Nestled among the Golden Isles along the coast of Georgia, Jekyll Island is a hidden gem for family beachgoers. Once the winter home of some of America’s wealthiest families, it is now run by the state of Georgia and accessible by all. Filled with outdoor activities, delicious restaurants and beautiful beaches, this coastal retreat offers the ideal beach getaway.
Located just over an hour south of the ever-popular Savannah, Georgia, Jekyll Island has received numerous awards in recent years for its historical preservation while also recently completing numerous modern updates. Managed by the Jekyll Island Authority, the island is unique in blending its well-loved history with its contemporary hotels and shopping areas.
Families like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, and Bakers saw the appeal of the island and formed their own Jekyll Island Club in 1886. These leading wealthy families built stately winter homes on the island, many of which still stand today. Visitors can tour the historic district easily with a Landmark Trolley Tour operated by Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum.
Guests can walk through one of the courtly historic homes decorated just as it would have been during its heyday. Followed by a visit to Faith Chapel which was erected in 1904 as a nondenominational church and is still in operation today.
The Tiffany stain-glassed window on the east wall is not to be missed, especially in the early morning light. Mosaic is also host to a hands-on museum—perfect for those traveling with children—where you can listen to the stories of real-life people from the island, build your own mansion, see vintage Louis Vuitton luggage and sit in a classic car.
The Jekyll Island Club Resort still stands and is a fully-operational hotel in the historic area of the island. Walking around the pristine grounds can transport you back to the Gilded Age, as you live like the once rich and famous residents of the islands.
The resort is home to several restaurants from sit-down, elegant dining to quick grab-and-go options like The Pantry. There’s also The Wharf with fresh seafood options and often live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Or check out nearby Zachary’s Riverhouse. Overlooking the intercoastal waterway and marina, the beautiful setting adds to the delectable dishes served al fresco.
Before leaving the historic district of the island, a stop at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a must. Also an interactive museum, the Center helps rehabilitate sea turtles in the area. Visitors can learn about their habitat, how they can help, watch feedings, learn about the care given to some of the inhabitants and more.
The easiest way to get around the seven-mile-long island is by bicycle. A breezy way to enjoy the natural landscape with paved bike paths taking you anywhere you want to go. Just be careful of wildlife in the area as not only deer but alligators also roam the island.
Bike over to Driftwood Beach, one of seven main beaches on the island and filled with picturesque driftwood trees. Or venture to the opposite end of the island to St. Andrews Beach Park where you’ll also find the Wanderer Memory Trail. This UNESCO World Heritage Site explores the story of a young boy aboard America’s last known slave ship, The Wanderer, which landed—illegally—in the Jeykll River.
For those looking for more thrills, check out Summer Waves Water Park. An easy way to cool off in the Georgia heat, the water park features a multitude of water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, a splash zone and restaurants. Or visitors can enjoy a “friendly” game of miniature golf at Jekyll Island Miniature Golf. There are also four golf courses on the island for those wanting a bit more of a challenge.
One of the newest areas of the island—the revitalized Beach Village—is known for its shops and restaurants. A stop in the Jekyll Market is a must for local goodies while the rest of Main Street is lined with quintessential island shops. Sunrise Grille is a favorite restaurant among locals and tourists alike and with delicious dishes and a fully-stocked bar, it’s not unusual to have to wait.
With so much to do and enjoy it’s easy to see why many families make the yearly pilgrimage back to the serene island.
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