When we first visited Sea Island, Georgia, my initial thought was, “How did I not know about this place?” The Cloister at Sea Island has been around for generations with families returning again and again for their annual family vacation.
I grew up on the West Coast where families would spend summers on the island of Coronado for cooler beach weather and the Fourth of July parade. I was blissfully unaware of this magical East Coast family vacation spot. In fact, it was only after returning from Sea Island that I found out my grandparents took their honeymoon there back in the 1940s, right around the time when George H.W. and Barbara Bush did too. Since its earliest days, Sea Island has commemorated every Presidential stay by having them plant an oak, the state tree of Georgia. A stroll through the dreamy courtyard off The Cloister is an impressive display of past guests at this iconic resort.
In this guide, I break down why I love Sea Island, some of the best things to do on the island and beyond, how to choose where to stay, and tips for each type of traveler. Our family loved it so much so that we returned twice in one year, something that we have never done in the history of our world travels.
After a long drive up the coast of Florida and Georgia, the thing we love best about arriving to Sea Island are the beautiful beaches. My kids literally run straight for it and don’t look back. The water may not be the bluest blue, but there’s something so peaceful about the American beachgrass and slight dunes. The beach itself is soft sand and my kids could play there for hours every day.
The first time I looked through the activities pamphlet for Sea Island, I was overwhelmed by the amount of choices and down-right fun things I’d always wanted to do as a kid. From fishing and dolphin-watching by boat, to falconry and hunting & shooting, there are endless choices on Sea Island. My oldest’s favorite was the air rifle class and our younger son loved everything about the Nature Center and getting up close and personal with wild dolphins.
Next to the newly opened Sea Strike and Pub bowling alley, you can find Sea Island’s bike rental shop where you can join one of their guided tours or rent a bike to explore on your own. My favorite thing to do is bike around Sea Island and mentally shop for homes, dreaming of one day sitting on one of those big front porches, curled up with a book and drinking Southern sweet tea.
Insider Tip: Make sure you bring your own bike if you would like to ride on the beach as you will not be able to do so with resort bicycles.
As much as I love Sea Island, if you ask my kids and every other kid who visits, they probably love it more! The kid-friendly activities are endless and include everything from arts and crafts to sports to nature walks to scavenger hunts and many more unique experiences. The gangs of kids roaming freely on their bikes and exploring the beaches around Sea Island is a testament to Sea Island’s safe environment. Possibly, the favored spot on Sea Island by all kids big and small would be the candy shoppe (and yes, I’m spelling it like this to invoke the feeling of the old-fashioned confection temptations they offer on the daily). They cannot miss it!
While I personally don’t golf, I would be remiss not to mention the 3 golf courses and probably the world’s finest Golf Performance Center. There’s a reason Sea Island plays host to the RSM Classic, (a prime PGA tour event) and welcomes world-class golfers year-round.
Last but not least, a stay at Sea Island is not complete without a visit to the Spa. Along with the fitness center, with its indoor lap pool and hot tub, the spa has a private oasis only accessible to those guests with reserved appointments. I am not exaggerating when I say that you could easily spend an entire day here. And with the kids well entertained, you finally can!
Fly: Less than 1.5 hours by car from Jacksonville (JAX) or Savannah (SAV) International Airports, 20 minutes from Brunswick (BQK) regional airport or only 10 minutes from St Simons Airport (SSI) if flying private.
Recommended Stay: Anywhere from a weekend getaway to a two month summer vacation.
Elevation: 10 feet
Best Time of Year to Visit: March to November
If you’ve read this far, you might be convinced that Sea Island could make the perfect destination for your next family vacation. Now that you’re ready to pack your bags and go, hold on. Not so fast! Sea Island offers a wide range of options including The Cloister main building, The Cloister Beach Club, The Cloister Ocean Residences, The Lodge, Cottages, The Inn and Broadfield. Confused yet? I was too, but don’t worry. I’m going to break it down for you because I had the Grand Tour of all things Sea Island and saw each type of accommodation first-hand.
