I long ago discovered my favorite vacation spots are a relief from the bustling crowds of society. I want an escape where the scenery is far more prominent than man-made structures. I could live the rest of my life without ever seeing a high-rise building again. I found this haven on Jekyll Island, a small community and state park off the coast of Georgia. Over spring break we flew into Savannah and had planned to do a quick stop to explore the city but it was so crowded we left early to escape to the island.
After we paid the entrance toll and crossed the bridge, we entered a historic neighborhood from the 1800s. Cottages along the river led up to the grand Jekyll Island Club Resort, built-in 1888. Now a premier hotel, the structure was first built as a hunting club by men like JP Morgan and his wealthiest friends. While waiting to check-in, we noticed a group of people, dressed all in white approach the croquet grounds in front of the club and begin a match, their presence adding to the sheer grandeur and history of the island. The inside of the hotel matched the beauty of the outside as modern-day conveniences we’re well hidden to keep the historical charm.
I had already fallen in love with The Jekyll Island Club Resort and still had a whole island to explore. We rented bikes for pure enjoyment. One main road circles the island. By car this lap is completed in a matter of minutes, but Jekyll is the kind of place with more bike paths than roads and I wanted to experience the ride amongst the live oaks.
The bike paths took us through the historic district, into the Georgian forest, past armadillos, turtles, and a golf course where a giant alligator lives. After five minutes of cycling, we were at the beach. Perfectly cared for the beach was a welcome space for long walks, yoga, or planting a beach chair far from other visitors. The water was a bit too cold for swimming in March, but I loved listening to the calm waves as I read.
The beachside of the island housed more hotels, but the restrictions on Jekyll kept them from taking over the island’s beauty. It’s also where we found some of our favorite restaurants. Jekyll Ocean Club is a new addition to the Jekyll Island resort. Built on the oceanfront this modern hotel host the Eighty Ocean Kitchen and Bar. We found healthy salad lunches and delicious seafood dinners here, but our favorite was the sorbet. It seemed like wherever we went on the island, we’d end our evenings riding along the coast back to Eighty Ocean Kitchen ordering sorbet to go so we could sit on their luxurious couches in front of the fire and trade bites of peach and lemon.
Tortuga Jack’s was another favorite restaurant on Jekyll where we often found patio seating looking out over the ocean. From the servers to the kitchen staff they were so careful with our food allergies. Our first time ordering we both got fajitas and quickly realized the portions were piled high with flavorful food. It was so delicious we went back two more times finding the three meat fajitas were large enough for us to split.
The historic Island club also has a cafe and a poolside bar that was perfect for breakfast and lunches. Rumor has it the grand dining room is fabulous, but we couldn’t experience that due to covid.
The Wharf beats all the restaurants in terms of ambiance. It sits on the riverside pier footsteps away from The Jekyll Island Club. Standing there you can picture how the first club members use to arrive on the island by yacht so many years ago.
On the northeast side of the island is a beach unlike any other. Years of erosion caused a forest of trees to uproot and die leaving a breathtaking graveyard of weathered trees.
For children it’s a natural jungle gym, For adventurers, it’s the perfect spot to stop and hang a hammock, For couples, it’s a romantic stroll through the salt-washed limbs. We went when the tide was high and there was little sand to experience. The result took us through a maze of white and gray trees at our feet. Nature lovers with a creative eye will be drawn in by the majesty of the great trees and the sight they create.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center sits behind The Jekyll Island Club. We rode bikes through its parking lot for days anxiously awaiting our visit. I had arrived in Jekyll before my sister and her family. While I knew I’d love the sea turtle center as an adult, I wanted to save my visit to see it through my niece and nephew’s eyes. Both love nature, but my niece has been my explorer sidekick since she was 6 months old.
We went right when the sea turtle center opened, knowing the building is small and they reach max capacity quickly. Our ticket gave us entrance to the learning center with interactive displays the kids enjoyed for almost an hour. In this room, they also have a viewing window into a hospital room for the turtles. Here we were lucky enough to see a turtle treated for a boat injury. They used medical-grade honey on his cuts so he could heal and then be released into the wild again.
The back building was truly special. It housed all the tanks where the recovering turtles lived. The displays were not fancy, but platforms allowed us to see into the pools. We saw turtle feedings, heard from scientists about the work they do with turtles, and our absolute favorite, we watched baby turtles no bigger than an egg swim and climb their way through a tank. If you are expecting a tricked-out aquarium, this is not your place. I was happy without the glam because this place is all about supporting turtles. We learned so much and were able to support the rescue efforts for sea turtles along the Atlantic coast. As we were leaving my niece started dreaming of her grown-up life one day and proclaimed she would love a job like this.
If you visit in the summer the sea turtle center schedules night walks to search the beaches for turtle nests and for the luckiest of visitors, turtle hatchlings on their first trek to the ocean.
Until next time
We rode our bikes around the island past the horse stables and campground. We passed the pier, rode along past historical homes, and stopped to relax by the river. As all vacations do, this one went way too fast. We have cataloged it as a favorite destination hoping to return again one day to the serenity of Jekyll Island.
For more information on the island’s history visit https://www.jekyllclub.com/about/jekyll-island-history/.