Beyond Asheville: Jekyll Island and St. Simon’s Island
Jekyll Island used to be a private place where only the very wealthy could go. Nowadays it’s been turned into a state park and more. You can actually stay on the island and there’s enough to do see, do and eat on it that if you don’t want to leave, you really don’t have to – especially if you’re staying at the Jekyll Island Club. We recommend exploring neighboring St. Simon’s Island, however, because we think the two of them pack a great one-two punch for a getaway. At just under six hours from Asheville you can be there in just one day’s drive. It’s far enough that you feel like you’ve gone somewhere completely new and close enough that you’re not spending half of your vacation getting there. Welcome to the Golden Isles!
The Best Place to Stay
The Jekyll Island Club Resort | 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island
Staying at the Jekyll Island Club Resort is a bit like stepping back in time. The grounds are beautifully manicured and landscaped and the buildings have been maintained and restored so that they are as impressive as they ever were. There are some really old live oak trees all around the property, especially down by the wharf where they bend down towards the earth, sagging in their old age but gracefully so. Last year Southern Living named this place the Best Hotel in Georgia. With it’s attention to detail it’s easy for us to see why.
Our room was located in the Annex. It had a King sized bed that was reallllly hard to want to get out of (think plush pillows and soft sheets) and was filled with Victorian furniture that was actually comfortable to sit in. You know how sometimes that stuff looks cool but it feels awful? Not so here. They’ve somehow managed to make the rooms retain their roots and make them easy to be in. Our favorite part of our room though was the porch. It offers a stunning view of the grass croquet playing court and just beyond that, the water. We spent a few hours doing some work in the room and Caroline said it was her favorite office ever.
Fun Things to Do on Jekyll Island
Take the Tram Tour!
The red tram tour was a lot of fun. Our guide, Phyllis, was so knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. In an hour and a half ride, she took us around a good bit of the grounds of the club and even into two different cottages. Though some tours we find can be quite boring and dry, hers was fun and interesting.
Hit the Water!
Since you’re on an island, you’re surrounded by water. As such, there are numerous activities for you to do. You can set up numerous different boat trips: a dolphin watch, a fishing charter, a casino cruise and even a shrimp boat excursion. If being out on the water isn’t your thing, no worries, there is a gorgeous pool at both the Jekyll Island Club as well as the Jekyll Ocean Club. And of course, there’s the beach! For those of you who happen to have your own boat, there are mooring slips available at both the Jekyll Island Wharf Marina (this one is right in front of the club) as well as the Jekyll Harbor Marina.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center | 100 James Road, Jekyll Island
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the only hospital of it’s kind in Georgia. Turtles come here if they’ve been injured or are ill. There is an Exhibit Gallery which has a bunch of things to read and interact with. It was all really kid-friendly and geared towards education (their motto is rehabilitation, research and education) but had a good bit of information that was interesting to adults as well. Our favorite part was the Rehabilitation Pavilion where you can see actual turtles. On the day we visited we were able to see a woman feeding a turtle and boy was she making him work for his food! There are also daily programs scheduled from about 10 to 4 each day.
Once you’re on the island we recommend parking your car and seeing the rest of the island on foot, bike or by tram. Either bring your own bike or rent them at Jekyll Wheels because there are 20 miles of paved paths! The bike shop on the island has fat tire cruisers as well as 3 speed and 7 speed bikes. They also have some smaller ones for kids. Helmets and locks come with the rental as well. The paths on the island are wide enough for passing oncoming riders safely and the entire island is flat so the riding is easy and fun. Many of the paths wind through live oak canopies that are just gorgeous to pedal under. Also check out the Greenway Trail!
Just out front of the Club is a grass playing court for croquet! You can ask the front desk for some equipment if you would like to play a game (it’s complimentary for resort guests.) If you’d like to watch instead, you can check out the pros who are all dressed in white and typically play in the afternoons.
Attend an Event
There’s often live music playing here so be sure to check their Events Calendar. There’s also a race that looks like a lot of fun called the Turtle Crawl. Race day is in May and includes a triathlon, 5K and 10K. We didn’t get to run in it but we did go for two runs while we were here and loved both of them.
Horseback Riding, Golf and Tennis
Several people suggested we go for a horseback ride on the beach but we simply did not have enough time. We’d like to do this on a return trip though since it seems like a really fun, unique thing to do. Check out Three Oaks Farm to set this up! Same goes for Tennis. We don’t play golf but for those of you who do, there are three 18-hole courses here!
Driftwood Beach | South of Maurice Road on N. Beachview Drive, Jekyll Island
You must visit Driftwood Beach. Like it’s name suggests, it’s home to lots of driftwood. Big driftwood. Big, old, gnarly trees, some of which are still standing, many of which are laying down in the sand, make a cool backdrop to what is already a beautiful stretch of beach. There are rocks covered in oysters that, combined with the trees, make this place feel untamed and wild. Parking is free along the road and the walk to the beach is short. Pack plenty of sunscreen though because while there are trees they don’t offer much shade!
