St. Simons Island, Georgia: Leader of a bicycle tour group giving instruction in front of the St. Simons Island Light, a lighthouse located on the southern tip of the island. Editorial credit: Bob Pool /

The Most Beautiful Islands in Georgia

Although you may not picture Georgia as an island paradise, this US state is fringed by over a dozen breathtaking barrier islands. Many of them comprise an aptly titled chain called the Golden Isles and are part of a longer multi-state chain called the Sea Islands. All are beautiful, but we have picked six as the most beautiful. Though beauty is subjective, these islands have the requisite mix of luxury and scenery to attract most Georgia beachgoers.

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club Resort in Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA.
Jekyll Island Club Resort in Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA.

Jekyll, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, is always Mr. Hyde to visitors. Whether you arrive by boat, car, or private plane, Jekyll Island will welcome you with stunning beaches as it did for Indigenous peoples, European settlers, and America's most prestigious families. Such sites as the Rockefeller Cottage, Goodyear Cottage, and Hollybourne Cottage are preserved in the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District. Guided trolley tours are offered from January to September.

After admiring Jekyll's beaches and beach houses, you can have some heart-pounding fun by playing a round at the Jekyll Island Golf Club or rocketing down slides at the Summer Waves Water Park. Unwind with buzz-causing booze and ocean views at The Wharf Restaurant.

If you thought Jekyll could not be any more idyllic, it is home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a rehabilitation facility for probably the world's cutest reptiles. You can see baby turtles at the center or in their natural habitat via beach walks and buggy rides during nesting season. You can also see turtles swimming along with dolphins on boat-based Dolphin Tours.

Cumberland Island

Wild horses on the beach at Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Wild horses on the beach at Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Wild sea turtles and dolphins are one thing. Wild horses are another. Cumberland Island has a herd of feral horses on the Atlantic Coast that is not fed, watered, culled, or managed in any way. Descendants of early livestock number about 150 and are so ubiquitous that they take the same roads as humans. In fact, the National Park Service recommends that people step aside to let horses pass if traveling along the same path.

Step into Cumberland's other fantastical features. These include the Dungeness Ruins, which is the fire-ravaged mansion of the famous Carnegie family (who introduced horses that are likely among the feral herd's ancestors), and Plum Orchard, a Carnegie casa that was not burned.

Of course, the island also has gold-sand beaches for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, hiking, picnicking, camping, and stargazing. Ironically, Cumberland Island is not one of the Golden Isles.

Sea Island

The Cloister Hotel, Sea Island, Georgia.
The Cloister Hotel, Sea Island, Georgia.

Sea Island is one of the Golden Isles—and, by extension, one of the Sea Islands. It is a private paradise for Sea Island Resort guests and Sea Island Club members. You can start by eating oysters at Southern Tide, one of several upscale restaurants inside the resort. After gorging, crash at the Sea Island Cottages, which range from "modest" three-room cabins to luxurious eight-bedroom abodes, or at The Cloister or The Lodge, both of which are five-star hotels. Awake and take your complimentary BMW to the island's other attractions, which include a spa, fitness center, pools, golf courses, tennis courts, and miles of pristine beaches.

Despite its extravagance, Sea Island contains many acres of wilderness serviced by the Sea Island Nature Center. Ecotours are offered from September to February.

Tybee Island

Aerial shot of the gorgeous spring landscape at Tybee Island Beach, featuring the lighthouse, blue ocean water, sandy beach, homes, and lush green trees and grass in Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.
Aerial shot of the gorgeous spring landscape in Tybee Island, Georgia, USA.

Another non-Golden island, Tybee Island, straddles the northern Georgia coast near Savannah. You can drive from Savannah to Tybee in 20 minutes over multiple bridges. Once there, you will be greeted by dozens of natural, historic, and commercial wonders.

Tybee's beaches are considered the best in the state. They comprise scenic North Beach, frenetic South Beach, Mid Beach, and remote Back River Beach. The Tybee Island Light Station & Museum is Georgia's oldest and tallest lighthouse, open daily except Tuesdays. And Tybee's downtown has a smorgasbord of shops and restaurants. Among the highest-rated haunts are The Crab Shack, Sea Wolf Tybee, King Neptunes, Huc-A-Poo's Bites & Booze, Tybean Coffee Bar, and Sundae Cafe at Tybee.

St. Simons Island

St. Simons Island, Georgia, known for its family-friendly atmosphere and numerous bars and restaurants in the village.

St. Simons Island, Georgia. Editorial credit: Darryl Brooks /

The public gateway to private Sea Island, St. Simons Island, is a less restrictive oasis. It is the largest of the Golden Isles, boasting 15,000ish residents and sprawling salt marshes immortalized by Sidney Lanier's poem "The Marshes of Glynn." But marshes are not the only eerily beautiful features of St. Simons. Giant moss-draped oak trees, some carved with faces from the "Tree Spirits of St. Simons Island," line its misty streets, while the Fort Frederica National Monument, which is a castle-like fort that presided over bloody battles in the 1700s, watches over its inland woods.

St. Simons also has plenty of traditional marvels, such as the St. Simons Island Pier, St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum, Massengale Park, Georgia Sea Grill, King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort, and East Beach. It even has a general aviation airport that provides easy access to gorgeous greater Georgia.

Little St. Simons Island

Salt marshes at Little St. Simon's Island, Georgia, USA.
Little St. Simon's Island, Georgia. By Trish Hartmann - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Unlike most of the other islands on this list, Little St. Simons Island is accessible only by boat. It is privately owned but provides refuge for plants, animals, and tourists looking for a real rustic retreat. Aside from The Lodge, which can accommodate 32 guests, most of the island is undeveloped. That means you get day-and-night access to an 11,000-acre nature preserve with only a maximum of 31 other people. Activities include hiking, fishing, birding, kayaking, swimming, and combing the seven miles of unspoiled beaches. Although you can do most of those on your own, Little St. Simons has naturalists on hand to lend a guiding hand or guide many hands during day trips and special programs. There are workshops for everything from shark research to turtle walks to fly fishing.

The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island is one of the only US properties to win a Green Globe Award for sustainable tourism.

Georgia’s Coastal Gems

There you have it: Georgia is an island paradise. This mostly landlocked state has a chain of barrier islands that are golden in name, reputation, and/or appearance. The most beautiful of these are Jekyll Island, Cumberland Island, Sea Island, Tybee Island, St. Simons Island, and Little St. Simons Island. With sandy beaches, luxurious lodges, vibrant wildlife, historical wonders, and scrumptious restaurants, they are the six golden peaches of Georgia's coast.


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