Jekyll Island GA: Protected Coastal Beauty with Resort Fun

Jekyll Island, Ga. is the southern most island in Georgia’s Golden Isles. Unlike nearby St. Simons Island or Sea Island, state law protects 65 percent of Jekyll Island’s beaches and maritime forest from development.

The remaining 35 percent is low and mid-rise buildings with a golf course, tennis courts, water park, historic district, and miles of bike paths and waterways to explore. Here are 40+ more reasons for you to visit Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Jekyll Island Georgia

Jekyll Island GA: Protected Coastal Beauty & Resort Feel

I like to say, if it’s good enough for a Rockefeller and Vanderbilt summer home, its good enough for me. Well, not really, but my family does enjoy many of the activities these wealthy barons did on Jekyll Island when it was an exclusive haven for America’s wealthiest families. We’ve even stayed in the hotel where millionaires put up their own guests (it’s lovely).

The State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island in the 1940’s and opened it up to the public. Now there are several new modern hotels, in addition to the Historic Island Club, and so many things to do, you’ll need to plan more than one trip.

Once you’re done reading our guide, the Jekyll Island Tourism board has a great website at jekyllisland.com. If you want to visit Jekyll Island for a special event, they can help you plan it.

Jekyll Island Hotels | Jekyll Island Beaches | Golf Tennis & Other Sports | Science and Nature | Jekyll History | Shopping | Seasonal Events | Jekyll Island Restaurants | Getting to Jekyll

Jekyll Island Hotels

The view from the third floor balcony of a Jekyll Ocean Club suite.

Jekyll Island Hotels

There is a wide variety of hotels on Jekyll Island, with several new hotels coming on board recently. With the upgrades to the island, I expect to be adding to this list soon, but here are three places where we have stayed. To learn more about them and other lodging options on the island, read our posts on Jekyll Island Hotels, with the link in each entry. And for discounts on these and other Jekyll Island hotels, visit our partner Hotels.com.

The Historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This beautiful treasure was the hotel for the Millionaires Club and is located in the Historic District. You can’t say you’ve truly been to Jekyll Island without staying at the Jekyll Island Club at least once.

The Jekyll Ocean Club. The seaside Jekyll Ocean Club is the sister to the Historic Jekyll Island Club, but has a very different, much more modern feel. All the rooms are suites facing the ocean, and the hotel is two blocks from the Jekyl Island Beach Village with shops, restaurants and entertainment. So much to do nearby, but enjoyed just hanging out in the lobby playing Scrabble, and the beachside pool. My favorite part of this hotel? The cozy screened porch off the pool.

Guests at Jekyll Island Club and Jekyll Ocean Club  can enjoy the amenities at the other hotel.

The Holiday Inn Jekyll Island, Ga. The Holiday Inn Jekyll Island is a very family (and pet) friendly hotel is located roughly at the center of the island right along the beach and bike paths. It’s also convenient to pretty much anything you’d like to do, but we just stayed on property, swam in the pool, walked on the beach (at night was amazing), and enjoyed our awesome ocean front deck.

The Westin and Hampton Inn are two additional Jekyll Island hotels on the beach.

Jekyll Island Beaches

Jekyll Island Things to do – Beaches

Jekyll Island Beach. The Jekyll Island beach is one of the prettiest on the Georgia coast, maybe even the Atlantic Coast. One of the things I like so much about Jekyll is development has followed infrastructure. Buildings are off the beach, behind the sand dunes. From the beach you see sea oats waving in the breeze. Often you can’t see the homes for the large sand dunes. Jekyll has five different beaches, several that are wheelchair accessible and most are dog friendly.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Ga. If you watch the Walking Dead you may recognize Driftwood Beach. I do not, but I still love this ghostly waterfront that locals call Boneyard Beach. The grey white trees, felled by wind and weathered by the elements is a gorgeous backdrop for family photos. The Beach is a little hidden. Ask for a Jekyll Island map at the guard gate, but don’t go down as far as the map says. Just past Villa’s By The Sea, there is a place you can pull off the road and follow the unmarked path down to the beach.

Great Dunes Beach. This 20-acre beach is the most popular for traditional family fun. You’ll find picnic tables, a pavilion, bocce and volleyball courts, as well as lots of parking and public restrooms and showers.

