If you wanted to visit Jekyll Island in the early 1900s, you would have been out of luck unless your name appeared on a social registry with the likes of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers. Once the exclusive playground of some of America’s richest families, Jekyll Island now represents wealth of a different kind. The island’s natural beauty shines in its white sand beaches, marshes, and great fishing spots—places now complemented by award-winning golf courses, tennis facilities, and scrumptious restaurants. Luckily for the rest of us, the state of Georgia now owns the island, so an invitation is open to the general public.
Jekyll Island’s history—paired with its natural splendor—make it unique among Georgia’s coastal islands. Conveniently, it also has a small airport close to many of its attractions.
Jekyll Island (09J) is on the Georgia coast, 64 nm south of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV), and just 21 nm north of the Florida border. Unlike flying into an airport on the east coast of Florida, where you can count on seeing a lot of commercial buildings, homes, and high-rise hotels, you won’t see much evidence of development as you fly over the southeast coast of Georgia. Instead, you’ll see salt marshes, green forests, and strips of white sand beaches.
If you are coming into Jekyll Island from the north, chances are you will pass through one of the many MOAs or restricted areas that cover southern Georgia. Be sure to check their status with Macon FSS on 122.2 MHz. Contact Jacksonville Center for advisories or clearance through restricted areas on 126.75 MHz. Also, about 10 nm south of Jekyll Island is the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Pilots are asked to remain at least 2,000 feet AGL when flying over it.
Jekyll Island has no aviation services or fuel; however, two nearby airports offer 100LL and Jet A: Malcolm McKinnon Airport (SSI) on St. Simon’s Island, 5 nm northeast, and Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK) on the mainland, 11 nm north-northwest. All three airports are uncontrolled.
Jekyll Island’s Runway 18/36 is 3,715 x 75 feet, paved, and in good condition. The only obstacles to consider when making your approach are trees to the left and right of the runway. Wind funneling around these trees probably contributes to what local pilot Richard Van Iderstyne calls the “Jekyll Island Burble.” If you’re landing on Runway 36 with the winds out of the east, you can expect a brief, sudden increase in wind about 500 ft. down the runway, which could cause you to balloon and drop it in. Richard says, “The burble leaves pilots scratching their heads and asking, ‘What happened?’” Jekyll Island doesn’t have weather information, but you can monitor the ASOS at nearby SSI on 120.025 MHz.
Jekyll Island offers a VOR/GPS-A approach to Runway 36 and a GPS approach to both runways. The GPS approach to Runway 36 offers some of the lowest minimums in the area; the LPV decision height is only 289 feet AGL. If you need an ILS approach, BQK has an ILS to Runway 7.
You’ll find the ramp at the southeast end of the field. Though the airport is uncontrolled, it does have a tiny, neat-as-a-pin FBO, Red Bug Motors, with bathrooms, a phone, wireless Internet access, and electric car rentals. The owners monitor CTAF 123.0 MHz during normal business hours, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., 912-635-9330. There are no other services available except for tie-downs.
After the British established Georgia as a colony, Jekyll Island was owned privately and changed hands many times throughout the years. From 1879 to 1885, John Eugene DuBignon worked to reacquire the island (his family had previously owned it for decades).
DuBignon had a brother-in-law, Newton Finney, who lived in New York and had connections with many prominent families there. The two formulated a grand plan to sell Jekyll Island to a group of wealthy men from the North who would use it as an exclusive hunting club. This idea for a hunting club grew into a plan for a larger resort for elite families from the Northeast. The group was dubbed the “Jekyll Island Club.”
In 1886, DuBignon sold the island to the Jekyll Island Club for $125,000. The Club officially opened in 1888 and was a wild success. Founding members included most of the significant industry leaders in America at the time, including J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. The magnificent club building was built (it still stands today) and a full-time staff was hired to run it. Several members of the club also built second homes nearby. Though enormous, these second homes were called “cottages.” Some of these expansive cottages were built without a kitchen. The designers intended for the island to be a social club, all members were encouraged to dine together in the Grand Dining Room of the club house.
Through the early 1930s, Jekyll Island was one of the premiere places in America to spend a winter vacation. You could only visit by invitation, and the number of members was limited to 100 until 1933. Visitors could enjoy lavish accommodations and pastimes like swimming, cycling, and hunting.
As the second home of many important Americans, Jekyll Island saw its share of significant moments. In 1910, secret meetings held on the island by Club members resulted in the formation of the Federal Reserve System. Theodore Vail, president of AT&T, participated in the first transcontinental phone call here in 1915.
