Jekyll Island, Georgia Weekend Planner
Overview of Jekyll Island
"Look at that"! Over to our left in the distance, I see two huge white sails. They're too large to belong to a sailboat and seem to shimmer in the sun, changing color from white to almost transparent. As we continue down the causeway from I-95 to Jekyll Island we see the Sidney Lanier Bridge roadway appear. It grounds the sail-like apparition created by the suspension cables when viewed from certain angles. It's a stunning sight.
The sky is bright and clear on this early summer day and the water sparkles in the sunlight. The bridge links Jekyll Island with the city of Brunswick and St. Simon Island just beyond. Although each has its unique character the trio is almost one destination in such close proximity. And we will take advantage of the bridge to explore all three areas on this trip.
Living in Georgia, I have visited Jekyll Island a number of times, primarily for business. It has a lovely new convention center and a number of hotels lining the beach. Just an hour south of Savannah it's a convenient weekend getaway for those residents. For us, living closer to Atlanta, it's a five-hour trip and worth the drive to enjoy all the Island holds.
Jekyll Island's Prestigious Past
As a vacation destination, Jekyll Island has a long history. Originally purchased by a man and his brother-in-law to develop an exclusive hunting club for wealthy gentlemen, the club was a rousing success. So much so, that the island was purchased by a group of investors calling themselves the Jekyll Island Club. The group included some of the wealthiest families in the country, like J.P. Morgan, William Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer, and Marshall Field. Together, they numbered over 50 member/investors and built expansive "cottages" around the clubhouse for the members' families.
Opening in 1888, the luxurious clubhouse played host to many extravagant parties and social events. All that power and prestige in one place made the Jekyll Island Club a hub for important meetings among the powerful members. For instance, it was here the Aldrich plan was formulated to bolster financial security, eventually becoming the foundation for the Federal Reserve.
As times changed the Club's prominence began to wane and it drifted into obscurity. The State of Georgia purchased the island for a mere $675,000 in 1947 and turned it into a state park. So the little island that once hosted America's royalty now hosts everyone for meetings and vacations.
The Jekyll Island Club still stands. It is now a lovely hotel and part of the Jekyll Island National Historic District. It is surrounded by a village of renovated mansion-museums. These are the same "cottages" that once were home to the millionaire club members and their families.
Although Jekyll may have been introduced to polite society through its financially wealthy members, today it's home to a different type of wealth. As a rich natural environment, Jekyll introduces visitors to its barrier island beauty and the wildlife that shelter here.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Dedicated to research, education and rescuing injured sea turtles the Center is a valuable resource for the area. Injured turtles are brought to the center for rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. The center has a wonderful exhibit and guides visitors through the importance of habitat and conservation. Tours of the center are available to visitors for an admission fee, but the real ticket to buy is to one of the specialty programs. The Center offers evening and sunrise "Turtle Walks" to teach visitors about the beach habitat and to spot nesting turtles. You can also purchase a ticket to accompany the dawn turtle patrol to monitor turtle nests.
As for the beach, well, driftwood beach is a spectacular and haunting place. The sun-bleached branches and trunks of dead trees litter the sand. Some uprooted and twisted into other-worldly shapes and some standing straight and tall where they died in the salt water. Hurricane Irma washed away many of the trees from the beach, but the contingent that remains are still quite a spectacle.
The sand is firm and makes bike riding on the beach a popular activity. Just watch out for the many tree stumps and half-buried branches emerging from the sand near the water's edge. Breeze blowing, sun shining, picnic in hand the beach is a great spot to spend the morning.
Jim and I walked along the road from the campground to the far end of the beach and then took the long way back along the shore. The trees and stumps were fewer and fewer as we strolled towards the fishing pier and access road. The fury of the storm was more evident at this end of the beach and, when we visited, repairs to the trails and bridges were still underway.
As we made our way along the access road, the sounds of the salt marsh surrounded us. On either side of the road is a vast expanse of seagrass, small shrubs, and water. Birds and insects abound and their calls created a musical score for our walk back to the campground.
Where to Stay on Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island Campground - The only campground on the island, it took a few attempts before we could secure a reservation. There is a two night minimum on weekends and a minimum of three nights on holiday weeks. The prices are quite competitive though, hovering around $43 per night. Fortunately, we scored a two-night reservation just in time for our trip!
With 145 full hook-up sites, the campground is well equipped to handle most any size RV. The 18-acre wooded site provides a cool respite in summer and all sites have access to cable TV and free WiFi. There are a variety of 30/50 amp and pull-through or back-in sites as well as 12 primitive campsites.
The laundry and two bathhouses are pretty nice and quite conveniently placed. Just for fun, there is a pickle-ball court, bike rentals (you will want a bike to explore the island!) and just a one-mile walk to the beach or fishing pier.
