There is a coastal island chain in Georgia between Savanna and Jacksonville, Fla., that is an absolute must stop. On top of countless family friendly things to do, there is such an old-time charm the islands give off, its hard to leave.
We liked the islands so much, we have visited twice in the past year. We visited in the fall as well as the spring. We loved seeing what the island offered during the different seasons.
There are four islands that make up the Golden Isles — Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island and Sea Island.
Read on and I’ll give you a bonus island that is so cool, you’ll think it is straight out of a movie.
Jekyll Island was once a holiday destination for America’s most elite families. Families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Vanderbilts used to bring business partners to this island for hunting and relaxing. Why bring them to Jekyll? Well, back then, there was no bridge to drive to the island, so the business partner was stuck there until the deal was done.
For us, there was no need to trap us on the island. All it took was a little southern charm, fun activities and we were hooked.
The historic district of Jekyll Island is really something to see. They have done a great job preserving the mansion-like vacation homes that once belonged to the country’s biggest business magnates.
You can take a guided tour of the entire historic district and a couple of the homes aboard the red trolley. This is a great way to learn of the history that took place on this island.
Be sure to visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center while you are in the historic district. You’ll be able to learn all about how this great facility rehabilitates sea turtles. You’ll get to meet several of the turtles and perhaps even see procedures or check-ups being done on them.
Check their website at gstc.jekyllisland.com because they regularly have turtle releases back into the ocean. You’ll get to see rehabilitated turtles scramble through the sand to get back to their natural homes in the Atlantic. It is a very special thing to witness.
Also while you are in the historic district, be sure to check out the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This is a true architectural marvel with spectacular grounds. They have everything from a fantastic swimming pool to a private section on the beach to a croquet court, complete with all players wearing all white uniforms.
If the Club Hotel doesn’t quite fit in your budget, Jekyll Island also offers plenty of other accommodations with several hotels on the island. There is also a campground on the island that has hundreds of mature oak trees that supplies plenty of shade from the hot Georgia sun.
On the north end there is Driftwood Beach. Here you will find very firmly packed sand that you are able to ride a bike on. You don’t even need one of those fancy fat-tire bikes. The sand is like concrete and offers a very fun ride.
It’s called Driftwood because there are several trees on the beach that have died and all that remains are neat looking roots. Our kids loved climbing on all the tree stumps on the beach.
In the middle of the island is Great Dunes Beach. This is where you will find softer sand that you can lounge in all day.
At the south end of the island is St. Andrews Beach. This beach has a hidden secret that is a local favorite. At the north end of the parking lot, you’ll see a dirt trail that leads in to the woods.
Follow that trail for about a couple hundred yards and you’ll come to a big opening in the forest and a long rope swing tied to one of the giant trees. We had so much fun taking turns on the swing!
If golf is your game, Jekyll has you covered. There are four championship caliber courses on the island that while are very challenging, you’ll be too busy admiring the scenery to care about your score.
For more information on Jekyll Island and all it has to offer, check out their website at www.jekyllisland.com.
St. Simons Island
St. Simons is the largest of the Golden Isles and has more of the everyday comforts we’ve grown accustomed to. Along with majestic oaks and a towering lighthouse, the island also has grocery stores, hardware stores and a post office.
St. Simons also is home to championship golf and even hosts a PGA Tour event there every year.
At the southern end of the island is a very cool village that has several places to shop and dine. We found Neptune Park a great place for the kids to play while we enjoyed the ocean views.
Very near Neptune Park is the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum. You can purchase tickets to walk through the museum and climb the 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse. I’m fascinated by lighthouses and the meticulous upkeep the keepers perform to care for their lighthouses, so this was a very cool tour for me.
For more information on the lighthouse and the museum, visit their website at www.saintsimonslighthouse.org.
Another place to visit, especially if you have kids, is Fort Frederica. They have the best Junior Ranger program we have ever experienced.
Each child gets a satchel with various tools and instruments to complete tasks and solve riddles to earn their badge. Our kids loved having all of these fun things to work with and it really put them in the spirit of the 1700s.
Another “local” thing to do is to search for the tree spirits around the island. The spirits are faces carved into trees around the island and represent sailors that have lost their lives at sea aboard one of the many ships that were made from oak trees from St. Simons Island.
Stop in the visitor center at St. Simons for more information and some clues as to where to find these spirits. It’s a hunt that the whole family will enjoy!
For more information on St. Simons, check out their website at www.explorestsimonsisland.com.
Little St. Simons
Little St. Simons is on the north end of St. Simons and you can only get to it by boat. It is a very private island, but offers plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors. They offer guided nature walks, kayaking, fishing, bicycling, and birding on the island.
Sea Island is on the east side of St. Simons. You have to take Sea Island Road through St. Simons to get to it. This island is mostly made up of residential homes, but it is also home to the Cloister Resort which is one most luxurious hotels in the world.
As a bonus, I’m going to tell you about Cumberland Island. This island is not part of the Golden Isles, but very close to it.
Cumberland is a National Seashore, so it is part of the National Parks System. You can get to this island by your own personal boat or by a ferry that is operated out of St. Mary’s, Ga.
Once you get on Cumberland Island, you’ll see the natural beauty our national parks are known for. The special thing about this island is that it is home to wild horses. Yes, wild horses! You’ll be able to watch these majestic animals run free as they roam on this beautiful island. I didn’t think wild horses even existed any more, but, yep, they do.
You can also camp on Cumberland Island. There are no stores or conveniences other than a bathroom and water, so it would be a great place to “rough it.”
For more information on Cumberland Island, visit their website at www.nps.gov/cuis/index.htm.