The Golden Isles include the amazing tourist destinations of St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Island, along with the privately owned Sea Island, the nature preserves at Sapelo and Blackbeard Islands, as well as the amazing city of Brunswick nestled on the outer edge of the Georgia coast.
These islands are what is known as barrier islands meaning they protect the coastline and cities from storms, high seas, and foul weather of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, the city of Brunswick has become a major shipping hub, as well as boating, fishing, and water sports being incredibly popular amongst the plethora of rivers, streams, marsh, and coastline that surround the area.
Far from the hustle and bustle of major cities like Atlanta, the Golden Isles are nestled about in between the cities of Savannah and Jacksonville. However, don’t worry about visiting these places just yet since there is so much to do while you stay right here!
With its wide range of geography, the Golden Isles are home to a wide variety of amazing family and couple-friendly things to do. As a bonus, see how you can renovate your home and remodel a kitchen there if you’re buying a beach house while staying on the island. No matter, if you are an outdoors person, indoors person, beach bum, fisherman, or anything else in between, the Golden Isles, has something for you!
St. Simons Island
St. Simons Island is the largest and most diverse of all the barrier islands along the Georgia coast. Because of this, it’s the best place to stay in the Golden Isles. With so many incredible vacation rental homes to choose from and ease of access to other nearby islands, you’ll love your time on St. Simons.
Its first settlements were built just after the state of Georgia came into existence, and, because of this, is home to a great mixing of cultures from Spanish, French, English, Native American, and African American influences.
Things to Do on St. Simons
Fort Frederica National Monument
These influences can best be seen in the huge number of cultural and historic sites that dot the island. Arguably the most famous of this is the Fort Frederica National Monument. James Oglethorpe, the founder of the state of Georgia, commissioned the fort to help protect the vital waterways that lead into Brunswick Harbor. The fort, though small but bristling with cannons, was once a thriving community of several hundred soldiers and their families during the mid-18th century.
Visiting this fort one will be able to take a step back in time and see what life was like during colonial times with its combination of living history and historical artifacts. There is also a famous battle scene on Saint Simons Island linked to the fort called the Battle of Bloody Marsh.
Here, visitors can take a walking guided tour of one the most important events of the island’s early modern history. The battle, fought between the English and Spanish, ensured that the island remained in American hands and that the native tongue remained English!
St. Simons Island Lighthouse
Another important historical site on St. Simons Island is the St. Simons Island Lighthouse and corresponding St. Simons Lighthouse Museum. The lighthouse is an astounding 104 feet high and made out of whitewashed brick that is the literal symbol of the island. Its iconic image has adorned countless paintings and postcards and is probably one of the historic landmarks you first think about when the Golden Isles come to mind.
First built in 1810, the original structure was destroyed by retreating Confederate soldiers during the Civil War to deny it to the Union. After the war was over, the current structure was built in the 1870s, and has stood the test of time ever since. Taking a trip here is a must do since its commanding views offer absolutely gorgeous pictures of St. Simons Island and the surrounding area. Taking a stop by in the museum will also help teach you a thing or two about it as well!
World War II Homefront Museum
Another museum worth visiting on Saint Simons Island is the World War II Homefront Museum. During WWII, the entire Golden Isles area, but especially St. Simons Island, played a crucial role in the war effort. From building hundreds of Liberty Ships that ferried supplies all over the world, to the numerous Naval Air Stations that hunted German U-boats, to the countless locals that served abroad and at home, the museum portrays every aspect the war had on the region.
Don’t worry about this place being boring since this museum is so much more than simply looking at the exhibits and reading the placards. There are tons of local volunteers ready to share their stories of the conflict along with interactive, family-friendly activities like learning how to identify aircraft and how Liberty Ships were built.
The Live Oaks
Another great family friendly activity is doing a scavenger hunt for the tree spirits. You heard that right, on St. Simons Island, there are ghosts that live in the trees! Well, maybe not exactly true, but it still makes for a fun day activity, especially with your children.
During the 1980s, a team of local artists began this walking art project of carving faces and figures into the bodies of live oak trees that dot the island. The live oak is what St. Simons Island became famous for as this type of hardwood was perfect to create sailing vessels, and the faces are supposed to represent the spirits of those lost at sea sailing on Saint Simon timber.
These faces are not ghastly, however, and are, in fact, quite beautiful and the map of the publicly accessible trees is a perfect scavenger hunt for a sunny day with the kids. You and your significant other could also make a great cheap and fun date out of it.
Another outdoorsy type of activity is visiting Gascoigne Bluff. The Bluff has been occupied for centuries initially as a Native American settlement, and eventually becoming home to several plantations as well as the hardwood reserve for the US Navy where the six original frigates got their wood from.
Now, the area is a state park and campground with great views of the Georgia coast as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors don’t need to rough it by by spending the night camping but can enjoy the area by bringing picnic lunches in the park, and also by visiting some of the old, preserved slave quarters dotting the park. These quarters are open during the summer months to the public, and every other time by appointment only.
