48 Hours in the Golden Isles

48 Hours in the Golden Isles

Last year my sister-in-law and her family moved from Western New York to St. Simons Island in Georgia. Prior to her move I hadn’t heard of St. Simons or the Golden Isles of Georgia. This spring we were taking the family to Disney World and spent Easter weekend on St. Simons with my sister-in-law’s family.

A long gone tree stump clings to the shores of Jekyll Island in Georgia
A long gone tree stump clings to the shores of Jekyll Island in Georgia

This short trip was full of surprises. We’ve been to the Outer Banks and Carolina Beach, where my dad has a beach house, and I was expecting something similar.

Spanish moss hangs from the branches of a live oak tree on Georgia’s Jekyll Island.
Spanish moss hangs from the branches of a live oak tree on Georgia’s Jekyll Island.

What we found was nothing like those. You will not find rows and rows of vacation rentals with a transient population that changes from week to week. While there are hotels they do not dominate the landscape.

On St. Simons Island, Georgia, the sun falls behind the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort as a full moon rise reflects across the ocean.
On St. Simons Island, Georgia, the sun falls behind the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort as a full moon rise reflects across the ocean.

Instead we found a quant town, with a perfect mix of small restaurants, shopping, historical and beach attractions. A slower pace of activity from those other coastal regions that did not feel like a beach community.

Christ Church Frederica located on northern Saint Simons Island under a twilight sky. Christ Church is set in tall, mossy grass under towering oak trees. The church grounds include a cemetery. Christ Church, one of the oldest churches in Georgia, was founded on St. Simons Island nearly 70 years after the island was first settled by English colonists. Worship has been continuous since 1736 in Christ Church Parish, established by English colonists at Frederica under General James Oglethorpe.
Christ Church Frederica located on northern Saint Simons Island under a twilight sky.
Christ Church is set in tall, mossy grass under towering oak trees. The church grounds include a cemetery. Christ Church, one of the oldest churches in Georgia, was founded on St. Simons Island nearly 70 years after the island was first settled by English colonists. Worship has been continuous since 1736 in Christ Church Parish, established by English colonists at Frederica under General James Oglethorpe.

The Islands are dominated by live oak trees covered with spanish moss. The roads, rather than cutting through the landscape, wind through it. Bending around the oaks, shaded by their arching branches, driving around the island felt exotic.

From the north end of Saint Simons Island after an evening storm the sun drops below the horizon over the salt marsh.
From the north end of Saint Simons Island after an evening storm the sun drops below the horizon over the salt marsh.

Much of the Island is surrounded by salt marshes, lush with reeds and wildlife, felt foreign to someone like myself not used to them. As the tide ebbs and flows the panorama changes, expanding and contracting with the tide.

St. Simons Island lighthouse at night.
St. Simons Island lighthouse at night.

The St. Simons pier is a hub of activity. Small shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors providing traditional tourist stops while not seeming obtrusive.

A Brown Pelican on St. Simons Island pier with this Sidney Lanier Bridge in the background
A Brown Pelican on St. Simons Island pier with this Sidney Lanier Bridge in the background

There was a constant hum of activity here, but never a roar found in other coastal communities. The pier was lined with families fishing, people enjoying the views and pelicans perched waiting for their catch.

Through the boughs of a great oak Saint Simons Lighthouses stands against a twilight sunrise.
Through the boughs of a great oak Saint Simons Lighthouses stands against a twilight sunrise.

Off the pier, St. Simons light beacons dusk through dawn, as a guardian to mariners. It is surrounded by a park that stretched along the shore.

Through the boughs of a great oak Saint Simons Lighthouses stands against a twilight sunrise.
Through the boughs of a great oak Saint Simons Lighthouses stands against a twilight sunrise.

After talking so much about everything but the beach I of course have to mention it. On the eastern shores of the Island a beautiful beach awaits. Tidal flats provided my kids with sea shell hunting and clear water. Dunes with grasses lined the edge and sea birds lingered in the breeze.

Seagull gliding over the beach
Seagull gliding over the beach

Adjacent to St. Simons Island is Jekyll Island. Once the playground of the rich and powerful it is now open to the public and contrasts with St. Simons while signs of its former life abound.

The Jekyll Island Club was once the playground for Americans most powerful families. The Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts were among the members. Now the club is a resort and open for all to walk the grounds where titans of industry once gathered.
The Jekyll Island Club was once the playground for Americans most powerful families. The Morgans, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts were among the members. Now the club is a resort and open for all to walk the grounds where titans of industry once gathered.

The Jekyll Island club, where the powerful played, is now open to the public to explore. Historic mansions from a bygone era once belonged to tycoons, politicians and socialites. The families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Pulitzers referred to these places as cottages.

Hollybourne, built in 1890, BY Charles Stewart Maurice, in the early Mediterranean revival style. This home housed the only family to be associated with the Jekyll Island club from its inception to its dissolution in 1948.
Hollybourne, built in 1890, BY Charles Stewart Maurice, in the early Mediterranean revival style. This home housed the only family to be associated with the Jekyll Island club from its inception to its dissolution in 1948.

On the northern shore of Jekyll, across from St. Simons Pier, on Driftwood beach, the ghosts of fallen trees provide an interesting exploration for the young and old alike.

On driftwood beach, Jekyll Island in Georgia, a boneyard of giant live oaks and southern pines stand tall, fighting the sea, in a war they can’t win.
On driftwood beach, Jekyll Island in Georgia, a boneyard of giant live oaks and southern pines stand tall, fighting the sea, in a war they can’t win.

Like an alien landscape time appears to stand still here, reaching from the sands, new life clings to the old fallen monuments.

On Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach a long dead log, encrusted with calms and barnacles, emerges from the sand like a dragon
On Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach a long dead log, encrusted with calms and barnacles, emerges from the sand like a dragon

From large sweeping forests to small fallen remnants, ever changing with the tides, driftwood beach was a site to behold.

On Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach a long dead tree clings in death to the falling sand bellow
On Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach a long dead tree clings in death to the falling sand bellow

We only had 48 hours in the Golden Isles and were only able to scratch the surface. In two weeks we are returning for a longer visit and will try to take it all in while slowing down to the rhythm of the Island.

Dawn’s first light breaks over St. Simons island
Dawn’s first light breaks over St. Simons island

All photos above are available for sale on my web store : Golden Isles.

Check back later this summer with photos from our next trip.

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