Looking for a family beach vacation without all the clutter of popular resort towns? On Jekyll Island you’ll find pristine beaches and plenty of activities in a more laid back setting. Located on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, this lesser known piece of the Golden Isles is within easy reach of the I-95 corridor. The peaceful natural setting and variety of activities have made this one of my favorite destinations.
In the late 1800s, Jekyll Island was an exclusive resort for the wealthy. Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Morgans built large homes, mere ‘cottages’ to them, in addition to the Jekyll Island Club and casino. During the 1940s the State of Georgia purchased the Island and it became a state park. The Jekyll Island Authority manages both the environmental and commercial aspects of the park to maintain its natural beauty while providing an affordable and family friendly destination. In recent years the island has seen renovations to the historic district in addition to a new development with hotels and shops. There is a wide array of activities to appeal to most travelers including relaxing on the beach, golfing, and even a water park.
For Beach Bums
The entire Atlantic side of Jekyll Island is made up of beautiful sandy beaches and, best of all, most of it is open to the public. There are a few hotels and homes scattered along the shore and plenty of large open natural areas. The Southern end near the soccer complex offers plenty of room for sunbathing, playing, or strolling on the wide beaches. I was able to enjoy a nearly two hour walk while only encountering a handful of people. Tips: Few beach areas offer facilities, so pack snacks and water. Bring beach shoes as the walk through the sand dunes will be hot in the summer. Hotels also have outdoor pools and some with ocean views.
For Lovers of Nature and Water Sports
Jekyll Island is the perfect mix of tourist destination and the great outdoors. On the West side of the island you’ll find kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as fishing charters and dolphin watching excursions. The Summer Waves waterpark offers plenty of ways to cool off in hot weather while the 4H Tidelands nature center provides an up close look at the local flora and fauna. Additionally, the Jekyll Island Fishing Center has a pier at the north end. Other fun outdoor options include a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, horseback riding, golf and mini golf, tennis, and nature trails. There are miles of paved bike paths around and through the island with rentals available.
For the History Buffs
The former playground of the rich and famous, Jekyll Island is now a National Historic Landmark. Jekyll’s historic district features a museum, several former homes, and the Jekyll Island Club hotel. Paved paths make it easy to stroll through the area and view the buildings and shops. Guided tours by foot or tram as well as special activities are offered by the museum. Tours of the William and Almira Rockefeller house and Faith chapel are available for a fee. The ruins of the William Horton house, dating from the 1740s, can be found further north along with the DuBignon family cemetery.
Lodging and Dining
Jekyll Island offers lodging options for any taste and budget ranging from camping to upscale modern. The old Jekyll Island Club is now a hotel for those looking to bask in Victorian charm nestled in the middle of the historic district. I enjoyed the new Westin hotel for its comfortable and clean modern rooms and it is close to the the small town center and wonderful beaches. Furthermore, there are four mid-range chain hotels along the Atlantic side; choose the newer Hampton Inn & Suites for a more secluded natural setting. Travel slightly off-season to take advantage of great weather and very few visitors.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of Jekyll Island as much as I love exploring everything there. Next time you’re looking for a new family destination, or even an adults only getaway, this is truly a place to escape the hustle and bustle of typical tourist resorts. The combination of tourism, history, and natural environment make for a great place to play and let the stress flow away with the tide. There is something that will appeal to every member of your family on this beautiful island.
Photo Tour of Jekyll Island