Glory Beach. This beach is located on the south end of Jekyll. The natural erosion on the island is creating more and more beach here. This area is also a great place for bird watch as it’s a sanctuary for resting and nesting birds. For this reason, pets aren’t allowed on this beach. This is also where the movie Glory was filmed.

South Dunes Beach. South Dunes Beach is the place to go if you’d like to see the beach, as well as the freshwater pond wildlife. Lots of picnic tables and grills here too for the family reunion. Note this is also a bird sanctuary, so no pets.

St Andrews Beach. St. Andrews Beach is a perfect diversion from the traditional beach day. Here you can climb a two-story wildlife viewing platform and look for birds, as well as dolphins. Note the historical marker for the Wanderer. The Wanderer was a slave ship that brought slaves to Jekyll Island after the practice of slave trading was outlawed. You can find the complete story at the Jekyll Island Museum (read on for more on that).

Summer Waves Water Park Jekyll Island

Summer Waves Water Park introduced a new kids play area in 2017.

Active Things to do on Jekyll Island, Georgia 

Summer Waves, the Jekyll Island Water Park. My kids love the Jekyll Island water park Summer Waves. You’d think it was for the big slides, but on our last visit they spent more time in the lazy river.

In 2017, the Summer Waves kids area was totally renovated. It now includes two dump buckets, multiple slides and lots of places to crawl in and out, plus a wide area for little ones to just play in the water. The video below shows the other areas of the park.

Fishing. Whether deep at sea, at a dock, or on the shore, Jekyll Island offers plenty of fishing opportunities for all types of anglers. A fun way for little ones to get involved with the island fish is at the Tidelands Nature Center. We took a class where we learned about sea creatures by making play dough fish and singing “head, shoulders, knees and toes” but replacing the words with the parts of a fish. I can still sing the song after many years. The part that makes every kid laugh….’and don’t forget the anal finnnnn.’ 

Fishing at Camp Creek Picnic Area. Across from the Jekyll Island Campground, the Clam Creek Picnic area is a hidden gem on the island. Drive through a canopy of draping live oak trees, past some of the best marsh views on the island to the Jekyll Island fishing pier. If you don’t have supplies, the bait shop has everything you need for fishing or crabbing, including a fishing license. During low tide, walk around on the sand to Driftwood Beach.

Golf on Jekyll. There are four golf courses on Jekyll. Great Dunes is the original 9-hole course. This is where my husband takes my boys, who are not big golfers, to play a round when we are on vacation.

The three 18-hole courses are Oleander, Indian Mound and Pine Lakes.

Tennis on Jekyll. The tennis courts at Jekyll Island were renovated in 2017, and are some of the nicest in the Golden Isles. The Jekyll Island tennis pro recommends visitors participate in clinics that are offered several times a week. It’s a great way to meet people and find someone to play with during your stay. If that doesn’t fit with you schedule, just call him. Jekyll has a wide network of players and he can partner you with someone that is on your level. If you have your own posse of tennis players, court time is very affordable too. Forget your racket? No problem they rent those as well. 

Horseback Riding. There is something truly relaxing to take a horseback ride on the beach. Although I’ve never done it on Jekyll Island, I have enjoyed a beach ride elsewhere and loved it. At Jekyll you can also take a horse drawn carriage ride through the historic district.

Kayak Rentals/Tours. Touring the marshes of Glynn County by kayak is definitely a unique view, but I would not venture into the marshes without a guide. It is too easy to get turned around, plus guides usually have a lot of wonderful information about the marshes themselves and know where the wildlife hides.

We’ve done the kayak marsh tour with South Adventure Outfitters on St. Simons Island, but never on Jekyll. Relatives rented paddle boards from Turtle Tides on St. Simons for some fun in the ocean. The man that dropped off the boards was very informative about the island and shared his favorite restaurants with us. Turtle Tides also operates on Jekyll Island.

Still on my bucket list is a kayak tour through the Tidelands Nature Center. They do such a great job at everything else; I know the kayak tours will be special. Honestly, I’m not sure you can go wrong with any of the tour companies.

Bike Paths: One of the things I love most about Jekyll Island is the infrastructure was put into place before the current development boom, which means, there are 20 miles of bike paths and trails that connect the hotels with pretty much everything else on the island.

