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EssentialsFeel like a millionaire at the Jekyll Island Club Resort . Guests eat in an elegant dining room, while away the hours in wicker chairs on wide verandas and stroll amid gigantic, moss-strewn oaks. Arrive promptly at 4 p.m. to sample traditional scones, pastries and finger sandwiches as well as coffees and teas at a daily Victorian tea.
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Eventually your Golden Isles travels will take you through Brunswick , a small port town with interesting Victorian architecture. Spend the morning shopping for antiques and collectibles in the historic business district. In the afternoon, amble over to the Bay Street docks and watch shrimp boats unload the catch of the day. Later head to a restaurant for a fresh-as-it-gets seafood platter and the original Brunswick stew. Somewhere in between, take time to visit Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site .
If you're in the mood to really get away from it all, retreat to Cumberland Island National Seashore via ferry from St. Marys. Reservations are a must due to the island's daily capacity limitations.
AttractionsIn an area with dozens of attractions and points of interest, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
Island hopping in the Golden Isles requires a bit of strategy. Jekyll and St. Simons islands are accessible by car via separate causeways from Brunswick, while others can be reached only on a ferry requiring reservations. The Jekyll Island Welcome Center, on the Downing Musgrove Causeway, is a good source for maps, guidebooks, historical literature and a warm coastal Georgia welcome; phone (912) 635-3636.
With the elegant Queen Anne clubhouse for a social nucleus, many of the millionaire-members of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club built private, mansion-size “cottages” to accommodate family and guests. The Passport to the Century Tour , a AAA GEM attraction, takes visitors by tram through the more than 30-building compound and into a selection of preserved dwellings that might include William Rockefeller's Indian Mound Cottage or Mistletoe Cottage, a showcase for a premier collection of Russell Fiore sculptures.
Tanks of rehabilitating turtles and lots of interactive exhibits enlighten visitors about the plight of protected sea creatures at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center , in a repurposed power plant within the Jekyll Island Historic Landmark District.
While there is no shortage of H2O for recreation, Summer Waves water park on Jekyll Island provides a controlled environment where youngsters are as safe as sea monkeys in a fish tank.
St. Simons Island was critical to the defense of the new Georgia colony established by James Oglethorpe. At Fort Frederica National Monument relic cannons and ruined barracks recall a once-thriving military settlement of more than 500.
A birds-eye view rewards those willing to climb to the top of St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum and A.W. Jones Heritage Center , on the site of another colonial fort. The first lighthouse was built in 1810 and later destroyed during the Civil War; the present structure dates to 1872.
Shortly after arriving with James Oglethorpe, brothers John and Charles Wesley preached near the site where Christ Church, Frederica was later built. John Wesley went on to father Methodism in England. Still an active place of worship, the 1884 structure on 10 acres features warmly patinated heart-pine lumber milled on the island, beautiful stained-glass windows and a few artifacts from the first church, which was destroyed during the Civil War. Centuries-old oak trees cloak the church and cemetery in tranquility.
To learn more about the Wesley legacy, American Methodism and island history, visit the Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum on the campus of Epworth by the Sea, a retreat center on the Frederica River named for Epworth, the Wesley's home in England.
Sapelo Island was a lucrative cotton plantation well into the Reconstruction period. Hudson Motor Co. executive Howard Coffin owned the island 1912-34 and then sold it to tobacco magnate Richard J. Reynolds, who later established a research foundation that eventually became Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve . The reserve underscores the importance of Georgia's tidal marsh ecosystem as a buffer against erosion and a nursery for marine life, providing fascinating insight into nature's delicate balance. A guided tour departing from the Sapelo Island Visitors Center in Darien includes the former Reynolds mansion (now a private conference center), tabby buildings from the plantation era and a restored lighthouse. A small group of slave descendants make up the island's Hog Hammock community.
Although Cumberland Island National Seashore entered the public consciousness after it was revealed as the secret location of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wedding, it was once the private getaway of the privileged Carnegie family. The grounds of Greyfield Inn (the former Carnegie mansion) are off limits to non-registered guests; however day-trippers and overnight campers can freely explore most of the island's unspoiled beaches, maritime forests, marshes and historic districts, or they can participate in ranger-led programs. Make reservations before you travel to the St. Marys ferry landing; only 300 guests per day are admitted on the island.
You must go through Brunswick , on the mainland, to get to the major islands comprising the Golden Isles. Instead of breezing through, take in the sights, smells and sounds of this quiet little port known for its nautical history, shrimping industry, antique shopping and family-oriented events. From Brunswick, travel north along the Black River and the vast marshes of Glynn County celebrated by poet Sidney Lanier until you reach Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site , an African-American heritage site.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 1
That men are required to wear jackets for dinner hints at the ambience you can expect in the Grand Dining Room of the Jekyll Island Club Resort on Jekyll Island. Fireplaces, richly carved woodwork, towering columns and an attentive waitstaff set the tone for an haute-dining experience. The menu evokes a time when club members hunted and fished for sport by day and dined throughout the evening on fresh game and seafood. Choices might include escargot pinot noir in puff pastry followed by Southern fried quail salad and an entrée of jerk-seared jumbo scallops with apricot and apple chutney. Any meal in the Grand Dining Room is an event, but Sunday brunches are legendary.
