Summer’s Best Beaches: The Golden Isles

Author: Alecia Pirulis

St. Simons Island Lighthouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From sultry and tropical Key West to rugged and inspiring Rockaway Beach, the US has some beautiful stretches of coastline. Some are less famous than others, but that just means fewer crowds and less touristy hotspots. If you are looking for a great beach to explore this summer, consider Georgia’s aptly-named Golden Isles.

The Golden Isles are four barrier islands located about halfway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. Brunswick is the area’s mainland hub. This important port city is the second-largest coastal Georgia city after Savannah. It was settled by British colonists in 1738 and quickly became an important and strategic location. Today, the Port of Brunswick is one of the country’s most active ports. From Brunswick, the four barrier islands are easily accessible.

Historic Brunswick is laid out similar to Savannah, complete with charming squares. Downtown features beautiful architecture dating back to the early 1800s. It is filled with boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, and antique stores. Mary Ross Waterfront Park is home to the Liberty Ship Memorial Plaza as well as an amphitheater and the weekly farmer’s market. Brunswick Bazaar and Farmer’s Market is open every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

The largest island in the Golden Isles is St. Simons Island. St. Simons was first utilized

Fort Frederica National Monument (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by English colonists for rice and cotton plantations. In addition to beautiful beaches, St. Simons is home to Fort Frederica National Monument, a fort that served as the military headquarters during the early colonial period. Between 1736 and 1748, James Oglethorpe established the fort and town to protect the Georgia colony from Spanish raiders who considered the space between British South Carolina and Spanish Florida “debatable land.” The fort was abandoned around 1758 when Georgia was finally considered safe from Spanish threat – but not before two bloody battles. The fort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Another must-see on St. Simons Island is Christ Church, built in 1808. This beautiful little church was commandeered by Union troops during the Civil War and used as a horse stable, nearly destroying the church. It was fully restored in 1889 and is still in use. The church is open for public tours and is one of Georgia’s oldest churches. This gorgeous gothic-style building with narrow stained glass windows is impressive, and the cemetery has graves that date back to 1796 (unmarked). The oldest marked grave is dated 1803.

Finally, no visit to St. Simons Island would be complete without climbing the St. Simons Island Lighthouse. The original lighthouse was built in 1811, but Confederate soldiers destroyed it in 1861 to keep it from falling into Union hands. The replacement and current lighthouse was built in 1872. The 104-foot-tall lighthouse is supposedly haunted by Frederick Osborne, a light-keeper who was killed in a duel with the assistant light-keeper around 1880. Many visitors – and even some Coast Guard personnel — claim they can hear footsteps on the lighthouse stairs.

Horton House

Horton House Ruins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jekyll Island is a popular resort area. The island features eight miles of beaches on the east shore with 20 miles of hiking trails. There are several golf courses on the island, particularly along the north end. The island also contains a large campground, several picnic areas, the Jekyll Island Club Historic District, and the Horton House. Although in ruins, this impressive two-story structure was built in 1742 and was owned by Major William Horton during the colonial period. Horton House is one of the state’s oldest surviving buildings. Across from Horton House is the du Bignon cemetery, which dates to the 19th century. The island, which was part of the state park system until 1950, retains its wild beauty. The island is accessible by a toll causeway that charges a daily fee to access the island. Bike paths allow visitors to travel the entire island without a car.

Undeveloped and privately owned, Little St. Simons Island features seven miles of beaches and is only accessible by boat. The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island is an all-inclusive resort that can accommodate up to 32 guests. There are also guided history, kayaking, hiking, fishing, biking, and birding tours – the island boasts over 280 species of birds. Day trips are also available and include guided tours. Visit Hampton River Marina on St. Simons Island’s north end to arrange a day trip.

The last of the Golden Isles is Sea Island. Privately owned by the Sea Island Company, this is an exclusive resort with limited public access. Cloister on Sea Island, a Forbes Five-Star retreat, features the Cloister Spa, the Cloister Beach Club, and the Sea Island Yacht Club. World-famous for its luxury, guests enjoy playing squash and tennis, relaxing on the beach, and enjoying golfing, biking, and swimming in the pool. The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club is also a Forbes Five-Star resort and a AAA Five-Diamond property. This is a hideaway for the rich and famous who come here to golf on the two 18-hole championship courses.