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Perfect Family Vacation in Jekyll Island, GA

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Jekyll Island is an amazing place to visit. It has rich history, great hotels, awesome restaurants, nice weather, fresh air, and a lot of things to do for those who like to stay active.

We’ve been going to Jekyll Island annually for more than 10 years. When my daughter Elizabeth was born, she joined us the very first summer. Now she is 8 years old and she is asking us all the time: when are we going to Jekyll Island again?

If I could, I would just plant my roots in Jekyll Island, lead the life of leisure, peace and tranquility, and never leave. It’s just a different world out there, away from the noise and stress of a big city. The island is small, but it’s packed with a ton of great outdoor activities.

So, what makes this place so special? Read on, and you will discover so many interesting things about Jekyll Island.

Jekyll Island Camping Ground

Jekyll Island’s History

The history of Jekyll Island is impressive. This island is associated with big names like James Hill, George Baker, William Rockefeller, William Vanderbilt, and others powerful tycoons. At one point, they were looking for a good winter refuge in order to relax and escape noisy reporters. They considered various places, including Europe, but in the end they settled on the Georgia Sea Islands. Jekyll Island was selected as it was up for sale.

This ten-mile island was only a twenty-four hour ride from New York City and offered fantastic beaches, clear salt air, emerald pine trees, magnificent magnolias and gargantuan oaks with Spanish moss hanging off their limbs, as well as a full isolation from the bustling cities. The temperature in the winter months was in the sixties and seventies. It was perfect for visitors from New York and Chicago where cold and snow were ravaging all winter.

Jekyll Island Club View

The Jekyll Island Club opened its doors in 1888. Its members were all at the top of the social ladder and prominent aristocrats of their time. The Munsey’s Magazine in February 1904 wrote that Jekyll Island Club was “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world”.

History of Jekyll Island Club

Today, it is impossible to determine the exact amount of wealth which was controlled by the members of the club. Some researchers have claimed that during its best years, the clientele of the Jekyll Island Club controlled a one-sixth of the world’s worth!

If you are looking for an interesting read about Jekyll Island’s history, Splendid Isolation is a book for you. It includes a lot of details about the tycoons who frequented Jekyll Island and features some excellent historical photos.

Weather

Today, most of the vacationers go to Jekyll Island in the summer or during the Christmas break. If you will be traveling with kids, most likely you will also go to the island during one of these periods.

What weather should you expect?

In the summer, it gets quite hot, in the 90’s. However, there is always a cool breeze blowing at the beach, so it feels less hot. For people like us who come from Washington DC, Jekyll Island’s summer is actually a couple of degrees cooler than what we have at home. So, it’s an upgrade.

Be ready for a lot of rain in the summer. Each year is different, but generally speaking, it will rain during quite a few days while you are in Jekyll Island.

Mornings are usually free of rain. You might get a couple of hours of rain in the later afternoon. It could be a big thunderstorm or a smaller rain. So we usually try to plan our day according to weather. We get up earlier and do key activities in the first half of the day. Just in case.

In the winter, weather fluctuates frequently. You never know what you are going to get! Some days could be in the 70’s, others in the 60’s. But you will likely have a lot of sun. For people coming from cold climates, spending a Christmas break in Jekyll Island is a treat.

Places to Stay

In order to preserve nature, the island used to have very few hotels in the past. Most of it was undeveloped. Now things changed and several hotels/developments were built in the last several years. Now there are quite a few options to choose from.

One can stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, the Westin, Villas by the Sea, Holiday Inn, Days Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites… There are also plenty of houses on the island which can be rented.

Hampton Inn

We have stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites every time since we started going to Jekyll Island. The reasons for this choice are the following:

  • Proximity to the beach. Hampton Inn is situated very close to the beach. You just need to walk for 1 min across a lovely wooden bridge in a gorgeous forest area, and you are right at the beach.
  • Hampton Inn is in perfect harmony with the nature of Jekyll Island. The building fits the scenery perfectly. It’s not too big, not too small, just right. Hampton Inn has a beautiful forest around it, plenty of paths for walking and biking. The camping ground next door has beautiful views. It offers a good opportunity to sit down and just relax reading a book.
  • Hampton Inn has excellent pools for kids, even the smallest ones. A large pool is perfect for both kids and adults. It is especially helpful that they have a very shallow area to enter the pool for the smallest kids. Kids can just sit and play there without any worries. There is also a baby pool right next to the larger pool, perfect for babies. The water in the summer is very warm and kids stay in the pool for hours.
  • Eating at the hotel is great and convenient. Complimentary hot breakfast in the morning is excellent. There are many options at the buffet and selection varies from day to day. There is a good bar at the hotel where you can get all kinds of drinks, snacks, sandwiches- pretty good menu. There is a window to order if you are at the pool. If you don’t feel like going to some restaurant, you can always eat well at the hotel.
Hampton Inn and Suites, Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club Resort

If you would like to better explore the history of Jekyll Island and do not care too much about proximity to the beach, then I recommend staying at the Jekyll Island Club Resort.

