The Golden Isles along the Georgia Coast offer more than the typical Atlantic Ocean beach vacation. Sure, you can lay out an over sized towel, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from a cooler, and watch the kids make sandcastles and play in the waves, just don’t stop there!
So what exactly is so cool about the coast of Georgia? Well it’s not just one thing, here are 47 things we love along the Georgia coastline. We cover things to do on the Georgia Coast with kids on St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island to lesser known barrier islands like Little St. Simons Island.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: St Simons Island
St. Simons Island has lots of year round residents so the island doesn’t have a real touristy feel, plus there are lots of restaurants, shops and plenty of different types of lodging. Here’s our big St. Simons Island Guide.
St. Simons Island Lighthouse
Climb 129 cast iron steps to the top of the (still operational) lighthouse. Once at the top you can see the Georgia coastline for miles, and nearby Neptune Park with the huge live oaks, and Village Pier. The kids will get a kick out of the large compass and replica cannons on the grounds below. Your ticket also includes a tour of the Maritime Museum, with a climb to the watchtower.
We love to visit historic places and there are plenty along the Georgia Coast. Fort Frederica was a Colonial English settlement that pre-dates the American Revolution by forty years. The town of Frederica and the fort are ruins now, but the National Park Service has created a unique and fun way to bring the buildings, and those who lived there alive through the Jr. Ranger program. Even if you don’t have kids with you, you might want to check out the Jr. Ranger program for this site, it’s one of our favorites.
The Harrington School
Did you know that slave ships docked on nearby Jekyll Island even after the practice was outlawed? Learn all about Gullah Geechee on St. Simons and the other Golden Isles at the Harrington School Museum. Afterwards, take an African American tour of the island.
Georgia Sea Island Festival
The Georgia Sea Island Festival is held each year in June and celebrates the African American musical traditions, crafts, and food of the coastal barrier islands. Sample delicious local foods like smoked mullet, fried fish and homemade ice cream. Learn traditional crafts like knitting a cast net and sweetgrass basketry. Sing along with traditional spirituals and work songs. It’s all at the Georgia Sea Island Festival.
Fly a kite on East Beach
East Beach extends along the ocean side of St Simons Island and is the best beach to enjoy typical beach activities. The beach is free and there are several places in which to access the sand. Gould’s Inlet, one of the public access points, is on the northern part of the island. There is an observation area, a small fishing pier, and a distant sandbar that makes bird watching a busy activity. The shower and water hose are convenient for cleaning off feet before packing into the car. Purchase a kite at Fredrica Station Gifts at Village Pier.
Make a scavenger hunt of finding the various Tree Spirits on the St. Simons Island. There are five locations on public property (and several more on private property) where visitors can see hauntingly beautiful faces carved into the bark of grand oak trees. These works of art by Keith Jennings commemorate the lives of many souls lost aboard ships from St. Simons Oak. Kids will love seeking them out and adults will appreciate the intricacy of this art.
Park free at Village Pier and explore the unique shops that line both sides of the street. Brogen’s serves a shrimp salad that is heavy on shrimp and easy on the mayo, with a small arcade area for the kids to play while you eat. There are two playgrounds along the Georgia shoreline, including one surrounded by a fence with a single entrance so adults can relax a bit, too. Dolphins feasting and frolicking in the water’s edge frequent the pier; visiting as the tide rolls out will increase your chances of seeing them. Be sure to get an ice cream at St. Simons Sweets before you leave.
St. Simons Island Trolley Tours
Take a tour of St. Simons Island via a vintage trolley. The driver is a wealth of information about the history of the island, and he delivers it with a clever humor that keeps you wanting. See the Bloody Marsh, Fort Frederica, Retreat Plantation and more. Near the end of the tour the trolley stops at Christ Church where riders are encouraged to walk the grounds of the church as the history lesson continues. The kids will appreciate riding in the seats that line the sides of the trolley, enabling them to sit on their knees and peer out the windows while driving by each landmark.
