a honkin’ big fried chicken breast with pimento cheese and sliced pickles.
Another great dining option is Barbara Jean’s Restaurant, for more comfort cooking and award-winning seafood dishes. I love the side dish options from Barbara Jean’s: squash casserole, white cheddar grits, dirty rice, stewed tomatoes, cooked cabbage, green beans, coleslaw, and more. Save room for the freshly baked pumpkin break, wheat rolls, and sweet jalapeño cornbread.
St. Simons Attractions
The St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum is one of the biggest draws. Admission price of $12 will gain you access to climbing the gorgeous lighthouse’s 129 steps. I love taking pictures of Keeper’s Dwelling, a two-story Victorian structure that was the former home of lighthouse keepers from 1872 until the 50s. Inside the museum, learn the interesting history of Coastal Georgia through educational exhibits, photographs, and rare artifacts.
If prefer to be shuttled around the island by a qualified St. Simons Trolly Tour guide, consider the 90-minute guided tour to see several points of interest and attractions.
A special mention is that Savannah Bee Company founder Ted Dennard grew up on St. Simons Island. It was here that he found his passion for bees as a kid. HIs brand is known around the country for its delicious honey, superior body products, and great gift sets. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the mead, a honey wine that is exceptional there.
Jekyll Island, once a former millionaires playground, requires a toll to visit ($8 per car/one day pass) the exclusive southern landscape. There are a few high-end hotels around the beach area, or a shopping area that leads to a pier and boardwalk area. If you have your bicycle, or want to rent one, Jekyll Island is an excellent place to ride. The scenery alone is enough to fill your senses and provide a good time, with eight miles of white sand beaches.
If you haven’t toured the Jekyll Island cottages, I highly recommend doing so. You can chose a self-guided or docent-led tour of the property (a 240-acre site), filled with information about the 34 historic structures, families who lived in the historic beauties, and all sorts of fun facts. Don’t miss Faith Chapel, a non-denomination chapel for members of the Jekyll Island Club. This area is a National Historic Landmark District.
Wondering who owned these famed hunting vacation properties? The long list of affluent families included William K. Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Frank Henry Goodyear, Marshall Field, and John Jacob Astor, to name a few.
Grab a bite at Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint for Cajun Crab Dip, Shrimp and Grits, or Juke Joint Fried Chicken (with southern Mac & cheese and collard greens). Then, do some shopping at Maxwell’s General Store, Remember When, and the Jekyll Market, a treasure trove of gourmet and prepared foods, souvenirs, and full-service salad bar.
If time permits, pop in the Jekyll Island Club Resort (A Historic Hotels of America brand) for a glass of wine or cocktail from the beautiful Clubhouse veranda. Someday I hope to stay there. Families should not miss the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. This is great rehab and educational center (the only one in Georgia) that will teach you about endangered turtles.
Sea Island is one of the eco-friendly islands on the Atlantic seaboard. It is filled with coastal marshlands, sandy beaches, and fabulous golf courses. Sea Island is even home to fantastic upscale shops, will you will find at Shops at Sea Island. Indigo & Cotton, G.J. Ford Bookshop, Cloister Collection, and Whippersnapper’s Toys are a few of my favorites. (this may technically be on St. Simons Island)
My favorite thing about Sea Island is Fort Frederica, built by James Oglethorpe in 1736, and now part of the National Park Service (Monument). Around 630 British troops were stationed here protecting Georgia from Spanish raids. Christ Church Frederica, built by John and Charles Wesley, is another. Check out the Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window, and take advantage of the excellent photo ops from this beautiful church and property.
If you get the chance, check out Driftwood Beach, one of the most unique areas of the Golden Isles. It is hauntingly beautiful with its curved and strange looking driftwood trees. Be mindful of the nesting sea turtles.
Fun Fact: Find a huge percentage of Georgia birds along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
Golf is part of the Sea Island culture, with three championship golf courses, one being The Plantation Course, partially dating back to 1928. Sea Island is also known for the world’s finest Golf Performance Center.
Fancy an overnight? Stay at The Cloister, a luxurious hotel with a plethora of family activities.
Little St. Simons Island
Unless you are spending big money, chances are you won’t be checking out Little St. Simons Island, an island only accessible by boat. This private island is home to an ecological resort, the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, an all-inclusive property for 32 guests. This Georgia barrier Island boasts being virtually untouched for centuries. It is 10,000-acres and has seven miles of beaches.
Naturalists in the area offer guided fishing, biking, hiking, birding, and ecological tours. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see it!
The Golden Isles: A Great Way to Relax and Recharge
Visiting the Golden Isles of Georgia is a perfect way to get back to basics. You can enjoy family time during your holiday without sparing good food, modern conveniences, and noteworthy attractions.
Have you been to this part of the state yet?
Check out our other Georgia vacation destinations: