History, Beaches, and Seafood: Discover a Local's Favorite Things to Do in Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island is one of the jewels of the Golden Isles barrier island chain in southeast Georgia. I happened to grow up in its neighbor to the north, St. Simons Island, so I spent a lot of time over on Jekyll growing up. It is quite different from the other islands because it is now owned by the state of Georgia and a state park. It is far less developed than some of the other islands making it a perfect place to explore the outdoors and take a trip through history. In fact, The State of Georgia mandated that at least 65% of the island must remain undeveloped. It makes a great day trip if you’re visiting the Golden Isles area but it is wonderful to have a few days there to explore and relax. I had the most relaxing mini winter break to the Jekyll Island Club back in February so I decided to put together a list of my favorite Jekyll Island things to do for y’all! All of these Jekyll tips are ideal for a first timer but are great for seasoned visitors looking for some new ideas.
There are a few affiliate links in this post. If you purchase something from one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no charge to you. Thanks for your support!
Know Before You Go
Admission: Bikers and pedestrians are free, $6 entry fee per vehicle
You’ll need your own car to get there
BYO bikes if you have them and don’t want to spend money on renting
BYO beach towels
BYO snacks and water if you’re on a budget
Dogs are allowed on the island and beaches but must be on a leash
If you do want to create your own picnic once you arrive on Jekyll, I’d recommend the Jekyll Market for a variety of foods, sandwiches, drinks, beer, and wine.
Go Bike Riding
With over 20 miles of dedicated bike paths, Cruising the island is one of the best ways to experience Jekyll. If you’re staying at the Jekyll Island Club, pick up some beach cruisers at Jekyll Wheels located just behind the hotel in the historic district. If you’re just on Jekyll for the day, stop by Jekyll Market in Beach Village and grab some sandwiches and drinks. Then head to the Jekyll Bike Barn to pick up some bikes.
My favorite ride is from the Historic District up Riverview Drive. Take a pit stop at the Horton House to see the oldest tabby structure in Georgia. Continue around onto Beachview Drive and stop at Driftwood Beach for a stroll before cruising back to the hotel.
One of the most famous places at Jekyll Island is Driftwood Beach. This enormous stretch of sand is on the north end of the island far from any hotels or houses. Named for the large sun-bleached driftwood trees that line the beach, Driftwood Beach is unlike any other beach you’ll see in the area. The slow erosion of the sand moving to the south has created this beautiful and eerie beach scene of ancient abandoned trees. It’s gorgeous here at any time of day but sunset or sunrise are particularly stunning. You can access the beach at Clam Creek Picnic Area or continue on Beachview Drive and look for beach access points with designated parking areas.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
214 Stable Road
Open daily; 9 am - 5 pm
Admission: Adults $9, Kids $7 (under 3 free)
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an educational center and rehabilitation facility for injured sea turtles. If you have kiddos with you, this place is a must see. The facility is located in Jekyll’s historic power plant building right behind the main building of the Jekyll Island club. Inside, you’ll learn all about the sea turtle life cycle and get a glimpse into the sea turtle hospital. Once you finish the exhibit, make your way outside to the rehab facility. There you’ll find large tanks with turtles of various sizes that are recuperating. They have daily Meet the Patients programming in the rehab facility and you can see the turtles up close and hear about their recovery. Times vary day to day so call ahead if that is something you’re interested in.
Explore the Historic District
Back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Jekyll Island was a winter playground for the nation’s wealthiest families. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel was the main hub, but many families built their own beautiful cottages nearby. Decades later, this area near the marina is now a National Landmark Historic District that can be explored by history nerds and architecture lovers alike. During my most recent trip, my friend Celia and I strolled through the district on our own beneath the oaks.
But if you’re looking for a guided experience, there are plenty of options. If you’re looking for a broad overview of the district as a whole, I’d recommend the tram tour. It is 90 minutes and covers the entire district, and entry to two of the houses. If you’re time is limited, check out a tour of the Rockefeller House. Tours run on the hour from 10 am - 4 pm and include a tour of Faith Chapel. You can even tour the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Tours are led by their concierge team Monday-Thursday at 2 pm. Check out some of the different tours here.
Dine on the Water
When you’re visiting the coast, having dinner and drinks on the water is a must. Luckily on Jekyll, there are a few options for dining by the water. My favorite by far is The Wharf at the Jekyll Island Club. It’s casual and the views are unmatched. If you’ve been to Jekyll before, you may remember this restaurant as Latitude 31. Now under the Jekyll Island Club umbrella, after a substantial renovation after the last couple hurricanes, The Wharf is better than ever.
The restaurant is literally on the Jekyll River with tons of seating outdoors on the dock if the weather permits. If you’re inside, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to enjoy the view because the restaurant is lined with big windows. Check the time of sunset and plan your dinner around watching the sun melt away into the marsh; it is absolutely stunning. For drinks, they have some tasty Georgia beers from Orpheus, Jekyll Brewing, and Sweetwater. If you’re not feeling those, try the Jekyll Sweet Tea with Firefly vodka, lemon, and mint or the bloody mary with house-made mix, Old Bay Rim and piece of bacon! For food, you can’t go wrong but I usually just order a bunch of appetizers to sample as much as possible. Georgia is known for its shrimp so start with a pile of peel and eat Georgia Shrimp. They are a crowd pleaser.
Other waterfront dining options:
Eighty Ocean Kitchen & Bar - Jekyll Island Resort’s newest oceanfront restaurant inside their new beach club hotel
Zachary’s Riverhouse - Really casual joint on the south end of the island
Driftwood Bistro - Lowcountry classics located in the Villas by the Sea on Beachview Drive
Have a drink on the porch at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel
The South is known for impressive porches and there’s no better porch on Jekyll than the Jekyll Island Club. There are a few different porches but my fav is the one on the riverfront. There are tons of rocking chairs and comfortable sofas and chairs. Grab a drink from the lobby bar and bring it out on the porch to sit a spell. If you’re staying at the resort, take advantage of playing croquet for free on the front lawn! Just visit the bellman for all the gear you need.