There are tons of ways to experience the Golden Isles: Maybe you want to spend your whole trip on the beach, or exploring the historic districts, loaded with boutiques and cool eateries, or just hanging out at a spa in a luxury hotel. Whatever your preference, there's no wrong way to do the Golden Isles... but there are also some things that are so classic to the region that you have to try them at least once. From meeting the sea turtles that call this shore home to a sunset horseback ride on the beach, these are the definitive Golden Isles experiences to add to your bucket list.
If you haven't spent time truly exploring the Jekyll Island National Landmark Historic District, set aside a few hours to get to know this iconic area. Early 20th-century mansions and cottages built by many of America's most wealthy and well-known families dot the landscape, which is shaded by Spanish moss-draped oaks. Many of the homes and buildings have been preserved or renovated, and are now a part of the historical tour, or serve as a shop or art gallery. You can also visit the Jekyll Island Museum, peek inside the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and even grab lunch in the Grand Dining Room. A lot of history was made on this island, and these mansions and cottages really helped shape the island's personality, so there's a lot to take in there!
The natural setting and the wildlife of the islands are just as important as the history, and the fact that Jekyll Island is home to an incredible marine turtle rehabilitation, research, and education facility is pretty awesome. Sea turtles are a special endangered species, but the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is doing important work healing, releasing, studying, and teaching about these reptiles. Learn about the yearly turtle nesting that occurs on the island, see turtles that are being rehabilitated, and pick up some adorable turtle souvenirs! Pro tip: Visit during feeding time; it adds to the experience.
If you haven't been crabbing or fishing while visiting the Golden Isles, it's not too late to give it a try! Grab bait and other supplies from the local hardware store nearby and cast out a line to see what you can catch. Otherwise, it's just as fun to watch the pros reel in their booty, and you can spot dolphins from the end of the pier. Awesome people-watching and great scenery: what more do you need?
For a truly one-of-a-kind lodging experience, stay at The Lodge at Sea Island. Although located on St. Simons Island, The Lodge is one of Sea Island's opulent, beautiful properties. Breathtaking views of the St. Simons Sound, 24-hour butler service, rose-petal baths, championship golf courses, opulent onsite dining options and more, all located on the grounds that was once an antebellum plantation... and those are just a few reasons why a stay here will be totally unforgettable. There are only 40 rooms at The Lodge, so you'll certainly enjoy the quiet and intimate setting.
Shrimp are important to the culture, industry, and cuisine of the Golden Isles, so the chance to learn more about these critters should definitely be a bucket-list adventure. With Lady Jane's Shrimp Cruise, you get more than just an up-close encounter with the local marine wildlife, incredible views on the water, informative lessons about why these animals call the Golden Isles home, and a relaxing boat ride, all in one. Be sure to also try one of their dolphin or crabbing tours, too.
When the owners and operators of a restaurant refer to themselves as a "CheFarmer" and a "Food Alchemist," you know to expect a meal that's totally one-of-a-kind... and since The Farmer & The Larder only serves dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and brunch on Sundays, you'll want to make reservations ASAP. Once you check out the Brunswick-based eatery's menu, you'll be sold.
These guys know Southern cuisine: home-grown local produce is used in the stuffed baby squash, fresh-caught fish is cooked to perfection, and even the brunch grits are treated like a guest of honor, topped with greens or shrimp and gravy. They go the extra mile for everything on the menu: Their sodas are crafted by hand with house-made syrups, and they blend their own tea.
The final bucket list item for a visit to the Golden Isles: a horseback ride on the beach. It's just one of those things that you should experience for yourself, because there's no better place in the country for a peaceful beach trail ride than the Golden Isles. Three Oaks Carriage Company offers sunset beach rides that are absolutely divine, as well as equally lovely moonlight rides.
No matter if you're planning your first visit to the Golden Isles or your fifteenth, there are some things that are just so much fun that you can't help but do them. These essential activities are classic favorites for a reason, and they'll be fun no matter how many times you indulge!