Exploring Georgia’s Coast: Free Things to do On Jekyll Island

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Our family’s most recent trip to Jekyll Island on the Georgia Coast didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.  I had visions of spending 90% of my time lying on a beach while my kids were busily employed around me. That didn’t happen, but it turned out to be for the best!  The island offered so much more than just the sand and surf.  Jekyll Island Club history and outdoor adventures abound.

Start your day on Jekyll island with a walk on Great Dunes Beach
Family beach walks are a great way to start your day. Photo credit: Amy Albers, Inquisitive TravelingMom

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island is one of Georgia’s beautiful Golden Isles.  Now managed by the state of Georgia and an affordable family vacation destination, Jekyll Island was once the private playground of early 19th century millionaires the likes of the Rockefellers, Morgans and Pulitzers.  There is a law stating that only 35% of the island can be commercially developed.  As a result, families find that nature and history trump souvenir shops and fume-spewing go-karts.

The beauty of nature is abundant on Jekyll Island.
Enjoying the natural beauty of Jekyll Island is a favorite free activity. Photo Credit: Amy Albers, Inquisitive TravelingMom


For a fun treasure hunt, try geocaching.  A geocache is a box tucked away, just waiting for you to find.  Some have small toys in them, others a log book.  All you need is a device with GPS capabilities, bug spray, walking-friendly shoes and partners with enthusiasm.  Register for free at Geocaching.com to get the coordinates of geocaches that  people have planted on the island. Simple rules abide – if you take something from the geocache, leave something for the next person.  Hide the box back where you found it.  This activity entertains for hours and is especially relevant to tweens and teens, who love to use their phones!

Exploring Georgia's Coast: Free Things to do On Jekyll Island
The Jekyll Island Pier is a great place to spend a quiet afternoon. Photo Credit: Amy Albers, InquisitiveTravelingMom


Fishing rods and tackle don’t take up much room in your car so for those driving to Jekyll Island, bring your gear!  You’ll find both ocean and river fishing.  As a result, your choices of what to catch are plentiful.  We saw people fishing everywhere, even off the side of the road, casting into tributaries and creeks.  My guys headed over to the Jekyll Island Pier and cast off from there. Check out the Jekyll Island Fishing Center on the pier for rod rentals as well as bait for purchase if you are unable to bring your own gear.  Adults 16 and over need fishing licenses (available at the fishing center) while kids are good to go!

The Beach

Well, duh.  But as someone who happily sits on a beach for hours, I had to include this.  Jekyll Island boasts several unique beach access points to explore.  Driftwood Beach is a sight to behold with the sculpture-like remains of live oak trees scattered about the sand.  Kids love to climb about the massive and twisted limbs while adults can appreciate the beauty of this ecosystem.  St. Andrews Beach at the southern point of the island incorporates marshlands and a picnic area.  Great Dunes Beach is perfect for families that want to be social.  It covers 20 acres with various bathroom, shower and play facilities. As a result, Great Dunes is the island’s most popular beach.


Exploring the Historic District

Step back in time and imagine the Jekyll Island Club as it was from 1888 through 1942.  Designated a historical landmark in 1978, extensive renovation to return the clubhouse and adjoining cottages to their former glory happened with the 1985 opening of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.  Club outbuildings turned into charming shops and eateries.  In addition, the Jekyll Island Art Association displays its members’ work to the public in the former Goodyear cottage.  Tour the paths of the historic district by foot or bicycle.  I did this one evening when the air had cooled and the breezes from the river soothed a tired mama’s soul.  Let the kids run cartwheels over the lawns and climb the low-hanging limbs of the live oak trees.  Not only is it allowed, it’s encouraged!  You’ll  find information panels explaining the significance of the various buildings on the grounds of the hotel and historic district.

The Jekyll Island Museum offers free exhibits about the history of the island.
The Jekyll Island Museum exhibits are free and enlightening. Photo Credit: Amy Albers, Inquisitive TravelingMom

This history girl was happy to gain a new understanding of what drew these powerful families to their island getaway.  It’s a great low-key activity for the family that wants to get a little exercise while learning something about their destination.

Wildlife Walks

Take in all kinds of wildlife in natural habitats.  We spotted deer in the woods several times.  The island has both beach and river ecosystems,therefore a wide variety of animals make their home on Jekyll Island.  Bird watchers find contentment on the two-story observation deck that overlooks the marshland at St. Andrews Beach.

Jekyll Island offers plenty of bird watching and wildlife spotting opportunities.
Jekyll Island is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Photo Credit: Jekyll Island Authority

Loggerhead turtles nest in late spring and summer.  As a result, a night beach walk could include viewing a mama loggerhead turtle laying eggs! Eggs start hatching in late summer so visitors might see the babies making their way to the water.  Don’t disturb any turtles because the loggerhead species is designated as “threatened”.  Consequently, successful nesting is important.  Keep your flashlights off; the turtles use the light of the moon to guide them to and from the ocean so other light can lead them astray.  During daytime beach walks we saw stingrays, hermit crabs and a multitude of sand dollars.  Dolphins pop up out of the water for your viewing pleasure.  TravelingMom Tip:  when collecting shells, make sure they aren’t currently occupied!  Trust me on this one.  Nobody wants to share their hotel room with sea snails.

A great vacation doesn’t have to break the bank.  Even the simplest activities can make family memories that will be recalled for years.

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About The Author

Amy is an Atlanta runner mom of three behaviorally spunky boys – two ADHD teens and a gradeschooler. As a preschool teacher, she applies her skills with two year olds to traveling with teens and employs patience, humor and lots of distractions. She loves to expose her kids to learning and new experiences while satisfying a family divided over beach or mountain destinations. Fortunately, both are plentiful in the South! She is known for having a slight Disney obsession and prefers superheroes to princesses. You can catch up on her running, parenting and family travel adventures at Mom’s Magical Miles.

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