Golden Isles getaway: A guide to Jekyll Island


February 28, 2024

Porch at Jekyll Island Club

Georgia’s Jekyll Island offers a vacation steeped in history, luxury and natural beauty. A new renovation to the island’s flagship resort brings a modern refresh with nods to the past.

by Vanessa Infanzon

Paved pathways under a canopy of live oak trees draped with Spanish moss meander around Jekyll Island, one of four barrier islands known as the Golden Isles of Georgia. At the center of the 5,500-acre island’s story is the Jekyll Island Club Resort, founded in 1888 as an exclusive winter getaway for the country’s richest families: Astor, Morgan, Rockefeller, Pulitzer and Vanderbilt among them. 

Members built cottages on the western side of the island along Jekyll Creek, which provided water views. Each mansion was within walking distance of the Clubhouse, a four-story hotel designed in the style of Queen Anne architecture. Members ate most of their meals at the Clubhouse, prepared by well-known chefs brought to the island. Dinner was a three-to-four-hour formal event in the Grand Dining Room, with men dressed in tuxedos and women in evening gowns.

Key moments in United States history occurred at the club: In 1910, a draft of the federal banking system was developed; and in 1915, AT&T president Theodore Vail participated in the nation’s first transcontinental phone call from within the Clubhouse.

Later, the impact of the Great Depression and World War II slowed membership, and the club shut down. In 1948, Georgia purchased the land and formed the Jekyll Island Authority to preserve the island’s natural habitats, while visitors enjoyed its beauty as a state park. 

Under private ownership again, The Jekyll Island Club Resort opened in 1987 after a two-year renovation; the property had been vacant for a decade. 

At the Alexander Bar & Boar’s Head Lounge, a wooden semicircle bar was a prop made for a scene in the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” The 2000 film directed by Robert Redford was shot in the area. A renovated guest room at Jekyll Island Club Resort.

A modern palette

In late 2023, the resort wrapped up its latest renovation, a four-year project introducing new furniture and color palettes throughout the property. Guest rooms, the Grand Dining Room and three nearby cottages were refreshed with a coastal-eclectic style, while still honoring the property’s original Gilded Age design. 

Bold patterns and botanical designs blend with original wood floors, carved mantels and detailed trim throughout the common areas. In the guest rooms, headboard designs incorporate the passionflower, a deep purple climbing vine that grows on the island. The dining room carpet pattern is a nod to wildlife inhabiting the area and the island’s hunting heritage. 

The refurbished Wharf Restaurant, a waterside cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, hosts live music Thursday through Saturday. Here, guests enjoy seafood and Southern-themed dishes such as fried green tomatoes, poached white shrimp, and seafood mac and cheese in a casual setting. It’s one of six on-site dining outlets at Jekyll Island Club.

History, art and nature

Within steps of Jekyll Island Club Resort is the Historic District, a National Historic Landmark and a hub for nature, shopping and learning about the past. Interactive exhibits at the Mosaic Museum and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center highlight the island’s treasures. Peruse artisan goods and enjoy ice cream and snacks in scattered outbuildings at Pier Road Shops, set to be renovated in the fall. 

For more local history, sign up for the Landmark Trolley Tour, a 60-minute open-air ride through some of the district’s 240 acres. The tour includes admission to the Mosaic Gallery and the historic Faith Chapel, plus a look inside one of the island’s historic cottages. 

The Jekyll Island Arts Festival brings art demonstrations, a juried show, live music and bake sales to the Goodyear Cottage March 8-10. The Jekyll Island Car Club hosts a classic car show at the festival.

Cycling in the historic district. Sunset at Jekyll Island.

Hit the beach

With 10 miles of coastline, there are plenty of places to set up camp to sun, swim, read a book or watch the sunset. 

Guests of Jekyll Island Club can hop on a shuttle to the resort’s sister property, Jekyll Ocean Club, for private beach access. The club opened in 2017 with 40 oceanfront suites, a year-round pool and a restaurant and bar.

Several of the island’s eight public beaches include parking, restrooms and a pavilion. Four beaches are accessible by a ramp for wheelchair users, and beach wheelchairs are available to borrow at no charge through the Jekyll Island Authority’s Bicycle Barn. 

A two-story platform overlooking the ocean provides a place to watch the sunset at St. Andrews Beach; bring insect repellent to keep the flies away. The “Wanderer Memory Trail,” a memorial to the enslaved people who were brought to Jekyll Island, educates visitors with interpretive signs. 

Driftwood Beach, known for its gnarled and weathered trees that provide an otherworldly backdrop for the TV show “The Walking Dead” and the 2022 movie “The Menu,” is also a haven for recreational photographers, people-watchers and beachgoers.  SP

Photographs courtesy Jekyll Island Club Resort and Jekyll Island Authority

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