Jekyll Island is a hidden gem of the South, inviting visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and embark on a tranquil island adventure. This charming barrier island, steeped in history and teeming with natural beauty, beckons with a unique blend of relaxation and exploration.
Once the winter playground of America's wealthiest families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jekyll Island continues to captivate modern-day travelers with its pristine beaches, rich maritime history, and an array of activities that cater to both the leisurely seeker of serenity and the intrepid explorer.
Enjoying Jekyll Island's Natural Beauty
Relax on Jekyll Island Beaches
Beachcombing, Shelling, and Swimming Opportunities
Jekyll Island's beaches are a haven for beachcombers and seashell enthusiasts. The island's gentle tides deposit a wealth of seashells, driftwood, and unique treasures along the shore, creating a playground for those who love to scour the sands for keepsakes from the sea. Whether you're an amateur collector or a seasoned enthusiast, you'll be amazed by the variety of shells you can discover, from delicate conch shells to colorful coquinas.
If you prefer taking a dip in the refreshing waters, the gently sloping beaches are perfect for swimming. The warm, temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean provide a pleasant environment for a leisurely paddle or an invigorating swim. Keep an eye out for dolphins that often frolic just offshore, adding a touch of enchantment to your aquatic adventures. You may want to check out the Great Dunes Beach Park, and Oceanview Beach Park among others.
Tips for a Tranquil Day by the Sea
To ensure a tranquil day by the sea, consider these tips:
1. Early Bird Advantage: Arrive early to claim your spot on the beach. The mornings are typically quieter and cooler, making it the ideal time to bask in the serenity of the shoreline.
2. Pack Essentials: Don't forget sunscreen, beach chairs, umbrellas, and plenty of drinking water. You'll want to stay comfortable and well-hydrated throughout the day.
3. Respect Nature: Jekyll Island is home to diverse wildlife, including nesting sea turtles. Respect posted nesting areas, and if you're lucky, you might witness the magic of sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea.
4. Leave No Trace: Be a responsible beachgoer and leave no trash behind. The island's pristine beauty is a result of conscientious visitors.
5. Enjoy Sunset Magic: As the day winds down, be sure to experience the captivating sunset on Jekyll Island's western shore. It's a stunning display of nature's artistry that will leave you in awe.
Explore the Jekyll Island Historic District
Discover the History and Architecture
The Jekyll Island Historic District is a living museum, where meticulously restored structures, enchanting gardens, and grand promenades transport visitors to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The district is a testament to the island's storied past when it was an exclusive enclave for America's wealthiest families, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Morgans.
As you stroll through this architectural time capsule, you'll encounter a stunning array of historic sites, including:
1. The Jekyll Island Club: This is the crown jewel of the district, a magnificent Queen Anne-style clubhouse where the elite of the era gathered to escape the northern winters. Take a guided tour to step into the past and explore the grand dining rooms, elegant parlors, and the very room where the Federal Reserve was conceived.
2. Horton House: A must-visit for history buffs, this tabby structure is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Georgia, dating back to 1742. It provides a fascinating look at the island's early history and the colonization efforts of General Oglethorpe.
3. Indian Mound: This ancient shell ring serves as a reminder of the island's Native American heritage. The mound, dating back over 3,000 years, is a testament to the island's enduring significance.
4. Faith Chapel: This charming chapel, adorned with stunning stained glass windows, is a serene spot for reflection and a glimpse into the spiritual life of the Jekyll Island Club members.
Guided Tours and Self-Guided Walks
To make the most of your visit to the Jekyll Island Historic District, consider taking a guided tour. Knowledgeable guides will regale you with tales of the island's illustrious past, its famous visitors, and the architectural marvels that grace the district.
If you prefer a more independent exploration, self-guided walks are also available. The historic district is meticulously marked with interpretive signs, allowing you to meander through at your own pace and immerse yourself in the stories embedded in every brick and beam.