First off, it sounds overwhelming and enormous, but I promise that it isn’t. Having said that, each area is unique and offers a distinct experience. Second, no matter if you’re planning a wedding, a honeymoon, or a multi-family reunion, there is the perfect accommodation for you at Sea Island.
Next up are the ocean residences which have their own gated community of seclusion and privacy. Perfect for the honeymooners or those looking to disconnect, this area has its own infinity edge pool and picturesque stretch of beach. They range from a nature view room to three-bedroom suites and offer more peace and quiet than anywhere else (perhaps excluding Broadfield). Each unit is uniquely decorated but still come with all the amenities provided in the main building and beach club. The suites include a full kitchen and washer and dryer, making it perfect for those extended stays that still want all the hotel amenities and daily housekeeping. Just keep in mind that the distance to the main building and the beach club is within walking distance, but may be a 5-10 minute walk.
Insider Tip: I love the Ocean Residences for honeymooners, anniversary celebrations, families with older children, and smaller multi-generational families looking to all share one unit.
The Forbes Five-Star main building is the most traditional and elegant of settings, and also serves as the main lobby for The Beach Club and Ocean Residences. Each room is unique and ranges from garden-view to 2-bedroom suites with a view of the river. The Cloister main building is also home to the famous Bingo sessions that are a huge Sea Island tradition, plus an adults-only pool with views of the river. They also serve complimentary coffee and pastries in the solarium here overlooking a beautiful garden courtyard which is a nice touch.
Insider Tip: I love the main building for older couples, families with grown children, or for anyone who prefers a more formal hotel-like setting.
A short walk across from the main building is the Cloister Beach Club. Just like the name implies, the Beach Club is a casual, relaxed atmosphere that is perfect for families – or if you just want to walk around in your bathing suit. Accommodations range from the petite standard room to a 2-bedroom ocean view suite and is the hub of daytime activity. If you have kids, this is where they are going to want to spend the majority of their time. That’s not to say that you can’t make the easy walk or drive over here from the other accommodations, but it is centrally located to the main pool, adult lap pool, waterslide, beach and casual restaurants.
Insider Tip: I love the Beach Club for families, but they also have an adults-only lap pool, so it’s a great option for a multi-generational group who wants to room close together but not all in the same quarters.
For our second trip back to Sea Island, we decided to try a vacation home to accommodate our larger crew and traveling Cavalier King Charles. The island is strictly accessible to hotel guests and home owners only. Many of these homes are available to rent, exclusively through Sea Island and no other third parties, which enforces quality control and offers access to all the regular hotel amenities like the beach club and restaurants.
We opted for a cottage within walking distance to the beach club and the main building, and just a block from the beach. Cottages range in size, style and budget, with some gorgeous beachfront homes that could accommodate multiple families. I highly recommend a long bike ride around the island to ooh and aah at all the homes straight out of Town & Country magazine and will make you dream of relocating for good.
Home rentals have the option to add daily housekeeping at an additional cost, and they can even leave your kitchen fully stocked upon arrival. When choosing your cottage, I can help you get a better feel for how near or far you will be from the main resort and if you’ll require a golf cart or bikes.
The biggest perk of booking a Sea Island cottage with Diego Travel is the $100 per day resort credit you’ll receive, which for a week-long stay comes to $700! Stay two weeks and that’s a $1400 bonus!
Insider Tip: The cottages are best for families who already know and love Sea Island and want to keep coming back for more. In order to disconnect and recharge completely, I highly recommend a two-week stay or more and a cottage would be perfect for this.
