For 95 years, Sea Island has welcomed U.S. presidents, European royalty, and regular guests to its private island enclave in Georgia’s Golden Isles. Home to five miles of beautiful beaches, championship golf courses, and two properties named among Travel + Leisure readers’ favorite resorts in the South, Sea Island is a secluded coastal escape with a long and fabled history — so I went to see what makes this one-of-a-kind hotel so special.
Designed by Addison Mizner, the American architect best known for the Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival styles that defined South Florida’s architectural landscape in the 1920s, The Cloister feels like a European palace tucked away on a private island. The hotel opened in 1928 and then-president Calvin Coolidge planted a commemorative oak when he visited in December — a tradition later followed by presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Tradition is the heart of Sea Island. From the yearly Fourth of July celebration to the nightly bagpipe performance signaling the end of the day, Sea Island is steeped in traditions both exceptional and everyday. Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving get special treatment, of course, but I learned during my visit that there’s magic in seemingly ordinary things like ice cream (Gold Brick Sundaes, a resort specialty, have been loved for generations) and “Sunday best” bingo at Sea Island.
Throughout the last nearly 100 years, Sea Island has evolved within its private island, where The Cloister is located (named Sea Island), and expanded to nearby St. Simons Island, where the resort’s championship golf courses and other accommodations, including the recently renovated Lodge at Sea Island, now sit.
This summer, the resort debuted a slate of new culinary experiences with redesigned spaces and refreshed menus. The Georgian Rooms received a stately transformation with castle-like interiors and a new sushi lounge; other on-property eateries like Southern steakhouse Colt & Alison and oceanfront Southern Tide were also updated.
I grew up not too far from Sea Island in South Carolina, and I’d been curious about this tucked-away resort off the coast of Georgia for years, thanks to rave reviews from family and friends — and T+L readers. So, this September, I visited Sea Island for the first time and found an enchanting resort community defined by stunning architecture, Southern hospitality, and traditions old and new.
Read on for my review of Sea Island.
- From the Mediterranean-influenced Cloister to the English manor-style Lodge, Sea Island’s design evokes traditional European luxury — with a Southern twist.
- Rooms range from elegant suites with river and ocean views at The Cloister to eight-bedroom residence rentals.
- More than a dozen food and beverage outlets have something for everyone, including little ones.
- On-site activities include horseback riding on the beach, golfing on acclaimed courses, and boat tours in the salt marsh.
- Located in Georgia’s Golden Isles, Sea Island offers a private coastal escape with five miles of pristine beach.
Sea Island Hotels
Sea Island offers five distinct accommodation options spread out across the eponymous private island and St. Simons Island: The Cloister at Sea Island, The Lodge at Sea Island, The Inn at Sea Island, Sea Island Cottages, and Broadfield, a Sea Island Sporting Club and Lodge. The Cloister is the historic gem of the resort; the Mediterranean-influenced Addison Mizner-designed hotel dates back to 1928.
The largest of Sea Island’s hotel-style accommodations, The Cloister has 265 lodging options ranging from traditional rooms and suites in the main building to three-bedroom spaces in The Cloister Ocean Residences. The Cloister has been ranked among the top resorts in the South by T+L readers several times, most recently in 2023, and after visiting, I can see why. With Mediterranean-style arched windows and walkways, soaring wood-beamed ceilings, fine dining at the stately Georgian Rooms restaurant, and a gorgeous wood-paneled library, the resort feels like a fairy-tale setting for a waterfront vacation.
Another favorite among T+L readers, The Lodge at Sea Island (located on nearby St. Simons Island with free shuttle service to The Cloister and the Sea Island Beach Club) is a more intimate property that feels like an English country house with golf course and ocean views in every direction. Guest rooms, common areas, and restaurants completed renovations just before I arrived in September. I stayed at The Lodge in a king room with a golf course view, and I loved the 24-hour butler service, evening bagpiper performances, and nightly cookies-and-milk turndown service. The Lodge also has an infinity pool overlooking the water, the famous Men’s Locker Room (but more on that below), and a handful of golf-in/golf-out cottages. The Lodge is ideal for a romantic getaway or a group golf trip, while the multiroom accommodations at The Cloister are great for families.
Other Sea Island accommodations include The Inn, a more casual option also located on St. Simons Island; Sea Island Cottages, including 140 homes ranging from three to eight bedrooms that provide access to Sea Island amenities; and Broadfield, a 5,800-acre hunting and sporting club with a main lodge and guest houses.
ADA rooms are available at the various accommodations, and there were pool lifts in several areas (including at the Halfway House and Beach Club). I recommend calling to confirm the availability of specific room types based on your needs before booking.
Food and Drink
With more than a dozen on-site restaurants, bars, and cafes, Sea Island offers a range of dining experiences — all served with a slight Southern twist. Note that many restaurants have strict dress codes or age restrictions, so be sure to look them up ahead of time so you’re not turned away.
