Why I keep coming back to Georgia’s Golden Isles year after year

These barrier islands off the coast of southern Georgia have lured me back several times already, with more trips sure to come.
Cycling on Georgia's Golden Isles (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)
Cycling on Georgia's Golden Isles (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)

After my family’s first trip to Georgia’s Golden Isles, I knew I’d be back again. In fact, my husband and I talked endlessly during our stay at the Jekyll Island Club Resort about how it would be ideal for a big, extended family vacation. 

That multigenerational family vacation hasn’t come together yet, but since my first visit to these barrier islands off the coast of southern Georgia, my family has made two more trips. While we love traveling to new family vacation spots, this place has lured us back several times, with more trips sure to come. Here’s why I keep returning to Georgia’s Golden Isles for my family vacations.

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Jekyll Island Club Resort (Photo: Beth Luberecki)
Jekyll Island Club Resort is part of the island’s National Historic Landmark District (Photo: Beth Luberecki)

1. It feels like a vacation

A getaway should be just that—an escape from everyday life. As soon as I start seeing the sweeping marsh views that seem to go on forever in the Golden Isles, my vacation mode kicks in. The four barrier islands that make up the Golden Isles are St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Island, and though they’re situated midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, they truly feel like a world away.

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Drive over the causeway onto St. Simons Island and you’re soon surrounded by stately moss-draped oak trees and houses that look ripped out of the pages of Southern Living. It’s basically what I picture when I close my eyes and imagine “the South.” On Jekyll Island, the historic district immediately transports me back in time, while the windswept beaches beckon no matter the time of year.

2. Georgia’s Golden Isles are slow-paced, but definitely not boring

My favorite family vacation ideas are one part active exploration, one part chill-out-and-relax. Georgia’s Golden Isles are the perfect place for that combination. Want to bike, kayak, fish, or play golf? You can do that here—there are 24 miles of trails for biking on Jekyll Island alone. But you can also stroll the beach, sit by the firepit at your resort or vacation rental, or curl up on a porch with a good book and your favorite beverage. 

Kayaking on Georgia's Golden Isles (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)
Kayaking is a fun way to explore Georgia’s Golden Isles (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)

3. There’s lots to do on Georgia’s Golden Isles, no matter your age or interests

Our daughter was a tween when we first visited Jekyll Island, and activities like visiting the oh-so-cute rehab patients at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and a round of mini-golf down by the beach were big hits.

She’d become a teenager by our next visit, but she wasn’t too jaded to climb the 129 steps to the top of the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum or ride a bike on the sands at East Beach. We spent a morning snapping photos while strolling Brunswick’s historic downtown, an afternoon scouring the shops at St. Simons’ Pier Village, and early evenings watching the sun set over the marshes. 

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Georgia’s Golden Isles feel tailor made for a multigenerational family vacation, something we experienced ourselves on our most recent visit with my in-laws. The St. Simons Trolley Tour is a low-impact but highly informative way to explore the island, and the World War II Home Front Museum got a thumbs up from both my Vietnam Vet father-in-law and teenage daughter.

And we wouldn’t miss a trip to Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. Each visit to the haunting spot feels just as special as the first one, and I will never have too many photos of the dramatic gnarled branches lining the beach and water’s edge. (They’ve been a backdrop for at least one holiday card family photo.)

4. The place was made for history buffs

I’ve loved history ever since I was a kid (thanks to Little House on the Prairie and all the precursors to the Who Was? books), and Georgia’s Golden Isles have an intriguing past.

Jekyll Island’s National Historic Landmark District is what first drew me in and inspired our initial stay at the Jekyll Island Club Resort. Originally a winter retreat and “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world” for names like Pulitzer and Vanderbilt, the 240-acre site now includes the resort and more than 30 other historic structures that we’ve explored both by foot and trolley tour.

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“The Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District is one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States,” says Kathryn Hearn, a spokesperson for the Jekyll Island Authority. “Preserving and allowing people to experience this historic area contributes to the island’s charm, cultural richness, and educational value.”

St. Simons Island has plenty of history of its own. Two of my highlights: Fort Frederica National Monument, where archeological remnants and interpretive signage helped us picture the British colony that once stood there; and Christ Church, Frederica, one of the oldest churches in Georgia that’s always ready for a photo op. Plus, if you’re a Hamilton fan, you can say you vacationed on the same island Aaron Burr fled to after his notorious duel with Alexander Hamilton.

Mini golf on Georgia's Golden Isles (Photo: Beth Luberecki)
A round of mini golf is always a big hit with our daughter (Photo: Beth Luberecki)

5. You can sleep and eat well on Georgia’s Golden Isles

We had a memorable stay at the Jekyll Island Club Resort several years ago, and I can’t wait to go back to see the recent renovations of the circa-1888 Clubhouse property. Updated guest rooms now have sculptural, upholstered headboards and a style that blends the past and present. The lobby bar gives strong speakeasy vibes.

“Our designers borrowed from the Gatsby era of the early 1900s, when American life was a little less buttoned up than the Victorian era of decades earlier,” says Kevin Baker, area director of sales and marketing for Jekyll Island Club Resort. “It still feels historic, but with the joyous freedom and expected comforts of a modern vacation retreat.”

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If you’d rather be by the beach, sister property Jekyll Ocean Club offers modern suite accommodations just steps from the sand. You can also stay beachfront on St. Simons Island at The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort or opt for a luxe getaway at The Cloister on exclusive Sea Island (which is still on my bucket list).

Vacation rentals are also a great option on St. Simons Island. We’ve rented in the East Beach area for walking distance to the ocean and easy proximity to everywhere else. Rentals range from cozy beach cottages to big multi-bedroom houses, and many of them have pools.

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You won’t go hungry on the islands, with dining spots that range from elegant to ultra-casual. Kid-friendly restaurants that grownups love too include The Wharf for fresh local seafood, Guy Fieri-approved Southern Soul Barbeque, Porch for hot chicken sandwiches and a great outdoor eating area, and Alton Brown fave Beachcomber BBQ and Grill.

Summer Waves Water Park on Jekyll Island (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)
The seasonal Summer Waves Water Park on Jekyll Island is a beloved summer attraction (Photo: Jekyll Island Authority)

6. Georgia’s Golden Isles are an easy-to-get-to, any-time-of-year vacation destination

We’ve never visited Georgia’s Golden Isles during prime summertime beach weather, when seasonal attractions like Summer Waves Water Park are open and sea turtle season is in full swing. But the area’s mild climate makes visiting any time of year appealing, and we’ve spent lots of time outdoors no matter when we traveled. Plus, visiting at other times of the year means the chance to experience events like the Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival in the fall and the Holly Jolly Jekyll holiday celebration that features more than a million lights on display around the island.

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From where my family lives in Florida, it’s an easy drive to Georgia’s Golden Isles for a long weekend or lengthier trip. The area is about an hour from Jacksonville International Airport and drivable from cities like Savannah, Charleston, Atlanta, and Charlotte. And if you head there yourself, you just might see me wandering among the driftwood or walking along the shore taking a breather from life as usual.

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.com or find her on Instagram at @bethlubereckiwrites and @findingfloridafun.