The Golden Isles – Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Brunswick, Darien

Warming spring weather provided the perfect opportunity to head south and explore the Golden Isles of Georgia.  Pink, orange and white azalea blossoms signaled the beginning of a great retreat!

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail, contains several ponds and other wetland areas to welcome migrating birds. The loud, bellowing sounds of male alligators echoed around the ponds to ensure that everyone knew that this is their territory.  Several visitors toted professional cameras and snapped photos of wood storks and other wading birds.  (Unfortunately, we missed the chance to go to the nearby Old School Diner.)

The streets of the vanished settlement in Ft. Frederica National Monument (St. Simons Island) are now grassy boulevards lined with large oaks.  Signs tell the history of the remaining building foundations.  A small part of the original fort remains near the water where it defended against invasion by the Spanish from St. Augustine.  Next to the park is Christ Church, an Episcopal church established in 1736.  You can walk through the cemetery that was blooming with azaleas when we visited.  Hopefully, the church will soon be open again for visitors to take a peek inside. 

The main commercial area of SSI can be congested.  We did easily find a public parking space close to the beach.  Watching fishermen waiting patiently for a bite on their line and walking by the lighthouse helped us to forget about the crowds.  

One of our favorite experiences on this trip was biking around Jekyll Island.  We rented two bikes from Beachside Bike Rentals ($24 for 4 hours.)  This was plenty of time for a 12 mile loop that was mostly flat and entirely on a bike path.  Most of the time, oak and pine trees separated the bike path from the road traffic.  When stopping at sights, we did not even have to lock up the bikes.  As the rental guy said, “We don’t have any problems with that here.”

At Driftwood Beach we took a short walk among bleached out, massive pieces of driftwood.  Most are entire trees.  If you like taking photographs, this beach is comparable to no other.  At one end of the beach, the entrance has a couple of ponds where you can take a quiet break and watch the birds.

The Jekyll Island Club, where the Morgans, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers gathered, still welcomes vacationers.  The bike path weaves around the club and in and out between their cottages (i.e. mansions) and gardens.  

A turtle hospital is not often on the vacation itinerary.  At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the staff cares for turtles hit by cars or boats, attacked by other animals or suffering hypothermia.  Several “patients” come from zoos and other nature centers throughout the country.  We watched them care for two turtles and also a baby owl that had fallen out of its nest.  An amazing stop to see the efforts taken to help these animals return to their natural homes.

For a quiet picnic, St. Andrews Beach provides shaded picnic tables and a nearby beach (but not for swimming.)  This is also where you can find a trail commemorating the 1858 landing of The Wanderer, the penultimate slave ship to the United States.  

Brunswick provides the best daily shopping in the area.  Publix offers a larger selection of groceries than the other options.  A Target and Walmart are also available.  The town is laid out with a grid of public squares similar to those in Savannah although on a smaller scale.  (Read here for more info on the efforts to revitalize them.)  On Newcastle Street,  Richland Rum distills the only single estate, single barrel rum in the U.S.  It grows and harvests  its own sugarcane closeby.  After a short tour, take a few sips and decide which expression of rum you like best!  (We went for the unaged Virgen Coastal Rum to share with our patio guests.)

With a quick stop at Fort King George State Historic Park, you can see the interesting design of the oldest remaining English fort on the Georgia coast.

You can learn about rice growing, dairy production and malaria at the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation.  The opportunity to walk through paths lined with so many huge, moss-draped oaks is by itself worth the admission. Some of these trees are at least 500 years old!  This plantation story tells more of the struggles encountered by owners and slaves than many other similar sites.  

Where to stay?

The small waterfront town of Darien provides a quiet, small place to truly feel like you’re away from it all while still being a short drive to all of the Golden Isles.  We stayed at the AirBnb Fern Dock River Cottage which was one of the most relaxing rental properties we have stayed at.  Many nights, we cooked dinner on the balcony’s grill while enjoying the sunset over the river and the Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area.  A few steps behind the cottage is a dock with a hammock.  There are also fishing poles and tackle boxes for those who like to fish as well as a launching dock if you bring your own kayak.  Hosts Serena and Dwight greeted us and made sure that we had everything that we needed. Serena is an artist too!  Her artwork is displayed in the cottage.  We now have one of her dancing lady paintings in our home.  Art from travel brings joy each day! 

A Few Darien Food Notes:  

Smith & Son’s Seafood offers a small retail shop with fresh shrimp and seafood to prepare at home.  

Skipper’s Fish Camp is a local seafood favorite. The hushpuppies and coleslaw are delicious too!

Spartina Grill opened in 2020.  It has a Happy Hour each day from 4-6 and not only a large outdoor deck but also a large screened porch with heaters.  You can’t go wrong with a Shrimp PoBoy, Red Fish Tacos and excellent service.

Zio Carlo Cafe prepares  incredible hot lattes and cold Chai teas.  The homemade Pecan Biscotti is a must try!

For delicious made-on-site chocolate, caramel and toffee in coastal shapes (think turtle, seahorses and shells) stop by the Sugar Marsh Cottage.

Some of the places we visited are part of the Parks on the Air program that David enjoys.  He activates them communicating with radio operators around the world.  (It’s like a scavenger hunt for parks with awards for completing different challenges!)  Map below shows his 553 contacts from this trip.

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