Golden Driftwood

Paddleboarding on Driftwood Beach

8 One-of-a-Kind Ways to Experience Georgia’s Golden Isles

From the smell of the salt air rustling through the marsh to the sight of shrimp boats hauling in the day’s catch, the Golden Isles is like something out of a storybook. In fact, this beloved area has been crowned the #1 Best U.S. Islands in the Travel + Leisure ‘s 2023 World’s Best Awards.

This majestic stretch of coast — which includes St. Simons IslandSea IslandLittle St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island, along with the mainland city of Brunswick — teems with coastal charm and unspoiled natural beauty unlike anywhere else in the South. 

As a bonus, the Golden Isles is home to three of the four Georgia barrier islands you can reach by car. So, breeze on over the bridges and discover what makes this region such a treasure, starting with this list of one-of-a-kind experiences.


Golden Isles beach

Gould's Inlet, St. Simons Island

1. Explore Wild & Wonderful Beaches

The beaches of the Golden Isles are as diverse as they are scenic. With its striking “skeletons” of sea-weathered trees, Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island is a photographer’s dream. Expansive East Beach on St. Simons Island is a favorite for shelling, biking, and splashing in the surf. Craving solitude? On Little St. Simons Island, you can spread out on seven miles of private, undeveloped shore. There’s a beach for everyone here, and the fun part is finding yours.

Sea turtle making its way to the ocean on the beach in Georgia

Loggerhead sea turtle in the Golden Isles

2. Get Up Close with Sea Turtles

Thousands of loggerheads make their nests along the Georgia coast during the summer months. Join a Turtle Walk at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center for a chance to see nesting moms or even hatchlings in the wild. The center is the only sea turtle hospital in Georgia, and visitors of all ages can pop in year-round to see rescued turtles being nurtured back to health. There are plenty of other ways to experience sea turtles in the Golden Isles. Take a visit to Sea Island for an early morning Sea Turtle Dawn Patrol, or meet local wildlife on a guided day trip to Little St. Simons Island.


St. Simons Tree Spirits

3. Seek Out St. Simons Tree Spirits

Look closely at the trees of St. Simons Island and you might find a pair of eyes staring right back at you! Either peering out from the trunk or perhaps the stub of a long-vanished branch, the unmistakable image of a weathered face would be one of the island's 11 (and counting) publicly commissioned Tree Spirits. Cool down after your hunt with a sweet treat from Frosty’s Griddle & Shake, like vanilla soft-serve topped with a swirl of whipped cream and a cherry.

St Simons Island

Undeveloped beaches abound on Little St. Simons Island

4. Soak Up Nature at Its Purest

Pristine estuaries and miles of sandy beaches provide a welcome respite from daily life. Find serene forest and endless marsh views on St. Simons Island’s John Gilbert Nature Trail. Explore trails through maritime forests along Cannon’s Point Preserve. The Colonial Coast Birding Trail, which stretches across the Golden Isles and up the coast to Savannah, is a sanctuary for more than 300 bird species. Look for dolphins, herons, and other critters on a charter with On The Fly Outfitters Fishing Charters, or catch your own trout with Hook and Knife Charters. Or, book a day trip to Little St. Simons Island to explore wildlife-filled wetlands.


St. Simons Island Lighthouse

5. Uncover Historical Relics

This part of the Georgia coast is steeped in history. Step back into the Gilded Age in the Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District, which was once the retreat of America’s wealthiest families. St. Simons Island is filled with significant historic places, too, including Fort Frederica, and the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum. If you’re looking to test your plane-spotter skills, check out the interactive World War II Home Front Museum, where you can learn what made Georgia crucial to war efforts through activities and educational galleries. In Brunswick, stroll the historic district’s picturesque Signature Squares, which pre-date the Revolutionary War. While you’re there, don’t forget to explore all that Historic Downtown Brunswick has to offer. To learn more about African-American history, Golden Isles has a plethora of informational relics, parks, preserves and cultural centers that outline important people and events of the fight for freedom.

Downtown Brunswick

Historic Downtown Brunswick's lively atmosphere is not to be missed

6. Experience Historic Downtown Brunswick

There’s no dreamier way to experience Brunswick’s storied downtown than exploring the past rejuvenated at The Kress Hotel. After a stay in one of the hotel’s cozy rooms, try an award-winning Golden Isles IPA at Silver Bluff Brewing Company, or walk to the Newcastle Wine Merchant for tart French reds or a guided tasting with a certified sommelier. Feeling adventurous? Try your hand — or arm — swinging for targets at Matted Ox Axe Throwing, or chalk up your fingers for a climb at Brunswick Rocks.

St Simons island view

Golden Isles marshes provide the perfect backdrop

7. Experience Southern Coastal Hospitality

From comfort to luxury, the Golden Isles has it all. For luxury in the most traditional sense, take your pick of Georgia’s only Forbes Five-Star resorts: The Cloister and The Lodge, both located on Sea Island. Indulge in the luxury of peace and seclusion at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, an 11,000-acre eco-resort that only hosts 32 guests at a time. Find a selection of other accommodations ranging from cozy condos to retreats and town houses at Hodnett Cooper and Lilmar Properties.

Low country boil

A low country boil with local Wild Georgia Shrimp - a Southern tradition

8. Fill Up on Southern Cuisine

An inviting mix of upscale and flip flop-friendly, the Golden Isles’ dining scene is a foodie’s delight. Stop at Sago at Sea Palms on St. Simons Island for everything from fried shrimp and prime rib to layered key lime pie. Get your fix of fresh-off-the-boat shrimp, scallops, and crabs at spots like Mr. Shuck’s Seafood, Georgia Sea Grill, and La Plancha. Or, take part in Southern tradition and throw a low country boil with local Wild Georgia Shrimp.

Published: August 2023

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