Those seeking more of an outdoor adventure can also kayak by many of the sites previously talked about like the Fort Frederica National Monument. People can launch their kayaks at the Mackay River Boat Launch. You can then kayak around the Frederica River and turn back or go north if you so desire.
Because of how much coastline St. Simons Island has, it is no wonder that there are plenty of great fishing and crabbing spots. At Gascoigne Bluff, the pier there is a very popular spot for both fishing and crabbing.
St. Simons Island Pier
Another location is the St. Simons Island Pier. Here, you can mix the locals, enjoy the views, and go fishing. Don’t worry about bringing your own equipment since you can rent it all at one of several bait and tackle shops nearby. Just don’t forget to get your Georgia fishing license which costs around 50 dollars per person!
At Christ Church, you can visit the Golden Isles oldest active church. Holding its first services in the early 1700s, and being founded during the American Revolution, Christ Church is an iconic historic landmark of the island. Even those who aren’t religious or enticed by history will enjoy its beautiful stained glass windows and active congregation.
If being indoors is not really your style, bring you and your loved ones to the expansive St. Simon’s beaches. One of our favorites is East Beach. Located on the southeast corner of the island, East Beach offers breathtaking beach views of the Atlantic Ocean. It also stretches for miles in either direction so no matter how busy it gets you and your family will always have a good sense of privacy.
The only downside to this beach is that parking is very limited so unless you get there early, maybe consider walking or being patient for a spot to open up. However, despite this one drawback, the beach is also staffed with lifeguards and is a very safe and family friendly environment. If you are looking for a party beach, then this one is not it!
Little St. Simons Island
Contrary to the bustling seaside town that is St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island is a snapshot in time of what the area used to look like before humans settled the area. From St. Simons, you’ll really enjoy taking a day trip to Little St. Simons.
The 11,000-acre island was initially purchased in the early 1900s by a pencil magnate who decided that the trees on the island, though not suitable to make pencils, would be excellent to preserve the island’s wildlife. From that day forward for the next 120 years, the island has remained a pristine nature preserve.
Things to Do on Little St. Simons
Because of its out of the way nature, the island is only accessible from the boat launch at the Hampton River Marina on the northside of St. Simons Island. The island is perfect for day trips and there is a ton to do during these fun-filled trips!
No matter whether you want to walk through the pristine salt marshes or take a bike ride along its seven miles of untouched beaches, there are plenty of tour guides to show you the wildlife, Native American artifacts, and vast wilderness. Of all the naturistic things to do here, probably the best is birdwatching.
Little St. Simons Island is home to over 330 different species of birds. There are plenty of viewing towers dotting the beaches, salt marshes, Spanish moss, and woods that encompass the island. Taking your family or significant other out with a camera and identity guide would be an interesting way to spend the day!
Kayaking & Fishing
But if you get tired of looking at birds or maybe they just aren’t showing up for some reason, the island is also known as a great spot to kayak and fish as well! Regardless of what you want to do, Little St. Simons Island is the perfect getaway for those nature loving naturalists in the group that want to experience the marshland and wildlife as it was hundreds of years ago!
Jekyll Island was also once a privately owned island that the state of Georgia purchased back in 1947. Before it became public property, the island was a private retreat for the country’s wealthiest families like the Rockerfellers and Carnegies. But once the Jekyll Island Club shut down, the island has continued to live on as an amazing vacation spot for families and friends alike!
Things to Do on Jekyll Island
Arguably one of the things that attracted the country’s wealthiest people to make Jekyll Island their vacation spot was its pristine beaches. There are two white sandy beaches on the island, and they are both equally awesome. The first of these is the more famous Driftwood Beach.
Driftwood Beach gets its name from the huge amount of driftwood that washes on its shores. This sea debris often arrives in unique colors and shapes that is a great centerpiece or can be easily carved into something truly special.
Though the beach is always great to visit, some say that it is best at night since one has the perfect opportunity for stargazing in an area devoid of light pollution.
Visitors should also be aware that the beach is the most spacious when at low tide. The range of tide here is very significant, and at high tide the beach can be quite small and crowded. If this happens when you are here, never fear you can head over to St. Andrew’s Beach!
St. Andrew’s Beach
St. Andrew’s beach is almost exactly like Driftwood Beach, but it does not have the same problem of a massive tidal range. No matter if you visit one or both of these beaches, shelling is a popular activity at both.
Whether you want to hunt for sand dollars, conch shells, or anything else in between, there is a seashell with your name on it waiting to be discovered! Just be careful and do not take home shells with wildlife in them since not only is this against the law but could hurt the ecosystem and ruin it for generations to come.
Another great outdoor activity for the whole family is a round of golf! Today there are 63 holes that make up four different golf clubs. In fact, the golf clubs here are so big that it is actually the largest public golfing space in the state of Georgia. With so many different golf clubs here, no matter whether you are a professional, amateur, or never even hit a golf ball in your life, these golf courses cater to all skill levels and all types of groups.