Our site was not level but still nice surrounded by tall trees. We had great neighbors who made the tight quarters more comfortable. That is one of the benefits of camping - the people you meet. On this journey, we met two lovely travelers who are also avid cyclists. We enjoyed chatting with them and they offered us the use of their recumbent cycles. It's a comfortable way to ride and I can see the attraction, though it took me a while to get acclimated to sitting so close to the ground. I'm pretty short, so sitting up high on a typical bike may work a bit better for me!
No matter what your style of vacation accommodation, you will probably find it on Jekyll. There are large resort-style hotels, beach-front hotels, vacation condominiums to rent, and even an active VRBO property list. If you have a boat, there is a full-service marina near the historic village. Of course, if you love the idea of staying where millionaires once played, the Jekyll Island Club hotel is a great option!
Things To Do On Jekyll Island
Fishing - The Jekyll Island Fishing Pier is near the marsh area and you can catch redfish and skipjacks as well as crabs.
Deepwater fishing from a charter boat provides access to kingfish and snapper. You can purchase bait, ice, and gear at the Jekyll Island Fishing Center located next to the Fishing Pier.
All fishing requires a Georgia Fishing License. A non-resident fishing license fee is $10 for the first day and $3.50 for each additional day. Saltwater fishing also requires a free Saltwater Information Permit. Find out more at Georgia Wildlife.
Beaches - There are several beaches on Jekyll, in fact, about ten miles of unspoiled beach! Great Dunes Beach Park has the best access for families. Oceanview Beach Park is located mid-island with easy access to the sand and good parking. St. Andrews Beach Park is near the southernmost point of the island where bird watching is terrific. Both Driftwood Beach and Glory Beach Park offer a more serene atmosphere. South Dunes Beach Park has a boardwalk over the dunes as well as a picnic area and is well suited for family events. Each beach has pet restrictions but there are no pets allowed on Glory Beach or South Dunes Beach due to wildlife nesting areas there.
Jekyll Island Club National Historic District Tours - Although undergoing restoration, it's fun to walk around the village and see some of the old mansions, but you can get a closer look. There are guided tram tours of the entire 240-acre historic district and include entrance into two of the mansions as well as Faith Chapel, built by one of the Club's members. The cost is about $16 for adults and $7 for kids.
If you want something a bit smaller in scope, try the "Rockefeller Experience" tour. At just $10 per person, it's a good way to get a peek into how the "other half" lived. The fully restored and decorated mansion belonging to the Rockefeller family was one of their favorite homes. The price includes a tour of Faith Chapel.
Mini Golf- We love mini golf when it is close to a campground! The mini-golf course on Jekyll Island is a short bike ride from the campground and features a beginners course as well as a more challenging advanced course. Admission is $6.50 per person per game.
Kayaking - Bring your own kayak or rent one from any one of several vendors in the area. If you choose 4-H Tidelands Nature Center on the island, ask about their guided kayak tours. They provide a great overview of the wildlife in the area. Of course, you can simply drop-in and paddle on your own to discover the waters around the island.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center - Great education and a glimpse of the life and habitat of sea turtles. Admission is about $9 per adult and $7 for kids. Specialty programs range from about $16 to $160 per person. The guided "Turtle Walks" come in around $26 per person.
Boating - Bring your own boat! You can dock at the Jekyll Island Harbor Marina which offers an on-site restaurant, fuel, and a pump-out station. Marina guests also have access to complimentary bikes, golf carts, WiFi, cable TV, outdoor kitchen, and a pool. You can also charter a boat and/or a captain. or just take a boat tour from one from the local outfitters or tour operators.
Biking - The campground has gravel roads, but is quite easily navigated by bike. The real draw for cyclists though are the 20-miles of bike paths around the island. The trails wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites. If you really want to experience the island, biking is the best way to do it. No bike? No problem! There are multiple bike rental vendors on the island.
Jekyll Island Restaurants
Southern Soul Barbecue - On St. Simons Island. This indoor-outdoor restaurant has a small dining area and bar inside but lots of room at picnic tables outside. Their specialty, of course, is barbecue and it's very good. Their house-made sauces are quite tasty too. We liked the mustard based signature sauce and bought a bottle to take home. I think I will try and replicate their Brunswick Stew. Watch for my recipe inspired by their sauce on Foodie Friday!
Tortuga Jack's - On Jekyll Island, enjoy Mexican food on a beachside deck. The food is pretty good and the outdoor deck is lovely. It's a busy place so come early. It's also a good spot to extend that vacation vibe!
Jekyll Island Festivals
Shrimp and Grits Festival - Every September you will find aficionados of that delectable southern dish gathering for fun, food, and festivities. A competition among chefs from around the state vie for the title of best shrimp and grits. Of course, there are other delicacies to taste as well as music, art, and family fun. The Festival admission is free, but the tollway fee increases by $4.00 for the festival. The total cost for the tollways is about $10 for cars and $14 for RVs.
Don't forget to bring:
camera for capturing the scenes on Driftwood Beach
fishing pole and license
binoculars for watching birds and ships