Georgia's barrier islands extend along the Atlantic coast from Ossabaw Island near Savannah all the way down to Cumberland Island, near Florida. Although some have been developed, others, such as Cumberland and Little St. Simons, still linger in the 19th century. Some are accessible only by boat.
This 150-mile-long stretch of Georgia coast is semitropical and richly historic. The scenic Georgia portion of U.S. 17 goes past broad sandy beaches, creeks and rivers, and the ruins of antebellum plantations. The major highlights are the "Golden Isles" -- principally Jekyll Island, Sea Island, and St. Simons Island. Cumberland Island, the newest National Seashore, is still under development.
Brunswick is the gateway to the Golden Isles. Sea Island and St. Simons are just across the F. J. Torras Causeway (which passes over the famous Marshes of Glynn, immortalized by local poet Sidney Lanier). Jekyll Island is south of town, across the Lanier Bridge, then south on Ga. 520.
The islands became world famous for their Sea Island cotton, grown on huge plantations supported mainly by slave labor. The last slaver, the Wanderer, (illegally) landed its cargo of Africans on Jekyll Island as late as 1858. The plantations languished and finally disappeared in the post-Civil War period.
In the late 1880s, the Golden Isles got into the resort business when a group of Yankee millionaires discovered Jekyll Island. They bought it for $125,000 and built "cottages" with 15 to 25 rooms and a clubhouse large enough to accommodate 100 members. In 1947, second-generation members of the Jekyll Island Club sold the exclusive Millionaires' Village to the state of Georgia for $675,000. Many of the cottages are open to visitors today, and all the attractions that drew the wealthy are now public property.
Sea Island was purchased back in 1927 by Howard Coffin, who built a causeway from St. Simons to reach the 5-mile-long barrier island. His world-famous resort, the Cloister, opened in October 1928.
The Golden Isles are ideal for naturalists, with miles and miles of private secluded beaches, plus acres of ancient forests. More than 200 species of birds are sighted locally, especially on Little St. Simons.
Temperature and climate make the islands a year-round destination. Spring arrives early in March, with air temperatures ranging from 50° to 80°F (10°-27°C) and water temperatures at 66°F (19°C). Summer heat is moderated by coastal breezes. Temperatures range from 72° to 90°F (22°-32°C), with water temperatures at 80°F (27°C). Fall arrives in mid-October and is marked by clear days, with temperatures averaging 68°F (20°C). Winter is brief and mild, with daytime highs in the 60s (teens Celsius), lows in the 40s (single digits Celsius), and water temperatures averaging 50°F (10°C).
The Golden Islands are also the gateway to Okefenokee Swamp Park, one of the most forbidding yet lovely places in America. Boating excursions into the swamp allow close encounters with alligators. A 111-acre lake attracts water-skiers, anglers, and boaters. Nearby Stephen C. Foster State Park offers cabins and campsites along with signposted nature trails and canoe rentals.