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A First-Timer’s Guide to Sea Island, Georgia

What you need to know before you go.

Photography by Sonnie Hiles


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There’s an oasis hiding in plain sight just off Georgia’s coast. And its name is Sea Island.

Truly a blip on the radar, Sea Island clocks in at just five miles from end to end and is home to fewer than 1,000 people full time. However, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality vacation delights. The Southern gem is packed with gorgeous scenery thanks to its endless seaside views, historical buildings, and massive oak trees lining the streets. It’s also home to a plethora of activities, from golfing to horseback riding, swimming, and more.

Related: The Best Beach Towns in the U.S. to Visit in the Off-Season

However, experiencing this travel bounty for yourself is a bit complicated as you must either be a member of Sea Island or be a guest at one of its exclusive hotels. Here’s everything you need to know about booking a stay and escaping the rest of the world for just a little while on Sea Island.

Where to Stay

As we mentioned above, to get onto Sea Island, you first must book a stay at one of its hotels (or become a member). Luckily, staying at one of its hotels isn’t a hard sell as they are each more gorgeous than the last.

The Lodge is as dreamy as they come. To get to the 43-room American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, you first must make your way through a driveway lined with looming oaks that have seemingly looked over the property for millennia. The inside is just as wonderful as its exterior, with exposed beams and plush leather furnishings, it’s a place you could get lost for days in with a good book.

The Inn at Sea Island offers a more laid-back affair. The hotel comes with its own heated outdoor pool, miles of bike trails, and a golf course for anyone looking to break a sweat or get in their steps on vacation. Each room at The Inn is outfitted in crisp white linens and splashes of blue to mimic the waters just outside its doors.

Then, there is The Cloister, another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Arguably the crown jewel of Sea Island, The Cloister is home to some remarkably lavish amenities, including a 65,000-square-foot spa, three swimming pools, and a massive stretch of private beach. It’s also got a storied history that is told through its trees. You see, former Presidents Coolidge, Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, both Bushes, and Bill Clinton have all planted an oak tree on the property. Guests can choose from one of three settings: The Cloister Main Building and Wings, The Cloister Beach Club, or The Cloister Ocean Residences. Each one will surely delight.

Where to Eat

Again, it’s important to remember that Sea Island is an incredibly tiny place. However, it still happens to be home to more than its fair share of delicious dining spots, including the Georgian Room, the restaurant inside The Cloister resort. The restaurant is a master class in elegance. It requires cocktail attire to enter, but getting dressed up is worth it for its seasonal, French-inspired menu. (Note: The Georgian Room is currently closed due to covid-19, so please keep an eye on its website for when reservations resume.)

For a more casual bite, visitors can snag a table at Southern Tide. The beachfront restaurant serves local favorites and seafood dishes like tuna poke and shrimp and grits. Don’t worry if you’re coming for a meal right off the beach — bathing suits and sandals are welcome.

Anyone looking for heartier fare can head to Tavola, the island’s Italian eatery. At Tavola, order enough to share off its pasta and pizza menu and dig in while enjoying the view on the restaurant’s enclosed porch or garden courtyard.

Finally, end a day at Wonderland, Sea Island’s sweets shop, which comes with 20 different flavors of hand-dipped ice cream. Top it off with any of the candy lining the shop’s walls, and maybe even get a to-go bag and bring a bit more of that sugar home with you.

What to See and Do

The activities section is where Sea Island really shines. On the island, guests can hop on a rental bike for a coastal wildlife bike tour. On the tour, guests are joined by a naturalist so they may learn more about the plants and animals that also call Sea Island home.

Visitors may also hop on the water for a number of activities including sailing, fishing, and even taking a tour of the marshes surrounding the island. Take a guided tour or go it alone with a kayak rental and set your own pace.

Anyone looking for a bit more animal-centric fun can book a horseback ride on the beach, or go for a 45-minute ride through Marsh Trail with an instructor. There are also ring lessons available for anyone interested in leveling up their pony game.

And, of course, if you’re coming to Sea Island odds are you’re coming to golf. The Sea Island Golf Club (home to the RSM Classic) is a dream come true for anyone who loves to hit the links thanks to its three championship courses that sit along the island’s coast. Guests can opt to make a reservation, or go in for a bit of instruction and learn how to play just like the pros.

Related: Swapping Out Brooklyn for a Small Town in Georgia During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Getting There

Though it feels a world away, Sea Island is actually rather accessible. It’s located about an hour’s drive from the Jacksonville International Airport and a 90-minute drive from the Savannah International Airport. The island offers different transportation options, including airport transfers, so make sure to inquire prior to your trip.


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