Along centuries the beautiful coast of Georgia has enchanted poets, authors and musicians alike. The ribbon-smooth beaches, the marshes and moss-draped oaks create a unique haven. Sidney Lanier was inspired to write his famous poem “Marshes of Glynn” in tribute to the long-stemmed grasses that change color each season and the live oak trees draped with moss that provide a hauntingly beautiful and romantic setting.

Along the Georgia coast, between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida, you’ll find the city of Brunswick and four barrier islands: St. Simons, Sea Island, Little St. Simons and Jekyll.

When Spanish explorers came to the area more than 400 years ago seeking gold, they found instead the astounding beauty, mild temperatures and a natural radiance that inspired them to call the area the Golden Isles.

One of the first things you notice is the marsh. Huge expanses of marshland, punctuated by small islands, known as hammocks, define the landscape and create the appearance of continuous land between the mainland and the barrier islands. The marshes and the rivers that flow through them on their way to the sea teem with all sorts of fish, birds and animals.

Mainland Brunswick was named for Braunsweig, Germany, the ancestral home of King George II, who granted Georgia’s original land charter. The city’s streets and squares are laid out in a formal grid, similar to Savannah and other colonial cities, and continue to bear their colonial names. Old Town, a National Register District, is filled with majestic homes noted for their turn-of-the-century elegance and eclectic mix of styles. The burgeoning downtown is filled with interesting antique shops and a growing number of specialty shops and art galleries. At Mary Ross Park on the waterfront, you’ll see fleets of shrimp boats that work the local waters and contribute to the area’s rich seafood industry.

Cross the Marshes of Glynn, immortalized by Georgia poet Sidney Lanier, to St. Simons Island, the largest of the Golden Isles. Moss-draped oaks line the island’s streets, creating an image worthy of Faulkner. The Village offers a charming selection of shops and restaurants that range from fine dining establishments to casual outdoor eateries. Young visitors will especially enjoy Neptune Park, with its mini-golf course, playground and the fishing pier. They may even see a shark or some other sea creature, landed by one of the local anglers.

St. Simons Island offers plenty of interesting historical sites and attractions, from the St. Simons Lighthouse (a working lighthouse in operation since 1872) to Bloody Marsh, where British and Scottish soldiers successfully defeated a larger Spanish force and ended Spanish incursions outside Florida. Fort Frederica National Monument and historic Christ Church are on the island’s north end. There are great beaches (check out East Beach by the old Coast Guard Station) and a nature center that offers fun day programs for kids.

Little St. Simons Island is a private island, accessible only by twice-daily boats from Hampton Point on St. Simons Island’s north end. The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island was built in the early 1900s by the same family that owns and operates it today. The Lodge offers accommodations for up to 30 guests, making it a wonderful destination for family reunions and small group gatherings. Guests enjoy a variety of activities from guided nature walks with a staff naturalist to canoeing and kayaking and horseback rides. During inclement weather, the library in the main lodge is a cozy spot for reading, cards or quiet chats.

Sea Island is home to The Cloister, a world-class resort renowned for its luxury and gracious service and site of the recent G-8 Summit. The Cloister has hosted presidents, royalty and other VIPs. The new Ocean Houses offer beautiful oceanfront accommodations and flexibility for accommodating groups of most any size. Top-notch amenities include a full-service spa, golf, tennis, Shooting School, horseback riding, kids programs, a private beach, fishing, waterway excursions and more. Special theme weekends throughout the year are devoted to ballroom dancing, bridge and fine wines.

Jekyll Island, the southernmost of the Golden Isles, was once an exclusive winter retreat for some of America’s wealthiest families. From 1887 to 1942, the Jekyll Island Club counted among its members such men as J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer and other industrial and financial leaders of their day. They created a complex that included a grand clubhouse (now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel), a collection of “cottages” and a variety of support structures. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Historic District is open to the public.

Jekyll Island was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1947 and is today a popular year-round destination for families and business travelers. The island offers a wealth of amenities and activities including 63 holes of golf, tennis, beaches, 20 miles of bike paths, mini-golf, nature tours and Summer Waves Waterpark. Jekyll Island retains much of its natural beauty, which is protected by law. There are places, such as the “driftwood beach” on the island’s north end and St. Andrews beach on the south end, where you can feel as though you’re Robinson Crusoe on your own desert island.

Ray Charles’ moving rendition of “Georgia on my Mind” manages to capture the ambiance of the entire state, yet nowhere can you feel the full force of the romance and radiance of the state more so than this much-acclaimed seaside getaway.

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF BRUNSWICK-GOLDEN ISLES CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU

 

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