But before you plan which hole of golf you want to play, make sure you check with the club about which time in the season they are open.
Summer Waves Water Park
Another great family friendly trip is the Summer Waves Water Park. The water park is chock full of rides, obstacles, and games for young children. The park has limited operating hours mostly during the summer, but they recently did expand their weekend hours and made it possible to purchase tickets ahead of time to spend less time waiting in line and more time getting soaked!
But for those that want to spend more time on the water than in it, there is something for you too! Jekyll island is home to one of the world’s largest populations of dolphins. Because of this, there is a 90-minute tour that takes off from the Jekyll Wharf and takes you around the island to see not only the dolphins in their natural habitat but numerous species of birds as well.
Those wanting to get a little more hands on with the wildlife can do so with horseback riding! The largest horse-riding company on the island is Three Oaks Equestrian Services, and they also own the Three Oaks Farm in Brunswick that sells the same activities just on land. They offer one and a half to two-hour rides both along the beaches, in the woods, and along their farm. The company caters to all groups of all skill levels, and is the perfect afternoon activity!
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
However, if horseback riding is not really your thing, you can also see nature by visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the only institution of its kind in the state of Georgia. Because of the huge numbers of sea turtles that make their homes and hatch their babies along the Golden Isles coastline, the center is necessary to care and protect sick and injured turtles as well as conduct research.
The center is open year-round and they offer tours and discounts for children and senior citizens.
Brunswick, Georgia is technically not an island, but any discussion about the Golden Isles would be remiss if it were not mentioned. The city itself was founded in 1771, and is a major shipping and fishing industry hub. Because of its long history, the county seat and main city of Glynn County offers a variety of both family friendly and couple orientated things to do if visiting for a day trip from St. Simons Island.
Things to Do in Brunswick
Located just across the river from St. Simons Island, Brunswick offers a ton of shopping, restaurants, and entertainment options to choose from.
The historic district in downtown Brunswick is chock full of things to do, most importantly its plethora of family run art galleries that offer classes to all types of guests of all experience levels. Because of the huge influx of different cultures, the city also hosts a variety of festivals year-round. The full list of these can be found with the Brunswick visitor information on the Golden Isles event calendar online.
Because of its proximity to a whole bunch of marshlands and maritime forests, there are numerous docks and inlets that families can rent a guided fishing tour. Those not wanting to partake can also kayak in one of the many rivers, creeks, and streams that surround this coastal Georgia city.
A more couples oriented activity would be partaking in the gambling onboard Georgia’s only riverboat casino, the Emerald Princess II. The Emerald Princess II takes people on around the south side of the Sidney Lanier bridge, and travels out to Jekyll Island and back. Along the way, guests can enjoy four decks packed with hundreds of slot machines as well as roulette, Texas Hold ‘Em, dice, blackjack, and many other games.
The origin story of Sea Island is very similar to that of Jekyll Island in that it was originally bought as a private country club for some of America’s wealthiest families. While the exclusive country club mentality is gone, the island’s owners have opened it to the public to bring the country club lifestyle to everybody
Things to Do on Sea Island.
The island is perfect both for families and couples. Connected by a causeway from St. Simons Island, Sea Island takes the best of what each island has to offer and gives you a slice of it. Whether it is hitting a round of golf or taking a horseback ride along its beaches, the island offers a great mix of both resort and nature.
Those wanting to see more of its natural side can book a guided tour of its salt marshes that can be traveled via kayak, boat, or sailboat.
But those that want a more country club experience can get that too. There are a number of hotels on the island that offer a variety of classes on anything from sailing to archery, to tennis and golfing.
The island also sports a shooting range! People do not have to be a guest at these resorts to take these classes, and anyone can do them after paying the registration fee.
Cumberland Island is the southeastern most island of the Golden Isles and the closest to the state of Florida. Nestled adjacent to the St. Mary’s River about ten miles south of St. Simons Island, Cumberland Island is a nature preserve and only accessible via boat or ferry. However, once on the island, visitors can partake in its natural beauty by car, if granted permission and having paid a fee to the Department of Natural Resources, or on foot.
Things to Do on Cumberland Island
Either way you choose to explore the island, one of the most significant parts about it are all the sea turtles that lay their eggs there. Cumberland Island is home to four species of sea turtles and is the largest hatching grounds for baby turtles along the barrier islands. Every year, thousands of turtles lay their eggs and return when they hatch among the ten miles of untouched beaches.
The DNR also frequently solicits volunteers to help seek out and mark where turtles have laid their eggs so they can be observed and protected. Volunteering for this amazing effort is among the most rewarding things a person can do when visiting the Golden Isles of Georgia.
Book Your Trip to the Golden Isles
While many overlook Florida’s northern neighbor when choosing their next beach destination, we’re certain you’ll love your trip to Georgia’s Golden Isles. With endless activities, a slower pace of life, and plenty of natural beauty, you’ll want to come back year after year.
Book your next vacation home on St. Simons Island for a trip you and your family won’t forget!