Last Updated on July 17, 2022
Beautiful islands, unknown to many travelers…
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Jim Ferri
The Golden Isles of Georgia are a great getaway, especially since they’re not well known among many travelers.
In fact, many people taking the drive down I-95 to Florida don’t realize what they’ve passed by. They cross into Georgia, perhaps making a stop in Savannah, and then set their sights on the Florida State Line. It’s only a bit over 100 miles to the south.
What they miss along the way, however, are a group of beautiful small Atlantic-coast islands. Clinging to the marshland of the Lowcountry, they are Georgia’s Golden Isles.
Only about a 15-mile drive off the Interstate, you can reach them easily on a drive across pristine stretches of marshland. Along the was you’ll cut across small islands known as hammocks, which create a beautiful landscape. It also creates the appearance of a continuous stretch of land reaching out to the barrier islands.
A Quartet of Islands on the Georgian Coast
There are four islands along Georgia’s snippet of Atlantic coastline – St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Sea and Jekyll. They are all very interesting from both a touristic and historic perspective.
The Golden Isles are also fairly easy on the pocketbook since there’s a wide choice of hotels in the area. They range from budget motels in the town of Brunswick near the Interstate, to spacious suites in coastal resorts, with prices to match.
When we visited we didn’t know anything about the area. So we wound up just opting for a medium-priced motel outside of Brunswick. That turned out to be the best thing to do. It made for an easy drive to both St. Simons and Jekyll, the two most popular islands.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go to Little St. Simons. It’s accessible only by boat and the Sea Island resort wouldn’t let us in since we weren’t guests. I can’t blame them.
A Perfect Weekend on the Golden Isles
When we arrived on St. Simons we found we had picked a perfect weekend since there was an outdoor antique show taking place under the huge old sprawling oaks near the public library.
It was an interesting show to walk about, and we spent an hour or two at it . Then we walked over to nearby Mallory Street to wander in and out of several shops along it.
While the main attraction of St. Simon’s for Georgians is primarily its beaches, the island also has historic sites. One of the best is Fort Frederica National Monument on the west side of the island. It’s only a 20-minute or so drive from the shops on Mallory.
Historic Fort Frederica
Fort Frederica was built in 1736 to protect the British expansion in the Americas from the Spanish Empire. This is also where General James Oglethorpe, the founder of the British colony of Georgia, and his men repulsed the Spanish in 1742. Frederica was once a small town but following the outbreak of peace it slowly descended into oblivion.
Today you can walk about the old military town that at its peak had more than 70 houses.
As you stroll along the former Broad Street, now all grass, you see the foundations of the old homes. They were made with tabby, a mixture of limestone, sand and oyster, as well as parts of the old battery along the river. It’s a place well worth visiting whether you’re a history buff or not.
The following morning we set out across the Lowcountry marshland for Jekyll Island, another of the Golden Isles of Georgia, only about 15 minutes away. The marsh is punctuated every now and then by hammocks, and crisscrossed by little rivulets catching the flow and ebb of the tide.
While we found St. Simons to be a fairly spread out and a laid-back beach community, Jekyll Island turned out to be just the opposite in size and temperament. Although the east side of the island, like St. Simons, draws a beach crowd, the main appeal for many is the upscale Jekyll Island Club, a hotel and National Historic Landmark on the west side.
When we approached the hotel, a beautiful 19th century building complete with turret and a broad front porch, the first thing we saw were a couple playing croquet on the manicured lawn. They were wearing all white, appropriately giving a Gatsby-like look to the whole place.
Cottages for the Ultra-Wealthy on the Golden Isles
Jekyll Island was purchased by a group of wealthy families to use as a private retreat, and became home of the Jekyll Island Club. Its membership – which included such notables as Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Gould, Carnegie, Rockefeller and others who built “cottages” in the Jekyll colony – read like the social register.
Scattered about are plaques describing the club in its heyday. One down by the dock notes that the world’s most luxurious pleasure craft docked there between 1886 and 1942 and relates how John Pierpont Morgan’s yacht, the 304-foot Corsair II, was too large to dock at the pier.
Morgan, it says, “was escorted ashore by a flotilla of small craft after a canon had sounded off his arrival in these waters.”
It’s interesting wandering through some of the beautiful rooms in the club, past the old-style restaurant (who’s summer menu included “braised green lip muscles,” “island crab cakes in a lemon-peach marmalade” and “roasted chicken strudel”) and out along the porch with its row of rockers.
A few hundred yards beyond the club are some smaller buildings, likely a service area for the original Club and “cottages,” which now contain some shops. We wandered about some of them before heading back over to the river and out onto the historic dock.
A Funky Little Bar
There we found the Rah Bar, a funky little place on the end of the dock on the inlet that led out to Jekyll Sound. With its inside walls plastered all over with dollar bills, it was a cornucopia of peel ‘n eat shrimp, crawdads, oysters and other Lowcountry specialties.
We opted to eat at one of the outside tables, got two beers and the menus. It was a great place to spend an hour or so, and probably would have been spectacular at sunset.
Changes are coming to the Jekyll, however, and there’s now a small convention center and some hotels scattered along the ocean beaches.
The state has said that overall development of the islands is limited to only 35% of the available land area. But listen carefully and you’ll hear Rockefeller, Pierpont Morgan and Carnegie rolling over in their graves.
If You Go:
Golden Isles Georgia
1505 Richmond Street, 2nd Floor
Brunswick, GA 31520
Tel: (800) 933-2627
Jekyll Island Club
371 Riverview Drive
Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Tel: (855) 535-9547
Fort Frederica National Monument
6515 Frederica Rd.
St. Simons Island, GA 31522
Tel: (912) 638-3639