Plan your summer vacation to Coastal Georgia’s islands

If you’ve ever visited Savannah and thought the only thing that could improve upon its historical charm, Spanish moss-draped trees and delicious Southern dishes is an ocean view, you’re in luck. Not only does such a place exist, but Coastal Georgia gifts you a range of options.

The tricky part is deciding between Tybee Island – within 30 minutes east of Savannah – and the seemingly endless barrier island goodness along Georgia’s shore. As soon as summer rolls around, these islands are the place to be, with blissful stretches of white sand, copious amounts of fishing, immaculate golf courses and family-friendly fun at every turn.

Be it a vacation rental with 20 friends or a boutique getaway with your beloved, your summer adventure awaits on one of Coastal Georgia’s delightful islands. Here’s how to choose the best one for you and plan your trip.

Tybee Island is a summertime favorite with locals © Getty Images

Step 1: Where to base your summer adventure

Tybee Island

Vibes: This is a favorite of Savannah locals – it’s a quick drive and full of colorful residences and cultural attractions within its three square miles. This is the ideal locale for a vacation home rental, which comes in cottage, condo and mansion form. Its Southern end is the place to be, with top-notch shopping along its Tybrisa Street artery.

Do: Dolphin tours are quite popular throughout Tybee Island and Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure Tour offers a sunset experience with breathtaking views. For history buffs, Fort Pulaski National Monument – just off the island – marks the site of the first Civil War battle that used rifled artillery, and there are a couple of short, easy hiking trails too.

Stay: The Surf Song bed and breakfast is housed in a southern estate dating back to 1904, with a pool, private beach access and vast green garden space. Beachside Colony Resort is the only oceanside option on the island, with two pools, a sand path to the beach, and condos with multiple bedrooms for larger groups.

Eat: Back River Brewery serves up the spectrum of brews – from lagers to IPAs – and has an equally diverse, buzzy menu including smoked beer brats and a smoked prime rib melt. Make a reservation at Sundae Café, which is locally renowned for its interpretations of southern fare, like a lobster-loaded sweet potato waffle.

St. Simons Island

Vibes: The largest of what are known as Georgia’s Golden Isles (St. Simons, Little St. Simons and Jekyll), this is where moss-draped oaks, art galleries, quaint boutiques and super-friendly locals mesh. It’s also a great island to explore on two wheels – you can take in vistas from its pier to marshy creatures at Cannon’s Point Preserve. Adding to its charm, you can access Little St. Simons Island off its northern shore, which is a birdwatching haven.

Do: Shop and stroll through Pier Village, starting on the main drag of Mallery Street. For a unique gift, hit Golden Isles Bracelet Co., with its trinkets inspired by mermaids, oysters and sea turtles. Pop by the Sea Island Golf Club entrance and see the “Avenue of the Oaks” – stately trees dating back to the early 1800s.

Stay: For a boutique option, Hotel Simone has sea-inspired suites on the central Ocean Boulevard. Ocean Inn and Suites is no-frills, quaint and a block north of the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum.

Eat: Southern Soul is the island’s barbecue king, with its locally inspired Brunswick Stew (pork, beans, potatoes and more), being the must-try. Porch has Nashville hot chicken and fried catfish that you can get equally as spicy.

Hiker enjoying walk on the beach at sunrise. Drift wood are left behind from years of erosion. Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA.
Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island is an experience like no other © MargaretW / Getty Images

Jekyll Island

Vibes: Historic buildings, conservation-centric experiences and mini golf abound on this multifaceted island. There are fun tours on offer, which come in various forms spanning traditional golf carts to charming Model T replicas. For the latter, hit up the Millionaire Motorcar Tour within Jekyll Island’s historic district.

Do: The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a conservation haven – it’s the only spot in the entire state dedicated to the beloved shelled creatures, providing education about the species and prioritizing their rehabilitation. For a beach day like no other, head to the northern portion of the island and Driftwood Beach. Living up to its name, mammoth pieces of gray-meets-brown driftwood colors its white sands, making for quite the eerie yet beautiful seascape.