The newly refreshed Georgian Rooms, located in The Cloister, debuted last month with regal interiors and a new sushi lounge (the main dining room still serves upscale American cuisine). At the resort’s premier fine-dining location, menu highlights include chicken-fried oysters, steaks, and The Cigar, a sweet dessert that resembles a lit cigar and ash. Tavola, an all-day Italian restaurant, and the River Bar & Lounge, which offers globally inspired eats for lunch and dinner, are also located at The Cloister.
The Lodge is also home to a host of dining options, including Southern steakhouse Colt & Alison and the more casual Oak Room, which doles out fresh takes on classics like Southern bao buns and a Southern charcuterie platter with pulled pork and summer sausage. The Pool House also offers a limited menu of light bites.
At the Sea Island Beach Club, Southern Tide features delicious seafood dishes in an oceanfront setting, Sea Strike & Pub offers a more refined take on bowling alley eats, Wonderland is packed with sweet treats, and Snack Shack has quick lunch options like salads, sandwiches, and tacos.
Activities and Amenities
A Sea Island stay is truly a choose-your-own-coastal-Georgia-adventure vacation; the resort is packed with activities for every age and type of traveler, from falconry and archery to scenic boat rides and history tours. Activities offered by the resort include boating, bowling, falconry, fishing, horseback riding, nature walks, pickleball, clay shooting, squash, tennis, and golf. The Sea Island Beach Club is a hub for oceanfront amenities, with access to five miles of private beach (offering lounge and umbrella service), three heated pools with ample space to lay out (including family-friendly and adults-only options), a playground, an arcade, and more. The beach club is also home to the Sea Island Nature Center, where you can learn about local ecosystems and even see some of the wildlife up close.
During my time at Sea Island, I went on a fishing excursion in the salt marsh (and caught two fish with the instruction of our expert guide), took a dip in all three pools and the ocean at the beach club, and even tackled horseback riding on the sand. I highly suggest getting out on the water when you visit, whether it’s for a sunset sail or fishing experience; the beautiful waterways surrounding Sea Island are teeming with local wildlife. And though I’m admittedly a little nervous around horses, I can’t recommend the riding experience enough, especially if you’re planning a romantic getaway. Riding along the marsh and down the white-sand beach on Pinot (my equine companion for the day) was picturesque and serene.
Sea Island Golf Club
With gorgeous championship courses, a state-of-the-art performance center, and pleasant weather year-round, Sea Island is a must-visit for golfers of all skill levels. The Seaside Course and Plantation Course both host the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic; a third spot, Retreat Course, provides another option for golfers visiting the resort. The Sea Island Golf Performance Center is an expansive, tech-savvy facility with a Zen Green Stage putting lab, six hitting and instruction bays, club-fitting service, and more.
If you’re an avid golfer, I recommend staying at The Lodge — it’s located by the two championship courses, plus there’s an 18-hole putting course just outside the back door. It’s also home to the Men’s Locker Room, a 6,000-square-foot space featuring a full bar, rows of lockers and plush chairs, a cigar room, and more — it’s widely considered to be one of the best locker rooms in golf. (Sorry, ladies — our locker room is lovely, but it’s not nearly as grand as the men’s.)
Related: 25 Best Golf Courses in the World
The Spa at Sea Island
At 65,000 square feet, The Spa at Sea Island is a destination in itself, offering a tranquil oasis by The Cloister and Sea Island Beach Club. Koi ponds and a bubbling fountain outside invite guests into the spa, where they’ll follow a stream to an indoor relaxation lounge. Here, guests can sit under trees and listen to the calming sound of running water. Expect treatments such as massages, facials, and baths; additional amenities include a hydrotherapy pool and steam room. Across from the spa, you’ll find the fitness center, with 5,000 square feet of exercise space and an indoor pool.
Sea Island is certainly a kid-friendly resort. In addition to kid play areas and family pools (yes, that means there are adults-only options, too), Sea Island offers tons of engaging programming for little ones. Family-focused excursions include paint parties and Sea Turtle Dawn Patrol, where guests of all ages can learn about the animal and look out for nests and hatchlings with the Nature Team. Junior Staff lead Camp Cloister during the day for guests ages 3 to 14, and Kids’ Night Out — a supervised program that includes activities, dinner, and a movie for ages five to 12 — gives parents a chance to go for dinner or simply unwind on their own. And, of course, the young and young at heart will love learning about local wildlife at the Sea Island Nature Center, bowling at Sea Strike & Pub, splashing around in the ocean, and diving into a signature Gold Brick Sundae (trust me, it’s delicious).
Sea Island is located in Georgia’s Golden Isles between Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia. You can fly into Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) or Savannah International Airport (SAV) and rent a car to drive to the resort. There’s also a private airport, St. Simons Island Airport, located close to Sea Island. I flew from New York City to JAX, and then drove to Sea Island; the easy drive took a little over an hour. The resort offers transportation between the hotels and beach club.
The Cloister at Sea Island and The Lodge at Sea Island are the highest-end hotel accommodation options (with nightly room rates typically ranging from $500 to upwards of $1,000); The Inn at Sea Island typically has lower rates. To snag a deal on your stay, keep an eye out for offers during the off-season (fall through spring, excluding holidays), or plan for a midweek vacation.