Find the painted rocks hidden throughout the island and paint your own to hide for others. Share your finds with the world on the SSI Rocks Facebook page.
Climb the Whale
Just down from Mallory Street (the main drag on SSI) is a seaside playground. The star of the show is outside the playground gates, it’s a sculpture of whale and her baby, usually with a lot of human babies climbing up her back.
A trip to the Golden Isles wouldn’t be the same without a stop at Southern Soul BBQ. Sample their award winning BBQ in what was once a filling station.
Canon’s Point Hike
Cannon’s Point Preserve is a 600-acre tract of greenspace at the north end of St. Simons Island. Hike to the ruins of the Canon’s Point Plantation. Along the way, stop at the slave quarters or just enjoy the beautiful maritime forest.
He’s been featured in the New York Times, and he even has his own Facebook page! And if he’s feeling especially friendly, this resident of the St Simons Bait and Tackle on Mallory Street in St. Simons will let you put him on your shoulder.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island has recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, which includes several new hotels. Don’t worry, the island is protected, so development is limited on this family friendly island. Here’s a link to our big guide on Jekyll Island.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Visitors tour the museum, learning about sea turtle life such as how they lay their eggs and how ocean pollution affects them. Turtle stamp stations guide kids through the exhibits and keep younger ones interested in the educational aspect of the center. After touring the exhibits, head to the second building to see the turtle rehabilitation tanks. The story of each turtle and their journey from illness and rehabilitation are mounted next to their tank.
Driftwood Beach is a natural playground for children. Large, majestic oak trees have died in repose on this beach making them awesome climbing structures for kids. Go at low tide to find shells and sea debris hidden among the trunks. Definitely don’t forget your camera; this is the best place on the island for getting shots of the kids playing.
Navigate the Island
Jekyll offers a number of exciting ways to see it’s landmarks including bikes, electric cars and Segways. The terrain alone at Jekyll makes bicycling with your kids a memorable experience, but you can kick it up a notch by renting specialty bikes on the island including Surrey’s and tandem bikes. Electric cars can be rented for 2, 4 or 6 people and for reasonable daily rates. This transportation method is less strenuous than biking and the open structure allows your family to soak in the sun’s rays. Families can also take a guided Segway tour, which is a fun way to learn about plant and animal life on the island.
4-H Tidelands Nature Center
This nature center offers a modest exhibit area with a touch tank and live animal viewing stations. The baby turtles housed here are used for educational purposes; some even make their way to Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium. Kids and adults will enjoy riding canoes on the lake, or touring the marsh in a kayak. Don’t miss the guided nature walks and other special programs offered here.
‘Passport to the Century’ Tram Tour
The tram tour takes you into several homes of the millionaires that made Jekyll Island famous. Kids will enjoy riding the tram pulled by a Jeep and feeling the wind in their hair. Take in the grounds of the Jekyll Island Clubhouse including a stop at Rockefeller’s vacation home where kids can climb aboard an electric car he kept on the grounds for his grandchildren.
Jekyll Island Miniature Golf
This putt putt location provides two courses, one more challenging than the other so that children of multiple ages will enjoy playing. Younger kids will enjoy the 3D statues at each hole including a dinosaur, a lighthouse, and more. There is no shade on this course; if you get hot then head across the street to Great Dunes Park. This sprawling beach with large pavilion is great for water play or having a picnic.
Great Balls of Glass
I have yet to make it to Jekyll for this nifty event, but it is on my bucket list. Each year in January and February, Jekyll Island commissions artists to create handblown glass globes. Then authority volunteers hide the orbs around the island for visitors to find…..and keep!
Historic Jekyll Island Hotel
Whether you stay here or not, plan a visit to walk through the lobby of this gorgeous hotel. And if you are like me, and love to look at the old photos, walk down to the first floor gift shop. Outside are tons of photos from the heyday of the millionaires club.
