The Wharf on Jekyll Island. Photo by Kevin O'Toole, @kevin.otoole
8 Can't-Miss Sites on Jekyll and St. Simons Islands
Located approximately two-thirds of the way down the Georgia coast, Jekyll and St. Simons islands are two of the Golden Isles of Georgia, gorgeous barrier islands filled with tranquil beaches, historic landmarks and a variety of native wildlife. Whether you’re a first-time tourist or returning visitor, these must-see destinations are the perfect way to experience all Jekyll and St. Simons have to offer.
At just 1.5 miles wide and 7 miles long, Jekyll Island may be small, but don’t be fooled by its compact size. With 10 miles of beaches, bird watching, boating, picnicking and more, you can easily spend a full day exploring the island.
It is named one of the Golden Isles for its stretches of marshland lit by the setting sun, and it maintains its pristine image thanks to a conservation provision protecting 65 percent of the island from commercial and residential development. The causeway gives way to spectacular views of the island's unspoiled beauty, and the island's unique ecosystem and historical significance provide something for everyone to enjoy.
National Historic Landmark District
Jekyll Island was once the playground for many wealthy Americans, including J.P. Morgan and William K. Vanderbilt, and it gained a reputation as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, the Jekyll Island Historic District is the site of more than 30 historic late 19th- and early 20th-century structures that have been restored into cottages, bookstores, art galleries and museums for you to explore.
Jekyll Island Club
At the heart of the Historic District is the Jekyll Island Club Resort, originally founded in 1886 as a recreational and hunting club. Restored in 1985, it is now recognized as one of the top luxury resort hotels in the world. You can tour the resort to learn more about the stories behind the hotel, cottages, and surrounding grounds. Make time for a bite to eat at The Wharf Restaurant, the island's only waterfront restaurant and bar offering weekly live music.
Historic Faith Chapel
Built in 1904 and centrally located in the historic district, the Historic Faith Chapel is a Gothic-influenced place of worship with ornate stained-glass windows. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the chapel and stroll its grounds.
St. Simons Island
St. Simons Island is the largest of the Golden Isles and is packed with pristine coastlines, quaint villages, heritage sites and museums. Visitors to St. Simons are captivated by the rich history and natural splendor of the island, and like Jekyll Island, its moderate climate makes it an ideal year-round destination for visitors. Whereas Jekyll Island was originally developed as a playground for the rich and famous, St. Simons Island’s history is grounded in plantations and military conflicts.
St. Simons Pier Village
Located on the southern end of the island, St. Simons Pier Village is the premier shopping and dining destination on the island. After enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants, take some time to explore the charming boutique shops, bakeries, and entertainment options. The Pier Village is also home to the famous St. Simons Island Lighthouse and Museum as well as Neptune Park, an oceanfront park with a miniature golf course, bandstand, and fishing pier.
St. Simons Island Lighthouse and Museum
Destroyed by the Confederate army in 1861, the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum was rebuilt in 1872 and today serves as an active lighthouse managed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Climb the lighthouse steps for panoramic views of the coast and learn more about the lighthouse’s history at the Keeper’s Cottage, a Victorian structure that has served as the lighthouse’s museum since 1975.
Hamilton Plantation and Gascoigne Bluff
During colonial times, Gascoigne Bluff served as a major deep-water landing spot for importing and exporting cotton. The remains of the Hamilton Plantation, once one of the country’s biggest cotton producers, stand here. The two slave cabins on the grounds have been preserved since the time of their building around 1833 and are considered some of the best-preserved slave cabins in all the South.
Historic Christ Church
Built in 1808 and located among towering, moss-draped oak trees, the historic Christ Church, Frederica is one of the oldest standing churches in Georgia. The church was nearly destroyed during the Civil War, but it has been in continuous operation since its restoration in 1884. The church, cemetery, and grounds can be visited at certain hours throughout the year.
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument and Bloody Marsh Battle Site is the site of the 1742 Battle of Bloody Marsh between the Spanish and British, and its archaeological remnants are open to visitors. You can browse the visitor center as well as take a tour with a park ranger to learn more about the battle and fort.
With all Jekyll and St. Simons Islands have to offer, these Golden Isles gems contain a wealth of attractions for all interests. With unrivaled beauty, historical monuments, and an interesting variety of local wildlife and fauna, your whole family can find something to discover during your stay. After your first visit, don’t be surprised if you find yourself returning to the Golden Isles again and again.
Jeffery Ferraro is the Director of Marketing and Sales for Diamond Tours, America's leader in group bus tours. Jeff has over 20 years of experience in the travel industry and enjoys sharing his knowledge to inspire other to embark on new traveling experiences. Learn more about Diamond Tours on Select Traveler Conference.