After the Great Depression, the Jekyll Island Club fell out of fashion and membership declined. The Club closed at the end of the 1942 season and never reopened. After World War II, the Club was disbanded, and the island was sold to the state of Georgia in 1947. Georgia declared the island its first “coastal state park” and formed the Jekyll Island Authority to handle its management. After a rocky start, the island enjoyed several decades of growth and economic stability. However, the historical buildings on the island continued to deteriorate.
In 1984, architect Larry Evans and his friend Vance Hughes decided to restore the Jekyll Island Club House, and their work led to a renewed interest in the restoration of other historic buildings. Today, much of the original historic district has been restored and provides a fascinating glimpse of Jekyll Island’s past as a Gilded-Age playground.
First and foremost, Jekyll Island is a place to relax. Stress seems to evaporate here and nobody is in a rush. The island is about 7 1/2 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide, and only 35 percent of it is open to development. The remainder of the island is covered in lush vegetation, marshes, and beaches. Most hotels and restaurants are along the eastern shore, facing the Atlantic Ocean. On the west side, you’ll find the airport, a marina, and the historic district. Golf courses and quiet residential neighborhoods make up the developed parts of the island’s interior. The climate in winter is mild, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s. In the summer, expect high humidity and temperatures in the 80s and 90s.
Cars and bicycles are the main modes of transportation. This is a friendly place, and if you’re walking, drivers will usually stop to give you a ride. Local pilot Richard Van Iderstyne used to fly here for years to go golfing before he ultimately moved to the island. “I never had to walk to the golf course,” he reminisces. “Somebody would see me walking with my golf clubs and stop to give me a ride every time.” There are no traditional car rentals on the island, but a fun way to get around is on a “Red Bug.” The first “Auto Red Bugs” were open-air, two-seat electric vehicles introduced to the island in the late 1910s. By 1916, visitors could rent a Red Bug for $5 per day or $20 per week. Today, Richard rents modern Global Electric Motorcars (made by DaimlerChrysler) at the airport, and has named them in honor of these revolutionary electric vehicles in use many decades ago (see Transportation).
If you’re a World War II buff, you might be in for an unexpected treat even before you leave the airport. Richard owns a beautifully restored, 1942 Fairchild PT-19 open-cockpit airplane. He offers 30-minute rides for $150, weather permitting, free for World War II veterans, 912-635-9330.
For a grasp on Jekyll Island’s past, the National Historic Landmark District is a great place to begin. Start by visiting the Jekyll Island Museum, where you can watch a video and look at photographs illustrating the history of the island. Artifacts from the heyday of the Jekyll Island Club are on display, free admission, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. You can pick up maps for a self-guided tour of the 240-acre historic district for free, or take the 90-minute “Passport to the Century” tram tour that departs from the Museum’s gift shop, adults $16, children 7–15 $7, 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m., 100 Stable Rd., 912-635-4036.
The first golf course on Jekyll Island opened in 1898 for members of the Jekyll Island Club. Ever since, golf has been a favorite pursuit on the island. In fact, with its three 18-hole courses and one nine-hole course, the Jekyll Island Golf Club is the largest public golf resort in the state of Georgia. The club also offers equipment rentals and private golf lessons. Lessons are $40–$60 per hour, greens fees $32–$49, 322 Captain Wylly Rd., 912-635-2368.
Most resort areas offer tennis, but the Jekyll Island Tennis Center can claim that their courts were named one of the 25 best municipal facilities in the country by Tennis magazine. You’ll find 13 clay courts and a full service pro-shop, all open to the public, court fees $8 per person/session, racquet rental $3 per session, lessons $25 per session, 9 a.m.–6 p.m., 400 Captain Wylly Dr., 912-635-3154.
If you’ve had your fill of manmade attractions, explore Jekyll’s natural amenities. The rich ecosystem here yields great fishing that attracts folks from all over the country. Captain Scottt Owens offers both inshore and offshore fishing trips. You can fish inshore for redfish and flounder and offshore for tarpon, amberjacks, and shark. Scott provides bait, tackle, and a license. On the Scott’s 24-foot Islamorada Boatworks Morada 24, four- to eight-hour inshore fishing trips range $400–$600 for the first anglers ($50 per additional, up to six); six-hour offshore reef fishing is $425–$625 ($85 per additional person). Other vessels are also available, 912-270-7300 or 877-605-3474.
Jekyll Wharf conducts lively boat tours on the waters surrounding the island. When you board their covered 40-passenger tourboat for the 90-minute dolphin tour, you can expect to get up close and personal with the playful mammals, ages 11 and up $24, ages 3–10 $12. If you’re looking for a more personal tour, join five of your closest friends and family aboard Captain John’s Dolphin Daze for a narrated 90-minute adventure, $30 per person ($150 minimum), 912-399-1583.
