Georgia's coastline is surprisingly short, stretching just 110 miles from north to south, but thanks to the state’s barrier islands, the many beaches within this span are wonderfully wild and memorably unique.

As well as sun-seekers, the pristine sands lure birdwatchers, dog walkers and shell collectors seeking quiet shores that are free of people and development. Historic forts and lighthouses dot the coast, waiting to share their stories, while Spanish moss in the trees adds a sultry Gothic beauty to it all.

But it’s not all quiet walks on the sand. Beaches near Savannah cater to active beachgoers and fans of paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing, and lakeside swimming beaches, far from the coast, are popular with families fleeing the summer heat in Atlanta and looking for a cool place to swim.

Here are our picks for the best beaches in Georgia – with extra love for the quieter, less flashy ones. Roadtrippers take note: Of the state’s 15 barrier islands, only Jekyll, Sea, St Simons and Tybee can be reached directly by road; the rest require a ferry or boat ride.

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A flock of seabirds swoops over the sand. A pier is in the background.
You could spot dolphins in the surf off Tybee Island © aimintang / Getty Images

North Beach, Tybee Island

Best beach near Savannah

Enormous container ships drift across the Atlantic toward Savannah off the northern tip of Tybee Island, providing a dash of visual excitement for sunbathers on this otherwise low-key beach. Less busy than the island’s South Beach, this swath of sand is preferred by locals and by those seeking solitude and seashells. The waves here are great for kayaking, surfing and sailing, and the historic Tybee Island Lighthouse – the state’s oldest and tallest lighthouse – overlooks the scene.

Just a 30-minute drive from Savannah, North Beach is also an easy escape for wildlife watching. When the tide is out, beachcombers can find starfish, sand dollars and sea snails. Birdwatchers head to Tybee Island – which lies on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail – to scan for purple sandpipers, ospreys, brown pelicans and American oystercatchers. Beyond the beach, pods of dolphins can often be seen swimming close to shore.

A loggerhead sea turtle on an empty sandy beach making its way into the ocean.
In summer, you may see sea turtles nesting or hatching on the beach at Little St Simons Island © Phillip Murdaco / The Lodge on Little St Simons Island

Little St Simons Island

Best beach for solitude 

As you walk along the soft white sands of Little St Simons Island, it's hard not to feel like royalty. The untouched shoreline unfolds before you for seven miles, shorebirds strut across the empty beach and polished shells glisten on the wave-washed shores. Undeveloped and pristine, this beach is a special place, evoking thoughts of a land that time forgot.

Along with Sea Island, St Simons Island and Jekyll Island, Little St Simons is one of the four barrier islands comprising the evocatively named Golden Isles, which hug the Georgia coast midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida.

Of this island foursome, privately-owned Little St Simons is the most exclusive and least developed. Access to the island is by ferry, and passengers are typically guests at the Lodge, an eco-hotel that hosts just 32 guests at a time in its guest rooms and cottages.

In addition to the undeveloped beach, the 11,000-acre island is famed for its salt marshes and maritime forests, which teem with birds and wildlife. In July and August, during evening beach walks hosted by the Lodge, you may see hatchling loggerhead sea turtles emerging on the shore and scrambling toward the ocean.

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Two women walking dogs on the beach at St Simons Island, Georgia
The sands of St Simons Island are a favorite spot for early morning walkies © 9387388673 / Shutterstock

East Beach, St Simons Island

Best beach for dogs owners

A dawn stroll on the broad white sands of East Beach is a delightful way to ease into the day; you could even call it sunrise therapy. As the sky turns a luminous pink and blue, early morning walkers with four-legged companions stretch their legs while beachcombers look for seashells across wet sands and tidepools.

As the morning wears on, the beach fills with kids building sandcastles and cyclists pedaling across the hard-packed sand. By lunchtime, paddleboards, kayaks and catamarans flit along the coast and kiteboarders and windsurfers zip along in the ocean breezes.

St Simons Island is the largest of the four Golden Isles and verdant Massengale Park is a recommended entry point to the beach, with parking, restrooms, picnic tables and a playground. Animals are barred from the beach between 9am and 6pm from Memorial Day through to Labor Day (late May-early September), but pets are welcome at all other times. They do not have to be leashed but must be kept under control.

