Top 20 Things to Know About the Golden Isles
Newcomer and Visitors Guide to Everything You Need to Know
St. Simons Island • Sea Island • Jekyll Island • Brunswick
So you’ve made the choice to either visit or move to the Golden Isles of coastal Georgia. Now what? We have compiled a list of what every visitor and newcomer needs to know to have the best experience of a lifetime possible. While some of these might seem to be a no-brainier, they are simply suggestions to make your stay here the best decision you’ve ever made. If you are moving here permanently visit our Newcomers Information blog.
There is a reason you chose to visit or move to the Golden Isles, maybe it was the beaches, the slower pace, or maybe just maybe you needed a change. Whatever the reason, you just made the best decision of your life. The Golden Isles is made up St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and pretty much the entire inland area of Glynn County, Camden County and McIntosh. While some might add more locations, for the purpose of this blog and everything we do, those are the All-Star team players. Do you know the reason our area is called the Golden Isles? Well, some might say it’s the golden sun rays that create the most incredible sunrises and sunsets all year long. Others might say it has something to do with the Golden Ray, a cargo ship that capsized off the end of the pier in the St. Andrews Sound in 2019. That would be incorrect! The reason is that back in the day, early explores came to the area when all of the marsh grasses were golden rod colored. The 100 miles of coastal Georgia and inland marsh grasses turn this most amazing color of, well gold. Thousands and thousands of acres of golden grass, what else would you call it? The marshland Eco-system is actually bigger than all of the Amazon rain forests. Just one of the reasons we go to such lengths to protect it.
There are huge differences in these islands, even though you can almost throw a rock between them. St. Simons Island is busiest of them. It has all the best shopping, dining and family friendly things to do. There are schools both public and private on St. Simons. Jekyll has always been known for it’s slower paced way of living. Once primarily retired folks, Jekyll has come a long way in the last 10-15 years, thanks the Jekyll Island Authority who oversees everything that goes on here. The homes are older and things are much slower here. So when deciding where to stay or live, you must ask yourself what you want. If you are just staying for a short visit, do yourself a favor and visit both islands. There’s something for everyone.
Whatever the reason for stay, you are here now, so take a deep breath and relax while you read the top 20 things to know about St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. These are in no particular order.
- Breathe – You are home now-whether for a few days or for a lifetime, so take a deep breath and enjoy our slower way of life. There’s a saying here that once you get our sand on your feet, you will return. We hope you will, but remember the folks who live here are super nice, super helpful, and super welcoming. We want you to enjoy your visit and feel at home while you’re here. So please treat our home like you would your home and treat us like you would your family.
- Don’t Honk – The founder of our company, Jay P. Martin said he knew he had made the right decision to retire here when he looked up and realized that the light had turned green and was now turning red again and no one behind him had honked at him. Of course this was 35 years ago, but you get my drift. Remember what we said about slower pace? Remember that when you are a red light. There’s no need to honk the second the light turns green. Take a minute and look around at all the beautiful scenery our area has to offer. Traffic is pretty bad here during the summer months, but if you leave a few minutes early and pack your patience you might enjoy the ride.
- Bikes – A great way to see the islands is by bike. Whether you bring your own, or rent one. Jekyll island has 25 miles of paved bike paths with some of the most beautiful marsh and ocean views in the state. Jekyll is much safer to ride especially if you have little ones. There are several places on both islands to rent. Be sure to ride through the historic district of Millionaires Village in Jekyll Island Beach Club. Amazing! St. Simons has sidewalks to ride on if you don’t feel comfortable riding in the street. I would not suggest that. Traffic can get pretty congested and it’s hard to see riders. There are several places down at the pier to rent bikes. Some do not allow for beach riding though so be sure to ask. Life can not truly be seen through the screen of your phone. This might should be number 1. Instead of having your face buried in your phone, look up and enjoy the oak tree canopys that make this area one of the most beautiful places in the south. Enjoy your bike ride around the island, but please don’t text and ride. Our little island can get quite congested with cars, golf carts and pedestrians, it can be very dangerous for riders, especially kids, to not be aware at all times as to what is going on.
