Summer’s best reason for existing undoubtedly is the beach. The smells of briny air mixed with sunscreen. The sound of waves crashing, seagulls screeching, kids laughing. The sensations of sand between your toes, sun on your face, cool water lapping at your ankles.
Georgia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and they cater to everyone from campers to big spenders. Here are some of the best our state has to offer.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND The last in the chain of Georgia's islands is its largest and most naturally impressive. Wild horses? Check. Dreamy ruins? Check. Unspoiled beaches? Check. The complete absence of modern development, cars and asphalt? Check. A reservation-only guest list that limits the island to 300 tourists? Check, check, check. Three words: Sign me up. www.nps.gov/cuis.
JEKYLL ISLAND Jekyll boasts the most impressive historical structures of all Georgia's islands. Anchored by a turn-of-the-century Victorian masterpiece, the Jekyll Island Club (once called "the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world") and flanked by the former winter "cottages" (um, mansions) belonging to the likes of J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers, Jekyll has plenty of splendor. It also offers more moderate digs — and, of course, white sand and pleasingly rugged beaches. www.jekyllisland.com/overview_nature.asp.
LITTLE ST. SIMONS ISLAND AND SEA ISLAND Georgia's most exclusive (and expensive) island retreats lie further down its coast. Expect five-star amenities including Sea Island's spa and golf course and Little St. Simons' fine dining at the Lodge. Don't expect to find a room for under $500. www.littlestsimonsisland.com, www.seaisland.com.
OSSABAW ISLAND A short jaunt down the coast from Tybee — but a world away — you'll find Ossabaw, a state-owned and undeveloped island devoted to scientific and cultural study. Aside from a few public educational programs, your best shot at visiting Ossabaw is the island's annual, $150-per-person pig roast and fundraiser. www.ossabawisland.org.
SAPELO ISLAND Home to the tiny Gullah community of Hog Hammock, the University of Georgia Marine Institute, and the Reynolds Mansion (R.J. Reynolds was the last in a series of millionaires to own the island), Sapelo is accessible only by boat. It offers posh accommodations at the mansion and more rustic camping options — but only for groups of 16 or more. gastateparks.org/info/sapelo.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND Bridging the gap between super-exclusive and downscale kitsch, St. Simons has a wide range of accommodations for most budgets, loads of restaurants and beach bars, and a laid-back (and only mildly bourgeois) attitude. The island boasts scenic stretches of Spanish-moss-draped live oaks and attractive architecture development. www.explorestsimonsisland.com.
TYBEE ISLAND Georgia's northernmost island of note has a shabby-chic vibe reminiscent of a '50s-era tourist trap, and we like that. Just off the Savannah coast, Tybee is easy to reach, offers loads of condos and cottages within most price ranges, and boasts a wide and sandy — if a touch plain — beach. There are plenty of adorably divey beach restaurants, too, including the renowned Crab Shack. www.tybeevisit.com.