Georgia's coast is a popular vacation destination in the southeastern United States today. Jekyll Island is a small barrier island off the coast of Georgia–just 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. It lies directly south of and across a container ship channel from St. Simons Island.
A rich history that spans its early Native American origins and later hunting preserve eras to its place as a summer home for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers awaits the curious explorer on Jekyll Island.
If you're a beachgoer, you'll love the white sand and driftwood beaches where orange, red, white, black, and blue pastel skyscapes contrast the landscapes to create unforgettable memories for those who seek an outdoor adventure on or near the water. You'll find plenty of opportunities to bask in the sun, frolic in the ocean, fly kites, parasail, and more at the Great Dunes Beach Park, Driftwood Beach, and St Andrews Beach Park.
Nature lovers will discover the island is home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which rehabilitates many different species of turtles. Visitors can have a thrilling time at Summer Waves Waterpark with its fun rides. With so much to do and see on Jekyll Island, it's an adventure you won't want to miss!
Landlubbers will delight at the Historic buildings that make up The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Faith Chapel, and Horton House Ruins. Also, there are plenty of upscale shopping stores and first-rate hotels with 5-star restaurants on Jekyll that stem from commercial development on the island since 2014.
We live on the Georgia coast. Jekyll is our anytime getaway all year long. Here we share some fun facts about the island that may cause you to make Jekyll your anytime getaway too.
History: A Snapshot of Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island's long history stretches back to its origin as a hunting and fishing domain for Native Americans, notably the Guale and Mocama tribes. In 1733, General James Oglethorpe, the personal representative of King George in the colony of Georgia, let Thomas Spalding buy Jekyll from the Creek Indians, who named it “Oglethorpe's Island”. Built as a plantation in 1750, it soon became a popular hunting preserve because of its small size and lack of arable soil.
In the late 1800s, some of America's wealthiest and most powerful families bought the island, including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers. These families used the island as an exclusive horseback riding, golfing, and fishing retreat. Because of their presence, Jekyll Island became one of the most exclusive and sought-after places to stay in the country.
However, the island's history is more than a story of luxury and leisure; it's a story of politics, commerce, and legal battles that shape its destiny.
A significant and controversial fact of Jekyll Island's history is its struggle over commercial development. Georgia set up the island as a state park in 1947 to preserve its natural beauty and protect it from over-development. However, the State soon realized the park needed to produce more revenue to sustain itself, and there was a growing movement to develop the island to boost revenues.
This issue led to a legal battle, with the State arguing the island's potential for commerce was hampered because over 60 percent of the land on the island was owned by private individuals. The State tried to force these individuals to sell their properties, but this move was met with widespread opposition from the island's residents and property owners.
Finally, a compromise granted the State the power to lease property to private developers, who would develop and manage businesses on the island. This change opened the door for many commercial ventures, including hotels, resorts, and golf courses, which have now become a part of the island's economy. Now, residential property owners lease their property from the State for 99 years. They own what sits on the property but not the land itself.
Built in 1886, the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort sits atop a 240-acre nature preserve. A group of wealthy industrialists, including J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, and Joseph Pulitzer, sought escape from frigid New York State winters and an exclusive retreat for their families, put up the money for the Club.
The Club quickly became the playground of the rich and famous sporting grand buildings, including the Clubhouse, San Souci, and Crane Cottage. 15 cottages next to the Clubhouse are built on the property. The Club has over 200 guestrooms across several historic buildings, each with unique charm and ambiance.
Today, visitors explore these historic buildings, The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Faith Chapel and Horton House Ruins, and the Goodyear House. These sites offer insight into the lives of America's most elite families then, providing a unique window into the past.
The Jekyll Island Clubhouse
Built in 1888, the Jekyll Island Clubhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a magnificent example of Victorian-era architecture. The building features a distinctive red roof, ornate white trim, many turrets, and sprawling porches from which you can easily see the surrounding landscape.
Today, the Jekyll Island Clubhouse is a luxurious hotel with many features for guests. Rooms and common areas feature period furnishings and decor that transport visitors back in time.
The Faith Chapel
Faith Chapel is among the oldest surviving structures on the island. The chapel was a gift from J.P. Morgan to his wife, dedicated in her name. Built-in 1904 and among the few original buildings remaining from Jekyll Island's famous “Millionaires' Club” era, the chapel is an important cultural and architectural landmark.
The chapel's architecture features a classic Gothic Revival style, with a grand entrance featuring intricate stonework and a stunning rose window. You'll see vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, and elegant wooden pews.
While the chapel is no longer used for regular services, it is still available for weddings, baptisms, and other special events. The serene and picturesque setting of the chapel, among centuries-old oak trees and swaying Spanish moss, makes it a favorite for couples looking to celebrate their love in a unique setting.
The Horton House Ruins
The Horton House Ruins are all that remain of a plantation home demolished in the 1920s and are among the island's oldest structures. Built by Major William Horton in the mid-1700s, the tabby walls are a reminder of the island's colonial past. The ruins themselves are a testament to the incredible skill of the builders who built them by hand over 250 years ago.
Besides the ruins, visitors can learn about the Horton family and their role in shaping early development on the island. The site also provides stunning sunsets via westbound views from the island's bay side. Lush green gardens and towering oak trees embrace the ruins and are easily accessible to the public as they sit alongside the road.
The Goodyear House
The Goodyear House served as a winter retreat for the Goodyear family, among the most prominent families in America. The house presents a Colonial Revival architecture and features a white exterior with soaring columns that display intricate detail. The interior features elegant decor and furnishings that evoke the grandeur of the early 20th century. The home's main living spaces are spacious and airy, with high ceilings and large windows that let in plenty of natural light.
Beyond its architectural and decorative features, the Goodyear House is notable for its significance in American history as the site of the infamous Jekyll Island meeting of 1910. This secret meeting, attended by G.W. Perkins, Henry P. Davison, and other leading financiers, laid the groundwork to create the Federal Reserve and establish the modern American banking system.
Other Historic Homes
The San Souci House
The island hosts 34 historic buildings and homes, including the San Souci House, the Crane House, the Cherokee Cottage, and the Indian Mound Cottage.
The San Souci home on Jekyll Island is a stunning, beautiful building that serves as a museum and is now a charming boutique hotel. Guests can choose from 24 beautifully appointed rooms, each with unique character and history. Four rooms are pet-friendly.
San Souci was once the winter home of William Rockefeller. It is a 2-minute walk from the Clubhouse. The home blends Mediterranean and Georgian architecture and features many unique details, such as a rooftop observatory and a central courtyard.
The Crane Cottage
Richard T. Crane Jr., of the Crane Plumbing Company, built the Crane House in 1917. When it was built, it was the most expensive house in Jekyll.
The Crane House is a marvel of Italian Renaissance architecture. An ornate exterior features grand arches, intricate stonework, and sweeping balconies. The house's interior is just as spectacular, with soaring ceilings, beautifully carved woodwork, and marble floors. The house boasts a grand entrance hall, a formal dining room, and a breathtaking living room with a 16th-century Venetian fireplace and an array of luxurious furnishings. The property includes inviting landscaped gardens and a stunning waterfront view. The house features 13 guest rooms sleeping from 2 to 4.
Today, the Crane House is a part of the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District and is open to visitors who want to experience its grandeur and learn about its rich history. Guided tours of the house are available.
The Cherokee Cottage
The Cherokee Cottage is a stunning building that showcases the unique blending of architectural styles that was popular in the late 19th century. It was built in 1904 as a winter home for Dr. George Frederick Shrady and his wife, Hester. The house features a mix of Japanese-inspired detailing, English half-timbering, and Gothic Revival elements, presenting a distinctive and eclectic appearance.
The Cherokee Cottage boasts oak paneling, intricate hand-carved woodwork, and stunning stained-glass windows. Over the years, the Cherokee Cottage has served various purposes, including housing for the military during World War II.
Indian Mound Cottage
Indian Mound Cottage, also known as the Rockefeller Cottage, was Rockefeller's winter home. Built in 1892, the name of the Indian Mound Cottage stems from a Guale Indian burial mound thought to be in the front yard. The home is a perfect example of the Queen Anne style of architecture, with its steep gabled roofs, beautiful stained-glass windows, and an ornate wooden porch surrounding the entire building. The cottage's interior is equally impressive, featuring intricate woodwork, vintage furnishings, beautiful artwork, an elevator, and hot and cold salt water taps in the main suite bathroom.
Today, Indian Mound Cottage is open to the public for guided tours, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the opulence of the Victorian era.
Beaches on Jekyll Island
Many travelers visit Jekyll Island to explore and enjoy its 10 miles of beautiful beaches. Jekyll Island beaches are unlike any other on the East Coast of the United States, thanks to their unspoiled beauty, biodiversity, and unique ecosystem.
Because Jekyll is a barrier island, the tides and weather reshape the island daily to create a dynamic and visually stunning coastline. There are no high-rise buildings or commercial development along the beaches.
Jekyll Island beaches have diverse terrain, including marshes, sandbars, tidal creeks, and wildlife such as dolphins, sea turtles, and many bird species. The waters surrounding Jekyll offer exciting opportunities for anglers on the East Coast for species such as flounder, redfish, and trout.
Great Dunes Beach Park
The Great Dunes Beach is a stunning natural wonder on the island. With its pristine white sands, crystal-clear waters, and inviting coastal breezes, this beach is the perfect destination for anyone looking to relax, explore, and immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Jekyll Island.
Besides its breathtaking scenery, the Great Dunes Beach is a playground for beachgoers. The beach features swimming, fishing, and picnic areas. Restrooms, outdoor showers, and changing areas are available for visitors. Beachgoers can also rent chairs, umbrellas, and other gear, making it easy to settle in and enjoy a day in the sun. A large parking lot ensures visitors can park vehicles close to the beach to limit the distance to haul equipment to and from the beach.
For those looking to explore beyond the beach, the Great Dunes Park surrounding the beach offers miles of scenic hiking and biking trails and a wide variety of local flora and fauna. The best feature is that large crowds are seldom found on the island throughout the year.
Driftwood Beach is unique to Jekyll and a destination in and of itself on the East Coast of the United States. Its striking beauty and dramatic landscape arise as a natural sculpture and stem from the countless trees uprooted from the sand, weathered and sculpted by time and tides. The driftwood remains stem from a maritime forest that once lined the island. Hurricanes hasten the ebbs and flows of the beachscape. The beach is on the island's north side and is a must-see destination for artists, photographers, or those seeking a unique getaway spot on Jekyll.
Saint Andrews Beach Park
St. Andrews Beach Park on Jekyll Island is a relatively new public park compared to many historic sites. It was created in the 1970s to improve public access to the island's beaches and nature along the island's southwest side. Before the park, private fishing camps and hunting lodges were on the beachfront.
Today, St. Andrews Beach Park is a popular destination for visitors to enjoy tours and various educational programs to help visitors learn about the unique coastal ecosystem of Jekyll Island.
The Wanderer Memory Trail commemorates the Wanderer, one of the last ships to transport slaves to the United States. The trail marks the arrival point of the Wanderer in 1858 and the path the slaves took as they marched to the island's former slave market. The Wanderer Memory Trail features several informative markers and statues that help visitors better understand the Wanderer's story and the history of slavery in the area.
The Wanderer Memory Trail is an integral part of Jekyll Island's cultural heritage, serving as a reminder of the inhumanity of the slave trade and the enduring legacy of this dark period in American history.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center
At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, visitors learn about the magnificent Atlantic Coast turtles' life cycle and conservation efforts. A new causeway to Jekyll in the 1920s triggered tourism, increased pollution, and hazards for sea turtles' eggs on the island. Volunteers started a turtle conservation program that has become the Turtle Center today.
Today the Turtle Center is famous for studying and rehabilitating sea turtles. The Center is home to several species of sea turtles, including loggerheads, green sea turtles, and Kemp's ridleys. The Center presents exhibits and activities that offer a unique insight into the turtles. Sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation can be seen closeup in the facility's 20,000-gallon tank. The Center's work raises awareness about the importance of protecting sea turtles and the environment they depend on, making it a crucial hub for sea turtle conservation efforts globally.
Summer Waves Waterpark
After visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and learning about the importance of marine life conservation, visitors can cool off and have some fun under the sun at the nearby Summer Waves Waterpark. Pirate's Passage, a two-story water slide that zig-zags and twists its way down to the pool below, is a major attraction. The Force 3 and Man o'War rides also provide thrills, while the Frantic Atlantic wave pool and Nature's Revenge are sources for those who wish to cool off. Shark Tooth Cove and a children's splash zone offer fountains, waterfalls, and various interactive water features that provide low-key fun as the Turtle Creek lazy river lets visitors float along gentle currents.
