The last week or so that I spent in Georgia, I spent exploring the coast and barrier islands of the state also called the Golden Isles. This was such a great experience and each island was so different and diverse that I thought I would share a little more about the trip, and maybe give some pointers on how to see as much as possible if you choose to journey to the Golden Isles.
Savannah is definitely a must-see part of any trip up or down the Georgia Coast. Located in the far northeast corner of the state, Savannah’s beautiful oak-lined streets, public squares and beautiful homes make it one of America’s most beautiful cities. Even if you just stop in for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, have a late afternoon into early evening stroll around the historic district and end the day with a quiet cocktail in the basement of The Olde Pink House, you won’t regret stopping in this charming southern town. The longer you stay, though, the more you’re going to love it here so don’t be afraid to save a couple of days at the beginning or end of your trip for Savannah.
Just east of Savannah along the coast is the beach community of Tybee Island. The Tybee Island Light Station is definitely worth a visit, and the beach is really pretty as well. The fishing pier is a great way to get out over the water and get some good views back down the beach, especially around sunset. In all honesty, I think Tybee Island suffers a little bit from its proximity to Savannah. They have a very captive audience, so their main street isn’t as nice or cute as it could be and would be if it had to work a little harder to get people to come. That being said, it is a pretty beach, and it would be one of the major tick-marks in Savannah’s favor if I were ever looking for a city to settle down in (although New Orleans still has the most tick-marks next to it).
Making my way south, I definitely enjoyed a little detour out to the Fish Dock Bar and Grill at Pelican Point in Belleville. This is one of those tiny, out of the way restaurants that’s somehow still really busy. Tucked up in a tiny shrimping community, you know their seafood is fresh, and the people working there were really sweet. When you’re done eating, a nice stroll around the community to check out the shrimp boats is a must.
For the next few days, I based myself in Brunswick because it had the amenities I needed and was friendly to overnight van parking. The Lover’s Oak and the Historic District are both really pleasant, and I really enjoyed seeing a local theater production at the Ritz Theater downtown. The two places I would definitely recommend hitting up in Brunswick to eat are Mr. Shucks and Island Jerk. Mr. Shucks is a great, inexpensive seafood market that does great prepared meals as well. Don’t let its strip-mall location fool you, this place is as good as any of the fancy restaurants around. Island Jerk dishes up delicious Caribbean food at ridiculously low prices, and it is also really good. You can’t leave Brunswick without trying a bowl of Brunswick Stew, and I had a great bowl of it at the Marshside Grill.
I loved my visit to Sapelo Island, one of the barrier islands only accessible by boat. I took the guided tour arranged through the Sapelo Island Visitors Center (call them at (912) 437-3224, closed Sunday and Monday). They only offer this tour a few times a week, so this is one you must plan ahead for. You must be on a guided tour to visit Sapelo (unless you are staying overnight at one of the properties around the island). The tour took in the main sites of the island, including the Manor House and the Lighthouse, and there was some nice time to wander the beach as well. It was only a morning tour, so we left early and were back in time for lunch, but Sapelo was well worth the visit. I find these isolated communities which have survived for hundreds of years to be fascinating.
Back on the mainland in the nearby town of Darien, you could go for lunch at Skipper’s Fish Camp (don’t get the shrimp salad), and then spend the afternoon exploring Fort King George to learn about Georgia’s early defenses against Spanish Florida or the nearby Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site to learn about the early rice plantations of Georgia. I also really liked seeing some of the old tabby ruins down by the water and the shrimp boats in dock.
St. Simons Island had a lot to offer just over the causeway from Brunswick. I enjoyed my visit to Fort Frederica National Monument, even thought there isn’t much left of it. It was still a pretty place to wander and imagine how things used to be. Nearby Christ Episcopal Church was very photogenic and a pretty place for a walk as well. I loved the beach over by the old Coast Guard Station which now houses a maritime museum. The Downtown “Village” was very pretty and had another great old lighthouse to explore and some wonderful shops to wander around. It seemed like there were some nice restaurants and bars down there too, but I didn’t have time to explore them while I was in town.
Twenty minutes or so south of Brunswick sits fascinating Jekyll Island. Jekyll Island was, at one time, the playground of the very rich. The Jekyll Island Club was established in 1888 for the likes of the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. The Great Depression and World War II led to the dilapidation of the resort and its eventual downfall. Restored in 1985, the resort is now open as a luxury hotel to the general public. The rest of Jekyll Island is full of much more subdued homes, pretty beaches and beautiful Spanish moss draped oak trees. While parts of Jekyll Island reminded me very much of Hilton Head, one of my least favorite spots in South Carolina, there were also some hidden gems and beautiful natural and historical features. While I wasn’t thrilled that the state charges an admission fee just to access the island, and I really wasn’t happy that they charged me double for some reason because my van is over 8’ high, it was still worth the visit. You should definitely be sure you check out the Driftwood Bistro for their wonderful happy hour from 5-6 and don’t leave without seeing the Plantation Oak, the oldest tree on the island.
The very southernmost island off the coast of Georgia is Cumberland Island. Cumberland Island is primarily a National Seashore and is overseen by the National Park Service. Wild horses, alligators, oak trees and a plethora of birds inhabit the island, which is a magical place, especially if you can get there when it’s not crowded. While you can access Cumberland Island with your own boat, most people arrive via the ferry from St. Mary. While there are tours of the island, I think it is best explored on foot. There are no concessions on the island, so be sure you bring plenty of food and sunscreen, but there is drinking water at several locations. There are only a few campsites on the island, so be sure you book far in advance if you want to stay overnight. For more photos and information on Cumberland Island, see my post HERE.
It was a remarkable week or so that I spent cruising down the coast of Georgia. Every one of the islands I visited was unique and special in its own way, and there is certainly something for everyone out there. From fancy hotels to remote campsites and from fish and chips to fine dining, coastal Georgia caters to a diverse group of travelers. If you’re looking to escape the Florida crowds, head north of the border and enter a whole different world.