Dec 7, 2020

Life’s many beaches on Jekyll Island, Ga.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to halt travel as of this writing, and with a long winter homebound seeming more and more likely, if we can’t plan ahead for future travel we might as well look back at some of favorite travel memories.  

For me, my favorite destination in 2019, and the highlight of our family vacation during that summer, had to be Jekyll Island, Ga.  What drew us there?  Beaches.  Ocean.  Salty air.  Warm breezes.  Summer skies.  All in a relatively low-key semi-secluded setting. 

Jekyll Island is one of the four barrier islands off the Atlantic coast of Georgia that comprise the Golden Isles.  Jekyll is the southernmost and perhaps the most famous of the four because of its combination of beautiful beaches, historical significance and old-money charm.  That said, a trip to Jekyll Island is surprisingly affordable, and the island itself is quite accessible. 

While it might be possible to fly directly into one of the small airports serving Jekyll Island or nearby Brunswick on the Georgia coast, the vast majority (like us) will drive to Brunswick via Interstate 95.  Then, it’s a short drive on U.S. Highway 17 from either direction until you reach the intersection for Georgie Highway 520, also known as the Jekyll Island Causeway. 

The sign at the intersection, fountain included, can’t be missed. 

Before you reach the toll gate to enter the island, you may want to stop at the island’s visitor’s center for your first crack at souvenirs.  You can also purchase your entrance pass here if you haven’t already done so online.  The pass enables you to park anywhere on the island and costs just $8 per day.  The reason for the pass?  Technically, Jekyll Island is part of the Georgia state parks system, which also helps explain why so much of the landscape on the island remains so well preserved. 

We arrived on the island with plenty of afternoon left, so before we checked into our hotel, we headed south at the first (and one of the very few) intersection on the island in search of a beach to explore. 

Near the southernmost point of the island, we found this sandy, tree-filled picnic area immediately behind St. Andrews Beach.  If you’re a fan of Spanish moss, this is a spot you’ll want to check out.

And after a short walk through the trees, we were on St. Andrews Beach, the only west-facing beach on the island.  It was low tide, so we had plenty of beachfront to walk on and wade in.     

Following our brief detour to St. Andrews Beach, we circled around the south end of the island and back toward the Atlantic side where most of the island’s accommodations are located.  Your hotel and resort options on Jekyll Island are pretty limited, but I thought this Hampton Inn suited our needs well.  As a part of a hotel chain, it stood out for its amenities and its ability to blend into the island landscape.  

It didn’t hurt that the hotel had its own boardwalk path leading to its own private beach access … 

… a picturesque portion of sand just north of the South Dunes area of the island.  We wasted no time in trying it out soon after check-in. 

The beach was a main selling point for the Hampton Inn but it certainly wasn’t the only one.  For instance, its outdoor pool was pristine and popular for anyone wanting a cooler swimming option.   

Another outdoor seating area provided a more secluded atmosphere for both solitude and socializing. 

And the hotel bar was an unexpected bonus for a late evening cocktail once the pool closed for the evening.   

As nice as the hotel’s amenities were, no trip to any island destination is complete without some outside dining and plenty of beach breezes to accompany your meal.  We found our open-air spot for lunch the following day at Tortuga Jack’s.   

Palm trees, a thatch roof and summery drink specials?  I think the Kiddo has found something good here.   

It didn’t take long for Tortuga Jack’s to become one of our favorite happy places on the island.  Whether you’re seated at a table of at the bar, you’re never far from the ocean. 

And the yacht rock-style live music was the perfect entertainment for the meal.    

Plus, the view of the beach over the dunes from the restaurant is pretty delightful. 

In fact, after lunch inspired us, we made Great Dunes Beach Park our next stop.  

It’s pretty clear how Great Dunes got its name.  

Once you get past the dunes, though, you’ll find another large swath of sand ideal for sunning and swimming.  Great Dunes was probably the most crowded beach we visited, and it even brought out the curiosity of the local sand crabs. This one in particular wasn’t the least bit camera shy.    

But the beach that Jekyll Island is famous for, and the one you’re most likely to see on a postcard, is Driftwood Beach.

Again, the inspiration for the name is pretty obvious. 

Driftwood Beach is not the cleanest beach, and probably not the most suitable for sunbathing, but the scenery is pretty inspiring not matter what time of day you visit. 

To me, the best way to experience Driftwood Beach is to perch yourself on one of its famous trees and feel the waves water crash into you over and over again.  

And when low tide hits, Driftwood leaves behind plenty of shells for collectors and souvenir seekers.  The Kiddo gathered enough shells to fill a Ball jar.   

Finally, what beach vacation would be complete without a boat tour?  We booked ours with Jekyll Island Boat and Dolphin Tours, a wonderful family-run operation with tours disembarking from the Wharf Restaurant in the island’s historical district. 

I highly recommend trying to get on the sunset tour.  Sunsets over water are just better in a boat.       

These boats aren’t going to break any speed records, but that’s not the point.  What you will get is a relaxing and entertaining narrated cruise through the East River side of the island and into Jekyll Sound where it empties into the ocean.   

And with any luck, you’ll see a few dolphins along the way.  Actually, the likelihood is pretty high.  They seem to love to show off for us tourists. 

Besides the dolphins, we got a close look at one of the many shrimp boats trawling the waters in the area.  These birds really seem to know where to get their next meal.   

It’s no wonder why Jekyll Island, Ga., is considered by many to be one of the best beach destinations in the U.S. outside of Florida.  From the waters to the beaches and everything in between, our Jekyll Island family vacation was everything we’d hoped it would be and will always be one worth looking back on. 


Don Davies said...

Jekyll Island is on my top 10 list of beach destinations! I can't agree more! Savannah Georgia beaches are the best! I really love the place and I am just so thankful that I found out about the place from when I was looking for a good spot to have my vacation at in 2018!

Don Davies said...

Do Tybee Island and Jekyll Island seem a little far apart? Following my two-week vacation on Tybee Island, I was contemplating visiting the website as well.

John Watts said...

It's about a two hour drive between Tybee and Jekyll via I-95, and a chunk of that time is spent getting through Savannah and Brunswick. That said, I love the vibe and the beach on Tybee as well. It's different than Jekyll for sure, more of a beach bum atmosphere to me, but definitely worth the trip.

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