Summer Waves Water Park
It always seems strange to me there is a water park on an island, but there is and my kids love a day splashing in the wave pool or sliding down on the rafts. The slide towers are also a great place to get an overview of the island.
We were supposed to do this during our visit, but somehow I messed up the times. It’s still on my list though. Who can pass up a morning with Jekyll Island wildlife researchers for a session on gators. It’s billed as a hands-on experience too.
One of the things I love most about Jekyll Island is the infrastructure was put into place before the current development boom, which means, there are 20 miles of bike paths and trails that connect the hotels with pretty much everything else on the island.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: Sea Island
Sea Island means luxury and a stay at the famous Cloister at Sea Island is always a treat for families. Here is our full guide to Sea Island.
Gold Brick Sundae
If you are staying at Sea Island with kids, chances are you’ll spend at least some time at Wonderland, the amazing candy store just off the pool area. I’m more of an ice cream than candy person, and the gold brick sundae is more my speed, and a delicious break from the sun.
Air Rifle Bulls-Eye Hour
A class specifically designed for children using no-kickback air rifles. My boys felt like such big kids and were so proud when they hit the target.
Introduction to Falconry
Kids can learn firsthand about the ancient art of falconry and how Sea Island continues the tradition. Guests can even have the unique opportunity to hold a raptor.
Sea Island Junior Naturalist
This hands-on program allows kids to get up close and personal with nature and learn about the ecosystems and wildlife around Sea Island.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: Brunswick/Darien
Brunswick is the mainland town that serves the Golden Isles. Darien is a small fishing village a few miles North. Both towns have lots of fun away from the beach.
Fort King George (Darien)
As adults take in the history of this British outpost, kids are free to run and roam over the fort. The park offers wooden guns at the door, helping to bring the flavor of this site to life for children. Children can run around the grounds playing ‘Army’, climb ladders in the fort and hide in the bunkers. This unique experience allows them to use most of their senses to experience Georgia history. More info here.
Shrimpin’ Excursion on Lady Jane (Brunswick)
This refurbished shrimp boat takes visitors to the St. Simons Sound where they can help biologists catch shrimp and sort them from other sea animals such as sand sharks and puffer fish. While on board the Lady Jane, your freshly caught shrimp is boiled and served for a shrimp feast like no other. Enjoy the sunshine on the open decks or view the water from an air-conditioned cabin window.
Cap Fendig Dolphin Tour (Brunswick)
Take a 60-minute tour exploring the marshlands where dolphins are abundant. Because the waters of the inlet are calm, young children can also participate in this adventure. The boat tour takes passengers along the bird sanctuary and the lighthouse. Cap Fendig is known to be charming and full of life. If you have an opportunity, consider the sunset tour to top off the expedition.
Want to know what the plantation era in south Georgia was really like? Visit the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, a Georgia State Park site. This is a part of the Colonial Coast birding trail too.
Geocaching (various locations)
Children will love the novelty of using a GPS to explore the islands, and adults will appreciate the landmarks covered by this high tech scavenger hunt. The Golden Isles is home to thousands of caches. They can be found in such locations as Hofwyl-Broadfield, Driftwood Beach, Bloody Marsh, and many more.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: Outer Coastal Islands
Georgia has several islands that are less well known and a little harder to get to than the ones above. Here we tell you about a few – Little St. Simons Island, Cumberland Eagle Island, and Sapelo Island.
Little St. Simons Island
Little St. Simons Island is a private resort off the Georgia Coast. From May – September young families are welcome with open arms…so May is when we visited, just on the cusp of Summer. Wonder is everywhere on Little St Simons Island. Including helping the naturalists put a baby oyster catcher that had been incubated at the hotel back in her nest, or watching the alligators swim next to the dock. We recommend every family visit Little St Simon’s Island private resort.
