When visiting the beach, long walks on along the shore are a must, and the wide sandy, beaches on Georgia’s Golden Isles are perfect for that. And yet, there’s so much more to see when visiting these historic islands.
Georgia’s Golden Isles include the popular vacation destinations of Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island and the town of Brunswick. The small barrier islands of Little St. Simons and Sea Island have limited access making them great places to explore if wanting to avoid crowds.
Explore Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island was the first of the Golden Isles to be developed, a recreation spot for the rich and famous of the early 1900s. Today, the island’s early grandeur is preserved with vacation homes and hotels, making it an excellent destination for relaxing vacations.
This small island with incredible sea breezes is easy to explore by bike, though there is ample parking for those who prefer four wheels.
Driftwood Beach: One of the most ethereal places on the east coast is Driftwood Beach. Trees here died long ago, the wood petrified by years of seawater washing over them. Driftwood Beach is a spectacular place to watch the sunrise, though visiting any time of day is worthwhile.
Horton House: Not far from Driftwood Beach, discover the ruins of the Horton House, circa 1700s. This house, built with tabby, has withstood centuries of wind, rain and sun — a testament to the strength of tabby construction. The remnants of an old brewery are also on this site.
St. Andrews Beach Park: At the south end near Jekyll Point, St. Andrews Beach Park is a great place to watch migratory birds, spot dolphins and the Wanderer Memory Trail. The Wanderer was the last known slave ship to bring slaves to the states. Plaques along the trail tell the story of the people of this slave ship, from slavery to freedom.
Jekyll Island Club and Tours: The Jekyll Island Club and Hotel was once the destination for the rich and famous. Besides the Club and Hotel, many wealthy Americans built vacation homes here. Today, the hotel is open to reservations from anyone. The Club also offers trolley tours of the property and surrounding homes, telling the early history of this island, including amazing stories of significant historical moments.
Explore St. Simons Island
St. Simons Island is the largest of Georgia’s Golden Isles and is the most developed. Hotels, rental cottages and large beach homes make it an ideal spot for vacationing with family, for reunions and group getaways or for a romantic escape.
Extensive bike trails across the entire island allow easy outdoor fun on St. Simons Island.
Fort Frederica National Monument: This spot, where James Oglethorpe established a colonial fort in 1736, was the site of an important battle in early American history that helped define the future development of the country. There’s a small museum at the site which tells the story. Outside of the Fort Frederica National Monument, under a canopy of ancient, live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, winding trails take visitors through the replica village.
Christ Church: Surrounded by a stately stone fence, explore the historic cemetery that surrounds the church.
Wesley Memorial Monument: Across the street from Christ Church is this two acre garden and monument dedicated to the Wesley brothers who established the Methodist church.
Southern End Island Attractions
The most developed part of St. Simons Island is its southern end with many great spots to visit.
Hamilton Plantation Slave Cabins near Gascoigne Bluff Park: Two slave cabins, housing four families and built with tabby construction, have been restored and preserved to help tell the story of the slaves who ran the island’s southern plantations. Near Gascoigne Bluff Park, which has many amenities to enjoy, a detour to see these slave cabins is worth it.
Avenue of the Oaks: This regal entrance to Retreat Plantation was planted by Hall’s mistress, Anne Page King, to provide shade for those coming to the plantation (now the private Sea Island Golf Club). Anne Page King raised her children here and treated her slaves like family, creating hospitals and schools for them. Anyone can drive past the majestic Avenue of the Oaks to experience this piece of history, though there is no parking.
St. Simons Island Tree Spirits: In the 1980s, local artist Keith Jennings decided to carve faces into live oak trees across the island. Each hand-carved face is unique, offering up a personality derived from the tree itself. Grab a map of the tree spirits and bike across the island to “meet” each one.
St. Simons Island Lighthouse: This 104-foot tall lighthouse is one of five active lighthouses remaining on the Georgia coast. Initially built in 1810, it was destroyed during the Civil War, rebuilt in 1872, and has been guiding ships into the sound ever since. The grounds are spectacular. The Coast Guard lightkeeper’s cottage now serves as a museum. Guests can purchase tickets to climb to the top — where the views are spectacular.
Neptune Park: At the southern point of the island, Neptune Park has playgrounds, picnic areas, a public swimming pool, and the St. Simons Pier to enjoy the waterfront. Next to a popular shopping area, the park is home to summer festivals. There is ample free parking nearby — or ride bikes and park at the many bike racks available.
Read more from author Karen Dawkins of Family Travels on a Budget at: