Historic Jekyll Island Shines on Georgia's Golden Isles

Along the southeast coast of Georgia, the barrier islands otherwise known as the Golden Isles offer an abundance of natural beauty, white sand beaches, and rich history. Perhaps the most storied of these is Jekyll Island, which during the first half of the 20th century was a privately owned club that served as the winter hideaway for America's elite. Today, Jekyll Island is designated by the Parks Service as a National Historic District and is a destination worthy of a Rockefeller, but now open to the everyman.

Jekyll Island Beach
A horseback tour on Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach

Where to Stay

Most of the history surrounding Jekyll Island is centered on the ultra-exclusive club which once shared its name. After the club disbanded in the 1940's, the grounds and facilities were taken over by the state, and later reopened as the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Fast forward a few decades, the property is now a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America and connects guests in a way that only it can with the unique story of Jekyll Island.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
The Jekyll Island Club Hotel

What to Do

Every vacation on Jekyll Island should begin the same way ours did, with a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. This state of the art facility specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of injured sea turtles, with the ultimate goal of returning them to their natural environment. While under care at the center, the turtles provide valuable learning opportunities for both training marine biologists and visitors who have always dreamed of meeting Crush from Finding Nemo. We enjoyed the interactive exhibit which chronicled the life of a sea turtle, before observing some of the center's patients in the adjacent hospital.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Inside the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

During our visit to the center, MJ and I adopted a turtle named Cadet, who was brought to Jekyll Island after being entangled in fishing line. Unfortunately, the run-in cost Cadet one of his flippers, but thanks to this incredible facility he'll have a place to live out his years in the lap of turtle luxury.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
The team working on turtle named Mahi
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
Our buddy Cadet saying "Please Adopt Me!"

After leaving the Sea Turtle Center we considered exploring some of Jekyll's 20 miles of dedicated bike paths, but I quickly remembered how exhausted we were after I had the same idea on neighboring St. Simons Island. So we hopped in the car and headed up to the north end of the island to Driftwood Beach. Growing up in Florida, I'm a little jaded when it comes to beaches, but this one might have been the coolest I've ever experienced. Not to mention it was a great spot to watch a few dolphins playing right off shore, while a container ship passed in the distance heading in to the nearby port.
Jekyll Island Driftwood Beach
Driftwood Beach

Of course, no visit to a destination would be complete if I didn't check out their options for golf. Jekyll Island has a long history with the game, and features several courses from the likes of Donald Ross and other renowned designers. We opted to spend the afternoon on the 9-hole Great Dunes course, which was commissioned by the club in 1926 to be "the best course money can purchase." Its oceanside setting and postage stamp sized greens brought both a smile and frustration to this hardened purist of the game.
What's not to like?
Where to Eat

Although the options for restaurants on Jekyll Island are somewhat limited, there are several options to satisfy any appetite. For a casual bite, head over to Latitude 31 where they serve up casual fare and are famous for their Low Country Broil. For some reason I went with a fish sandwich, and though it was quite tasty, when the steaming seafood spread came out for a neighboring table I came down with a serious case of entree envy. Note to self: If a place is "famous" for something...order it.
Jekyll Island Waterfront
The former pier for arriving club members today is the site of Latitude 31

Finally, if you're heading to Jekyll Island plan on having at least one meal in The Grand Dining Room at the hotel. This is arguably one of the most historic restaurants in the country with the space being a holdover from the original club. More importantly, the food and service match the spectacular setting to deliver the best dining experience available on Jekyll Island. Order the shrimp and grits, you won't be sorry.
Jekll Island Shrimp and Grits

After two days on Jekyll Island it was easy to see why America's elite chose it for their exclusive club. The feeling of seclusion combined with the island's history invites visitors to slow down, turn off the cell phone, and absorb a few moments of relaxation which are becoming harder to find. Much of the charm and beauty of the island which sold the likes of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts still remains, and my guess is if it was good enough for them, chances are it's good enough for you.

If you go...
  • There is a $6 toll to enter the island.
  • Stop into the sweet shop at the hotel for homemade fudge.
  • Say hello to Cadet for me.

Enjoy Your Stay