Fishing and crabbing are allowed on all of Jekyll’s public beaches and off its piers, though Georgia requires a license for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Georgia residents pay $3.50 for a three–day hunting and fishing combo license, $9 for a one-year fishing license, and non-residents pay $20 for the three-day combo, $45 for the annual pass. You can purchase licenses online at or in person at Maxwell’s Variety Store, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon–Sat, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun, 16 North Beachview Dr., 912-635-2205, or at the Jekyll Island Campground, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun–Tue, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Wed–Sat, 1197 Riverview Dr., 912-635-3021 or 866-658-3021.
The Tidelands Nature Center, a University of Georgia educational program, offers guided nature walks and kayak tours through the undeveloped parts of the island. You can also pick up a map at the center for a self-guided tour down a nature trail. At the Center itself, you can look at wildlife exhibits and meet Joey, the resident baby loggerhead turtle. Canoe and paddle boat rentals are also available. Center exhibit admission is $4; 1 1/2-hour nature walks $3–$5; three-hour kayak tour $55–$95; canoes and paddle boats are available Mar–Sep for $15 per hour and $30 for the day, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon–Fri, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat–Sun, 100 S. Riverview Dr., 912-635-5032.
An alternative to walking or kayaking through Jekyll’s wildlife is to explore it on horseback. Three Oaks Farms offers 45-minute narrated carriage rides among the cottages favored by the Rockefeller, Macy, and Goodyear families. The narrated historic tour and evening tea option runs two hours and stops for Victorian tea at the at the Jekyll Island Hotel dining room. Private evening carriages are also available. Carriages seat four to 15 passengers, tours $15–$40, Tue–Sat. In addition, Three Oaks Farms offers 60–90-minute guided horseback tours to the salt marshes and beaches on the island, $58–$135, 100 Stable Rd., 912-266-8116.
When it is time to cool off in the ocean, Jekyll Island has about ten miles of white sand beaches. True, it’s hard packed sand—not the fluffier variety you might find in Florida—but it’s beautiful nonetheless. There is no private land ownership on Jekyll Island. It all belongs to the state—essentially to you—and all buildings are on leased land. Therefore, all beaches are public; explore to your heart’s content.
For children, or the kid at heart, try the slides and wave pool at the Summer Waves Water Park, $16–$20, children 3 or under free, open the weekend before Memorial Day–early Sep, Mon–Fri 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.–7 p.m., 210 S. Riverview Dr., 912-635-2074,.
If Jekyll Island is known as “Georgia’s Jewel,” then the renovated Jekyll Island Club Hotel is undoubtedly the jewel of Jekyll. You’ll pay more to stay here, but if you want to splurge, it’s money well spent. The buildings on this sprawling resort have been renovated to perfection and many look like they did in their heyday. You might stay in the four-story Club House, which was the original hotel on this exclusive island and looks like a Victorian castle, complete with turrets and courtyards. Another option, the Annex, has apartments that were used by visiting friends of club members. The adjacent Sans Souci cottage originally had six apartments and is considered to have been among the first condominiums in the country; today it houses 24 guestrooms. There are also rooms available in two renovated millionaire’s cottages. All offer elegant, impeccably restored rooms with high ceilings and antique furnishings. Although it’s not on the beach, the hotel has a pool as well as three restaurants, a bar, and a croquet court. Take an evening stroll, and with the lights twinkling from the windows of the hotel and the murmurs of conversations from other guests carrying on the breeze, you can imagine you were a member of the famed Jekyll Island Club back in the early 1900s, rooms $189–$499, free airport transportation, 371 Riverview Dr., 800-535-9547.
For clean, no-frills rooms right on the beach, the Days Inn is a great value. The hotel has two pools and offers a free continental breakfast, all rooms come with a mini-fridge, $80–$265, 60 S. Beachview Dr., 912-635-9800.
At the northern tip of the island, the Jekyll Island Campground features 206 sites shaded by oak trees with good beach access; some sites have electricity. Restrooms, showers, pay phones, laundry, and a general store with food, ice, bait, propane, fishing licenses, and bike rentals are available, reservations recommended, $24 for tent sites, store hours 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun–Tue, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Wed–Sat, 1197 Riverview Dr., 912-635-3021 or 866-658-3021.
For more information on island accommodations, activities, and dining, contact the Jekyll Island Welcome Center, 1 Downing Musgrove Causeway, 912-635-3636.
