From scenic beaches and wild marshes to quaint coastal towns and historic sites, the Georgia coast is a dreamy stretch of iconic Southern landscapes. Take it all in with this easy detour on your north-to-south I-95 road trip to the Golden Isles.
At the northern end of the Georgia coast, Savannah is a bustling city rich with historic charm, from its majestic antebellum architecture and cobblestoned streets to its mom-and-pop restaurants, and unique shops. Before hitting the road, stop for a bite to eat at one of the many must-try lunch spots. Then, make your way to I-95 and head south.
Exit 49: Scenic US-17 Bypass
Hop off I-95 to enjoy the low-country landscape and off-the-beaten-path towns along coastal highway U.S. Route 17 which winds through serene wetlands and thickets of trees draped in lacey Spanish moss. Along the way, stop in the town of Darien where you can take in sweeping marsh views and spot rows of shrimp boats docked along the waterfront.
Continue along US-17 for another 5 miles until you reach the sprawling Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, an antebellum rice plantation dating back to the early 1800s. Ophelia was the last heir to the rich traditions of her ancestors and she left the plantation to the State of Georgia in 1973.
A museum features silver from the family collection and a model of Hofwyl-Broadfield during its heyday. A brief film on the plantation’s history is shown before visitors walk a short trail to the antebellum home. A guided tour allows visitors to see the home as Ophelia kept it with family heirlooms, 18th and 19th century furniture, and Cantonese china.
Nestled amongst picturesque marshes along the Altamaha River, this historic estate is a stop along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail so stretch your legs with an easy hike to scout herons, painted buntings, egrets, wood stork, and other coastal birds along the way. More than 300 species of birds (75 percent of the total species of birds seen in Georgia) have been spotted at the 18 sites along the birding trail.
When you’re ready to continue your road trip, drive west on U.S. Hwy 99 and continue south on I-95.
Exit 36: Explore Historic Downtown Brunswick
The mainland port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Docked at the wharf, the array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters—evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Watch the ocean vessels come into port, see the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street, and then sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants.
After dinner, make your way to Mary Ross Waterfront Park on Bay Street (U.S. Highway 341) at the end of Gloucester Street. This waterfront park features The Liberty Ship Memorial Plaza where you can view a scale model of a Liberty Ship, similar to those built in Brunswick’s shipyards during World War II. Other attractions include an outdoor musical playscape, staged pavilion, amphitheater, and farmers market (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8 am to 5 pm).
Related: The Golden Isles of Georgia
This waterfront park is an enticing spot to view the sunset across the marshes. Huge oceangoing ships from around the world as well as picturesque shrimp boats may be seen along the waterfront docks.
Afterward, head over to nearby St. Simons Island over the FJ Torras Causeway (about 7 miles away from Mary Ross Waterfront Park) and explore this quaint coastal community. Stop by the Welcome Center and grab a map of the mystifying Tree Spirits so you can participate in the scavenger hunt on St. Simons Island.
St. Simons Island is dotted with exceptional historic sites and attractions from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site where in July 1742 British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.
On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve is not to be missed. This visitor favorite contains middens dating back to 2500 BCE. Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—are also located on the island’s north end.
When you’re done exploring the area, hop back in the car, head over the FJ Torras Causeway, and meet up with US-17 south. Detour along GA-520 for one last stop along your I-95 road trip.
As you look south to the foot of Newcastle Street, you will see the Sidney Lanier Bridge, Georgia’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge which provides easy access to the Golden Isles from Interstate 95 (Exit 29). This beautiful structure is 7,780 feet long and 486 feet tall. It contains 95,283 cubic yards of concrete and 14,810,095 pounds of reinforcing steel. The current bridge was built as a replacement to the original lift bridge which was struck by ships twice.
The bridge was named for Georgian poet Sidney Lanier who wrote the poem Marshes of Glynn about the beautiful marshes that surround the area. Each year in February, there is the annual 5k Bridge Run (February 17-18, 2022), sponsored by Southeast Georgia Health System when the south side of the bridge is closed to traffic and people register to run (or walk) the bridge.
GA-520: A Can’t-Miss I-95 Road Trip Detour
Take in the expansive marshes on State Route 520 detours to beautiful Jekyll Island. Just 20 minutes away from St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island was once a private island owned by ultra-rich families such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Cranes, and Pulitzers. Today, the island is owned by the state of Georgia but remnants of the island’s glamorous past can be seen in its National Historic Landmark District where you’ll find opulent mansions and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, formerly the Jekyll Island Club House founded in 1886.
Want to stay off the highway a bit longer? Rent a bicycle and explore the island on two wheels by pedaling along with the Jekyll Island Trail System consisting of 25 miles of paved bike trails.
A parking fee of $8/day is required for all vehicles entering Jekyll Island.
Park your RV or camper under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites, from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet are free for registered guests.
Loop around the island to take in the views and head back to US-17 which will meet back up with I-95 south of Brunswick.
This is a great place to continue your road trip south to Florida (Jacksonville is only about an hour and a half south) or head north to your starting location (Savannah is only a little over an hour north!).
Get even more ideas on exciting places to explore and things to see along I-95.
Related: Georgia Is On My Mind
The Marshes of Glynn
Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,
Virginal shy lights,
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.
—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)