You don't have to be Gatsby to savor the family activities available in the little-known, mid-Atlantic coastal retreats of St. Simon's and Jekyll Islands, Georgia.
The Golden Isles off the coast of Georgia offer a great escape from the humdrum routine of daily life. The most popular times to visit the area, located on the Atlantic between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida, are spring break and the summer months, when many families drive hundreds of miles to relax here together.
In addition to the mainland city of Brunswick, which has a charming Victorian style old section, the main attraction is the four barrier islands: St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. Each has a distinct personality and audience. Of course anything called “Golden” sounds expensive, but in fact it was the Spanish explorers who landed here in the 1600s looking for gold who bestowed that name. Nonetheless, families on a budget will find accommodations in Brunswick to be more affordable.
While some towns are very commercial and touristy, you’ll be surprised to learn there are many natural attractions and animal encounters kids can enjoy. This very marshy coastline is dotted with small islands called hammocks that make the offshore islands seem closer than they are. According to the local C&VB, it is the marshes and rivers that flow through them that create an ideal habitat for fish, birds and animals. And, if you’re looking for the famous woven rope resting places called hammocks that are produced locally, you’ll find them sold all over Pawleys Island, Georgia.
St. Simons Dolphin Tours & Eco-Activities
St. Simons Transit Company offers dolphin tours from St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. During the tours you¹ll explore the marshes and rivers surrounding the islands where you¹ll see dolphins, manatees and other marine life. Often, the captain will drag a net to capture various types of fish, shrimp, etc. which they place in a clear tank on board for close-up viewing. The critters are returned to the water unharmed. The tours are offered year-round; please contact: St. Simons Transit Co: 912/635-3152 for schedules.
Touring Kayaks and Canoe Trips:
Kayaks and canoes are a great way to explore the creeks and marshes of the Golden Isles. Most local outfitters offer instruction and can tailor custom outings to fit family needs and interests. Outings are offered spring through fall from Barry’s Beach Service, St. Simons Island: 912/638-8053 or from Southeast Adventure Outfitters, St. Simons Island: 912/638-6732 or Brunswick: 912/265-5292.
Shrimp Cruise Tour:
A great experience for any Forest Gump fans, this shrimping boat will take you along the coastal waters while the crew will empty the nets and teach you about the various species caught. At the end there is a “shrimp boil” where everyone aboard can eat their share. This US Coast Guard approved tour would make Bubba Gump proud.
Public cruises run February through August, usually between 4-6pm. Please contact Shrimp Cruise, Brunswick: 912-265-5711 for information.
Jekyll Island Nature Centers
There are several very good nature centers in the Golden Isles: Tidelands Nature Center on Jekyll Island and Driftwood Nature Center on St. Simons Island. Both feature aquaria filled with local marine creatures, touch tanks and walking tours. Driftwood on St. Simons Island offers special day camps for kids during the summer months.
Both centers are open year-round. You can get more information on their seasonal schedules by calling Tidelands Nature Center (912/635-5032) or the
Honey Creek Coastal Encounters Nature Center (912/638-3849).
Sea Turtle Walks:
From June to mid-August, nightly beach walks on Jekyll Island offer opportunities to sea nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Any age child is welcome with a parent; children over age 12 can participate unattended with parental permission. During other times of spring, families can watch the release of rehabilitated sea turtles from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. Contact yjr The Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Project (912/635-4053) for more information.
Golden Isles Art, Culture & Camps
Brunswick & The Golden Isles are blessed with several local arts associations, some of which sponsor art classes in a variety of media for kids of all ages.
Glynn Art Association on St. Simons Island offers children’s art camps during the summer months. Specializing in pottery, Teacher Debi Craig is especially good with children and frequently offers special classes for scouts, church groups and others.
Times vary depending on program but the Glynn Art Association (912/638-8770) will keep you up to date.
Historic Sites and Museums:
There are a bunch of interesting museums and historic sites including St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, (912/638-6609) Mary Miller Doll Museum (912/267-7569) in Brunswick, Fort Frederica (912/638-3639) on St. Simons Island, Hofwyl Plantation (912/264-7333) near Brunswick and Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District. Check their websites prior to your vacation so you can enroll the kids in some of the wonderful summer workshops and day camp programs that are usually geared to local families.
More Active Outdoor Fun in the Golden Isles
Because of its level terrain, Brunswick & The Golden Isles are a great place for exploration by bike. Jekyll Island offers 20 miles of paved bike paths that traverse salt marshes, maritime forest and beach as well as the island’s National Historic Landmark District. Bike maps are available at the Jekyll Island Welcome Center and most island hotels. You can bike year-round of course, and the posh Jekyll Island Welcome Center is a place to start.
Great beaches to explore on all the islands. Because of offshore sandbars, the surf on both St. Simons and Jekyll Islands is especially gentle, making these gold sand strectches indeal for families with infants and toddlers. Jekyll Island beaches are dog-welcoming, too, making them espeically fun for little ones who enjoy pets.
No family vacation would be complete without ice cream and other goodies. Sweet Mama’s (912/638-9011) on St. Simons Island is a local landmark and a favorite among visiting families.
Golden Isles Trip Planning Details
Plan to spend at least a few days getting to know the islands. Depending on how active you want your vacation to be (and the age of your kids), your family can do the entire area in two days or spread it out for an entire week, especially if you venture out to other local attractions. There are often fun festivals on these islands, and in summer there are frequent free and low-cost concerts, fireworks, antique shows and other events geared to the whole family. Brunswick & The Golden Isles make an ideal base camp for trips to Cumberland Island National Seashore, Okefenokee Swamp and Savannah, to name a few other destinations.
So, whether you’re relaxing on a beach or spotting dolphins from a boat, your family is guaranteed to be entertained. Read on for more kids activities and ways to plan your own classic family beach vacation destination at Georgia’s Golden Isles. The Brunswick & The Golden Isles Visitors Bureau (800-933-2627 or 912/265-0620) is also helpful in trip planning.
Our thanks to the Brunswick & Golden Islands Visitors Bureau, Georgia for the information they provided.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.