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The Golden Isles of Georgia

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What do NFL great and actor James Brown, poet Sidney Lanier, and the Rockefellers have in common? The Golden Isles of Georgia!

Located about 65 miles north of Jacksonville, FL, 75 miles south of Savannah, and 280 miles southeast of Atlanta, along Georgia’s southeast Atlantic coast, The Golden Isles of Georgia has a long rich history dating back to the early 1600s when Spanish explorers first came to the area in search of gold. Even today, the Georgia Coast is recognized as having more post-colonial history along than anywhere else on the East Coast.

Said to have been infused with “a natural radiance” revealing stunning old-growth maritime forests and wildlife peppered with golden brown marshland, The Golden Isles “golden theme” and name stuck, and today the area encompasses five primary land areas (collectively, Glynn County) which are home to an estimated 200,000 people.

The mainland port city is Brunswick, and from there you can reach the barrier islands of Sea Island, Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Little St. Simons Island, the latter only accessible by boat. Each possesses its own unique character and charm that together make the Golden Isles a popular vacation destination.

Hugging each of these boutique communities together is 90 miles of picturesque coastline recognized for its amazing seafood, beautiful beaches, and world-class golf courses. In fact, due to the wealth of silt and nutrients stemming from the alluvial rivers in the area, which in turn formed the marshes, the Golden Isles boasts the highest concentration of crab and shrimp outside of the Chesapeake Bay.

But what perhaps makes this stretch of coastline so distinctive, is that it is the westernmost shoreline on the east coast. And, because of the way it curves, the islands are uniquely shielded from hurricanes, which typically run along the outer coasts; sunrises and sunsets are a little earlier and later, respectively, than anywhere else on the East Coast (except for Maine); and the tide changes four times a day, at six-hour intervals.

The tidal shifts here are awe-inspiring and so dramatic, that when the tide is out, you can walk out hundreds of yards to the numerous sandbars hidden completely from view when the tide is high. However, be warned that it does shift rather swiftly, which can cause a life-threatening situation should you walk out too far during low tide.

Another distinctive aspect is that the water here is very shallow, a depth of approximately 8 feet at the most, which makes navigation by boat a more intricate skill set, and, of course, surfing is not permitted. 

Lots to see and do

A great way to get an overall flavor and flair of the island, is to explore the area with Lighthouse Trolleys Land & Sea Tours. Offering a variety of themed excursions, including evening ghost tours, that reveal different aspects about the islands, the tours are described as bringing “island evolution and spirit to light.”

The first connection visitors must make here is to Civil War Confederate soldier turned acclaimed poet Sidney Lanier, who wrote the now famous The Marshes of Glynn based on his visits to Brunswick in the late 1860s and 1870s. Since that time his name has been bestowed on several Golden Isles entities, and his penned legacy is mentioned at every turn when speaking to the locals.

On the tours you’ll learn that the Intercoastal Waterway, although created to allow commerce to more easily establish roots in the area, also protected the islands from foreign forces lying in wait during WW1.

The F. J. Torras Causeway, built in 1924, is named after an engineer from Cuba who became a prominent Brunswick businessman here at the turn of the 20th Century; the bridge marking the first time automobiles had access St. Simons from Brunswick.

Fort Frederica National Monument is among the many historic sites and attractions found on St. Simons Island. Established in 1736 and named after Frederick Louis, the Prince of Wales, the fort, which was also a town, played an integral role in the conflict between then British South Carolina and Spanish Florida. The latter was eventually victorious, and the area remained in British possession until many decades later. Today, Fort Frederica features a visitor center, bookstore, special programming, archeological remains, and is brimming with the massive Spanish moss-laden oak trees so known in many southern states.

The St. Simons Lighthouse (the second lighthouse, as the first one was destroyed by Confederate soldiers in 1862) is literally the most visible attraction here. Soaring 104-foot in the air, the lighthouse features a 129-step cast iron spiral staircase that visitors can climb to get to the top, just below the lens, to enjoy spectacular 360-degree bird’s eye views of the islands. There’s also an adjacent, two-story keeper’s house chocked full of historical timeline and artifact exhibits, and galleries displaying period furniture and the like in the rooms that served the lighthouse keepers and their families until 1950.

Next door to the Lighthouse you’ll find the A.W. Jones Heritage Center, named after Alfred Jones, one of the original founders of the Sea Island Company with expansive holdings in the islands, and whose family is still a philanthropic force in the area. This stunning 10,000 square foot center encompasses a beautiful entrance gallery with artwork and photographs from the historic G8 Summit held here in 2004 (one of only a handful of U.S. destinations to have hosted this meeting of eight of the world’s most powerful leaders), a museum store, and a 1,400 square foot event hall. It is also the headquarters for the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and its research library, which operates the Lighthouse and the Maritime Center.

Visitors to the Golden Isles quickly learn there is so much more here than meets the eye, including a wealth of military, African American, culinary and other history.

Explore more of The Golden Isles of Georgia!

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