Visit Driftwood Beach
Iconic Driftwood Trees Along the Shore
The defining feature of Driftwood Beach is its hauntingly beautiful collection of ancient, gnarled driftwood trees that stand as sentinels along the shore. These majestic skeletons of trees, sculpted by the relentless forces of wind, water, and time, create an eerie and unforgettable tableau against the backdrop of the shimmering sea. The juxtaposition of lifeless driftwood and the vibrant ocean is a sight to behold and a favorite subject for photographers.
Ideal Location for Nature Photography
Photographers will find Driftwood Beach a dream come true. The interplay of light and shadow, the stark contrast between the silvery driftwood and the blue horizon, and the ever-changing tidal patterns provide an endless source of inspiration. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical times to capture the ethereal beauty of this beach. Whether you're an amateur with a smartphone or a professional with high-end equipment, you'll find endless opportunities for creative expression.
Sunset Strolls and the Mystical Ambiance
As day turns to night, Driftwood Beach takes on a mystical ambiance. The setting sun casts long, dramatic shadows, and the evening tide often unveils hidden treasures among the driftwood. Take a leisurely sunset stroll along the shore and let the beauty and tranquility of the place wash over you. It's a perfect spot for a romantic evening, a moment of solitude, or simply a place to marvel at the wonders of nature.
While Driftwood Beach is a serene destination, it's essential to respect the environment and refrain from disturbing or removing any of the driftwood, as it plays a crucial role in stabilizing the dunes. Leave only footprints, and take only photographs to help preserve this natural wonder for future generations.
Outdoor Activities and Recreation
Biking at Jekyll Island
Exploring the Island's Biking Trails
Jekyll Island boasts a well-maintained and extensive system of biking trails that wind through the island's maritime forests, salt marshes, and historic sites. These trails offer a unique perspective of the island, allowing you to immerse yourself in its diverse ecosystems while enjoying the fresh sea breeze.
Some of the notable biking trails on Jekyll Island include:
1. Jekyll Island Trail: A picturesque trail that encircles the island, offering views of the ocean, marshes, and maritime forests.
2. Red Bug Trail: A serene route that takes you through the island's maritime forest, leading to Horton Pond and the Jekyll Island Historic District.
3. North Dunes Trail: A coastal trail that offers glimpses of the beach and dunes as you pedal through maritime forests.
4. Driftwood Beach Trail: A short trail leading to the iconic Driftwood Beach, where you can park your bike and explore the hauntingly beautiful shoreline.
Bike Rentals and Family-Friendly Routes
For those who don't bring their bikes, Jekyll Island offers convenient bike rentals, with options suitable for all members of the family. You can rent everything from traditional bicycles to tandem bikes and even four-wheel surreys, ensuring that everyone can join in the cycling adventure.
Families can enjoy a ride through the flat and easy-going terrain, perfect for riders of all levels. The well-marked trails offer gentle slopes and wide paths, making it safe and enjoyable for kids and adults alike. Don't forget to pack a picnic, as there are plenty of scenic spots to stop and savor a meal amidst the island's natural splendor.
Biking Safety Tips for Visitors
As with any outdoor activity, safety should be a priority when biking on Jekyll Island:
1. Wear Helmets: Always wear helmets, especially if you're biking with children. Safety first!
2. Stay Hydrated: Bring plenty of water, especially in the warmer months.
3. Obey Traffic Rules: When sharing the road with vehicles, obey traffic laws and ride on the right side.
4. Be Mindful of Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife on the trails, such as deer and birds, and respect their space.
5. Check Your Equipment: Ensure your bike is in good working order before setting out.
6. Use Sun Protection: Wear sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun's rays.
Jekyll Island Golf
Overview of Golf Courses and Clubs
1. Jekyll Island Golf Club: This is the island's premier golf facility, featuring three 18-hole courses: Oleander, Pine Lakes, and Indian Mound. Each course offers its own unique challenges and landscapes, from moss-draped oak trees to coastal marshes.
2. Great Dunes Golf Course: As the island's original golf course, Great Dunes offers a classic links-style experience. This 9-hole course presents golfers with views of the Atlantic Ocean and scenic dunes.
3. Miniature Golf: If you're looking for a more relaxed golfing experience, Jekyll Island also offers a fun and family-friendly miniature golf course, perfect for players of all ages.
