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When Ray Charles sang “Georgia on my mind,” I’m fairly certain he was talking about Georgia’s Golden Isles. And ever since I’ve explored the islands, they’ve been on my mind.
Before my first trip to Georgia’s coast, I never thought beautiful islands were something I would encounter in the Peach State. I just thought they were something you’d find in neighboring Florida.
Unbeknownst to me, Georgia’s Golden Isles hold true to their name, they truly are golden. The group of barrier islands consists of Jekyll Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island, and Little St. Simons Island.
The four barrier islands are located off of Georgia’s southern coast, about 90 minutes from Savannah, Georgia, and a little more than an hour from Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are about twenty minutes from Interstate 95, easy to get to, and explore.
One of the great things about the Golden Isles is that they are close to each other which makes it easy to check out all they have to offer (with the exception of Little St. Simons Island which you can only get to via boat). The Golden Isles offer a TON of things to do for just about anyone. I’ve limited it to my top 15 things to do. Check them out below!
1: Take stunning pictures at Driftwood Beach
Address: Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Fees: Free (once on Jekyll Island)
If you’re on Instagram, chances are you’ve seen a picture of Jekyll Island’s famous Driftwood Beach. This ever-changing beach is my favorite place on Jekyll Island, as well as the Golden Isles as a whole.
Driftwood Beach is easy to get to once you’re on Jekyll Island. Park in a small pull-off on Beach View Drive, and wander the trail down to the beach.
The beach is a photographer’s paradise that offers the opportunity for a beautiful shot everywhere you look. If you’re an early riser, a sunset at Driftwood Beach is unforgettable. If you’re a night owl, wandering the beach at night is a must do.
2: Climb the St. Simons Island Lighthouse
Address: 610 Beachview Dr, St Simons, GA 31522
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm Sunday: – 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Fees: $12 Adults, $6 Ages 6-12, $2 Military, Free: Children under 6
Like Jupiter, St. Simons Island has a pretty awesome lighthouse that you can explore. However, do so at your own risk! The 104 feet tall lighthouse, first illuminated in 1872, is apparently haunted by lighthouse keeper, Frederick Osborne’s ghost. In 1880, Osborne was shot and killed by assistant lighthouse keeper, John Stephens, after Osborne attempted to woo Stephens’ wife.
Fortunately, I didn’t see any ghosts during my visit. However, I did see a great view of the St. Simons Sound after climbing the 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Admission to the lighthouse also provides access to the Keepers Dwelling which houses a small museum.
3: Play a Round of Golf on Sea Island, Home of Georgia’s Best Courses
Address: 100 Cloister Dr, Sea Island, GA 3156
Phone number: 855- 572-4975
In Sea Island, golf is an integral part of life. The Sea Island Golf Resort, rated #4 out of the 75 Best Golf Resorts in the United States, has three stunning 18-hole championship courses just waiting for you to tee up on.
If you’re seeking instruction on how to improve your golf game, the resort has three of Golf Digest’s Top 50 Golf Teachers. Between three courses and world class instruction, you won’t walk away disappointed.
Sea Island is home to The Georgian Room, the only Forbes Five Star Restaurant in Georgia. If you plan to golf or eat at The Georgian Room, prepare to spend A LOT of money. (Disclaimer: I have never done either, but I have visited Sea Island.)
4: Eat Award Winning BBQ at Southern Soul
Address: 2020 Demere Road St. Simons Island, GA 31522
Hours: Daily 11:00 am-7:00 pm
Phone number: 912-638-7685
If you are a foodie and visiting the Golden Isles, you have to eat some BBQ from Southern Soul. This renovated gas station on St. Simons Island houses one of the best BBQ joints in the south.
Now, that’s not just my opinion. It’s a fact. In 2018, Southern Living Magazine named Southern Soul as the award winner for the best BBQ in the south. Place your order, grab some napkins, loosen your belt, and enjoy!
