Less developed than its neighbors, locals love the slower — and friendlier pace — that is offered in the port city of Brunswick, GA and the four nearby barrier islands that comprise the Golden Isles. That same authentic small-town feel is also present in nearby St. Mary Island.
So grab a glass of iced tea and enjoy the Golden Isles’ wide, sandy beaches, breathtaking spans of marsh and neighbors’ front porches.
Here’s a guide to determine which Golden Isles spot is right for you:
For the seafood lover: Brunswick, GA
Welcome to the shrimp capital of the world and the home of Brunswick stew. Christened one of five ports of entry for the original colonies by George Washington, the town features Victorian homes in Old Town and lush town squares and streets bearing colonial names. Shrimp trawlers line the wharf, ready to troll local waters for shrimp and fish that will be served in an array of local restaurants nightly. And a year-round schedule of festivals and events means there’s never a shortage of things to do. One local favorite: First Friday of each month when shops in the downtown district stay open late, showcasing their wares and serving up southern hospitality alongside wine, snacks and live music.
For the beach bums: St. Simons Island
The largest and most popular barrier island is a low-key beach town that has remained true to its historic roots. The St. Simons Lighthouse, a working lighthouse built in 1872, and the island’s fishing pier set the scene for the community of oak-filled neighborhoods and picturesque churches. East Beach offers the perfect spot for swimming, shell hunting and kiteboarding. Fishing off the coast and in the island’s surrounding estuaries offers a bounty of cobia, skipjacks, redfish and snapper. Golfers flock to the King and Prince Golf Course on the island’s northern end while shoppers find treasures in the island’s shopping villages, including Redfern Village and Pier Village. For dining, locals love Sweet Mama’s, Southern Soul Barbeque, Brogan’s and Tavola.
For those with discerning tastes: Sea Island
Drive across the causeway to one of the country’s most luxurious destinations. Sea Island, a private resort open to residents and hotel guests only, is a four-time recipient of the Forbes Five Star award for its elegant accommodations and is home to Georgia’s only Forbes five-star restaurant, The Georgian Room at The Cloister. The island also boasts three championship golf courses, including Seaside and Plantation, home of the PGA’s RSM Classic. The pampering doesn’t stop there. Residents and visitors also enjoy a beach club, tennis center, yacht club, shooting school, a golf performance center and nine world-class dining venues.
For the tranquility seeker: Jekyll Island
There are days you could walk eight miles of Jekyll’s beach without running into anyone else. Strict conservation regulations set by the state of Georgia have limited the island’s development to 1,600 of its 5,700 acres to preserve its barrier island ecosystem. Its roughly 1,000 residents enjoy a low-key lifestyle in a breathtaking setting, biking to grab coffee at Beach Village, fishing and paddleboarding in the island’s many tidal creeks and waving hello to any passerbys. And it has a unique historical story to tell as well. The island’s Club Hotel and nearby cottages were once home to American aristocracy, including the Vanderbilts and Pulitzers.
St. Marys Island
It’s not technically part of the Golden Isles, but it’s right down the coast. St. Marys is the postcard-perfect coastal town where kayaking, boating, fishing and other outdoor adventure is a way of life. Enjoy a seafood lunch on Osborne Street, then take a stroll down to the scenic St. Marys River with its views of dozens of barrier islands. For the golf lover, three courses are located just minutes from St. Marys’ waterfront. The island is also the spot to catch a ferry over to Cumberland Island where wild horses roam secluded beaches and mansion ruins.
For your next family gathering: Little St. Simons Island
Accessible only by boat, the island is privately owned and does not include any full-time housing. But The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, with its six cottages that can host 32 guests, is the perfect spot for family gatherings, special getaways and small gatherings. A team of naturalists lead guests in a range of activities throughout the natural sanctuary, including canoeing, nature walks and birdwatching along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway.