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Golden Isles, GA

Best Attractions in Golden IslesIn 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 offered by Jekyll Island Historic Tours , 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.

Things to do with Kids

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.

More Historical Things to See

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.

Where to Go Next

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.

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Golden Isles, GA

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Best Western Plus St. Simons

301 Main St. St. Simons Island, GA 31522

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Home2 Suites by Hilton St. Simons Island

105 Terminal Way. St. Simons Island, GA 31522

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The Westin Jekyll Island

110 Ocean Way. Jekyll Island, GA 31527

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Hampton Inn

2204 Demere Rd. St. Simons Island, GA 31522

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