Georgia’s Barrier Islands
Making Summer Last with a Beach Getaway
By Jordana Klein
The Peach State is known for its wide variety of lush landscapes,and some of the most beautiful are encountered as you head east to where the salty air intertwines with the sea-baring breeze. Thinking Savannah? Keep thinking—Georgia’s coast invites city dwellers to discover the islands that are especially inviting in the post-summertime months, when the temperatures mellow, the bustle of the beaches winds down, and you can take your time and really enjoy the deep-rooted charm while scoring some off-season bargains in the process.
For starters, take a trip to Tybee Island, where you can claim your spot on the gleaming beach or stroll down the pier to take in the sunrise. Spanning just 2.75 miles, it offers a multitude of adventures. Take a Lighthouse Sunset Tour to view the state’s tallest and oldest standing lighthouse in all its 300-year-old glory. The admission fee offers access to the Tybee Museum as well, letting guests enter an 1898 artillery battery at Fort Screven that displays relics from over 400 years of Georgia history.
On adjacent Cockspur Island is Fort Pulaski National Monument, the scene of a Union victory that represented a turning point in the Civil War.
Explore watersports or bird watching at the Colonial Coastal Birding Trail, with over 300 species to spot, fishing charters and tours, and abundant bike trails. In October, you can experience the annual Pirate Festival with family-friendly amusement for all, including music, a parade, pirate performers and costume contests.
After a busy day outside, you’ll be looking forward to a place to relax. Stay close to the water at Beachside Colony, where one-, two-, and three-bedroom condominiums provide a range of options. The Hotel Tybee has welcomed guests to the island for more than 125 years with 208 luxurious guest rooms, many with ocean views and all with balconies for unwinding and deciding where you’d like to enjoy dinner. The hotel is within walking distance of several popular restaurants: The scent of Low Country boil may draw you into The Crab Shack, or you may decide on the Sundae Café for the seafood cheesecake, an appetizer of shrimp, crab and smoky Gouda. Seafood takes a Caribbean twist at North Beach Bar and Grill.
Heading south, you’ll come to Brunswick and the Golden Isles, including the four barrier islands of St. Simons, Sea Island, Jekyll Island and Little St. Simons Island. Accommodations here range from rental properties to resort-style living. Jekyll Island Club Resort dates to 1888 and boasts a history as the winter playground of millionaires. Here you can unwind in Victorian splendor, with many rooms featuring gracious balconies and fireplaces. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway with vintage style, The Village Inn and Pub features 28 unique rooms decorated with traditional charm, set around a restored 1930s beach cottage. Stop by the pub for a drink and some live music for the perfect night out.
For the ultimate in luxury, the famed Sea Island Resort offers several Forbes Five Star options: the palatial Spanish style of The Cloister, an English manor at The Lodge, a refined hunting and golf retreat at Broadfield, and private residences in the one- to eight-bedroom Cottages. Whichever you choose, you’ll have at your disposal a spa, private beach and pools, fine dining, and watersports including kayaking in the surrounding salt marshes, paddleboarding and Sunfish sailing. Of course, there’s also use of the world-famous Sea Island Golf Club.
As you explore the area, you’ll want to be sure to lock in your appointment for the Golden Isles Carriage and Trail at Three Oaks Farm. Whether it’s a guided carriage tour, a private drive or a fairytale horseback ride on the beach, these excursions ensure a lifetime memory. If the water is calling, check into the boat tours running out of the Historic Wharf for dolphin watching, kayaking, fishing or just a romantic sunset sail. Active families can unite for fun at the Jekyll Island Tennis Center, with 13 clay courts, or joyride along the abundant biking trails on both St. Simons and Jekyll Islands.
Life on the Georgia coast means fine dining, especially seafood. Try the famous crab cakes at Barbara Jean’s or savor a Porterhouse for two at Colt and Alison on St. Simons, or dig in to pizza, homemade pasta and seafood at Jekyll Island’s Beach House. Enjoy Sunday brunch at The Farmer and the Larder in Brunswick, showcasing local fare.
The town of St. Marys is known as the gateway to Cumberland Island, the southernmost and largest of Georgia’s barrier islands. Start your day with the hearty breakfast buffet at the Spencer House Inn Bed and Breakfast in the heart of the historic district before heading by ferry to the Island to enjoy fishing, hunting, camping, hiking or biking and stargazing. The island is home to the state’s famous herd of wild horses, as well as a host of other wildlife including sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, otters, manatees, bald eagles and ospreys.
If civilization is more your style, visit the St. Marys Peace Garden, dedicated to the friendship between the U.S. and Canada since the War of 1812. Later, take a ride into history on the St. Marys Express, where you might meet up with hobos, cowboys, or even pirates. On Friday and Saturday evenings, enjoy bluegrass and country music at the Woodbine Opry.
Whether you rough it or stay in town, it all leads into an evening of glorious local fare at any of the downtown dining options, where there’s a bite awaiting even the pickiest of taste buds. The perfectly named St. Marys Seafood and More offers shrimp corn chowder and deviled crab alongside grilled ribeye and chicken. At Pauly’s Café you’ll find Italian favorites as well as seafood, with a whimsical tiki bar on the patio. You can even savor Asian fare at Pat Thai.
The area also hosts some autumn special events that only post-summertime visitors can share, giving the lie to the term “off season.” In October, the Rock Shrimp Festival in St. Marys celebrates the local delicacy with a parade, live music and vendors, while the Haunted History Tour ushers in Halloween with spooky tales told by professional actors at historic venues around town. In November, the nearby Kingsland Catfish Festival makes for a fun-filled day of antique and craft booths, parades and of course, lots of fried catfish and hush puppies.
Exploring the Peach State coast in autumn will draw you closer to the culture, character and charm of this region that can be overlooked in the summer tourist season bustle. These islands rival other destinations for a convenient, exciting and memorable getaway.