Photos by Dori Arrington
From the pristine beaches to the haunted lighthouse and a boutique shopping district, the Golden Isles of Georgia rank high atop the list of spring boating destinations. Venturing from the first-class marinas, you can fill your cruising agenda with sportfishing excursions, or if you’re lucky, some spectacular whale watching along the calving grounds of the North American right whale.
The Golden Isles consist of St. Simons, Little St. Simons, Jekyll Island and the town of Brunswick. The islands and surrounding waters are awash in exemplary food and entertainment options along with classic architecture, exposing the best of Southern culture in a beautiful area.
The largest of the Golden Isles, St. Simons, is the heart of activity. The main village is on the southern side of the island with a charming selection of shops, hotels and restaurants. The northern end is home to Cannon’s Point Preserve, a 600-acre green space with a winding maritime forest and miles of marshes that link to the Altamaha River. Also on the island’s northern shore is Fort Frederica, a 1736 colonial site where the British defended Georgia from the Spanish who occupied Florida. What remains today is an archaeological site that’s open to the public and protected by the National Park Service. The fort offers a window into the rich history of the island’s past. Between the island’s northern and southern shores, cruisers will find breathtaking beaches, world-renowned golf courses and enough wild outdoor spaces for all the kayaking, fishing, hiking and biking an outdoor enthusiast could want.
The restored St. Simons Light remains an active aid to ships entering St. Simons Sound, with its original Fresnel lens shining 23 miles out to sea. Unlike many operational lighthouses, this lighthouse is open to the public, with visitors welcomed to climb the 129 steps to the top. The untimely demise of a lighthouse keeper in the 19th century has also given St. Simons the unique distinction of being the only known “haunted” lighthouse.
The Golden Isles
Boaters passing through or readers of this magazine may associate St. Simons as the location of the Golden Ray maritime shipping accident. In 2019, the cargo ship rolled on its side in St. Simons Sound with more than 4,000 new cars on board. Fortunately, no crew members were lost in the accident, but it took almost three years and an enormous engineering feat to remove the ship and its contents, all of which were a total loss. It was a surreal sight to motor past the behemoth ship resting on a sand bar. Today, the ship is completely removed and successful environmental mitigation is taking place along the island’s shoreline.
The southernmost island within the group, Jekyll Island, spans 5,500 acres and is home to 10 miles of beaches, including Driftwood Beach, which captivates all who visit its gnarled shores. The beach and its weathered driftwood are the result of years of waves washing away the sand from an ancient maritime forest.
The Jekyll Island Club Resort dates back to the Gilded Age, conceived and built as an exclusive hideaway by some of the richest industrialists in the world. Today, the resort retains its past grandeur but is open to all. It is but one of many interesting landmarks that make the Golden Isles a destination worth plugging into your chartplotter.