If you're in the mood for surf, turf or both, follow Jekyll Islanders to The Driftwood Bistro at Villas by the Sea for grilled or blackened USDA Choice Black Angus cuts and seafood favorites. Appealing appetizers, salads and side dishes support these and other entrées.
Barbara Jean's Restaurant , on St. Simons Island near the historic lighthouse, is one of those homey eateries you'll want to frequent. And you won't need convincing after sampling signature dishes such as thick she-crab soup, oversize crab cakes, hearty meatloaf or slow-cooked pot roast reminiscent of Sunday dinner at Grandma's house. A trio of homemade breads—wheat rolls, pumpkin bread and jalapeño cornbread—complements the meal. Owner Barbara Jean's home-cooking style is a favorite among locals. If you're willing to wait, the rewards are great.
Tucked away in a chic shopping and dining enclave off Frederica Road on St. Simons Island, Delaney's Bistro and Bar offers a distinctive fine-dining experience for lunch or dinner. While the cuisine is classified as American, entrées ranging from herb-crusted lamb in wine sauce to veal scaloppine topped with crabmeat to the restaurant's signature grilled duck breast in Thai sauce represent the chef's innovative approach to food preparation.
Loyal patrons of Crabdaddy's Seafood Grill praise the quality of food and service at this informal seafood grill on St. Simons Island. Fresh catches from the Carolina coast include grouper, mahi mahi and Gulf Stream tuna available grilled, blackened or steamed. The menu also features Southern-inspired dishes—shrimp and grits and New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, for example—as well as a few pasta favorites. And for dessert, try Crabdaddy's take on bread pudding. A wine list is available.
Since 1955, Bennie's Red Barn Dinner Club on St. Simons Island has specialized in hand-cut steaks grilled over a wood fire, catch-of-the-day seafood preparations and a tall order of Southern hospitality. A large, open fireplace dominating the dining room of the barnlike structure adds to the welcoming atmosphere. In the longstanding Bennie's tradition, servers recite the nightly specials in lieu of handing out menus.
The menu at Blackwater Grill comprises three regional cuisine types. Crab cakes and Tybee Island shrimp represent the Lowcountry. Cajun influences show up in spicy fare like New Orleans-style jambalaya and crawfish étouffée. And nothing says home-style Southern cooking more than fried green tomatoes or one of the best Brunswick stews in the Golden Isles. You'll likely meet repeat customers at this local favorite on St. Simons Island.
Constructed of salvaged cedar and cypress, The Frederica House on St. Simons Island resembles an old island homestead. Specialties include crab stew, seafood platters with the freshest catches, and steak and chicken cooked over a hickory pit. Then there's the chocolate peanut butter pie. The Frederica House opened more than 35 years ago and serves only dinner, with early-bird specials before 6:30. A welcoming atmosphere here bespeaks informal dining.
See all the AAA Diamond-rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Start the year out with a little pickin' and knee slappin' at the New Year's Bluegrass Festival , held in early January. This upbeat music event has entertained Jekyll Island locals and visitors for 40 years.
Unique architecture, pristine landscapes and elegant interiors wow partakers of the Christ Church Tour of Homes . This mid-March event affords a rare opportunity to enter selected homes, churches and historic sites on St. Simons Island as well as estates on exclusive Sea Island , a private island connected to St. Simons by a causeway.
Glynn Visual Arts promotes the visual arts through two festivals on St. Simons Island, both held in Postell Park in Pier Village near the lighthouse and beach. The Art in the Park Spring Festival takes place in early April, the Mistletoe Market in early December.
Blessing of the Fleet is a Mother's Day tradition in Brunswick . Harkening back to Old World religious celebrations, a processional commemorates the 1917 appearance of The Blessed Virgin in Fatima, Portugal, and it coincides with another Portuguese tradition, the blessing of the shrimp boats.
Turtle Crawl Triathlon and Nest Fest in mid-May benefits the Georgia Sea Turtle Center , in Jekyll Island's historic district. Happenings include a sanctioned triathlon, a 5K walk/run, educational programs and live entertainment.
The Georgia Sea Islands Festival celebrates the African culture that is so entrenched in the history of the Sea Islands. Storytellers, folklorists, poets, skilled artisans, musicians and performers come together on St. Simons Island in early June.
The St. Simons Island Sunshine Festival held July 4 weekend features entertainment, fireworks and arts and crafts.
The Saint Simons Food & Spirits Festival takes place in early October; the RSM Classic golf tournament is held in mid-November.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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The Newport of the SouthIf Newport, R.I., was the summer retreat for the Gilded Age elite, Jekyll Island , Ga., was its winter counterpart. In 1886, a syndicate of 53 investors including Edwin Gould, Henry Hyde, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer and William K. Vanderbilt formed the Jekyll Island Club and purchased the 5,700-acre island for use as a private hunting reserve and family getaway.
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Indian Mound is one of the earliest cottages and one of the few with original furnishings. Believing that a berm on the lawn was archeologically significant—a theory that was later disproved—Standard Oil Co. tycoon William Rockefeller renamed the 1892 cottage on purchasing it from industrialist Gordon McKay in 1904.
Inspector 43 / AAA
Inspector 43 / AAA
The Passport to the Century Tour departs from the Jekyll Island Museum.
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