It’s a very beautiful hotel with a lot of great facilities. You will have an opportunity to explore the cottages of various millionaires, walk around the vast grounds and eat at the top notch restaurant with great service. Hands down, you won’t be disappointed. 

Jekyll Island Club Resort

Beach

Jekyll Island has miles and miles of a great sandy beach. The beach is never crowded. There is plenty of space for everyone. You are rarely close to other people.

Hotels offer beach chairs and umbrellas on the beach for rent. A lot of people also bring their own beach umbrellas and beach chairs. The sun is very strong in the summer, so you are not going to last very long without a beach umbrella!

Exploring the Jekyll Island Beach

The water in summer is very warm and we have never seen sharks or any dangerous animals. A few times we saw jelly fish and horse shoe crabs laying on the shore. Nothing major.

You have to be ready that the water is a little bit brown and murky, not blue (like you have in Miami or someplace like that), because it is filled with microscopic plant and animal life. It surely does not mean it’s dirty!

Jekyll Island Ocean Water

Beach Activities

Jekyll Island beaches have perfect sand for making sand castles. Kids also love walking along the beach and collecting shells. There are many different kinds of shells laying around, big and small. All the families in the know walk along the beach early in the morning with big buckets in order to get the best shells.   

My daughter Elizabeth has a whole shell collection from Jekyll Island, thanks both to her own efforts and those of her grandparents (who are also unstoppable shell enthusiasts).

The most recognizable shells are sand dollars, which are quite abundant in the island. Sand dollars are species of sea urchins with a recognizable flower-like design in the middle.  

Sand Dollar from Jekyll Island

These lovely creatures live in the bottom of the ocean. When they are alive, they have a rich red, brown or purple color and flexible bristles. As the sand dollars get washed ashore, they eventually get bleached by the sun and turn white (this is when you get pick them up for your shell collection).

We also have some beautiful whelk shells from Jekyll Island. We do not find them every year, but a few times we got lucky and found some really big ones. Now they are proudly decorating out house.

Shells from Jekyll Island

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

When walking along the Jekyll Island beach, you can see tracks from sea turtles. A lot of turtles nest in Jekyll Island and you might be lucky enough to witness the sea turtle laying eggs! Even if you and your child did not get to see any sea the turtles on the beach, no need to worry. Jekyll Island has an excellent sea turtle center where you can see and learn everything about these wonderful creatures.

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is both a recreational facility for visitors and a rehabilitation facility for sea turtles.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

When you just walk in, you see a lot of colorful, interactive exhibits featuring educational materials about marine life. Kids walk from one exhibit to another and learn about the types of turtles which exist, the number of turtle nests in different parts of Georgia, and other important topics. There is also an opportunity to watch the Center staff perform a check-up or even a surgery of a sea turtle. Usually a lot of kids line up to see how the procedure is performed.

Once you have finished looking through the exhibits, you then can head to the turtle hospital. You can see all the current patients, learn their names and read about their medical history in the booklets available in the facility. When the patients feel healthy again, they get discharged into the ocean. You can participate in that as well.

On the way out, you definitely need to stop at the gift shop. You cannot leave without buying something there! We always buy a bunch of new things every year. There are many toy animals, various island souvenirs, clothes, and kids’ jewelry with the Center logo.

Golf

Golf is a special sport for Jekyll Island. Its first golf course was created back in 1898 for the members of the millionaire’s club who greatly enjoyed the game. Golf quickly replaced hunting as the most popular sport on the island. In 1924, Jekyll Island became a testing ground for the future of golf. The United States Golf Association tested a variety of clubs and balls on its course. Eventually, steel clubs were adopted over wooden shafts and a larger ball was chosen.

The island now boasts four magnificent golf courses, Indian Mound, Pine Lakes, Oleander, and Great Dunes, each one a masterpiece of its own. Indian Mound has always been my favorite, but other courses are great as well.

Jekyll Island Golf Course

We usually play golf at least 3-4 times when we visit Jekyll Island. It’s an incredible experience and I highly recommend it. My daughter Elizabeth joins me as well–she plays several holes, and later just sits and relaxes in the golf cart, watching the rich wildlife–deer, rabbits, turtles, birds, as well as an occasional alligator or snake in the many lakes on the course.

