U.S. Route 17 is an iconic highway that runs along a large section of America’s eastern seaboard. It stretches from Punta Gorda, Florida in the south to Winchester, Virginia in the north, and for much of its length, it is kissed by Atlantic Ocean spray and hovered o’er by flocks of singing shorebirds.
One of the most interesting sections of Route 17 runs parallel to the Georgia Coast. This stretch of highway – which threads a lovely chain of seaside cities and quaint towns – lies on average about 10 miles inland because much of the terrain to the east consists of marshlands and barrier islands that are teeming with wildlife.
The Georgia stretch of Route 17, which cuts through a wealth of state and federally-protected parks and wildlife preserves, is truly ripe for road tripping.
Between the cobblestone squares of Savannah just below the South Carolina state border, and the spectacular Cumberland Island seashore just above the Florida state border, the Georgia Coastline is packed with a plethora of incredible sights, sounds and experiences just waiting to be discovered.
So here is how we reckon a BUCKiTDREAMER should do a Georgia Coast road trip. Don’t forget to take note of the recommendations that appeal to you the most in your BUCKiTDREAM planner.
Start Your Road Trip in Georgia’s Oldest City: Savannah This sophisticated Southern Belle never goes out of fashion! Savannah is stylish, hot to trot, and she wears her Sunday finest every darn day of the week. Old World charm drips from every chandelier in the city and oozes up through the cracks between the cobblestones in Savannah’s wide squares.
This city has been buzzing with life since 1733, and it is a genuine hive of culture, art, music and entertainment. The architecture is stunning (there are twenty-two historic squares) and there is plenty of lush parkland – so it’s a great city to explore on foot. At night, the city hums with life. There are lots of students around, and the bar and restaurant scenes are second to none. Savannah is the perfect place to kick off your Georgia Coast road trip!
From Savannah, Take the Short Drive to the Three-Mile Long Atlantic Beach and Rolling Sand Dunes on Tybee Island Tybee is the first barrier island on our trip. It has a wonderfully windy Atlantic beach. Strolling along its sandy length will fill your nostrils with some of the freshest air Earth’s atmosphere has to offer! The surfing is top class, too.
At the Tybee Pier and Pavilion there is live music, dance and picnic tables that afford a truly glorious view, and you are only a stone’s throw away from some excellent bars, restaurants and hotels. Tybee Island Lighthouse is one of America’s oldest in existence, and is definitely worth checking out. The island’s Marine Science Center has some cool aquariums that exhibit the area’s unique marine life.
Next, Head for Richmond Hill, with Its Delightful Art Galleries, Quaint Museums and Fine Restaurants Henry Ford and his wife Clara visited this little city on the banks of the Ogeechee River in 1925, and were so enamored by its charms that they made it their winter home for the rest of their days. You will surely fall in love with this place, too. It has history, culture and a host of excellent riverside restaurants serving regional cuisine. There is lots to see and do in Richmond Hill – the art galleries boost some excellent exhibits and the museums are fascinating. The winding Ogeechee River is good for boating and fishing too.
From Richmond Hill, Make Your Way to McIntosh County, Where You Can Catch the Ferry to Sapelo Island This Georgia Department of Natural Resources-managed barrier island is accessible only by boat or plane. It is a rich and diverse ecosystem with fantastic scenery and beaches. The island has about 70 residents, most of whom are descended from pre-Civil War slaves that worked the island’s plantations. These locals live in the Hog Hammock community; a tiny settlement which includes some homes, a store, bar, library, a few small businesses and two churches. You can only visit Sapelo if you are on an official tour (we recommend this one) or are invited by a resident. It’s Georgia’s answer to The Wicker Man (but with two Baptist churches for only 70 residents, we guess it’s a touch less pagan).
After Sapelo Island, Continue South to Darien to Explore One of the World’s Largest Estuary Systems Darien is famous for its estuaries, rivers, islands, beaches and wildlife. It is also a hotbed of historic sites, including Fort King George, which was the British Empire’s southernmost outpost in the Americas until 1727. There’s also the Ashantilly mansion and an Old Jail. Darien has a rich Civil War history that can be explored in many sites around the area.
Your Next Port of Call is Brunswick and The Golden Isles The Golden Isles are St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. The four small, but teeming eco systems, lie just off the coast of the cute little city of Brunswick. Brunswick is a lively little spot with a bustling Old Town and some cool colonial squares. The area is home to a vibrant seafood industry (it is the self-proclaimed ‘shrimp capital of world’), and you can watch the trawlers come in and out at all hours of the day and night laden with fresh oceanic treats.
Your Final Destination is the City of St. Mary’s and Its Rugged and Wild Neighbor, Cumberland Island St. Mary’s has culture and heritage in every nook and cranny – great little boutique shops, bars, cafes and seafood restaurants abound in the center of town. The ferry to Cumberland Island take 45 minutes and transports you to a wonderful, wildlife-filled wilderness where you can hike, bike, kayak and picnic to your heart’s content. You can also drink a toast to an excellent road trip along the Georgia Coast!
Hopefully, you are now feeling inspired to add this lovely part of the world to your North American trip bucket list. And when you do, don’t forget to share your experiences on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #BUCKiTDREAM!