Do yourself a favor and get bikes for your entire stay. We loved using it as our transportation during our visit – from going to the Beach Village shopping area, to the historic district. We also used it to to explore the interior of the island – which I highly recommend doing. It’s very different inside the maritime forest than it is along the beach or even the marsh.

There are four bike shops on the Island, Jekyll Island Bike Barn (next to mini-golf), Beachside Bike Rentals, Jekyll Wheels (at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel), and Kennedy Outfitters. We also discovered the Holiday Inn Jekyll Island has rental bikes on property for guests.

Mini-Golf: There are two mini-golf courses on the island, and the good news is they are right next to each other. Course one is easier and more shaded. Course two is harder without much shade. We went around 5:15 pm in July and did the number two course. There wasn’t a wait and the ocean breeze helped to make it bearable in the sun. Once the breeze died down, it was a little hot, and a bit buggy, so bring some spray. The hostess working there said it can get quite busy in the evenings, so plan to play before dinner like we did, or immediately after.

Things to do on Jekyll Island - Nature

Jekyll Island Things to do: Science and Nature

Sea Turtle Center. For anyone that enjoys science, animals, medicine or all three, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the perfect stop. On our last visit, we watched as a veterinarian did surgery on a turtle that had been caught in a boat motor.

Be sure to ask for a Sea Turtle Journal when purchasing tickets.  Then stop at stamp stations around the museum to find out where you laid your eggs, what lived on your shell, and how old you’ll be.

Gaterology 101. We were supposed to do this during our visit, but somehow I messed up the times. It’s still on my list though. Who can pass up a morning with Jekyll Island wildlife researchers for a session on gators. It’s billed as a hands-on experience too.

Tidelands Nature Center. Tidelands is the less snazzy version of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. You’ll find touch tanks and science fun at the Nature Center, but the real highlight is the programs. We’ve done the fish program mentioned earlier, a dock study with nets, and a beach walk. Our beach walk guide recommended the seining program too. They also have fishing, but she said you always catch something in the siene. Also on my list – a guided kayak tour through the marsh. The video below is older, but gives you an idea of the center. Skip through to about 1:40 to hear the parts of the fish song – I love it!

Geocaching Jekyll Island. We’ve never found geocaching to be as easy as it looks, but it was a fun way to play pirate on a trip to Jekyll Island. After determined our pirate names, we set out to find Jekyll caches. Our first venture was a bit of a bust. We found a cache, which was very exciting, but just as we started to get into it, the GPS died. Like good pirates, we didn’t give up, just went home for some ale before beginning again the next day.

With a fully charged GPS, we headed out again. However, our family couldn’t find the side of a barn with the GPS and the coordinates. So, after discussions of mutiny, a break to play ‘Man vs. Wild’ in the maritime forest, and some sheer dumb luck finding a cache, we opted to return to more civilized pursuits – like hanging out on the beach.

Bird Watching. Jekyll Island is an important site along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, boasting some of the most diverse and plentiful bird watching in the country. My middle son always enjoys watching the oyster catchers along the beach.

Ranger Walks. Families can join Jekyll Island’s conservation staff for seasonal ranger walks to learn more about the island’s natural resources, unique ecosystems and fascinating wildlife.

Summer Camps – Whether your child is a junior scientist, budding golf or tennis pro, or history enthusiast, Jekyll Island has a summer camp sure to please. My youngest has done Turtle Camp at the Georgia Sea Turtle center. In addition to learning about turtles, they take them on the beach and do lots of fun turtle related crafts.

Science Fun at your own pace. While you are biking, or walking the paths around Jekyll Island, squeeze in a little education too. There are plaques with information on the science behind the dunes, the ocean, erosion, local plants, birds, and any number of interesting facts served up in bite-sized tidbits. How nice to have your subject right in-front of you too, rather than just a picture in a book.

Jekyll Island History - The Millionaires Club on Jekyll Island

Tour the Jekyll Island’s gorgeous historic district with renovated homes from the Millionaires Club era.

Five Places to Learn More about the History on Jekyll Island, Ga

I’m a history buff, so beyond the beach, Jekyll’s history is what interests me the most. Did you know

  • In 1910, Senator William Alrich convened a secret meeting of financiers on Jekyll Island to crate a proposal for banking reform that was the forerunner of today’s Federal Reserve.
  • Theodore Vail, the president of AT&T participated in the first transcontinental telephone call while at Jekyll Island.