Tee Times, Golf Packages, and Lessons
1. Tee Times: To secure your preferred tee times, especially during peak seasons, it's advisable to book in advance. You can often book tee times online or through the individual golf courses.
2. Golf Packages: Jekyll Island frequently offers golf packages that include accommodations, rounds of golf, and sometimes additional amenities. These packages can be a cost-effective way to enjoy a golf vacation on the island.
3. Golf Lessons: Whether you're a novice golfer looking to improve your swing or an experienced player seeking to fine-tune your skills, the island's golf courses often provide lessons with golf pros who can help you up your game.
Scenic Golfing Experiences on the Island
Golfing on Jekyll Island provides not only a challenging game but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the island's natural beauty. The courses are set against the backdrop of maritime forests, coastal marshes, and pristine beaches. Wildlife sightings, including deer and a variety of bird species, are not uncommon during your round, enhancing the overall experience.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Learn about Sea Turtle Conservation and Rehabilitation
The heart of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center lies in its mission to promote the conservation of sea turtles through education, research, and rehabilitation. Visitors to the center can gain insight into the challenges facing sea turtles, from habitat loss to threats posed by pollution and climate change. Educational exhibits and informative displays help raise awareness about these endangered animals and the critical work being done to protect them.
Interactive Exhibits and Educational Programs
The center boasts a range of interactive exhibits that captivate and educate guests of all ages. Visitors can get up close and personal with live sea turtles, learning about their life cycles, biology, and the intricate challenges they face throughout their existence. Engaging displays, hands-on activities, and informative presentations make it an ideal destination for families and individuals keen to expand their knowledge of marine life and conservation.
Guided Tours and Behind-the-Scenes Experiences
To enhance your visit, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center offers guided tours and behind-the-scenes experiences. These enriching opportunities allow you to dive deeper into the center's mission and gain a firsthand look at the rehabilitation efforts. You'll have a chance to meet dedicated professionals working to nurse injured or sick turtles back to health and witness the steps involved in their recovery.
Summer Waves Water Park
Water Slides, Lazy River, and Wave Pool
1. Water Slides: Summer Waves boasts a variety of water slides that cater to different levels of thrill-seekers. From exhilarating high-speed slides that get your heart racing to more gentle, family-friendly options, there's something for everyone.
2. Lazy River: For a more leisurely experience, the park features a winding lazy river where you can float along, soaking in the sun and enjoying a relaxing ride through lush tropical landscaping.
3. Wave Pool: The wave pool is a popular attraction that replicates the experience of swimming in the ocean. You can ride the gentle waves or simply bask in the sun at the water's edge.
Family-Friendly Water Park Activities
Summer Waves is designed with family fun in mind. Children and adults of all ages can enjoy a wide range of water activities, including kiddie pools, water play structures, and splash zones, making it the perfect place for families to create cherished memories together. Lifeguards are always on duty to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.
Ticket Prices, Hours of Operation, and Special Events
Ticket prices and hours of operation can vary depending on the season and special events, so it's a good idea to check the official Summer Waves website or contact the park for the most up-to-date information. Generally, the park is open during the summer months and occasionally during special events or holidays.
Keep an eye out for special events and promotions, which can include discounted admission, extended hours, or themed water park days. Some events might feature live music, games, or food vendors, adding an extra layer of fun to your visit.
Dining and Shopping
Dining at Jekyll Island
Restaurants and Cuisine Options
1. The Reserve: Located at The Westin Jekyll Island, The Reserve offers a sophisticated dining experience with a focus on locally sourced ingredients and a diverse menu. It's an ideal choice for those seeking an upscale dining experience.
2. Beach House Restaurant: For a more casual beachfront meal, the Beach House Restaurant offers a relaxed atmosphere and a menu featuring a variety of coastal cuisine, including seafood, salads, and sandwiches.
3. Driftwood Bistro: Driftwood Bistro is known for its Southern-inspired cuisine and cozy atmosphere. You can savor dishes like shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and freshly caught seafood in a charming setting.