Stay: Villas by the Sea is one of the island’s bigger resorts, complete with villas of up to three bedrooms, an on-site playground for kids and an outdoor pool. Otherwise, check out the AirBnb and VRBO landscape here for historical stays.

Eat: The standout restaurants follow a nautical theme when it comes to monikors. Case in point: Beach House is a craft beer lover’s dream with two-dozen rotating brews on tap and open-air The Wharf has a light-drenched bistro made to enjoy a sunset while dining on oysters on the half shell.

Step 2: Book your accommodations

Summer is peak tourist season and you’ll need to book as far in advance as possible. Some home rentals – via sites like Airbnb and VRBO – may be bookable up to a year in advance and annual trip takers snag their go-tos as soon as they are available. Quaint cottage homestays and stately inns throughout the isles provide the most charming abodes.

The Grey Owl Inn on St. Simon’s Island is quietly nestled less than a mile inland from St. Simon’s East Beach – its grounds are dotted with stately oaks, a water garden with a gazebo for maximum relaxation and five suites. Camping and glamping are growing in popularity in the region, too. Little Raccoon Key, a private island off Jekyll Island, is among the more unique spots, with an on-site chef and, periodically, dolphins swimming by.

A group of red brown wild horses leisurely grazing on the white sandy beach of Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia, USA
Feel the urban stress dissolve as you wander the serene shores of Cumberland Island © Getty Images

Step 3: Plan your days and the best things to do on your summer trip

If you love nature and luxurious surroundings, book an overnight at the charming Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island – Georgia’s southernmost barrier island. Wild horses roam around this tranquil place and perfect white sands stretch for 17 miles. Take the chance to tour the ruins of Dungeness, the one-time home of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t cover extra accommodation – Cumberland Island is the perfect spot for a day trip.

For birdwatching fans, the Colonial Coast Birding Trail offers a wealth of avian delights. A favorite is Little St. Simons Island – it is only accessible via boat, but you’re often treated with hoards of blue herons, soaring bald eagles and shore birds aplenty.

Step 4: Choosing the best places to dine along Georgia’s coast

Bring an appetite for some low country fare, rich with fresh seafood catches and hearty southern delights. Among the more unique options in the region, Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien has an adjacent dock space for the local shrimp fleet. This means mounds of fresh shrimp are delivered to the spot daily, for concoctions spanning a creamy shrimp dip to shrimp and the cheesiest of grits.

If you’re looking to snag some grub for a picnic or in-room dining, pimiento cheese, pecans, peaches and peanuts are regional favorites and must be tried in all of their forms. For all of the above, Jekyll Market is renowned for its gourmet offering and homegrown yet expansive vibe.

Step 5: Getting there

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is approximately 50 minutes east of Tybee Island and Jacksonville International Airport is an hour from Jekyll and St. Simon’s Island. Amtrak makes regional stops in Savannah and Yemassee, S.C., which will require a drive to the islands. With so many different landscapes to explore, renting a car is the way to go. Rideshare services like Lyft and Uber can be difficult to book throughout the coastal region, particularly in more remote areas – it’s wise to check ahead of time on these apps if cars are available and, if possible, to book in advance to avoid being stranded.

A Black couple walking along Tybee Beach in Georgia together
Bring a light rain jacket in case of unexpected showers © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Step 6: What to pack

Temperatures hover in the upper 80s and low 90s during the day and dip into the upper 70s at night. July and August are typically the rainiest days of the year in the region. Pack a rain jacket to be prepared for the temperature swings and possible storms. Otherwise, colorful beach casual or beach chic attire is the norm, with bathing suits, sandals and cover-ups being beach musts. If you’re planning to hit some of the more remote islands and parks, take a water bottle, sunscreen and bug spray to navigate the general mugginess.

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