If you're the type who likes to go out on the town while on vacation, Jekyll Island probably isn't the spot for you. But those looking to relax and unwind will appreciate the Atlantic island's slow pace, uncrowded beaches, historic charm and low-key activities.
Vacationers often overlook this sleepy coastal gem, but with the recent addition of luxury oceanfront accommodations, Jekyll warrants consideration for your fall break beach trip and beyond. Owned by the state of Georgia, the island is among Georgia's Golden Isles located on the Atlantic Coast between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida, making it an easy escape.
While split personalities are likely to come to mind, the island's namesake is actually Sir Joseph Jekyll, a friend of Gen. George Oglethorpe. The general named the island in 1733, the same year he founded the colony of Georgia.
Jekyll became a hunting retreat in the 1880s for some of the wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. The Jekyll Island Club was established in 1886 as a private club for those wealthy visitors, and it opened to the public as a full-service resort in 1985.
Where to stay
The Jekyll Island Club Resort includes the historic Jekyll Island Club, which is steeped in Old World charm and located by the Intracoastal Waterway and the island's 240-acre historic district. The resort also includes the all-suite Ocean Club, which opened in 2017. As its name implies, the new club is located oceanside — and is the island's most luxurious stay. A free shuttle to the beach is provided for guests of the inland Jekyll Island Club.
The original club is more budget-friendly; as is The Westin, an oceanfront property with an on-site restaurant and rooftop bar that's located next door to Jekyll Island Beach Village, which offers shopping, dining, activities and beach access.
What to do
Jekyll has several wide, flat, unspoiled beaches that don't get too crowded. The most well-known is Driftwood Beach, where relics of entire trees lay in the sand, creating a natural jungle gym for kids and a spectacular backdrop for photos.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles that offers interactive exhibits and a rehabilitation center where the marine patients can be viewed.
The Jekyll Island Historic District features several museums and the "cottages" that housed the island's wealthy turn-of-the-century vacationers.
Cycling is one of the most popular activities for visitors, with the island's 20 miles of paved bike paths winding through huge trees draped with low-hanging moss. Jekyll Wheels offers bike rentals on the island if you opt not to bring your own.
If horseback riding on the beach is on your bucket list (and it should be), Jekyll is a great place to check that off with guided rides offered by Three Oaks Farm.
Summer Waves Water Park, open May through October, is a family friendly way to spend a day.
Golfers have plenty of options with the 18-hole Oleander, Indian Mound and Pine Lakes courses, as well as the historic 9-hole Great Dunes course. There's also a mini-golf course on the island for less serious games.
Where to eat
The Jekyll Island Club Resort has six dining options, including The Wharf, a riverfront restaurant located on the Jekyll Island Pier. "There is always a nice breeze and it has the best sunsets on the island," says Jekyll Island Club Marketing Manager Rachel Morrison. The club's fine dining restaurant is the historic Grand Dining Room, a AAA Four Diamond restaurant that hosted the wealthy guests of the original private club.
The Jekyll Island Causeway provides access to the island. While free for pedestrians and cyclists to cross, cars must pay an $8 access/parking fee for one day, $38 for a seven-day pass or $55 for a 12-month pass. (Additional charges for vehicles taller than 8 feet.)
Morrison also recommends the Wee Pub — "they have one of the best burgers I've ever had" — located in Beach Village, and Driftwood Bistro, a great restaurant with amazing meatloaf located a little off the beaten path.
When to go
The island's peak tourist month is July, followed by May and June. The least popular time to visit is November.
The sweet spot for beach-goers is late September through October, when the oppressive heat and humidity of South Georgia lets up but it's still warm enough to swim in the ocean. Water temperature of at least 70 F is generally considered warm enough to swim in, and Jekyll's average water temp in October is 75 F.
Most visitors will find the water too cold for swimming November through April, but the pools at Jekyll Island Club Resort are open year-round.