The beach might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of a vacation in the Peach State, but just off the Georgia coast lies a tranquil area of wide sandy beaches, swamps, and acres of moss-covered live oaks.
Jekyll Island, the southernmost of the four offshore islands that make up Georgia’s Golden Isles — so named for its natural appeal and dreamy allure — was once a favorite retreat of the country’s most influential families. Today it retains its age-old appeal, but its 5,500 acres and 10 miles (16 km) of shoreline are as accessible to vacationing families as to the exceedingly well-heeled crowd. The island is owned by the state of Georgia and development is strictly limited to preserve the critical barrier island ecosystem. As such, everything is built with intention to create a destination that feels a bit like discovering hidden gems.
Jekyll Island is a designated state park and a haven for sea turtles. It includes a landmark, cottages, golf and resort facilities and much more. Visit and you’ll see why it’s an annual vacation spot for many families.
The best things to do on Jekyll Island
Did you know that Jekyll Island has no traffic lights? Getting out into nature is the order of the day here. From hiking and wildlife-spotting to hitting the beach (Driftwood Beach and St. Andrews Beach are great for shelling), there’s plenty to do, and most of it means spending time in the great outdoors. A visit to the island’s parks, historical sites and fine restaurants is also a must.
One of the top things to do on the island is visiting Driftwood Beach, home to the iconic weathered trees, branches, and driftwood that wash ashore. It is a sculpture garden sculpted by the unforgiving elements of nature and the passage of time. Before heading out, be sure to check a tide chart. Go at low or high tide for the easiest access and the most expansive beach.
Another must-do while on the island is a tour of the 240-acre National Historic Landmark District, which includes 34 buildings with centuries of history. Opt to take a tram tour led by a knowledgeable guide, or explore on your own. You’ll step back in time and better understand what makes Jekyll Island so special.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy exploring the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, an educational and rehabilitation facility that offers an interactive opportunity to learn more about the animals and their importance to the local and global ecosystem.
Aside from the beaches and historical attractions, there are plenty of opportunities to get active, including 63-hole golf, tennis, a fishing pier, dolphin tours, horseback riding, bike trails, and even the seasonal Summer Waves Water Park. You won’t see over-the-top, over-commercialized tourist traps here, but you’ll find plenty of opportunities to make memories and enjoy the simple things with your family. Be sure to stop at one of the island’s upscale boutiques or gift shops to grab a memento of your trip.
Where to sleep
There are a variety of hotels on Jekyll Island, but if you want to get even closer to nature, pitch your tent or park your RV under the Spanish moss-covered oak trees at Jekyll Island Campground. There are a total of 179 campsites (167 full hookup sites and 12 primitive tent sites) spread over the campground’s 18 wooded acres, and this site is within walking distance of Clam Creek and Driftwood Beach, about a half mile away.
Of course, there are also accommodation options at the other end of the pampering spectrum. Think royal and you might get a mental image akin to the Jekyll Island Club Resort, a historic Golden Age estate. This massive but intimate retreat has six restaurants, two pools, a beach, and extensive grounds to explore. It’s the ultimate place to unwind while visiting Jekyll Island.
If you plan to stay for a while, Villas by the Sea is a good choice. Offering all the comforts of home (such as full kitchens and separate bedrooms), the one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas are both affordable and comfortable. Guests also love the Seafarer Inn & Suites, a modern boutique hotel with some apartment-style accommodations. The beach is nearby, but the seasonal outdoor pool is also a popular choice.
Many hotel chains including Westin, Marriott, Hilton, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Days Inn & Suites also have locations on Jekyll Island, so there are plenty of options to meet your family’s needs.
Best time to visit
With mild temperatures and gentle sea breezes that cool summers and warm winters, the short answer is that the weather on Jekyll Island is pretty nice year-round. Annual rainfall is only about 50 inches, the average temperature is 20 degrees Celsius, and sunny days are the norm.
July and August are the warmest months, with temperatures between 30 and 35. December and January are the coolest, with overnight lows dropping towards 4 degrees. Sub-zero temperatures and snowfall are rare.
So if the weather is decent all year round, how do you decide when to visit Jekyll Island? You may want to plan your trip around one of the island’s signature events, such as the Spring Turtle Crawl Races benefiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival.
Holly Jolly Jekyll, which includes magical tree lights and the Historic District decorated in grand Christmas style, is another great reason to visit Jekyll Island.
Where to eat and drink on Jekyll Island
If you love fresh seafood, you’ll eat well on Jekyll Island. Not surprisingly, many of the island’s restaurants serve a menu of Atlantic Ocean delights, and most prepare each dish with a Southern flair. While many hotels on Jekyll Island have fabulous restaurants, there are also plenty of fun off-site restaurants to visit.
Local favorites include Tortuga Jack’s, where you’ll find Baja Mexican cuisine on the beach under the only oceanfront tiki on the Georgia coast, and The Wharf, a Jekyll Island Club Resort restaurant that offers casual al fresco dining the historic pier.
Get the most important meal of the day in the morning at Sunrise Grille. You might also consider returning for lunch and dinner, but there are also places like Love Shack at Jekyll Market to check out. Zachry’s Riverhouse is another great no-frills option with riverfront views, and Driftwood Bistro at Villas by the Sea offers unforgettable Low Country cuisine and local shrimp, crafted from family recipes by the owners and staff.
Arrival to Jekyll Island
You’ll find Jekyll Island halfway between Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia, about a 30-minute drive from St. Simons Island, another of Georgia’s dreamy Golden Islands.
As you might have guessed, there is no major airport on Jekyll Island, so it’s probably best to fly into Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK), which is about 30 minutes from Jekyll Island, if you don’t live within driving distance. Other nearby airports include Jacksonville International Airport (approximately 1.5 hours’ drive from Jekyll Island) and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (less than two hours). Then drive across the Jekyll Island Causeway, which intersects with US 17 at the southern end of the Sidney Lanier Bridge.
Note that vehicle entry into Jekyll Island requires a parking permit, which can be purchased in advance online or upon arrival at the gate. Day passes cost $8 (INR 652) per day, while annual passes cost $75 (INR 6,114) per year.
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com
Main and Feature Image Credit: Jekyll Island
See Also: The First Tommy Bahama Resort Opens in This Chic California Destination – Take a Look Inside