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Southerners can be downright secretive when they find amazing family vacation spots that haven’t been discovered yet. That’s why you may not have heard of this “secret island” tucked in along the Georgia coast and just five hours south of Atlanta. This island has maintained its fascinating charm partly because of law protection against overdevelopment and in how the 1800s Millionaire’s Village has been beautifully maintained.
The Secret Island
Jekyll Island, Georgia is fabulous for all ages but it’s a big hit with tweens, teens and older kids that can appreciate the mysterious stories, legends, and adventure that awaits. Here are the top ten activities that our family loves to do together while on this golden isle – and that you don’t want to miss.
1. SWIM & SUNTAN ON BEACHVIEW DRIVE
Because Jekyll Island, Georgia is positioned like it is along a river and inlet, there are three different beach types to choose from. If your family is crazy about suntans, ocean waves and beach wind in their hair, head to the sand in the center of the island. After passing the welcome center, follow the turnabout to the left and stay on Beachview Drive until you see Great Dunes Park on your left. There are covered picnic pavilions and clean bathrooms at this beach access.
2. GO BEHIND-THE-SCENES OF A TURTLE HOSPITAL
The incredible Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a working hospital dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured sea turtles. The best biologists and researchers are on-hand to guide your tour and show you what is behind the glass. You’ll see the food preparation areas, animal holding areas, and the Treatment Room for these very large and sick turtles.
3. BIKE RIDE AROUND THE ISLAND
The more you ride bikes around the secret island of Jekyll, the more you’ll want to see. Time will fly as you go through a Historic Landmark District that seems frozen in time. The new paved bicycle trail system also weaves you through peaceful wildlife scenes of the maritime forest and alongside the beach. Free bike trail maps can be found at the Jekyll Island Welcome Center. Bike rentals are at on location at several hotels like the Jekyll Club Resort Hotel. We’ve biked half the island (25 miles of trails total) several times as a family and it’s one of our favorite activities!
4. GRAB PHOTO OPS ON DRIFTWOOD BEACH
Driftwood Beach has no real “entrance,” so it gives notion to the secret island vibe. You’ll only find this picturesque beach by walking on foot from the Jekyll Island Fishing Pier at Clam Creek. At low tide, the sand is wide and hard-packed which makes it ideal for walking (you can bring Fido on a leash too). The strong currents on this north end beach cause a muddy sediment at high tide, so swimming is not ideal.
But the slow erosion caused by those strong currents has also created a hauntingly romantic scene that’s called “the tree graveyard” by many and is a photographer’s paradise. It’s an iconic spot privy to weddings, senior portraits, and family photos. Vist Driftwood Beach at sunrise or dusk (my fave) for the most beautiful family portraits you could ask for!
5. SHOP & EAT AT JEKYLL BEACH VILLAGE
Not your average shopping center, the Jekyll Island Beach Village showcases eclectic shops with items like gourmet groceries, souvenirs, and essential beach gear. We enjoy choosing from the many unique dining options such as Club Cafe and Love Shack BBQ. Our family also finds it hard to resist Fuse frozen yogurt while we are in the village too.
6. WATCH THE WILDLIFE
Drive down to the southernmost point of Jekyll Island and you’ll find a delightful, shaded parking lot with an adjacent picnic area under the canopy of large oak trees. This area of St. Andrews Park has a historical marker called The Wanderer that will give you pause as you reflect on it. Keep walking past the clean restrooms and you’ll reach the secluded beach filled with migratory birds. If your family travels to the right you’ll see a two-story observation tower that you have to climb! From the top you just might see dolphins and porpoises playing in the surf.
7. GET ON THE WATER
Sometimes you’ve got to get in the water with those older kids. Turtle Tides Jekyll will deliver your kayaks or stand up paddleboards with all the safety equipment, maps, and information you need to choose an incredible family adventure. They will also pick up your equipment when your excursion is over. If you are unsure of leading your family alone, Turtle Tides also offers a two-hour private tour for your people as well.
The 4-H Tidelands Nature Center would love to have you over to the 17-acre saltwater Tidelands pond to fish for free as long as you bring your own fishing and crabbing gear and follow all Georgia fishing regulations.
8. GO CAMPING
Whether RV or tent camping is your thing, there are many memories to be shared at Jekyll Island Campground. Unlike any campground we’ve stayed at before, the entire 18-acres are shaded by magnificent oaks dripping with Spanish moss. There are 125 RV campsites and 12 primitive sites. I love how the primitive tent area is tucked back in the corner so that you’ll feel as though you are deep in the wilderness.
Take the time to unwind and connect with your family onsite by cooking an open-fire meal, walk to the bird sanctuary, shop at the camp store, or walk to the nearby fishing pier and Driftwood Beach. Be sure to take camp shoes since it’s a sandy campground and plenty of bug spray for those flying Southern critters!
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9. TAKE A GHOST TOUR
Do something unique by viewing Jekyll Island by night. Follow up dinner time with a ghost tour with Lighthouse Trolleys. You’ll get to hear the legends, lore, and ghost stories of days gone by on this secret island. The whole family will have a blast riding the open air trolley and visiting a very special graveyard! By the end of the night, maybe you’ll be able to answer the age old question, “Is Jekyll Island Georgia haunted?”
10. RIDE WITH NIGHT PATROL
Teens are known for wanting to stay up late so why not join them on a night patrol across Jekyll Island’s beach on an all-terrain vehicle? Whoop! Your family will be searching out nesting loggerhead sea turtles and be able to use what you learned prior to the trip just in case you discover some. If you’d rather bond with your older during daytime hours, become a graduate of Gatorology class!
This mystical, enchanting secret island of Georgia will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s where Superman and I saw each other for the first time AND where the marriage proposal happened – Jekyll Island Georgia.
Jekyll Island Welcome Center location: 901 Downing Musgrove Causeway, Jekyll Island, GA 31527