5: Learn About Turtles at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Address: 214 Stable Rd, Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Hours: Daily 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fees: $9 for adults and $7 for children
Phone number: 912-635-4444
By now, I’m sure you know that I love sea turtles. If you do too, you need to check out Georgia’s only sea turtle rehabilitation center. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center located on Jekyll Island is a place where you can learn about turtles, conservation and rehabilitation.
Throughout your time at the center, you will see some of the facilities’ cutest turtle patients, meet some of the veterinarians and caretakers, and learn about their injuries and subsequent rehabilitation. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a great family friendly activity on Jekyll Island and has interactive exhibits and numerous hands-on opportunities.
6: Pedal Around the Areas Bike Trails
One of the best ways to get around the Golden Isles is on a bicycle. The scenic Golden Isles are the perfect place for a picaresque ride.
Jekyll Island is home to the 24-mile long Jekyll Island Trail. This trail, which consists of asphalt, concrete, gravel, and dirt, offers one of the best ways to see the historic island. Along the way, you’ll explore beaches, forests, and historic landmarks.
If you’re on St. Simons Island, check out the Hampton Spur Bike Trail. This trail, mostly shaded with Spanish moss fluttering in the breeze, takes you through neighborhoods, forests, beaches and historic landmarks.
These are just a few of many incredible cycling locations in the Golden Isles. If established routes aren’t your thing, be creative, make your own and explore!
If you want to rent a bike during your visit, check out Beachside Bike Rentals on Jekyll Island and Island Bicycle on St. Simons.
7: Check out the Horton House
Address: Horton House Riverview Dr. Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Fees: Free (once you are on Jekyll Island)
If you plan to bike the Jekyll Island Trail, then you will certainly pass the Horton House. For those not on bikes, don’t worry. This photogenic spot is located just off of Riverview Dr. in Jekyll Island.
The Horton House is the perfect quick pit stop. First, snag a picture both inside and out, and then brag to your friends that you explored a house built in 1743 (and one of the oldest structures in all of Georgia).
If you have a little more time, wander the small old cemetery nearby with some very old gravestones dating back to the 1800’s.
8: Stay a Night in the Famous Jekyll Island Club Resort
Address: 371 Riverview Dr. Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Phone number: 844-201-6871
The Jekyll Island Club Resort used to be a location for the rich and famous. Now, it is a luxurious stay for all. The Jekyll Island Club Resort was built in 1887 and reminds me of a smaller version of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California.
It is a beautiful fully functioning resort that has a plethora of amenities. Take a dip in one of the resort pools, play a game of croquet, relax on the beach on a complimentary beach chair, take advantage of the trails with a bike rental and more!
If you are interested in staying at the Jekyll Island Club Resort, check it out here!
9: Catch Up On Your History at Fort Frederica National Monument
Address: 6515 Frederica Rd. St. Simons Island, GA 31522
Hours: Daily 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Phone number: 912-638-3639 x107
Fort Frederica was established in 1736 as a vital defensive position for British forces against the Spaniards in neighboring Florida. The small colonial fortress was successful and repelled an attempt by the Spanish to take over St. Simons Island.
In 1748, peace treaties were signed between Britain and Spain, and the fortress was no longer needed. Because of this, half of Frederica’s inhabitants left the small colonial town. The five hundred or so people who remained lived there happily until a fire tore through town leaving Frederica in ruin in 1758.
Luckily, in the 1900s the site was preserved, and in 1945, it was designated as the Fort Frederica National Monument. This spot is a must-visit location for history buffs wanting to explore the preserved ruins under the shade of beautiful live oak trees and Spanish moss.
P.S. This location is dog-friendly.
10: Have a Picnic at Sidney Lanier Park
Address: 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520
Hours: 24 x7
Phone number: 912-267-3703
Sidney Lanier Park is located on the Brunswick River in Brunswick, Georgia. The park can be found next to the beautiful Sidney Lanier Bridge, which is the tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge in the state of Georgia.
The park offers a picnic area, playground, fishing dock, boat launch, and great views of the bridge! My favorite thing to do at the park is to sit at the dock and watch huge commercial vessels make their way under the bridge to and from the port of Brunswick. There are always locals fishing from this spot, so it must be a great fishing spot.
