Off the southern coast of Georgia lie the Golden Isles. Mainland Brunswick and four barrier islands — Jekyll Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Little St. Simons Island — are united by a diverse history, natural beauty and all types of recreation. All share wonderful marshlands, wide sandy beaches, ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and an air of graciousness.
Nashvillians may be most familiar with Sea Island, but there is much more to see and do. In Brunswick, the gateway to the barrier islands, the restored historic downtown is a perfect spot to stroll, shop and dine. Once home to the most exclusive club in the world, Jekyll Island remains a tranquil spot with 65 percent of the island protected from future development. Little St. Simons began as a family compound and is still privately owned. St. Simons is the largest and offers the best of any small town. From quaint bed-and-breakfasts to five-star accommodations, the Golden Isles have something for everyone.
The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island
Accessible only by boat, it takes 15 minutes to reach the island’s 10,000 undeveloped acres, seven miles of untouched beaches and ancient maritime forests. No more than 32 guests at a time can stay in one of the lodge’s six cottages to enjoy the all-inclusive getaway, which includes three meals a day, served family style with ingredients from the island’s certified organic gardens. Naturalists lead nature walks, water activities and beachcombing in this extraordinary rustic sanctuary. 1000 Hampton River Club Marina Drive, St. Simons Island, littlessi.com.
Village Inn and Pub
Located in the heart of St. Simons’ Historic Village and Lighthouse District, this quaint boutique hotel is steps away from shops, restaurants and the pier. Nestled under ancient live oaks, the inn incorporates the architecture of the neighborhood and the restored 1930s beach house, which serves as its lobby and site for the complimentary breakfast buffet. Each of the 28 rooms has majestic crown moldings and soothing colors, and most overlook the serene pool and courtyard. 500 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, villageinnandpub.com.
Courtyard at Crane
An alfresco lunch in the center courtyard of the Crane Cottage — the most lavish of the homes built in the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel — is the perfect start to any visit to Jekyll Island. After enjoying Georgia shrimp in a sandwich or salad, be sure to walk around the grounds to look at the breathtaking restorations to other cottages in The Millionaires Village. 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, jekyllclub.com.
Couples and families enjoy dining inside or out at this casual neighborhood restaurant. Fresh seafood and seasonal local vegetables are in abundance on the Italian-inspired menus at lunch and dinner. Chef Dave Snyder delivers perfect pizzas and calzones from Tramici’s massive 550-degree brick oven in addition to serving delicious pastas, lasagna and other menu favorites. 75 Cinema Lane, St. Simons Island, tramicirestaurant.com.
Iguanas Seafood Restaurant
It’s not a trip to the Golden Isles without indulging in fresh-caught Georgia shrimp! At this Pier Village spot, the shrimp — peel-and-eat, fried or bacon-wrapped — always receives rave reviews, as do the fried oysters, crab cakes and hearty burgers. 303 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, iguanasseafood.com.
The Pub at Village Inn
Much more than an average hotel bar, tourists and locals alike come to the pub for happy hour or a nightcap and stay for live music at this warm and inviting spot inside the inn’s restored 1930s beach house. Enjoy a Cheers experience while sipping on the pub’s signature Wild Orchid martini at the solid mahogany bar from England or in front of the original stone fireplace. 500 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, villageinnandpub.com.
A perennial favorite with residents and long-time visitors, it’s no wonder that Halyards won several “Best of 2015” categories, including “Best Place to Eat at the Bar,” in Elegant IslandLiving magazine’s annual survey. Enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail, and perhaps an appetizer from Chef Dave’s menu, before wandering across the lush courtyard to sister restaurant Tramici. Unless, of course, you decide to stay for dinner. 55 Cinema Lane, St. Simons Island, halyardsrestaurant.com.
Little St. Simons Island
This paradise offers day trips for those curious about the wondrous setting. Naturalists lead morning tours to explore the abundant wildlife and to learn the history and ecosystem of the protected island. After a low country lunch, discover the beauty of the unspoiled beaches on your own, by bike or on foot. Just watch out for dunes where sea turtles and birds have made their nests. We promise you will want to return for a longer stay. 1000 Hampton River Club Marina Drive, St. Simons Island, littlessi.com.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
At this internationally acclaimed center for research, rehabilitation and release for these wonderful and endangered reptiles, guests can meet sea turtles being treated and watch them as they are rehabilitated, observe the veterinarians conduct turtle operations and learn about the delicate coastal ecosystem through hands-on exhibits. Summer programs include children’s camps, dawn and evening walks and night-time rides with center experts. 214 Stable Road, Jekyll Island, georgiaseaturtlecenter.org.
St. Simons Lighthouse Museum
When not playing golf, biking or fishing, take a day to explore St. Simon’s compelling history. The lighthouse is still in use after almost 250 years. Climb up the 129-step circular staircase for panoramic views of the Atlantic and neighboring islands, tour the original Keeper’s Dwelling and get a souvenir at the locally stocked gift shop. Tickets include a visit to the Maritime Center at the Historic Coast Guard Station. 610 Beachview Drive, St. Simons, saintsimonslighthouse.org.
Photos courtesy of goldenisles.com, Cassie Wright and John Toth/The Darkroom
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