Everybody loves two for the price of one. On Jekyll Island along the coast of Georgia, visitors can enjoy all the charms of a relaxing beach vacation — miles of sandy coastline, bike paths, and fresh seafood — alongside grand architecture with a history. No more than a third of the island can ever be developed, so instead of high-rise condos and t-shirt shops, live oak trees covered in Spanish moss blanket the land.

The Jekyll Island Club dates back to 1888, when the original clubhouse opened. Over the decades, names famous in U.S. history — including Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Pulitzers — vacationed here, enjoying the Victorian cottages and mild weather. This was a time of leisurely croquet games, mahogany-lined libraries and golf, all of which are still part of the Jekyll Island Club experience. The resort’s popularity waned during World War II, but after the state of Georgia purchased the island in 1948, a new era began. Restoration and modernization led to the resort as it is today: A chance to soak up the wealthy lifestyle of days gone by, but also stroll the beach for seashells.

Jekyll Island

Live like a Rockefeller at the historic Jekyll Island Club, known for this iconic 19th-century clubhouse (which is now the main check-in and restaurant hub) with its outdoor croquet court.

Jekyll Island clubhouse

There are plenty of places to perch and relax at the clubhouse, including a scenic view of the pool area and adjacent marina.

Jekyll Island

Visitors to the Golden Isles along Georgia’s coast are enchanted by the massive live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, plentiful on Jekyll Island.

How to Spend 48 Hours on Jekyll Island

Day One

Visitors can drive to Jekyll Island (approximately 80 miles south of Savannah), or access flights out of nearby airports in Brunswick, Savannah or Jacksonville. Accommodations through the Jekyll Island Club offer two options: rooms in the historic Club area, which features the charm of older homes with views of the marsh, or the new Ocean Club, a beachfront hotel with 40 suites. We chose to stay in the historic area, which includes unlimited access to the pool and amenities at the ocean facility, so the best of both worlds. Depending on flexibility (mid-week is less expensive, same for off-season), rooms can be had for less than $200.

Spend the afternoon walking the grounds at Jekyll Island club, taking in the lavish, Mediterranean-style Crane Cottage or beautiful Faith Chapel. San Souci, one of the nation’s first condominium structures, is an ideal historic cottage to choose for a stay, with balconies and rich wood paneling. The Jekyll Island Club property also includes a handful of stores located in old cottages, and the popular little ice cream shop, Island Sweets Shoppe.

For dinner, get a table with a view at The Wharf, a casual seafood restaurant on property with views of the marina and neighboring islands. This is where you’ll want to take in the sunset, and maybe a little live music on most nights. Ask about the catch of the day, or stick with one of the favorites: the Jekyll Boil (clams, shrimp and crawfish cooked with sausage, corn and potatoes) or the crab cake BLT sandwich.

Jekyll Island — The Wharf

Located on the pier which once welcomed VIPs to Jekyll Island, The Wharf restaurant has been renovated to serve as a hot spot for sunsets, live music, and fresh seafood.

Jekyll Island — The Wharf tacos

Fish tacos at The Wharf taste all the better with its marina setting.

Jekyll Island Club

Crane Cottage, an Italian Renaissance-style mansion built in 1917, is popular for weddings. Part of the fun of staying in the historic district at Jekyll Island Club is exploring the “cottages.”

Jekyll Island Club pool

Guests of the Jekyll Island Club can stay at their oceanfront property or just visit for the day to enjoy an ocean-side pool and amenities.

Island Sweets Shoppe — Jekyll Island

Some historic outbuildings at the Jekyll Island Club have been turned into stores or other destinations, such as the popular Island Sweets Shoppe.

Faith Chapel — Jekyll Island

Faith Chapel, built in 1904, has interesting gothic features such as gargoyles and stained-glass windows.

Day Two

Breakfast can be hearty or grab-and-go at Jekyll Island Club. The Grand Dining Room — with its fine china and tablecloths — has a bountiful breakfast buffet. Just off the courtyard in the main building is another option at The Pantry, a bistro-type eatery with made-to-go breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

Rent bikes next to the main clubhouse and grab a map to explore the island on two wheels. Jekyll has 20 miles of picturesque bike trails, and since the island isn’t that big, it’s easy to see most of it over a few hours. Don’t miss a ride down to Clam Creek Pier. Park your bike to see what the fishermen may have caught that day, and wander barefoot to Driftwood Beach, where giant pieces of driftwood look like huge art sculptures.

Head down to Beach Village, a new(ish) shopping and eating area near the beach. Casual dining spots like Sunrise Grille or Jekyll Island Seafood Company are easy to find among the clothing and souvenir shops. While you’re on this part of the island, stop in at the Jekyll Island Ocean Club to make use of the pool, hot tub and beach access for a relaxing afternoon, which can always include snacks from their restaurants.

For a civilized evening, it’s back to the historic area, where you can spring for a fancy dinner at The Grand Dining Room or sit back in the leather chairs at The Bar Lounge and enjoy craft cocktails (try the Razor Burn, with St. George green chile vodka, lemon basil syrup, blood orange ginger shrub and fresh lemon juice) along with light bar fare such as lobster rolls, short rib and brisket burgers.

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island is a bike-riding dream, with 20 miles of paths meandering through natural and man-made treasures.

Driftwood Beach — Jekyll Island

Driftwood Beach is a popular destination place to explore (and photograph) on the island, with its “graveyard” of massive, weather-worn trees.

Horton House — Jekyll Island

Horton House was built in 1743 by a military aide to General James Oglethorpe, and an interesting stop along the bike path to soak in some island history.

Horton House — Jekyll Island

The weathered tabby walls at Horton House are made from shells and sand, among other natural ingredients.

Beaches on Jekyll Island

Beaches on Jekyll Island are often less crowded than other destinations along the Atlantic Ocean, in part because the island is owned by the state of Georgia, which restricts development.

Beach Village — Jekyll Island

Beach Village on the island becomes a sort of town square, with lawns for children to run around on, and a couple dozen restaurants and stores.

The bar at Jekyll Island Club

The bar at Jekyll Island Club is a replica of the one filmed in the hotel for the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”

Day Three

Choices, choices. Golfers will want to check out one of four golf courses winding their way throughout the island. Animal lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the state’s only education and rehabilitation facility. You’ll learn a lot about efforts to increase the population of sea turtles, as well as meet some on the road to recovery. This family favorite destination is located among the historic buildings at the Jekyll Island Club.

If weather permits, dine al fresco at The Pool House, where sandwiches, pizza and salad appeal to all ages. The shrimp salad lures people with seafood caught that day.

Before heading out, maybe get in a quick round of croquet on the grounds, channeling your inner millionaire as one last civilized activity.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center — Jekyll Island

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is educational and fun for all ages, sometimes featuring turtle surgery on view, or other interactive events throughout the day.

A separate building at the turtle center houses turtles big and small going through rehabilitation, and giving visitors a chance to see firsthand and read about each one.

For more information on the island, check out JekyllIsland.com. For information on staying at the Jekyll Island Club, head to jekyllclub.com.

All photos by Lisa Mowry

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