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.
How to Spend 48 Hours on Jekyll Island
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.
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.
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.
All photos by Lisa Mowry
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