One of the residents of the golf course

We also use the driving range and the putting green for practice. Finally, the restaurant McCormick’s Grill which is located near the golf course is excellent. We love chomping on their French fries and chicken tenders after a game of golf.

Tennis

Jekyll Island has a Tennis Center which is conveniently located right by the golf course. If you like both sports, you can play both in a day. This is what we usually do. We finish a round of golf and then move to the tennis courts to play some tennis.

Jekyll Island Tennis Center

There are 13 clay courts at the Tennis Center. They are usually not crowded, unless there is a tournament being played (the Center hosts USTA tournament for adults and juniors). Lessons and clinics are available in case you need them. In order to play at the tennis courts, you need to pay a fee.

In case you would like to play tennis for free, you can do that too. Just need to drive to the neighboring Brunswick. The College of Coastal Georgia has plenty of tennis courts which are available for public to use.

Cafes and Restaurants

You are guaranteed to have a great variety of food options when you visit Jekyll Island, both casual and fine dining. There are plenty of lovely cafés and restaurants on the island. These include Beach House Restaurant, The Dairy Queen, Jekyll Market and others.

In addition, if you are looking for more options, the neighboring Brunswick and Saint Simon’s Island have a ton of cafes and restaurants, including popular chains (e.g., Denny’s, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse). These are just a short drive away.

Driftwood Bistro

Our favorite restaurant in Jekyll Island is Driftwood Bistro. This restaurant boasts an incredible menu of various types of seafood and different Southern delicacies. Some of my favorites are grilled shrimp, shrimp cake, stuffed flounder and veggie pasta, but there are plenty of other great dishes.

Driftwood Bistro, Jekyll Island

The prices are reasonable and with most dishes, you get to choose two sides, which are all excellent. Another advantage is that you can order regular or petit portion. This is great for people like me, who can never finish their meal.

I suggest getting a table in the main dining room, as it is more authentic. It’s okay if you get seated at the bar as well. The main dining room has a totally unique atmosphere- the walls feature artwork of various Southern artists, including various paintings with Georgia landscapes, sculptures of local animals, and most importantly, a unique collection of carved driftwood fish. All the artwork is for sale. Many a time, customers walk out of the restaurant not only with a full stomach from an excellent meal, but also one of the fish which had been on display.

Importantly, the Bistro does not take reservations. In the summer, it is nearly impossible to just walk in and get any table (unless you show up at 5 o’clock). There is always a long line of people sitting in the lobby and outside of the restaurant, waiting for their turn. But it is definitely worth the wait–you will not be disappointed.

Jekyll Island Club Resort – Grand Dining Room

Every time we visit Jekyll Island, we have dinner at the Grand Dining Room at least once. The prices are quite high and the portions are relatively small, but you get an exquisite experience and go back in the history all the way to the Gilded Age. So, it’s well worth it.

The Grand Dining Room

Some of the old photographs at Jekyll Island museum and private collections show some of the prominent tycoons of the Gilded Age dining together in this restaurant – Carnegie, Pulitzer, J.P. Morgan, Baker and others. Those were the glorious days for the restaurant and they required the best employees–the chef and full time staff were imported from Delmonico fine dining restaurant in New York, which has been the staple of downtown New York City since the early eighteen hundreds.

Some of my favorite dishes at this restaurant include Jekyll Shrimp and Grits, Halibut and Duck a L’Orange, and the lobster bisque soup is delicious as well.

How do you get to Jekyll Island?

Now that you are, hopefully, hooked, you are wondering: how do I get to this amazing island?

Driving

If you live on the East Coast of the US like we do, it’s quite easy. We usually drive to Jekyll Island. Going by car allows us to pack all kinds of gear for the beach and various outdoor activities (golf, tennis, bikes).

Coming from Washington DC, it takes about 10-11 hours to get to Jekyll Island. The drive itself is an interesting experience and an adventure.

Something always happens.

We often get into a huge rainstorm somewhere in South Carolina, when the rain is so heavy that you can see nothing through the windshield. Luckily, it’s usually very short and 10 minutes later, the bright sun is shining again. Totally amazing.

One time, our roof rack blew off the car and we needed to find it on the side of the highway… Luckily, all of our belongings were in order.

Another time, we got distracted and missed the exit to Jekyll Island. We drove for 20 minutes past it just to realize we should have taken the exit much earlier. It’s exit 29. Remember this number!

Flying

If driving is not your thing, or you come from overseas, or you do not need to load your car with a ton of things like we do, you can most certainly fly. It’s a bit quicker and more convenient. The nearest airport is Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, just 30 minutes from Jekyll Island. You could also fly into the Jacksonville International Airport which is about one hour away.

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