Jekyll is an ideal spot to visit in an RV all year. The causeway to the island and the roads throughout the island are easy to traverse in even the largest RVs.
The Jekyll Island Campground at the island's north end is a popular destination for RVers. The campground offers both tent and RV camping options. Full hook-up sites cost $51 per day. Tent sites cost $36 daily for those who prefer a more rustic camping experience. The maximum occupancy per campsite is six people, with a $4 per day dog fee.
Boats and utility trailers must be stored off-site. Check-in starts at 2 p.m., and check-out ends at 12:00 p.m. During holidays such as Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, a three-night minimum stay is required, and holiday rates apply.
If you wish to visit Jekyll in your RV, make reservations as soon as possible to ensure you can snag a site. Campsites are close to one another as the overall site is small, although an effort to expand the footprint of the site is underway as of 2023.
Although the campground is not on a waterfront, it is just a half-mile from Driftwood Beach and the Clam Creek Picnic Area, which includes a public fishing pier.
While there is no on-site pool facility, the campground offers adult unisex bikes for rent, allowing visitors to explore the island and its many attractions. Golf carts are allowed on Jekyll Island roads but must be street-legal. ATVs, SUVs, four-wheelers, and utility side-by-side vehicles are not permitted.
You’ll note dining reviews are not in this post. That’s because our experience with stand-alone restaurants on the island has been less than stellar. Remember, we live here on the coast and visit Jekyll regularly. There are new restaurants in the newer hotels on the island you may wish to try. Our advice is to check Yelp and Trip Advisor ratings about restaurants on the island.
When To Go
You can visit and enjoy Jekyll all year round. It's not unusual to see residents and visitors walk the beaches during winter when temperatures can reach the 80-degree range.
How To Get There
Jekyll is easy to reach via I-95.
From Jacksonville International Airport, you can take I-95 north from the airport for about 45 miles to exit 29 in Georgia. Exit right on GA-82 E towards US-17 North toward Brunswick and St Simons Island. Drive for about 10 miles until you reach the Jekyll Island Causeway.
From the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, you can take the I-95 S highway south for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Take exit 29 on your right, turn left at the light, and drive about 10 miles until you reach the Jekyll Island Causeway.
Jekyll Island Park charges a daily park pass fee. This means that visitors pay a fee for their vehicle to enter the island. This fee covers admission for all passengers in that vehicle. The fee is $10 for cars daily or an annual pass for $100. You'll register online here.
If you think you'll go off and on the island for than 10 times during your visit, you may wish to purchase an annual park pass.
The Jekyll Island Visitors Center
Just before the toll gates on the causeway, you'll see the Jekyll Island Visitors Center. If you like to shop for souvenirs or need helpful information about the island, you'll find this Center a worthwhile stop. The souvenirs, mementos, and gifts present a coastal-centric feel of artwork from regional artists, paintings and sculptures, and local culinary products. You can also buy an annual parking pass at this Center.
Sources of shopping for food and memorabilia are now found in various spots around the island. This fact stands in stark contrast to the Jekyll of the pre-2014 era when a simple crossroads sign stood where a round-about is today and where a small gift, beach and staples type shop has been replaced with a modern convenience store surrounded by new hotels, coffee shops and restaurants. In many respects, we miss the pre-2014 Jekyll.
The upside of the new convenience store right at the round-about as you enter the island is it seems to offer a little bit of everything. The photos below tell the story. Go and enjoy!
Jekyll Island Campground: https://www.jekyllisland.com/lodging/campground/
Jekyll Island Vehicle Registration Site: https://www.jekyllisland.com/visiting/parking/
Jekyll Island Beaches: https://www.jekyllisland.com/activities/beaches/
Jekyll Island Events Calendar: https://www.jekyllisland.com/events-calendar/
Jekyll Island Historic Rentals: https://www.jekyllisland.com/venues/historic-rentals/
Jekyll Island Historic Sea Turtle Center: https://www.jekyllisland.com/activities/georgia-sea-turtle-center/
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