4. Zachry's Seafood & Steak: Located within The Jekyll Island Club Resort, Zachry's offers an upscale dining experience with a focus on fresh seafood and top-quality steaks. It's an excellent choice for a special evening out.
5. The Wharf: This waterfront restaurant combines scenic views with a menu filled with seafood delights. Enjoy the fresh catch of the day, crab cakes, and other coastal favorites while gazing at the river.
Dining with Ocean Views
1. The Reserve: This upscale restaurant at The Westin Jekyll Island features large windows that provide panoramic views of the ocean. You can enjoy the sunset while indulging in a gourmet meal.
2. The Wharf: This restaurant, overlooking the Jekyll River, offers a wonderful view of the water and boats passing by, creating a picturesque backdrop for your dining experience.
3. Great Dunes Grill: Situated within the Jekyll Island Golf Club, the Great Dunes Grill offers both a delightful meal and the chance to enjoy views of the golf course and nearby beach.
Seafood Specialties and Local Flavors
1. Georgia Shrimp: Don't miss the opportunity to savor locally caught Georgia shrimp. Whether in a shrimp and grits dish or a classic shrimp cocktail, you'll taste the flavors of the region.
2. Low Country Boil: This beloved coastal dish often includes a hearty combination of shrimp, crab, potatoes, corn, and spices, served in a communal fashion.
3. Oysters: The area is known for its oyster beds, and you can enjoy them fresh or prepared in a variety of dishes, such as oysters Rockefeller or grilled oysters with garlic butter.
4. Gullah Geechee Cuisine: Explore the unique flavors of Gullah Geechee cuisine, which reflects the cultural heritage of the region. Dishes often include rice, seafood, and a blend of African, European, and Indigenous American influences.
Explore the Beach Village Shops
1. Jekyll Island Beach Village: The Beach Village is a hub of shopping activity on the island, featuring a collection of boutique shops and stores offering everything from apparel and accessories to home decor and artwork. You can explore various charming shops such as Island Sweet Shoppe for sweets and treats, Jekyll Market for island-inspired merchandise, and Cloister Collection for stylish clothing and accessories.
2. Turtle Store: As an extension of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the Turtle Store is a fantastic place to find sea turtle-themed gifts, apparel, and educational materials. Proceeds from purchases often support sea turtle conservation efforts.
3. Shops at the Jekyll Island Club: If you're strolling around the historic district, don't miss the opportunity to explore the shops located within the Jekyll Island Club Resort. These boutiques often feature upscale items, including clothing, jewelry, and unique gifts.
Best Places to Shop for Island Treasures
1. Jekyll Island Market: Located in the Beach Village, the Jekyll Island Market offers a wide selection of gifts and souvenirs, including beachwear, local artwork, and handcrafted jewelry. It's a one-stop shop for island treasures.
2. Mosaic, Jekyll Island Arts Association: For art enthusiasts, Mosaic is a must-visit. This cooperative gallery showcases the work of local artists and provides an opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind pieces, including paintings, ceramics, and sculptures.
3. Historic Area Stores: As you explore the Jekyll Island Historic District, you'll find a few charming stores with unique gifts, antiques, and vintage finds. These stores often offer a glimpse into the island's history and provide an opportunity to acquire a piece of its heritage.
4. Art and Craft Festivals: Depending on the time of year, Jekyll Island hosts various art and craft festivals, where you can purchase handmade goods and crafts from local artisans. These events are excellent for discovering unique, one-of-a-kind items.
In conclusion, Jekyll Island is a hidden gem along the Georgia coast that offers an abundance of activities and experiences. From the tranquility of its pristine beaches to the history of its charming historic district, the island beckons one and all to visit Jekyll Island and explore, relax, and savor the natural beauty and cultural richness it has to offer.
With opportunities for outdoor adventures, educational excursions, and culinary delights, a visit to Jekyll Island promises an unforgettable island getaway. Whether you're seeking the thrill of water parks, the serenity of turtle sanctuaries, or the charm of artisan shops, Jekyll Island activities provide a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration, making the island an enticing destination for all.