Have you ever been somewhere that from the moment you arrive you already know you’re going to come back? This was Jekyll Island for me.
I stumbled onto Georgia’s best kept secret by accident. On my way back to North Carolina from Florida, I decided to break up the long drive with a few nights at the beach. Unfortunately, all nearby Florida beach hotels were already booked. All I could find was one on Jekyll Island in Georgia. Though I had never heard of Jekyll Island, the hotel was on the beach, which was all I wanted.
Like many travelers, I’ve literally flown all over the world in search of idyllic views in unique settings. I never would have guessed I would find them in Georgia.
Impressed with this little island, I’m excited to share my top 10 reasons why Jekyll Island is Georgia’s best kept secret. I’ve saved my favorite for last!
1. Escape to Jekyll Island's Undeveloped Hideaway
Natural beauty is what sets Jekyll Island apart. Most Southeastern coastal areas are highly developed, with every inch of coastline covered in holiday homes and timeshares. Or they are hard to reach wildlife reserves, only accessible by boat.
Though Jekyll Island is easy to access via the Jekyll Island Causeway Bridge, it’s relatively undeveloped. Actually, as it’s a state park, only 35% of the island can ever be developed. Isn’t that a nice thought?
Here, you won’t find all the typical tacky tourist shops or cheesy beach-side bars. With a non-commercial feel, the island is perfect for those looking for a little quiet time.
Jekyll Island State Park charges a vehicle fee when entering the island ($8 a day in 2021).
2. Walk Along Endless Uncrowded Beaches
Long wide sandy beaches wrap the entire eastern side of the island. Some areas, like Driftwood Beach, get busy in the peak summer months, but it’s easy to escape the crowds by heading south.
Most beaches are pet friendly (leash required), from the Corsair Beach Park near the Village Green all the way north to Driftwood Beach. These beaches also have the most parking, especially Great Dunes and Oceanview Beach Parks.
However, for some real solitude, head to the beaches on the south shore. South Dunes Beach is secluded behind a large picnic area. My favorite is St. Andrew’s Beach. Taking a short walk south, you’ll find a mini version of Driftwood Beach, without the crowds.
3. Wake Up with Sunrise at Driftwood Beach
Driftwood beach is “romantic”, “otherworldly”, and the most popular spot on Jekyll Island for good reason.
Located on the northern shore, the beach was once a maritime forest. Today, through decades of erosion, Driftwood Beach consists of a stunningly unique and strangely beautiful graveyard of broken trees.
Most tourists find themselves there during the day, or for sunset; however, consider going for sunrise. In my opinion, this is when the gnarly branches and weathered trunks are at their best.
4. Tour Jekyll Island by Bike
One of the best ways to get around the island is by bike. With over 20-miles of biking trails, you can literally get everywhere. Bring your own or rent from one of the three bike rental shops on the island. Here’s a map of the island’s biking trails.
5. Observe the Local Residents
Jekyll Island’s most popular resident is the sea turtle. As these beautiful creatures are nocturnal and protected, the easiest way to see them is at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a rehabilitation and education center.
Did you know that Jekyll Island also has alligators? I’m not sure why, but this surprised me. Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to run into them where you wouldn’t expect them. If you would like to try and see them, Horton Pond has an observation platform where you may get lucky.
As Jekyll Island sits along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway it probably doesn’t surprise you that it’s a good birding spot. Popular sightings include the Painted Bunting, Piping Plover, and the Bald Eagle.
In hopes of seeing a Bald Eagle, I walked the Crane Road Trail from the Historic District. About a 5-10 minute walk into the forest, on the left-hand side, there was a massive eagle’s nest. Though it was cool to see the giant nest, I didn’t see any eagles. Until…
After spending the whole day carrying around a heavy lens, I changed to a smaller lens to capture the sunset at the northern fishing pier. Since I had a little time before the main event, I locked my gear in the car and aimlessly walked around the far side of Driftwood Beach.
About 15 minutes into my walk, a sweet elderly couple grabbed my attention and pointed to the tree line. Of flipping course! There he was, standing proud at the tippy top of a tall dead tree; picture perfect and me without a proper lens.
6. Take a Boat & Dolphin Tour around Jekyll Island
Another way to see the island, and some of its offshore residents, is to take a boat tour. It’s very common to see dolphins. I’ve even heard of people seeing gators basking in the sunlight on the shores of the marshlands.
7. Ride into the Sunset
Imagine riding off into the sunset along a glistening shoreline. Is there anything more romantic? Three Oaks Farm, near the north end fishing pier, offers private and group rides along Driftwood Beach.
8. Be Fancy at the Jekyll Island Club House
From 1886 to 1942, Jekyll Island was completely owned by the Jekyll Island Club. Members of the club included very wealthy families such as the Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts.
Today, the club still drips in luxury as guests play croquet on the club house lawn and sip cocktails at the pool house.
9. Explore the National Historic Landmark District
Consisting of thirty-three contributing properties, the 240-acres surrounding the Jekyll Island Club House is the National Historic Landmark District.
Though many have been recently restored, all the buildings in this area were originally built between 1884 and 1930. With perfectly manicured lawns, pedestrian friendly paths, and the cutest gift shops, it’s a lovely place to wander about.
When you get sick of walking, you can even take a narrated horse drawn carriage ride around the historic district.
10. Unwind at Sunset on Jekyll Island
I’ve saved my favorite for last. Sunsets at Jekyll Island are breathtaking.
Most visitors rush over to Driftwood Beach, but I feel this is a mistake. As the sun sets in the west, St. Andrews beach provides an idyllic setting. Plus, if you’re really after getting some driftwood in your photos, head south. As you walk towards the edge of the island, you’ll find St. Andrews Beach has its own driftwood rich shoreline.
Other great spots for sunset include the Historic District Trail near the airport and the fishing pier at the north end of the island. From the fishing pier, you can even get the Sidney Lanier Bridge in the background.
Books on Jekyll Island
Want to know more about Jekyll Island.
- Local’s Travel Handbook: Jekyll Island – Detailed guide on what to see and do on Jekyll Island.
- Jekyll Island: A State Park – Historical view with old photos of Jekyll Island through the years.
- The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve – This book is a bit different, but highly fascinating, even if you’re not visiting the island. It details a theory on how and why the Federal Reserve exists, how it works and who runs it. All starting from a little meeting that took place on the island.