Stacia Hendricks (Little St. Simons Island)
One of the best things about Little St. Simon’s Island is Stacia Hendricks. We met Stacia years ago on a beach walk. She had every.single.kid (plus the adults) wrapped attention to beach garbage. Seriously, some kid brought her a piece of garbage, which she enthusiastically said, Ohhh, this is great, this part is just trash…but see this on it, right here, do you know what that is? I think it was a bi-valve of some kind. She was like the pied piper and we would have followed her anywhere.
Chocolate Plantation Ruins (Sapelo Island)
This is on my list for the next time I visit Sapelo Island. Not actually a place where chocolate was made, the plantation got it’s name from a Guale Indian village on the island of Chucalate. Visitors to the ruins must be escorted by a private land owner or a state employee, so if you’d like to see the Chocolate Ruins, be sure to schedule a tour.
Hog Hammock (Sapelo Island)
Main Street Sapelo Island is in the tiny Hog Hammock community. Visit the general store for a snack, and if you are lucky, maybe grab a drink at the tiny bar next-door, if it’s open.
Become a Junior Ranger (Cumberland Island)
The only way to get to Cumberland Island National Seashore is to catch a boat from nearby St. Mary’s, Ga. Kids can stop by the Ranger Station just off the boat at Cumberland Island Sea Camp dock to pick up a Jr. Ranger booklet. Complete the booklet and get a Jr. Ranger badge. While you are there, ask about free historic trading cards too.
The once grand home of Andrew and Lucy Carniege on Cumberland Island is now ruins, but still impressive against the bright blue sky. My kids loved seeing the ruins and running around the grounds.
Cumberland Island Horses
Cumberland Island is home to approximately 150 feral horses. You’ll see bands of them throughout the island, munching on the grass.
They don’t mind having their picture taken, but do remember that these are wild horses and should be treated as you would any other wild animal and given a nice wide berth
What could be better than visiting the beach on Georgia’s coast? Taking over your own island. If you ask, owner Captain Andy can plan a oyster roast for you and your guests on the Island.
The Best of the Georgia Coast: Savannah Georgia Coast and Tybee Island
The closest beach to Atlanta is Tybee Island, so you can’t write an article about the Georgia Coast without mentioning this beautiful beach and nearby Savannah. Here is more information on Savannah with kids and Tybee Island.
Escape From Pirate Island
Escape From Pirate Island in Savannah! Join a boisterous crew of pirates at a tavern, and try to escape before they make you walk the plank. Kids 12+
Savannah River Boat Cruise
Savannah was started and still is a port town. It only makes sense that a trip includes some time on the river. Savannah Riverboat Cruises are a great way to do that, and get some history during your leisurely ride. Pro-Tip: Go on the 3:30 pm tour, when you pass Old Fort Jackson they’ll shoot a cannon from the fort at the boat. (Don’t worry, it’s a blank.)
Take a Ghost City Tour
If your littles are able to stay up late then purchase tickets ahead of time for the Ghost City Grave Tales Ghost Tour. It starts at 9pm…which is why I add the caveat. This is a family-friendly tour with about 90 minutes of walking through Savannah’s haunted mansions and historic homes, haunted cemeteries, burial grounds and battlefields. It’s also one of Savannah’s most highly-rated tours.
Georgia Sea Kayak
The best way to see any of Georgia’s coast is via the water. Georgia Sea Kayak on Tybee Island will guide you through the waterways, past football field oyster middens.
Fort Pulaski is part of the National Park Service. The day we went they were having a special event that included a Civil War campout and cannon demonstrations. Cannons are always a draw for my boys. Pro Tip: Ask at the Ranger station for a set of FREE trading cards.
On Wilmington Island is the headquarters for the Savannah Bee Company. For a few dollars, you can put on bee hats and take a tour of the hives out back. I wanted to go just for the bee hats, but I left with some tea honey that I’m now in love with and am going to have to go buy more.
Disclosure: Thanks to Jekyll Island Authority and the Golden Isles CVB for our complimentary tickets. While our visit was complimentary, our opinions cannot be bought and are honest and completely our own.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.