Photos courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority, Golden Isles, Kathy M. Newbern, The Cloister and The Lodge, Sea Island
(This story appears in the Nov./Dec. issue of AAA Southern Traveler Magazine. All rights reserved.)
Holidays are a special time on the always-romantic Golden Isles of Georgia with seasonal activities that offer a cozy and joyous getaway for two. As the world ebbs into the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest months, the area’s four barrier islands, Jekyll, Sea Island, St. Simons and Little St. Simons, plus Brunswick on the mainland are entering a time of seaside celebration.
Year-round, the area’s moniker Golden Isles suggests romance, but during the chilly months, the golden glow of the setting sun on the marshes seems even more inviting, offering warmth that fills the soul and ignites the mood for romance.
What awaits lovers are incredible views of massive marshland, historic sites, miles of waterways, idyllic beaches, majestic wildlife, and a host of activities tailor-made for two.
JOLLY JEKYLL ISLAND
Even if you don’t make Jekyll Island’s rousing nighttime tree lighting ceremony, a traditional horse-drawn carriage ride is a romantic way to see the island’s wonderland of white lights outlining branches of massive live oaks overhead.
The Three Oaks Farm carriage driver will recount some history as your steed clip-clops around the grounds of the Jekyll Island Club Resort, a Historic Hotel of America. This seminal, Southern retreat dates to 1888 as a winter hunt club for wealthy Northern industrialists, among them J.P. Morgan.
Consider that those founders and their families represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth at the time, and you understand that the “cottages” for rent here were their winter mansions. They dot the pristine grounds, and each is decked out in traditional, natural greenery and red ribbons for the season and dramatically lit at night.
By day, there’s a tram ride through the sizeable Jekyll Island Historic District to hear more history about the millionaire homes. The most elegant, the 1917 Crane Cottage with Italianate villa architecture, has a sunken garden, fountains, and upper terrace.
Dinner in the Jekyll Island Club Resort’s Grand Dining Room (AAA Four Diamonds) is a refined affair. Here, piano music greets diners and afternoon tea (offered Fridays and Saturdays) id another break from the every day.
Faith Chapel is inviting from the outside, but inside is a rare stained-glass window by Louis C. Tiffany and D. Maitland Armstrong.
If weather permits, check out the croquet greens on the resort’s front lawn where you’ll definitely spend time taking photos of the iconic main building with its turret and Queen Anne style. Take in the resort’s river views by strolling or riding bikes along provided pathways.
Visitors are often astonished by the night sky here, where massive clusters of stars seems to shine brighter thanks to winter’s cooler temps and notably because of so little ambient light. Great night sky viewing spots include the eco lodge/cottages on private Little St. Simons with its seven miles of beach and 11,000 undeveloped acres; on Jekyll Island where amber, low-lighting year-round was initiated to aid summer’s hatching loggerheads; and literally anywhere on the shoreline that graces the area.
All of Jekyll Island is a state park with 20 miles of bike paths. Rent solo or tandem models and even two-person surreys. For the best unobstructed views, opt for a beach cruiser with wide-rimmed, oversized tires designed for sand.
Winter means far fewer beachgoers, so many stretches feel private for just you two. A popular stop for bikers and walkers is Driftwood Beach so named for nature’s sculptures that line the shore. In January and February, there’s a free treasure hunt for hand-blown glass globes left around Jekyll Island. Several are set out daily; finder’s keepers.
Turtle lovers must visit the renowned Georgia Sea Turtle Center for a behind-the-scenes look at rescued turtles, their care, even occasional surgeries. Daily scheduled feedings and program times are posted.
Fireplaces or outdoor fire pits are a romantic way to warm up next to flickering flames after a beach walk. S’mores and hot chocolate or crafted cocktails from the bar are optional at spots like St. Simons' King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort; The Westin Jekyll Island (AAA Four Diamonds). as well as Jekyll Ocean Club (AAA Four Diamonds).
Jekyll Island Beach Village, located beside the Westin and the convention center, will show an outdoor holiday movie (Polar Express) on Nov. 23.
Another spot to release your inner child is Jekyll’s holiday “ice rink” (the surface is hard plastic) in Oceanview Beach Park, Nov. 17 through Jan. 6.
Unforgettable on a clear, blue-sky, winter day is horseback riding on the expansive beach at The Cloister at Sea Island (AAA Five Diamonds). With a trail guide at the lead, there’s plenty of time to take in all the nature and stop to pose for photos.
Unwind afterward with a couple’s massage at the resort's spa, then top off the day with gourmet creations at the luxurious Georgian Room.
GOLF AND HISTORY
At The Lodge at Sea Island (AAA Five Diamonds), listen to the bagpiper at sunset close to the golf course while sipping a cocktail in Adirondack chairs.
Georgia's Golden Isles is a perfect getaway for golf or tennis players. Swing clubs or rackets at standout golf courses and tennis facilities around the islands, including The Cloister’s 16 clay courts. From the mainland to the islands, there are 200 holes of golf available.
History buffs visiting St. Simons Island will want to see the riverfront Fort Frederica National Monument. Tidy pathways lead through this once military town that was established on the Colonial Georgia frontier. A marker notes it was a “thoroughly English town of spacious streets and substantial houses.” The fort was established in 1736.
Nearby is Christ Church, circa 1820. Across the road, lined with yet more sprawling live oaks, is the Wesley Gardens. Native tress and shrubs honor Methodist brothers Charles and John Wesley, who was a spiritual leader for the Frederica community.
And what romantic doesn’t love a lighthouse? The St. Simons Lighthouse, now a museum, has kept sailors safe for more than 200 years. Climb to the top for a splendid view. Nearby are a park, pier, quaint shops and eateries, all easily explored on foot or by bike.
Water activities aren’t reserved only for summer. Couples can enjoy a dolphin tour, salt marsh or sea kayaking, or yoga on the beach.
Finally, proclaim your love with messages in the sand before heading home. They will wash away, but your memories will remain warm and cozy all year.
BEFORE YOU GO: For more information, contact the Golden Isles Welcome Center at (800) 933-2627 or visit goldenisles.com. To visit the Golden Isles, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, and TourBook® guides. Visit AAA.com/travel for a TripTik® Travel Planner.
Photos courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority, Kathy M. Newbern, The Cloister and The Lodge, Sea Island.
Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher are contributors from Raleigh, NC. For reprints or more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.