There are few destinations quite like the Golden Isles. The rich history, beachy setting and perfect weather all meld together to form a little corner of Georgia that's downright dreamy. Smack dab in the center of it all is the St. Simons Sound. Cruise over the Sidney Lanier Bridge into the charming, vintage downtown of Brunswick to soak in the culture. After that, hop over to St. Simons Island, a hidden gem of a destination, and revel in the relaxing, carefree atmosphere. All in all, it's a perfect adventure that's sure to enchant.
Georgia’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge is the most memorable way to access the Golden Isles. Admire the views and feel your worries drift away as you cruise across the Sidney Lanier Bridge over the Brunswick River. It's named for local poet Sidney Lanier, whose poem Marshes of Glynn describes the wetlands here. The current bridge was opened in 2003 to replace the original bridge from 1956. Once you reach the other side, take a deep breath of ocean air and get ready to bask in the good vibes of the Golden Isles.
Make your first stop in Brunswick a quick one: the massive, 13-foot-diameter Lover's Oak. This Spanish moss-draped beauty has been standing for what some estimate to be around 900 years. Wild to think that it started growing back when the first Crusades were going on! Naturally, due to the tree's age, it has attracted legends and lore. It's known as the Lover's Oak because of a tale that Indian braves and maidens would meet beneath the tree. Stand below it yourself (with or without your sweetheart) and gaze up at the massive branches.
From there, make your way into Brunswick's Old Town Historic District. Brunswick was founded back in 1771, so it has a ton of gorgeous, old buildings to admire. A lot of Loyalists lived here during the American Revolution, so the town's name (from the family of King George), and its distinctly English street names have remained. Two iconic buildings in this part of town are the Old City Hall, built in 1888, and the Historic Ritz Theater, which was the town's original opera house. Built in 1898, it's still a performance venue. Stroll the oak-lined streets and admire the quirky and authentic architecture reflected in buildings that date back to 1819. Architectural styles range from Queen Anne, Jacobean and Eastlake, to Mansard, Gothic and Italianate, giving the district a distinctive flair.
Fast-forward a bit in history to WWII. Mary Ross Waterfront Park is home to the Liberty Ship Memorial Plaza, which commemorates Brunswick's role in building Liberty ships during the war. Here, you can view a scale model of a Liberty ship and spot other ocean vessels, including massive ships from around the world, and quaint little shrimp boats. It's an especially lovely place to watch the sunset over the marshes. Bonus: This is a hub of community events for Brunswick. Several times a week, a farmer's market/craft bazaar pops up, and it's the site of various celebrations and festivals as well.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND
After you've explored all that Brunswick has to offer, hop over to St. Simons Island. Stop by Fort Frederica National Monument to get a sense of the past. The fort was founded in 1736, years before America was a country, to protect the British colony of Georgia from the nearby Spanish colony of Florida. A town sprang up around the fort, and in 1742, the Spanish and British forces clashed for control of the region. The British defeated the Spanish, sealing Georgia's fate as a British colony. Even if you're not a history buff, the views of the water, shady oaks, historic cannons and stone ruins of the fort make a beautiful setting for a quick hike. And be sure to stop by the visitor center for an overview of the history and advice on the best paths to walk!
For about 100 years starting in the 1760s, cotton and rice plantations sprang up on the Golden Isles. At the Southern tip of St. Simons Island is the location of what was known as Retreat Plantation. This plantation was inherited by Anna Page King in 1826. She made it famous by planting an abundance of flowering plants that sailors could supposedly smell before the island even came into sight. She also planted an Avenue of Oaks at the entrance to Retreat Plantation that still stands today. You can stroll down the shady lane, lined with a double row of stately, 160-year-old oaks. The road also serves as the entrance to the renowned Sea Island Golf Club.
Take a moment to slow down and take in the beauty and serenity of the Golden Isles at the St. Simons Island Pier. It's particularly lovely at sunset, but any time of the day, you can watch ships out in the ocean, dolphins (or maybe even whales) feeding, and fishermen and crabbers casting lines for the catch of the day. Just off to the south, admire the views of Jekyll Island across St. Simons Sound.
End your adventure at St. Simons’ iconic lighthouse, one of only five left in Georgia. Built in 1872, it was a replacement for a lighthouse built in 1810 that was destroyed during the Civil War; Confederate forces wanted to make sure Union troops couldn't use it to navigate. It's 104 feet tall, 21 feet in diameter at the base, and made of Savannah grey brick that's been painted white. A spiral iron staircase with 129 steps winds its way up to the top, where a French third-order Fresnel lens has been housed since the earliest days of the lighthouse. It's still active, but has been automated since the 1950s. Visitors can climb to the top to admire the views; the building that once housed the keeper's dwelling is now a museum dedicated to coastal history.
As you cross back over the Sidney Lanier Bridge, you may be leaving behind the paradise of the Golden Isles, but you'll be taking countless memories with you. Feeling the breeze at the top of the lighthouse, watching boats drift by, admiring the quirky architecture in old town Brunswick, and generally enjoying the feeling of truly being on vacation will remain with you as you leave the Georgia coast behind.
Nestled on the Georgia coast lies the mainland city of Brunswick and its four beautiful barrier islands: St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. Pristine stretches of marshland, punctuated by small islands, define the Golden Isles' breathtaking landscape.