Across the street from the beach a little over a mile from the FBO, Red Bug Motors Pizza & Pub specializes in all kinds of pizza, but also serves spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, sandwiches, and salads. The FBO will lend fly-in visitors an electric motor car (see Transportation) to drive to the restaurant. Just bring it back in a few hours, which can allow for a quick tour of the island. The interior is decorated with paneled walls and has a huge bar that evokes an English pub. Diners can choose an ocean view or golf-course view, since the restaurant used to be the pro shop for the nine-hole golf course. They also offer the only food delivery on the island, 11 a.m.–9 p.m., 912-635-9730.
Seafood, naturally, is a specialty among the dining opportunities in Jekyll. You rarely hear the words “fantastic seafood” and “Jekyll Island” mentioned in the same sentence without also hearing a mention of Latitude 31. This restaurant is housed in a renovated boathouse right on the historic wharf. Large windows provide stunning views of Jekyll’s wharf, water, the approach end of Runway 36, and, if you time it right, glorious sunsets. Enjoy flavorful seafood dishes like Chef Terry’s Seafood Alfredo, sautéed shrimp, scallop, and blue crab with alfredo sauce served over linguini, $23. Outside, the attached “Rah” Bar offers outdoor seating, drinks, and raw and steamed oysters; it’s a great place to grab a beer while watching the sunset. Their lunch restaurant, Cafe on the Wharf, serves fare such as burgers, sandwiches, and salads. The Shrimp Salad Croissant comes with slaw and chips$8, while the Dungeness crab legs come in clusters of one, two, or three, $10–$30, and the “rah” or steamed oysters come by the half-dozen or dozen, $9–$16. It’s a half-mile walk south of the airport, dinner entrées $25–$35, Tue–Sun 5:30–9 p.m., Rah Bar is open Tue–Sun 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 1 Pier Rd., 912-635-3305.
After a few rounds of golf, McCormick’s Grill, right in the Golf Clubhouse at the Jekyll Island Golf Club, hits the spot. Rumored to have the best cheeseburgers on the island, $9, the restaurant also has a full bar. Its large windows provide a good view of the greens, and the lunchtime crowd is a testament to the quality of the food, 7:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., bar stays open until 5 p.m., Golf Clubhouse, 322 Captain Wylly Rd., 912-635-4103.
For fine dining, head to the Grand Dining Room at the Jekyll Island Club Resort. For dinner, you can feast on dishes like the classically Jekyll Shrimp and Grits with grilled Andouille sausage, roasted garlic, scallions, and wine, served over mill stone ground cheese grits, $16–$30. Or, try lunch for the grand dining experience without the grand price. Lunch entrées like the Grilled Chicken and Chia Saute, marinated and grilled chicken with tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and toasted chia in a pesto white wine sauce, are $15. The enormous Sunday brunch, with everything from made-to-order omelets to a Viennese pastry bar, is legendary, adults $30, children 12 and under $15. Reservations are recommended, free airport transportation, open Mon–Sat 7–11 a.m., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. & 6–10 p.m., Sun 7–10 a.m. & 6–10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10:45 a.m.–2 p.m., 371 Riverview Dr., 912-635-5155.
Jekyll Island is small, but it’s hard to cover the whole thing on foot. If you’re flying in for a quick lunch, you can walk one mile from the airport to the restaurants at the Jekyll Island Club and the historic wharf, or call them for courtesy transportation.
Red Bug Motors rents two- and four-passenger Global Electric Motorcars at the airport. A unique and fun way to get around, these “Red Bugs,” are about the size of golf carts and travel at a maximum speed of 25 mph. Considering the speed limit on Jekyll is only 35 mph, this isn’t as slow as it sounds. Owners Clayton Porter and fellow pilot Richard Van Iderstyne are very helpful with directions and suggestions for activities, dining, and lodging. Drivers must be at least 25 years old with a driver’s license and insurance. Cars cost $75–$150 for 24 hours, or $225–$450 per week, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., 500 Riverview Dr., 912-635-9330.
Jekyll Island is known for its excellent bicycle paths. You can rent bicycles at Jekyll Island Mini Golf & Bike Rentals, from $5.25 per hour to $18 for 24 hours, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., corner of Shell Road and North Beachview Drive, 912-635-2648, or at the Jekyll Island Campground, from $5 per hour to $24 per day, Sun–Tue 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Wed–Sat 8 a.m.–8 p.m., 1197 Riverview Dr., 866-658-3021.
No matter if you’re a history buff, a sun worshipper, an avid golfer, an environmentalist, or simply a gourmand who enjoys the finer things in life, you’ll find something to please you on Jekyll Island. A well-loved airport, wildlife, world-class golf and fishing, and award-winning restaurants combine to make Jekyll a wonderful place to land for dinner or stay for a weeklong vacation. No special invitation needed.