Hiker enjoying a walk on Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia
Eroded trees create sculptural forms along Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island © MargaretW / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island

Best beach for photographers

The gnarled branches of long-dead trees create striking silhouettes against the horizon on aptly named Driftwood Beach at the northern end of Jekyll Island. The trees are remnants of a coastal forest, which was decimated over the decades by erosion.

Hauntingly beautiful, the beach is a hotspot for weddings and family picnics, and photographers have endless opportunities to compose compelling shots. Kids can have fun exploring the sun-bleached trees, which look like they have dropped from the pages of a fantasy novel.

For a truly unique experience, visit the beach after dark for stargazing; with minimal light pollution, the star views are dazzling, and create a mesmerizing backdrop for slow-exposure photos of the driftwood. Driftwood Beach is also pet friendly, but keep Fido leashed.

A one-day vehicle access pass to Jekyll Island costs USD$8, and there’s no fee for pedestrians and cyclists. Due to the extremely high tides, it’s best to visit when the tide is flowing out to sea, or at low tide. The Golden Isles website publishes tide tables.

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A group of people playing beach volleyball at a beach resort
Great Dunes Beach Park offers all kinds of family fun © Gabe Hanway / Jekyll Island Authority

Great Dunes Beach, Jekyll Island

Best beach for families

Expect to lose track of family members at Great Dunes Beach on Jekyll Island. At this 20-acre beach park on Jekyll Island, volleyball players lunge across the sand, bocce (boules) players test their accuracy and cyclists take advantage of a pretty section of the island’s 20-mile trail system. You’ll also find a playground, mini-golf and bike rentals across the street.

And the beach itself? The sand is hard-packed and well-suited for sandcastles and sunbathers. And Great Dunes has ample parking, public restrooms, a covered beach deck and quick access to the sand and surf. The beach access point at crossover #32 is accessible to those with disabilities. Pets are allowed on the beach but must be kept under control, and on a leash no longer than 16ft.

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A serene landscape and seascape with a group of red brown wild horses leisurely grazing on the white sandy beach
Wild horses roam freely on Cumberland Island Beach © Michael Shi / Getty Images

Cumberland Island Beach, Cumberland Island

Best beach for wildlife

More than 100 wild horses roam Cumberland Island, the largest barrier island in Georgia, and spotting one of them in the coastal dunes is always a pleasant surprise. Part of the federally managed Cumberland Island National Seashore, the beach here is unspoiled and largely people-free, unfurling for 17 gorgeous miles.

In addition to the horses, keep watch for loggerhead sea turtles, which are federally protected – the coastline here is an important nesting area. You might also see ghost crabs and enormous horseshoe crabs. A cautionary note about the horses: though descended from modern domesticated breeds, they are feral, which means they are unpredictable and should be admired from afar. 

More than 300 bird species have been recorded on Cumberland Island, which is a major stopover for migratory birds. Look for ospreys, peregrine falcons (in the fall) and the occasional bald eagle along the shoreline. Pelicans, oystercatchers, ducks and shorebirds can often be spotted at Pelican Banks at the southern end of the island, and shorebirds are prevalent in summer, winter and spring.

View over Lake Allatoona at Red Top Mountain State Park north of Atlanta
The waters of Lake Allatoona look extremely inviting on a hot summer day © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock

Red Top Mountain State Park

Best lake beach

A wooden boardwalk ends at a sandy beach at Red Top Mountain State Park, but you won't see any dolphins leaping in the surf here. The beach at this state park borders 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona, which weaves between forested hills some 40 miles northwest of Atlanta.

Surrounded by thick forest and protected within a small cove, this family-friendly beach fronts a typically calm stretch of water that is ideal for summertime swimming. The day-use area has been freshly renovated, with improved picnic areas, new grills and a new bathhouse.

Marinas dot the lake, which is a popular destination for water skiing and boating. Hikers also head to Red Top Mountain to explore 15 miles of forest trails. The trails are pet friendly, but not the beach.

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