- Round -A-Bouts. St. Simons has a roundabout at just about every intersection it seems. Some work to alleviate congestion, some don’t. That being said, if you are uncertain about what to do or how to navigate them, picture a ship wheel and each street being a peg on the wheel. Yield to oncoming traffic, then hop on and hop off where you want to go. If you miss it, just keep going around and you will be ready the next time it comes up. Main thing is to NOT PANIC. Be sure to watch for bikers and walkers, they have the right of way.
- Big Tip – The Golden Isles some of the best award-winning restaurants in the state of Georgia. Everything from elegant dining to down home barbecue. Want to know the best places to go, ask any local and they will be glad to give you a list of the best places to go. Our local restaurants and businesses, like all others across the country, are suffering because of workforce shortage and product delays, so unpack your patience and be extra nice to the folks who did show up to work. Maybe leave a big tip and make someone’s day.
- Dog Friendly – Jekyll Island is probably the most dog friendly of the island-probably because of all the snowbirds who bring Fido with them in the winter. St. Simons has many restaurants and shops that welcome your fur baby. The leash laws relating to the beaches are seasonal. “Animals are prohibited on this beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. to 9 a.m., dogs are allowed on the beach and do not need to be leashed, but must be in the owner’s immediate control.” Jekyll Island is a state park so their laws are a little different: Jekyll Island also allows Dogs but must be leashed at all times while on any Jekyll Island beach. No pets allowed on beach between South Dunes Picnic Area and 2,000 feet northeast of St. Andrews Picnic Area. Brunswick has some really nice dog parks one is between St. Simons and Jekyll at Howard Coffin Park and the other is Downtown Historic Brunswick at the Brunswick Marina. Wherever you go, please keep your dog off the dunes and most importantly, scoop the poop! Nobody wants to swim in that!
- Smoking – Smoking is not permitted in restaurants, shops and most hotels in our town. If you must light up, please don’t throw your cigarette butts on the ground. The Keep Golden Isles Brunswick Beautiful group has gone to a lot of trouble to place receptacles all around the county for just this very thing. The only butt we want on the beach is yours. We want to keep our waters clean and wildlife safe. That leads me to the next thing on our list, seagulls.
- Sea Gulls– If we had a “community” bird it would be the sea gull. They are everywhere. A seagull can spot a dropped cheeto from 100 feet and can send out a “buffet’s open” cry in a millisecond to all his friends. I don’t know any other way to say this than, PLEASE DON”T FEED THE BIRDS! or any wildlife for that matter. A sure fire way to make enemies of locals on the beach it to feed the seagulls in a crowded area. If the kids drop food, either pick it up or cover it with sand or you will be living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
- Beaches-The Golden Isles has some of the most beautiful beaches in South. Little St. Simons Island and Sea Island are world class and accessible on a limited basis, check out our blog post about them. The 2 others are quite different in many ways. Due to erosion, high tides and structures built too close to the dunes, St. Simons beaches can almost disappear at high tides, especially after a hurricane or Nor’easter. Download a tide table or check your weather app for times. Jekyll is less affected by the tides and still has beach most of the time. The north end of Jekyll has giant rocks piled up on the beach. Yes they are ugly, yes it blocks some views, but they also keep hurricanes and extra high tides from washing that end of the island out into the Atlantic ocean. The dunes on all islands are Mother Nature’s way of protecting the rest of the island from washing away. This is why it is so important to keep pets, kids and people off of them. Some of the more popular beaches have restrooms, showers and picnic areas.
- Sandbars – Keeping with the beach theme, sandbars! Everybody loves them. We have some of the highest tides in the world, but on the flip side the water leaves and out pop the sandbars. St. Simons has tons of them. On extreme low tides, you can walk out as far as the eye can see into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Unless you are an experienced open water swimmer, do not go out there. This is especially true if you have little ones. Tides change and when they do, they change fast. In an instant you can be on dry ground and the next you have no way to get back to land. If you do decide to venture out there, know what time it changes. Many a visitor have had to be rescued because of this. Don’t be one of them.