For my golfers out there, the Sea Island Lodge is perhaps the best golf resort in the country. We loved spending time at The Lodge for the perfect evening sunsets, where kids can run around freely while the grown ups sip on cocktails, taking in the ocean air and the sound of the bagpiper, with post-dinner s’mores at the bonfire. The Lodge is the only accommodation at Sea Island that comes with a 24/7 butler service. If you want a truly bespoke experience, then you’ll want to consider a stay at The Lodge. Feel like having a wine tasting at 11 PM followed by a craving for donuts at 2 AM? Or you’d like a rose-petal bath drawn or clothes need ironing? Your butler is at your service!
The Lodge is a 58-room English manor boutique hotel with stand alone 2- or 4-bedroom cottages that line the golf course. The newly-completed 4,200 square foot King’s Cottage has its own private hitting bay and the best views in Georgia. Plus, the kitchen can come with your own private executive chef for ultimate privacy.
Insider Tip: I love The Lodge for golfers and their families. Corporate groups, bachelor parties, dad’s weekend getaways, would all love it at The Lodge. The cottages are great for longer stays or family gatherings with the best sunset views. And if you want the very best view, opt to stay in King’s Cottage.
Located just 2 miles from The Cloister, across the bridge on St. Simons Island, you’ll find The Inn, a budget-friendly option with the same great taste and style as the rest of Sea Island without the Forbes Five-Star distinction and amenities. Guests at The Inn enjoy a complimentary buffet breakfast, heated outdoor pool and Wi-Fe service. Room rates can be provided with or without resort access, but guests at The Inn cannot access the Beach Club. Only interested in golfing or the fitness center and spa, but wanting more affordable accommodations? Then The Inn might be a good fit for you.
Insider Tip: The Inn is perfect for the simple traveler who just wants access to Sea Island’s incredible golf facilities, fitness center, spa, and restaurants. If you’re passing through St. Simons Island or joining a larger group, this may be the right fit for you.
Broadfield is a secluded hunting retreat that offers hunting, shooting, fishing and falconry in the Great Outdoors of the South. While I didn’t go myself, I was told that Broadfield is a bonding experience for first-time hunters to seasoned enthusiasts, and from fathers and sons to small corporate groups. The lodge sleeps up to 22 people and can accommodate all kind of outdoor events that want to take advantage of its natural setting. The cabin itself combines perfect rustic decor with modern amenities and a state of the art kitchen where you’ll dine on farm-to-table meals prepared by your personal resident chef.
Insider Tip: Whether you need some father/son bonding with your teenage boys, or you and your buddies just need a weekend away, Broadfield is a perfect experiential escape.
The Cloister is home to several restaurants including the River Bar, with panoramic views of the Black Banks River, Tavola, an authentic Italian eatery, and the Georgian Room, the only FORBES Five-Star restaurant in Georgia. I had the chance to tour the impressive private wine cellar, that can accommodate private dinners and features a pine wooden ceiling created from a mid-1800s South Carolina sawmill and limestone from North Georgia. I highly recommend it for a special celebration or group dinner.
Wonderland (that irresistible candy shoppe I mentioned before), and casual beach-side restaurants like Southern Tide and Snack Shack will be found at the Beach Club. The newly opened Sea Strike & Pub offers another option for entertainment with indoor bowling and casual dining. All guests have the option to wear a convenient key-card bracelet (parents – you can control the spending power of your kids!), so kids can make 20 daily stops at Wonderland whenever their heart desires, without bothering Mom and Dad. Who’s ready to finish a book while on vacation!? I am!
Over at The Lodge, all Sea Island guests can enjoy The Oak Room, a more casual bar restaurant that serves Southern dishes with a panoramic view of the ocean, or Colt & Alison, the more formal dining room that does not fail to impress. Finally, the best kept secret of Sea Island just might be the whiskey bar located inside of the men’s locker room at The Lodge. It is the quintessential gentleman’s club, and if you haven’t golfed here yet, you need to grab your buddies and reserve to find out why all the pros choose to stay, train and play here.
We’ve never had any desire to go off-property, but for those that have the extra time (like when you rent that Sea Island cottage for a month), the following places come highly recommended.