These two islands might just be the perfect spot for coastal Christmas celebrations.

By Caroline Rogers
November 16, 2020
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The Georgia coast has long been a Yuletide destination for Southerners. Driving in over the glowing, golden marshes with a chill in the salty air, you’ll see glimpses of the Christmas spirit at every turn. Two neighboring coastal communities, Sea Island and St. Simons Island are both warm and inviting places to visit. They are bedecked in holiday finery, with locals hanging garlands and bows and erecting towering evergreens festooned with shiny baubles. It’s like a winter wonderland, one that (because it happens to lie in seaside Georgia) swaps out all the snow for stretches of sand and trades fir trees for palms strung with flickering lights. On Sea Island and St. Simons, there are as many well-traveled spots for photos as there are quiet corners to sit back and take in the marvels of the season.

The Main Lobby at The Cloister Sea Island, GA
The main entrance to The Cloister is all decked out.
| Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Sea Island

The Cloister on Sea Island has been hosting holiday festivities for decades. This resort, which first opened in 1928, is set on the Blackbank River and is surrounded by saltwater marshes. The hotel is absolutely stunning at any time of year, but it becomes even more radiant around Christmas. A teeming events calendar and rooms filled with gorgeous holiday decor keep the guests coming back. Upon reaching the island, visitors are greeted with an especially warm welcome. The bridge on Sea Island Drive, which crosses the river and leads to the resort, is lined with trumpeting angels that light up at dusk. Inside The Cloister, the decor illuminates the property with the splendor of the season, beginning with the main entrance, which invites guests into a spacious hall filled with glittering garlands, an enormous Christmas tree, and a crackling fire. Just explore for a while, and you’ll find the resort’s impeccably trimmed trees lining the hallways. The most jaw-dropping one is that enormous evergreen that stands at the main entrance, next to a mailbox labeled “Letters for Santa.” Many families have been coming to The Cloister for generations, and those who first came to the resort as children now bring their own kids to experience the magic, including visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course.

Christmas Tree Lined Hallway at The Cloister in Sea Island, GA
The Cloister’s solarium at Christmas
Left: Credit: Peter Frank Edwards
Right: Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

The big calendar of events certainly keeps Sea Island visitors busy, though there’s an unmistakable charm in the calmer moments too. Wander down the long carpeted hallways, walk past rows of trees lining passageways, wake up early to pour a cup of tea at a silver service that’s set in one of the parlor’s cozy corners, and take a breezy stroll outdoors between the resort and the marshes to see the Sea Island Explorer, which is docked on the Blackbank River and decorated with red ribbons and green garlands. You’ll soon understand exactly what it is that keeps people coming back each year.

The St. Simons Lighthouse with Christmas Garland
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

St. Simons Island

Nearby St. Simons Island hosts its own lively traditions, and when it comes to decorating, residents here definitely go big. This area, which is known for its moss-hung oak trees, gets another calling card in December—the impressive light displays that appear in front yards around town. To take in all the island homes that are decked out for the holidays, hop aboard a Christmas Tour of Lights, one of the open-air rides hosted by Lighthouse Trolleys. The Fendig family has been leading these excursions for years now, and their jolly trolleys cruise beneath palm trees wrapped in spirals of twinkling decorations, taking visitors through neighborhoods that are strung with festive finery—including a cheery sing-along or two just for good measure.

When it comes to gift giving, St. Simons Island’s Redfern Village is shopping central. It’s home to Righton Books, an independent bookstore that opened in 2019 and provides a great selection, including new releases, children’s stories, and wonderfully curated offerings in the realms of art, architecture, design, and photography.

Just steps away in Redfern Village is Viola’s Market, a store that’s filled with charming finds, including fine kitchen accoutrements, leather goods, jewelry, children’s toys, and recycled blue glass vases. Be sure to stop by Two Friends, a boutique and lifestyle shop with a vibrant selection of clothing and entertaining essentials, behind its trademark canary yellow front door.

Golden Isles Olive Oil, a purveyor of flavored oils and vinegars that are sourced from around the world, is also located here. Customers can learn all about the many fascinating products, their specific origins, and potential pairings while browsing the broad selection. In addition to olive oils and balsamic vinegars, there’s also a variety of fine foods, namely everything you could need to make the ultimate cheese board.

Golden Isles Olive Oil doubles as a wine bar and restaurant that provides take-and-bake options and to-go meals, including made-to-order offerings like the Hot Pepper Bacon Jam Ham Sandwich. Desserts as well as custom cheese and charcuterie boards are also available.

The Vine Garden Market and Cloth + Label in St. Simons Island, GA
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Farther north on Frederica Road, neighboring shops The Vine Garden Market and Cloth + Label boutique are destinations for garden goods, decor, and apparel. Cloth + Label and Cloth + Label Home are side-by-side shops helmed by Valarie Zeh. The former is a must for fashion lovers who are searching for women’s designer brands, and the latter stocks beautiful furniture and decorative accessories. Next door, The Vine Garden Market is another wonderful destination for shoppers on the hunt for special purchases such as vintage water jugs and fairy-garden kits for the kids on their gift lists. Owners Bryce Vann Brock and Kelly Revels, who opened up The Vine in 2008, also provide custom landscape- and event-design services.

The Vine Garden Market in St. Simons Island, GA
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

A new addition to the area is The Park, opened by Vann Brock and Revels, which is a microresort and beachy St. Simons Island getaway with a fun indoor/outdoor aesthetic. Billed as “a simple place to reset,” it’s a collection of five one-of-a-kind, beautifully appointed vacation rentals named after local flora—Fig, Ivy, Mandevilla, Jasmine, and Wisteria. Set under Southern oaks draped in Spanish moss, all of the cottages are decorated with eye-catching mid-century interiors and feature pastel pink front doors. The property surrounds a pool circled with blush-toned chaises and black-and-white striped umbrellas. A neon sign invites guests to “Park it here” and stay awhile. Plus, the beach is just a short bike ride away.

Christ Church Frederica in St. Simons Island, GA at Christmas
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

A Golden Isles Getaway

St. Simons Island and Sea Island welcome guests with countless memorable ways to celebrate. Even the area’s historic sites get into the holiday spirit. Christ Church Frederica, one of the oldest churches in the state, is surrounded by moss-curtained live oaks, holly trees, and camellias. During the Christmas season, visitors here will find wreaths, garlands, and a Nativity scene added to its grounds. Farther south, the top of the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum gets wrapped with festive greenery and red bows.

Christ Church Frederica in St. Simons Island, GA
Christ Church Frederica is one of the oldest churches in Georgia.
| Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

Whether you’re shopping for the perfect present, settling in beside a cozy fire to enjoy a quiet December evening on the coast, touring historic sites, or exploring a remote beach, the Golden Isles open their arms during the holidays, inviting you and your family to make new memories on Georgia’s shores.

Editor’s Note: COVID-19 may affect some destinations. Check the status of each before planning your trip.