Today, the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District is a 240-acre, riverfront compound and one of the largest, ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States. Here are five ways to learn more about Jekyll Island history

Jekyll Island Museum. Jekyll has so much history, you could wrap an entire weekend around learning it all. The best place to start your education, is at the Jekyll Island Museum. The museum is old school with lots of reading, photos and a few objects. Most children won’t be interested, but they might like sitting in the old fashion dune buggy in front of the barn.

History nerds like me will be surprised at many roles Jekyll has played throughout time. First as home to native Indians, a plantation, an illegal port for the slave trade, and the more well known Millionaires Club Era when Jekyll was the private playground for wealthy families such as the Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Goodyear and many other industry titans. 

History Tours. There are three different tours of the Historic District. We took the Century Tour, which was 90 minutes and went by all the buildings in the historic district. In addition, we stepped off to tour two of the historic homes, or ‘cottages’ as they were called. The tour was a nice overview of the historic district. Unfortunately, our guide wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but my guess is that was not the norm.

Other tours include the Rockefeller Experience, which is a tour of the Rockefeller Cottage, and Faith Chapel Tours.

History Tours Through the Jekyll Island Club. Guests staying at the Jekyll Island Club or the Jekyll Ocean Club can reserve a walking tour of the district with longtime historian. The tour is free for guests. This is definitely on my bucket list for a return trip, as I know we’ll have an experienced guide, and the tour also includes the interior of the Club Hotel. Reservations are required at least 24 hours in advance.

History at your own pace. Throughout the historic district are signs that tell about the history of various buildings and the area in general. If you don’t want to take a tour, just walk through the district at your own pace and read the signs. Be sure to find the telephone that was used for the first transcontinental phone call – it’s off by itself in the historic district, and a fun treasure hunt for those who have never been to the area.

Seasonal Historic Tours. Depending on the time of year, there are a variety of special programs that showcase different aspects of Jekyll Island history. Discover historic plants and landscapes, learn about black history on the Island, or the women who have shaped the island.

Shopping on Jekyll Island Georgia

Tonya’s is one of my favorite boutiques on Jekyll. photo courtesy of Jekyll Island

Shopping on Jekyll Island Georgia 

Beach Village. The Beach Village is a fairly new addition to the island and reminds me of the village at Seaside or Watercolor. Each time we visit, there are more stores in the village. One of my favorites is Tonyas. This boutique is similar to it’s sister on St. Simons Island and has nice jewelry and monogrammed items.

The Jekyll Market has everything you need from breakfast items to ice cream, BBQ for lunch, t-shirts, jewelry, flip-flops and beach items to cold-cuts, and even tap beer! You’ll definitely want to check them out.

Gift Shops in the Jekyll Island Historic District. Whether I’m staying at the Jekyll Island Hotel or not, I like to visit the gift shop bottom floor, mostly because I like to look at the historical photos outside, but they also have nice merchandise too.

The historic area has lots of charming shops located in the historic buildings, and it’s fun to learn about their previous functions during the Club days. One especially cool shop is Gypsea Glass, be sure to check times for demonstrations in the flame working studio. 

Sea Turtle Center Gift Shop. If you love the sea turtles that make Jekyll their home, this is the place to get both standard and unique turtle gifts. For that person who is hard to please, you can even adopt a turtle. My boys had fun following their sea turtle Simone recovery and  release.

Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Festival

Four Awesome Jekyll Island Seasonal Events

Jekyll is best known as a seaside beach getaway during the summer, but my favorite time to visit is during the cooler months when it’s not so hot, or buggy. Another reason, the many events on Jekyll Island. Here are a few worth noting. Got a favorite we didn’t mention? Tell us why and we’ll add it.

Beach Village Events. The new Beach Village area has lots of different events from outdoor movies to farmer’s market to ice-skating. Yes, they do ice skating at the beach. It’s on plastic ice and truthfully not a great experience from an ice skating perspective, but the cool factor is pretty high.

Shrimp and Grits Festival. I’m partial to this because I was a judge one year. I didn’t know I even liked grits until this festival. Oh my, there are some really great shrimp and grits recipes, and then there are some really bad ones too.

Turtle Crawl Weekend. This weekend festival supports the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The weekend includes a triathlon, sprint Triathlon and a 5K/10K road race.