- Beach Gear – There is nothing better than a stress-free day at the beach, I mean who doesn’t love hauling all that gear out across the hot sand only to blow out a flip flop and fall face first into a hole left by another beach-goer? Why not let the folks at Shady Beaches Tent Rental do all the heavy lifting for you? They will come out and set everything up then pick it all up for you when you’re done! Could life get any better? If you’ve already bought all the goods, please make sure you take it back with you. In other words stash your trash. It is unlawful to leave chairs and tents on the beach overnight. So if you don’t want it any longer, haul it up to the recycling cans. Don’t leave it on the beach to get washed away with the tides. Think about the sea turtles!
- Sea Turtles – Every year thousands of sea turtles use the beaches along the Georgia/Florida coast as their nesting grounds. From LATE MAY to MID AUGUST female sea turtles will return to their places of birth to lay eggs in the soft sandy part of the beach. They will return every 2-3 years to lay between 100-120 eggs per nest. The do this every 12-14 days. They lay 3-6 “clutches” a season!! If you’d like to go on an early morning excavation tour with one of the staff from the Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center GO HERE! There are no guarantee of finding one, but they will be glad to answer any questions about the turtles or beach ecology. It is unlawful to touch a sea turtle nest! Do not help or interfere with the hatchlings as they make their way out to sea. You can shoo those pesky sea gulls away. The babies make a wonderful breakfast for the birds. They will basically eat anything. Be sure to check the calendar, quite often the Sea Turtle Center will release a turtle back into the wild after a stay in the hospital. It’s quite an impressive thing to see.
- Sand dollars – Jekyll has the best chances of finding sand dollars and shells. Who doesn’t love walking the beach for hours looking for that perfect shell or sand dollar to take home as a souvenir? But there are few cautions I should tell you about before you load up the family mini-van with your bucket of precious shells. 1. Conch shells most likely have a living little hermit crab living in them. 2. Brown sand dollars are still alive! They are living breathing creatures. White sand dollars are actually skeletons and OK to take. Most likely you will forget about the bucket of shells baking in the hot Georgia sun and begin to get a whiff of something rank. A few days later, you will open up the doors to your car and a wave of foul smelling odor will hit you in the face. You will ask your kids who passed gas or left their shoes in the car. Some time later you will realize that the smell is of rotting death. What could it possibly be? Well, those living breathing creatures have now died needlessly in the back of your car. Do you remember the episode of the stinky valet guy on Jerry Seinfield show? The one where he has to sell the car because he can’t get the smell out. Well, that will be you. So leave the shells where you found them because it’s against the law to remove anything living from the beaches in Georgia. Instead, go to nice local shop in the village and buy some dead ones.
- Driftwood – Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island is the location for many a weddings and filming location. The Walking Dead has filmed several episodes on the North end beach. The beach and all the driftwood make a perfect location for small beach weddings. This is best place for family and engagement pictures. Kids climbing on the trees is one of our favorite things to do. Driftwood Beach is a must see when visiting the Golden Isles. Remember when I told you that Jekyll is a state park? Well it’s unlawful to remove the driftwood from this park. Should you find a lovely piece on St. Simons, then have at it. But don’t mess with the driftwood structure that locals have built on East Beach. Each year folks leave a little trinket or Christmas ornament to memorialize their visit or someone special. Please don’t mess with this! Locals will take to social media and you will forever be remembered for that person.
- Jellyfish – The cannonball jellyfish is the most common of the blob monsters, but during the warm summer months the Sea Wasp jelly blob is the most annoying. Cannonballs don’t have the stinging tentacles that the Sea Wasp does. I have never been stung by one, but my daughter was a magnet for the nasty creatures. I’m not sure what attacks their sting but it can rang from mildly irritating to down right painful. Probably depends on the degree of drama the victim usually exudes. How to get rid of the sting. First thing I would do is look for a life guard and see if they have anything in their first aid kit. Ask any local what the best way to get rid of the sting is and most likely they will say you need to pee on the victims affected area. One time my young cousin came for a visit and one of those pesky beasts wrapped his tenticles around her waste. We offered to pee on her but for whatever reason she wouldn’t let us. What is pee? Ammonia! So we went to the CVS and bought a bottle of ammonia and poured it on the affected area. Worked great! Others say to pour vinegar on it, while others say rub some sand on it. It’s important to get all the little jelly parts off the skin. If it’s bad enough, give the victim some Benedryl or other antihistamine. These occurrences are not frequent. I’ve lived here 30 years and never been stung-knock on wood.
