The Golden Isles along the Georgia Coast offer more than the typical Atlantic Ocean beach vacation. Sure, you can lay out an oversized 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, in fact, we’ve got 47 things we love along the Georgia’s coastal lands. 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 a lot 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.
READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE: St. Simons Island
ST SIMONS ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
Climb 129 cast iron steps to the top of the (still operational) St. Simons Lighthouse. Once at the top you can see the Georgia coastline for miles, along with nearby Neptune Park with its 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 40 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 Frederica Station Gifts at Village Pier.
SEE THE TREE SPIRITS
Make a scavenger hunt of finding the various Tree Spirits on the St. Simons Island. My kids and I have done this while visiting St. Simons, and it is so fun! Each tree spirit is so unique, and my kids really thought this activity was super fun.
There are 11 locations on public property (and even 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. Kids love seeking them out and adults appreciate the intricacy of this art.
SHOP AT PIER VILLAGE
Park free at Pier Village 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.
TAKE A ST SIMONS ISLAND TROLLEY TOUR
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.
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.
It’s a must-do activity for any child!
EAT AT SOUTHERN SOUL
A trip to the Golden Isles wouldn’t be the same without a stop at Southern Soul BBQ. This place is delicious, and it even won the Southern Living South’s Best Award in 2018. It’s truly known as one of the best barbeque joints in the southern United States.
Sample their award winning BBQ in what was once a filling station.
HIKE CANON’S POINT
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.
Launch a canoe, paddleboard, or kayak from the non-motorized boat launch, enjoy a picnic, or go biking or birding. There is so much to explore at Cannon’s Point.
MEET MR BYRD
Mr. Byrd has 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.
READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE: Jekyll Island
THE GEORGIA SEA TURTLE CENTER
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a must-do for my family during our Jekyll Island visit each year. Not only do you get to learn more about sea turtles, but this center is Georgia’s only sea turtle rehabilitation center.
Tour the museum, learn about the lives of sea turtles, and get an up-close look at doctors working on rehabbing sea turtles. 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.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center also offers Sunrise Turtle Walks, Behind the Scenes tours, and more.
Driftwood Beach is a natural playground for children and adults. 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.
This beach is consistently voted as one of TripAdvisor’s “Best of the Best Beaches.”
Definitely don’t forget your camera; this is the best place on the island for getting shots of the kids playing at sunset.
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 Surreys and tandem bikes.
Electric cars (they call them Red Bugs) 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
The 4-H Tidelands 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 taking canoes out on the lake, or touring the marsh in a kayak. Don’t miss the guided nature walks and other special programs offered here.
LANDMARK TROLLEY TOUR
The Landmark Trolley 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 historic district and 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
Enjoying Jekyll Island Mini Golf is a must-do each year for us. We love to play a round of putt-putt, then play at the elaborate playgrounds nearby, before grabbing pizza for dinner on the deck at Red Bug Pizza. You can also rent bikes and surreys here. It’s like a one-stop shop for fun!
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.
Each year in January and February, Jekyll Island hosts Island Treasures — which is basically, a super fun treasure hunt.
Jekyll Island commissions artists to create handblown glass globes, which is a throwback to the hollow glass balls, or floats, that East Coast fishermen used on their nets as markers in the early 1900s. Everyday in January and February, the Jekyll Island Authority enlists “Beach Buddies” to hide clear globes around the island for lucky guests to find. When (or if!) they do find one, they get to redeem it for a real glass globe.
My parents visited Jekyll in February 2023 to participate in Island Treasures, and found one on their second day! They were thrilled! Their beautiful globe is now proudly displayed in their living room.
HISTORIC JEKYLL ISLAND CLUB HOTEL
Whether you stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel 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. (We also love Jekyll Ocean Club.)
SUMMER WAVES WATER PARK
Summer Waves Water Park is a highlight for our family every year. This amazing water park is the perfect size — large enough to be full of water slides, pools, and water features, but small enough so it’s easy to navigate and easily keep up with your crew.
Enjoy the waves in the Frantic Atlantic wave pool, let your little ones spend time at Shark Tooth Cove, get your heart pumping by trying out the slides at Man O’ War, Natures Revenge, or Force 3, or enjoy a lazy ride around the park on Turtle Creek.
You’ll also find a Larry’s Giant Subs here, concessions, a gift shop, changing rooms and bathrooms, plenty of seating, cabanas for rent, and splash pad areas.
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.
Exploring the bike paths is not only a great way to explore the island, but it’s really a great way to get around. You’ll find paths along the beach, paths through the forests, paths around the popular shopping and eating districts, and to historic sites.
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.
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
The Sea Island Junior Naturalist program is a hands-on program that allows kids to get up close and personal with nature and learn about the ecosystems and wildlife around Sea Island.
BRUNSWICK AND 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
As adults take in the history of this British outpost, kids are free to run and roam over the fort. Fort King George State Historic Site 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.
PADDLE THE ALTAMAHA RIVER
Experience sea kayaking adventures with Altamaha Coastal Tours in one of the most beautiful and remote areas in the southeast. Located near St. Simons Island and 45 minutes south of Savannah, the Altamaha River BioReserve is a world of wilderness and natural wonder.
Bottle-nosed dolphins, manatees, otters, alligators, deer, mink, eagles, osprey, and thousands of sea-birds make this area a best kept secret.
SHRIMPIN’ EXCURSION ON THE LADY JANE
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
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. You’ll find a museum, visitor center, picnic area, guided house tour, and a 4-mile nature trail here.
Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site is part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail too.
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 OUTER COASTAL ISLANDS
LITTLE ST SIMONS ISLAND
Little St. Simons Island is a private resort off the Georgia Coast, not accessible by car. 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. We loved 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.
STACIA HENDRICKS (ON LSSI)
One of the best things about Little St. Simon’s Island is naturalist 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 (ON SAPELO ISLAND)
Not actually a place where chocolate was made, the plantation got its name from a Guale Indian village on the island of Chucalate. Sapelo Island 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 (ON 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 JR RANGER (ON 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. It’s a great place to learn about the state’s salt marshes, which make op 1/3 of all the salt marshes on the East Coast.
DUNGENESS (ON CUMBERLAND ISLAND)
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.
The Greyfield Inn was a present from Lucy Carnegie, wife of the lesser known steel magnate Thomas Carnegie, to her daughter Margaret Ricketson. It was the smallest of the four homes she built on the island for her children. Now, you can stay here, too.
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.
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. Kids can also earn their Junior Ranger badges here.
SAVANNAH BEE COMPANY
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.
MORE ABOUT THE GEORGIA COAST
Want to learn more about preserving coastal Georgia? Follow 100 Miles, focusing on Georgia’s core issues of water and wetlands, land use, changing climate, and wildlife along the coast.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GEORGIA’S COAST
- YOUR GEORGIA COAST VACATION
- BEACHES: Closest Beach to Me: 27+ Exciting Beaches Close to Atlanta
- PET-FRIENDLY HOTELS: 10 ‘Paw-some’ Pet Friendly Hotels Savannah GA Offers for Your Next Vacation
- SAVANNAH HOTELS: 29+ Hotels in Savannah Ga Ideal for Bringing the Family (B&B, on the Water, Budget and More)
- LEOPOLD’S: Leopold’s Ice Cream: A Delicious Savannah Treat You Can’t Miss
WHERE TO STAY ON THE GEORGIA COAST
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