The Golden Isles of Georgia are a scenic cluster of tranquil islands off the southern Georgia coast, halfway between Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia. Consisting of St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island, the Golden Isles are accessible from the city of Brunswick on the mainland. There is about a 20 minute travel time between the islands by car or by boat, with visitors typically opting for a St. Simons Island or Jekyll Island home base to “island hop” from.
Each of the island communities boast their own distinct charm and endearing personality, so how do you know which Golden Isles style suits you best? Both St Simons Island and Jekyll Island have picturesque beaches, historic points of interest, and family-friendly fun, but this doesn’t mean that those offerings are the same, and the overall vibe certainly isn’t. We’re happy to break it down for you!
St. Simons Island
The largest and most developed of the Golden Isles cluster. St. Simons Island is just under 18 square miles in size, with sandy beaches on the ocean side, marshes to the west, and maritime forests inland. It connects to Sea Island by a narrow strip of land at Sea Island Road, and has direct access to the mainland via the Torras Causeway. Previously voted “America’s Most Romantic Town” and “Favorite Beach Town” by Travel + Leisure, St. Simons Island is the popular choice for the beachgoer in search of everything that defines a traditional coastal escape.
St Simons has an intriguing history intertwined in its picturesque streets and architectural marvels, representing a range of chapters from American History and the early development of the United States.. Whispers of the past hearken back to the battles of Spanish and British forces at Fort Frederica and Bloody Marsh, and the foundation of organized religion at Christ Church, among remnants of Civil War-era plantations.
For southern coastal rewards, look no further than St. Simons Island. From the towering spectacle of the 104-ft St. Simons Lighthouse and its lighthouse museum to the splashtacular ocean adventures of the island’s East Beach. The hard packed shores of East Beach are ideal for jogging or biking from the northern tip of the beach at Bruce Drive to the southernmost point at Pier Village – if you time the tides right. The East beach span includes popular sections like the U.S. Coast Guard Station and Massengale Park. The Coast Guard Station offers public facilities with plenty of parking and ADA-accessible beach access, while Massengale Park is a family favorite, with easy beach access, shaded picnic areas, and a playground. Just a short stroll away, kick back at Neptune Park, a seaside water park playground. St. Simons Island beaches are prime for adventurous exploration, thanks to rocky landscapes and jetties – the perfect location for everything from beachcombing to extreme watersports.
If you need a break from the beach, there’s no need to leave the island to find it! There’s plenty of choices for beach-less amusement, including hiking and biking trails, golf courses, fishing, bird-watching, and guided kayaking tours through legendary marshlands. Do a little bit of everything and even learn a thing or two when you see it all by way of an island trolley tour! One last tip from those in-the-know… don’t leave St. Simons Island without spending some time with our famous tree spirits! These iconic tree carvings can be found throughout the island, hidden within the spanish moss-draped live oak trees that line our streets and walkways. There are about 20 tree spirits hidden on St. Simons Island. Can you find them all?
St. Simons Island is an excellent choice for a long beach weekend or for vacationers seeking a little coastal-city (ish) combination destination. St Simons has more to offer in the way of dining options, original shops, art galleries. and nightlife. It’s a larger destination with more diverse appeal – ideal for guests that are eager for exploration and discovery.
Jekyll Island first made a name for itself as a coastal Georgia hideaway for the rich and famous. Illustrious private owners of remarkable lineage from families like the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Pulitzers developed the elite Jekyll Island Club – an island playground of sorts, that dominated the entirety of the barrier island community. Today, the southernmost of the Golden Isles still retains that feel of quaint sophistication, but the treasures of Jekyll Island are now widely accessible to vacationers of all types, regardless of your family name.
Maintained by regulation of he state of Georgia, Jekyll Island is more than 60% undeveloped and devoted mostly to preserved State Park land. The once-exclusive Jekyll Island Club is now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, and a collection of cottages and support structures designated as National Historic Landmarks, making the area a viable, island-wide Historic District. Jekyll Island is rich in history, drawing contributions from Native American, Spanish, English, and French influence. As a designated State Park, there is a daily admission fee to access Jekyll Island.
The beaches of Jekyll Island are completely tide-formed, making for very calm, shallow waters along the ten miles of public beaches. Driftwood Beach at the island’s north end is an epic site for photography and a serene, natural eco-experience. This once-lush maritime forest now features sandy shores lined with aged driftwood – a result of decades of erosion. Further south, Great Dunes Beach Park is Jekyll Island’s most popular beach for families. The 20-acre, beachfront park offers several picnic pavilions, play areas, ample parking, and public beach access. Head to the island’s southern tip to find Jekyll Point and St. Andrews Beach Park, where wildlife viewing opportunities abound from a two-story viewing platform.
Biking opportunities are wide open on Jekyll Island, from the expansive beaches to the 20+ mile natural trail network. Visitors in search of outdoor recreation have plenty to choose from, including world-class golf, tennis, and the Summer Waves Water Park, featuring 11 acres of man-made, modern water-centric fun. The main attraction away from the water is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
For families seeking a getaway centered on pristine beaches, Jekyll Island fits the bill. There are no large grocery stores on Jekyll Island, and minimal commercial businesses in general, so you may be faced with island-hopping for necessities and daily outings more so on Jekyll Island than St. Simons. Either way, you can’t go wrong when a little island escape is in order. The Golden Isles of Georgia check all the dream destination boxes – naturally.