How to Spend 72 Hours in the Golden Isles

How to Spend 72 Hours in the Golden Isles

Coastal towns often get a reputation for being places for relaxation. Think: lounge chair in the golden sand and a beach read in hand. While we do love a good recovery day in the sun, the Golden Isles of Georgia offers so much outdoor recreation that we’d never be able to sit still there for long. And you won’t either. In fact, you may even find it hard to fit everything you want to do into just three days. So consider the 72-hour guide a suggestion—maybe more of a challenge—and keep reading to see what must-do adventures you’ll find in the Golden Isles.

Get the Lay of the Land

The Golden Isles is made up of four barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island—and mainland Brunswick. St. Simons Island is the largest of the barrier islands and a hub for activities and events, with plenty of dining options and villages to explore. Just over a short causeway, Sea Island’s two luxury resorts offer private beaches, championship golf courses, and high-end dining. Jekyll Island is known for its quiet beaches, historic homes, and quintessential Low Country vacation vibes. Accessible only by boat, the privately-owned Little St. Simons Island welcomes visitors for day tours or stays at any of six small cottages for exclusive access to the island. On the mainland in Brunswick, you’ll find a historic port-city atmosphere reminiscent of nearby Savannah’s.

A GPS app on your phone is great for navigating among the islands, but to truly appreciate how these coastal havens and intertwining waterways connect, you have to see them from above. High Tide Aviation offers scenic flights from St. Simons Island that give you a bird’s-eye view of the Golden Isles in all their glory. The Jekyll Island Tour flies over neighboring Jekyll Island. Or choose the Golden Isles Passport flight, which covers all four barrier islands and coastal Brunswick.

Explore on the Water

Once you’ve seen the Golden Isles from above, you’ll be dying to get out to explore all the interconnected waterways. From boating on the Altamaha and Satilla Rivers to paddling in the nooks and crannies of marshland that come and go with the tides, there are seemingly endless ways to spend a day on the water. If you aren’t sure where to go, Southeast Adventure Outfitters can help. The outfitter offers guided kayak and boat tours out of both St. Simons Island and Brunswick.

Tip: Sammies, The Market, and Three Little Birds on St. Simons Island all offer grab-and-go lunches to stash in a cooler. Or if you launch out of Brunswick, try Indigo Coastal Shanty for a laidback lunch or dinner.

Or Catch Your Own Dinner

If a more hands-on approach to a day on the water sounds more up your alley, head out on a guided fishing trip with Hook & Knife Fishing Charters. Captain Dave offers half- and full-day inshore excursions to land speckled trout and red snapper year-round and flounder, triple tail, and tarpon seasonally. The best part: after you get back to the Hampton River Marina, Captain Dave (also a chef) will cook your catch for you at one of his three restaurants in the area.

Following a full day of fishing and a gourmet meal, you’ll be happy to settle in at your cozy beach bungalow. Check out Lilmar Properties for vacation rentals on St. Simons Island or stay by the shops and pier at the Village Inn & Pub.

Cruise on Two Wheels

With miles of bike paths throughout, the Golden Isles are easy to explore by bike. On Jekyll Island, rent bikes at Jekyll Island Bike Barn and pedal under the branches of live oaks down the paved paths and boardwalks that make up the more than 22-mile Jekyll Island Trail System. The bike trails take you to beaches around the island, including the famous Driftwood Beach, where weathered trees and branches decorate the shore. When you get hungry, The Wharf is the ultimate spot for a waterfront bite. Loving the laid back vibe on Jekyll Island? Plan to stay the night at Villas by the Sea (right next to Driftwood Beach) or the new beachfront Courtyard by Marriott.

Or Ramp Up the Speed on an E-Bike

While Jekyll Island is the picture-perfect place for a low-key pedal, Pedego on St. Simons Island turns it up a notch on e-bikes. Take a guided tour of the north or south side of the island midweek (available Tuesdays and Thursdays). Or rent a bike for an afternoon to explore on your own. Don’t forget to stop by to say hi to the St. Simons Island Tree Spirits, an installation, by a local artist and his son, of arborist-approved tree carvings scattered around the island.

Hang with the Locals

If you opt for biking on Jekyll Island, don’t miss a chance to befriend coastal natives at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where conservation experts help to research, protect, and rehabilitate sea turtles from the southeastern Atlantic. Visitors are welcome daily from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. to learn about sea turtles and the center’s work. Guests can get a more hands-on conservation experience by helping staff locate and protect nests during the time of year when sea turtles are laying eggs. You may even get lucky enough to start your day watching the little reptiles hatch and crawl to the ocean on a summertime sunrise walk with center staff.

Tip: Little St. Simons Island and Sea Island also offer sea turtle experiences to guests of either The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island and The Cloister or The Lodge at Sea Island.

Downward Dog on the Beach

Before another active day in the Golden Isles, start your morning with a little oceanside sun salutation at an East Beach Yoga class on St. Simons Island. The studio offers Tuesday- and Thursday-morning sessions on the beach during warmer months and has a full lineup of classes in the studio throughout the week. After class—or before if you like a coffee to start your day—get your caffeine fix at Wake Up Coffee. This hip coffee shop is a local favorite and also has a location on the mainland in Brunswick. Or try Dulce Dough Bakery for homemade donuts and other breakfast goodies.

Day Trip to Little St. Simons Island

Although Little St. Simons Island is just across the river from St. Simons Island, the privately owned landmass is reachable only by boat. Book a day trip to explore the private beaches and spend time on a guided tour with a naturalist, who’ll have a wealth of knowledge about the natural history of the island. All day-trip guests are treated to a Low Country lunch and plenty of time to relax with virtually no one else around.

Located along the 100-mile Georgia coast, the Golden Isles is made up of four barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Island—and the historic port city of Brunswick. The Golden Isles is a place to escape, settle into the rhythm of the tides and go at your own pace. 

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