P.S. The Sidney Lanier Park is a great go-to spot for sunset!
11: Go Fishing
Speaking of fishing, the Golden Isles offer some of the best fishing on the East Coast! Whatever type of fishing you enjoy, whether that be deep sea, surf, rivers, and marshes, you can find it here.
Georgia’s Golden Isles offer fishermen and women great opportunities to catch trophy fish, such as red snapper, tarpon, and redfish. If tarpon is what you are after, summer is your best bet for catching one. For red snapper, visit in July and August. If you want to catch some massive redfish, come wet your line in late summer/fall.
Georgia requires you to have a fishing license. Learn more here.
12: Take a Stroll on the St. Simons Island Pier
Address: 100 Mallery St. St. Simons, GA 31522
The St. Simons Island Pier is always bustling with action. Due to this, during a stroll along the pier, you’re destined to see local fishermen with fishing lines and crab pots in the water, huge commercial ships bringing goods to the port and photographers trying to catch a good sunset. You may even see pods of dolphins as they swim by!
The pier is the epicenter of the Pier Village portion of St. Simons Island and is a great place at any time of the day to relax and enjoy your time on the island. I think this time is best served while eating a delicious ice cream from Moo Cow, located just a few blocks away.
13: Wander Around Jekyll Island’s Historic District
The Jekyll Island Historic District is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States. It’s also something that shouldn’t be missed! If you’re staying at the Jekyll Island Club Resort, then you’ll be right in the center of the historic district. It’s super easy to spend hours wandering around the 240 acre site.
You can explore the area a few different ways by walking, driving, biking, horse drawn carriage, tram or trolley. Either way, you’re definitely not going to want to miss the Jekyll Island Historic District’s charm underneath beautiful live oak trees and Spanish moss.
If you’re short on time, I recommend at least the following places in the district: The Jekyll Island Club Resort, Georgia Sea Turtle Center, The Skeet House, The Wharf, and the numerous cottages (AKA old school mansions).
14: Visit the Butler Island Plantation (it may be haunted)
Address: 7777 Butler Island Road, Darien, GA 31305
Phone number: 912-437-6686
Although the Butler Island Plantation isn’t technically in the Golden Isles, it is close by. The plantation is located in neighboring Darien (approximately a 35 minute drive from both Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island).
I honestly just stumbled upon this location when I decided to take some back roads, go for a drive, and get dinner at Skippers Fish Camp (we’ll get to that in a second). That drive turned into a new location that I would often come back to.
The Butler Island Plantation, established in 1790, was one of the largest plantations in the south, as the land was an excellent location to grow rice. Now, the Nature Conservancy owns the land and is free and open to the public.
The only things that remain from the early days of the plantation are a 75 foot tall brick chimney, ruins of a brick boiler, and the eerily looking Huston House. There are rice fields and a pond on the property, as well as a nearby public boat launch right on Butler River.
Like most spots in (or near) the Golden Isles, this is a great sunset location!
15: Get some of the freshest seafood at Skippers Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill
Address: 85 Screven St, Darien, GA 31305
Hours: Daily 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Phone number: 912-437-3474
After exploring Butler Island Plantation, grab some dinner at Skippers Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill, one of my favorite seafood spots. Located two miles away from the Plantation, this river-side restaurant is home to some of the freshest, most delicious seafood around. There’s a large patio for families, fishing and shrimping docks to watch local fishermen and a koi pond home to some rather large turtles.
If you’re on the way to or from the Golden Isles and feeling a little hungry, I recommend you take a detour to Skippers Fish Camp Oyster Bar and Grill. You won’t be disappointed! You certainly can’t go wrong with the fish of the day if you don’t know what to order.
I truly hope that you have an incredible experience visiting the Golden Isles. The barrier islands have so much to offer. If you want a more in-depth look at Jekyll Island, check it out here! If you don’t know what to pack, check out our recommended travel and photography gear here and here!