- Golf Carts – The latest craze to hit the Islands are golf carts. No longer are the days where golfers use them on an 18 hole course. They come in every shape and size. There are several places on St. Simons to rent them and Red Bug on Jekyll Island near the airport. They are a great way to get to the beach and see all the sights with the wind blowing in your face but Golf carts can be a source of frustration for many locals who are trying to get around. Golf carts are treated like vehicles on the road and must obey all the laws of the road. But the important thing to know is to be courteous. If you are seeing the sights and you see a long line of cars behind you, please pull over and let them pass so that traffic all over the island doesn’t get backed up.
- Dirty Water – Most people ask why our water is so dirty. Well the answer to that is that it isn’t dirty. The seawater is typically brown with churned-up sediment and tannins washed offshore from the swamps and marshes. The sea floor near the shore is muddy, rather than sandy, due to sedimentary deposition from the two large rivers that flow into the ocean nearby. It’s not as noticeable when the waves are crashing, but when the tides are very low or calm, it seems like you are swimming in mud. It is harmless. This is why it’s so important to scoop the poop.
- The Causeway – There is nothing better, I mean nothing, than to get on the causeway for the first time, maybe the first time in a long time, and roll the windows down and get a whiff of the salt air! The views across the marshes, the first peek at the Atlantic. It’s easy to get carried away and forget to look at your speed. The causeway is not I-285 in Atlanta where you take your life into your own hands when you hit the loop. The speed limit is 50! Slow it down or expect a welcome gift from the Glynn County Police Department. Slow down and enjoy the views, the smells and the excitement of your stay. – Once you get onto island from the causeway, the road turns into Kings Way, enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the live oaks covered in Spanish Moss, let your stress level drop while you absorb the all the feels of St. Simons Island. But do pay attention to the speed limit! It is 35mph down to the village. This section of the Island is one of the most beautiful places to see in all of the Golden Isles. Take the first right at the round a bout and drive through the Avenue of the Oaks at the entrance to Sea Island’s Lodge.
- Spanish Moss – There is nothing more beautiful than a 200 year old oak tree covered in Spanish Moss. I conjures up images of days past when times were simpler and life moved in slow detail. You might be tempted to take home some of this live plant in an attempt to transform your yard into something spectacular to remember your visit to our home. I would not suggest you do that. That is unless you want chiggers or Spanish moss lice. Don’t know what a chigger is? It’s a tiny red bug that gets in the nooks and crannies of your body and embeds itself. Just like the moss, they like warm, moist climates. They itch like the devil. The moss will most likely not grow in areas North of Macon anyway. Do you want one of us locals to say Bless your heart? Then grab a big ole pile of the stuff and see what happens.
- Downtown Brunswick – While the islands are polar opposites in terms of lifestyle, beaches, and pace, downtown Brunswick is like stepping back in time. There has been a revival of sorts to the landscape and face of downtown proper. Investors are reviving the once empty historic buildings and bringing them back to life. Homeowners are doing the same thing are paced with homes that were spared in the destruction of the south during the civil war. Town Squares, monuments and parks are being brought back to their former glory. Take an afternoon to visit downtown Brunswick’s shops and local favorite restaurants. Visit discoverbrunswick.com/historic-brunswick/tours-and-lodging for everything from driving and walking tours to local events. Be sure to visit the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce office on the corner of Gloucester and Newcastle to pick up brochures about everything Golden Isles related.
The locals, whether newly transplanted or lifetime residents are the friendliest, most generous folks you will ever meet. If you have questions, just ask. Everyone I have ever come into contact in the 30 years since I moved from Atlanta have been nothing but gracious, helpful and willing to jump in and help their neighbors. Most know all the good spots, best times to visit and can certainly tell you how to get rid of the gnats that plague us in the spring and fall months. We love the Dawgs and the weekend of the GA/FLA game is considered a holiday. We are proud of our local sports teams and the city championship is a night for everyone to come together, even if you don’t have a dog in the fight.
We hope you all enjoy your stay with us, regardless of the length. Please let us know if there is something that should be added to the list that you found especially helpful.