Turtle Nesting Season. From late May to mid-August is nesting season for the Georgia sea turtle. During this time, you just might come upon a momma sea turtle crawling up the beach to lay her eggs. If you are really lucky, you’ll see the little hatchlings scurry out to the sea.

Jekyll Island Restaurants

Jekyll Island Restaurants

The renovation of Jekyll has brought several new restaurants to the island, and I’m sure there will be lots more to come. Locals we talked to rated the Jekyll Island Seafood Company highly. They also praised the sandwiches at the Jekyll Island Market, both located in the new Beach Village. Here are a few other suggestions. Did we miss your favorite? If so, let me know why and we’ll add it here.

Driftwood Bistro. This was a surprise find located in the lobby of Villas By the Sea condominiums, a classic Jekyll condo rental complex. The atmosphere in the restaurant is like a southern home. Our dinner of Georgia white shrimp (both lightly fried and blackened) included two hearty southern style sides, was priced right, and scrumptious.

For those who don’t care for southern sides, you can opt for a fresh spinach, cucumber and tomatoes salad, or get the broccoli sans cheese sauce as I did. However, scrap the diet and enjoy the fried dinner rolls. These partially cooked dough balls from heaven are served hot and remind me of donuts, or even a larger Café DuMonde beignet.

Tortuga Jacks. Need a break from seafood? Want a beachside bar with smoking drinks, or ones served in a coconut? Tortuga Jack’s is the place. These guys don’t get great reviews on Google, but that’s mostly for the service, which can be quite slow, especially for drinks. The food is quite good, and our combo fajitas were more than enough for two.

Our service was good during our stay. Justice, even gave us each a side for the fajitas, but my father-in-law said they’ve had service issues more than once. Get a spot at the high tops if you want to see the ocean, and contrary to what smoking drinks might make you think, this is a family-friendly place. They have live music on select nights too.

Corsair. This casual restaurant is located in the lobby of the Jekyll Ocean Club Hotel. There are seats looking into the kitchen, as well as inside and outside tables. Outside tables are poolside, and there are garage doors that can be opened to create more outside seating. For less of a poolside feel, request one of the hightops between the bar and kitchen.

Beachside House Restaurant and Tap Room. This coastal themed restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s run by the Holiday Inn, but is in a stand-alone building and the public is welcome. We did not eat here, but the seafood nachos came highly recommended by the Holiday Inn concierge.

We did listen to a band on the patio, which has a nice fireplace that would be ideal in the winter. Corn hole, and ping-pong are located just off the patio for the kids…or kids at heart.

Where is Jekyll Island Georgia?

Once you get to Jekyll, bikes are the best way to get around in my opinion.

Getting the Jekyll Island, Ga

For those who are wondering where is Jekyll Island? Jekyll Island is located along the Georgia coast, about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, which by the way are both great places to fly into for a trip to the Island. There is also a small airport in Brunswick and on nearby St. Simons Island.

The Island is an easy few miles off I-95 just before you get into Florida. When driving, know there is a toll to get onto the Jekyll Island. They accept credit cards, so if you are like me and never have cash, you’ll be ok.

Jekyll Island weather is mild most of the year. Summers can be hot and humid with average temperatures in the 80s. Winter is one of my favorite seasons to explore the island because it’s cooler with fewer bugs. Winter temperatures average in the mid 50s. There have been times where we have actually even gone swimming in the ocean on New Years Day. Other times we have been comfortable in a sweatshirt biking the pathways.

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Jekyll Island Ga.

 

Sue Rodman | Managing Editor & Business Development

Sue Rodman is a mother of three boys, a PR professional, writer, and ice cream lover. For eight years, Sue published an award winning family travel blog called Field Trips with Sue, and produced a TV segment with the same name on CBS Better Mornings Atlanta. In Sept. 2016 Field Trips with Sue merged with 365 Atlanta Family. In addition to writing blog posts and managing the advertising and public relations for 365 Atlanta Family, Sue does freelance public relations and her writing has appeared online at TravelingMom, Trekaroo, Minitime Family and other family travel sites. She has contributed to print publications such as Family Fun, Simply Buckhead, BuckHaven and Publix Magazine. In addition, Sue has appeared on local and national news talking about family travel. Sue believes anytime is a good time for dessert and there are no bad field trips, just better stories.

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