Jekyll Island was a popular destination for the country's rich and powerful and is now a favorite among families looking for a relaxing beach getaway.

Georgia's great barrier islands shelter the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and guard the coastal shoreline. The beauties known as the Golden Isles -- Sea Island, Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Cumberland Island -- are about 20 minutes from each other by boat or car, and each has a slightly different personality. All have stunning beaches, as well as marshes and creeks that are great fun to explore by canoe and kayak -- most outfitters can tailor their outings to fit a family's ages and interests.

Dolphin-watching tours depart from several of the islands. Along the way you might see manatees and other marine life. The islands are also nesting sites of the protected loggerhead turtle, and several of the islands allow guests to patrol the beaches at night to see the giant creatures lumber ashore to lay their eggs.

Sea Island is home to The Cloister, an acclaimed resort. Situated on five miles of sandy beach, the resort is a retreat for well-heeled guests. Even if you're not staying at the resort, it's fun to visit for a meal so you can explore its old world Southern hospitality and cruise the mansions along the shore.

Jekyll Island is protected by offshore sandbars. As a result, the surf is particularly calm, making it a very good choice for families with young children. The island has 20 miles of paved bike paths that traverse salt marshes and beaches, past Spanish moss-draped trees and palmettos, as well as the island's National Historic Landmark District. Its ten miles of beaches offer swimming, horseback riding, surf fishing, and kayaking. The island is a major site for sea turtle conservation.

St. Simons Island is the largest and most developed of the Golden Isles. The island measures 45 square miles and boasts many beautiful old homes and estates. It's a terrific place to try surf casting, pier fishing, oystering, crabbing, or shrimping. St. Simons is home to one of the nation's oldest continually working lighthouses open to visitors. Families can also explore the island on its numerous biking trails.

Little St. Simons Island is privately owned and is accessible only by boat or plane. It's virtually undeveloped. Its seven-mile stretch of beach is perfect for swimming, shelling, and fishing; other activities include hiking and bicycling.

Cumberland Island is a protected National Seashore and a haven for families seeking peace and quiet on sandy beaches. Visitation is limited to 300 people per day, and you must make advance reservations. It is accessible by ferry, and most visitors camp in designated areas, although a local lodge offers accommodations as well.

The island is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including wild horses, bobcats, armadillos, and an assortment of birds. It is also sanctuary to the loggerhead turtle, which lays its eggs from May to September on the sandy shores. Families will find the park's quiet forests, salt marshes, tidal creeks, and sandy beaches a paradise for hiking, beachcombing, fishing, and swimming.

Golden Isles Information

Telephone: 912/265-0620 or 800/933-COAST

To learn more about family vacation destinations, see:
  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.
  • Georgia State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Georgia, as well as other recreational activities.
  • Scenic Drives: For those who think that getting there is half the fun, we have compiled more than 100 of the most scenic drives throughout the country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.