St. Simon’s Lighthouse | 610 Beachview Drive, St. Simon’s Island
There’s a beautiful old lighthouse, a couple of gorgeous old live oaks, a playground for kids, several picnic tables and the beach for you to enjoy. The early bird gets the parking spot (it’s right in the heart of downtown and near lots of popular shops and restaurants) so we advise heading there first thing in the morning.
Also on Jekyll Island are two 18-hole mini golf courses! They open at 9am and can be either a fun way to either start or end the day. Both are located near the beach as well.
The Best Places to Eat
Echo | 101 Downing St, St. Simons
When we entered the hotel we heard live music coming out of the lounge area and started dancing our way to the hostess stand. We were taken to a really nice table with windows that overlooked the water and within minutes we had a beer in each of our hands. The meal started with the Blue crab salad: avocado puree, mango, spring greens, grapefruit reduction, crispy shallots and cilantro. But not just any old crab. This was the sweetest and biggest portion of lump crap meat we’ve seen in a while. We also had mussels in a white wine, saffron, garlic sauce that were seasoned perfectly. As for the entrees, yep, we ordered even more seafood: Sea Scallops that were seared just-right and served with a summer panzanella and grilled baby squash as well as the fresh catch of the day which was grouper. The grouper was a really nice, thick piece of fish served with a pecan lemon butter sauce that was so delicious we could have eaten it with a spoon. We recommend this place for anyone looking to celebrate something or someone special. Reservations also recommended.
Georgia Sea Grill | 407 Mallery Street, St. Simons
The entire meal from start to finish was perfect. We started with a round of drinks and a half-dozen oysters. The oysters were topped with small square of gelée that was made of peach and jalapeño. The experience in your mouth was a treat. It was a little fruity, a little tart and a little spicy, all rolled into one. When you popped it into your mouth however, you could not distinguish what was oyster and what was gelée because they played so nicely with one another.
Southern Soul Barbeque | 2020 Demere Road, St. Simons
We’ve had our eye on this place ever since we read about it in Garden and Gun back in 2016. It popped up on our radar again when we started doing a little research on St. Simon’s and found out that Southern Living had named it the South’s Best Barbecue Joint for 2018. After eating there, it’s no wonder why it’s caught the attention of so many magazines. The food is just downright awesome. We ordered the burnt ends (smoked brisket tips), pulled pork and a 1/2 slab of ribs, a couple beers, mac and cheese, coleslaw, collard greens and french fries. We stuffed ourselves silly and still had plenty left to take home.
The Pantry | 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island
Start your day off right by heading over to The Pantry. It opens at 7:00am and has fresh brewed coffee, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, biscuits and gravy and even mimosas to help you get you going. If you have the time, dine on the covered porch and read the paper. If not, the staff will gladly package your food to go. We had an egg and cheese sandwich on a croissant, some coffee, a yogurt parfait and some fruit and couldn’t have been happier.
Corsair Kitchen and Bar | 80 Ocean Way, Jekyll Island
Located in the Jekyll Ocean Club, a short bike ride from where we were staying is the Corsair Kitchen and Bar. We went there for lunch on our second day on the island and were treated to a table with views of the pool and a nice ocean breeze. We both were craving lobster and boy did they deliver. Caroline had a chilled Maine Lobster Tail (the meat was super fresh and tasty) and I ordered the Giant Lobster Roll (poached lobster salad on a toasted bun) and both of them hit the spot. Caroline also ordered the Lump Crab Cakes and I had a fruit bowl! Breakfast and lunch at the Corsair are reserved for resort guests but dinner is open to the public. We recommend a reservation which you can make here.
Sandy Bottom Bagels | 242 Retreat Village, St. Simons
Thought you had to get on a plane to get a good bagel in the south? Think again. Sandy Bottom Bagels is making hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, kosher bagels. And they’re baked fresh every day and throughout the day. They’re open daily from 6:00am – 2:00pm and are closed on Sunday so don’t wait until the end of the week to get yours. We ordered the pesto melt and the pizza bagel and both were fresh, made-to-order and left us feeling full. We liked the addition of oatmeal on the everything bagel and appreciated how thick and hearty the sandwich was. The pizza bagel totally hit the spot – the bagel literally came out of the oven minutes before we ate it! This is the perfect spot to visit on your way to or from the beach, with out without a sandy bottom!
Moo Cow Ice Cream | 541 Ocean Boulevard, St. Simons
Like a lot of places, they’ll let you sample before you decide. Be sure to check out the smaller display case of homemade flavors off to the right.
Top Tips for Visiting Jekyll Island and St. Simon’s
There are small airports on both islands. There are flights from Asheville to St. Simon’s but none of them are currently non-stop. In addition, ExpressJet/The Delta Connection, offers daily round-trip regional jet service between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK). Consider this method if you really want to maximize your vacation time.
If you’re driving, it’s $6.00 to get onto the Island. Hold onto your receipt if you’ll be coming and going on the because you can swipe it on your return trip to get back in again. And it’s good for 24 hours! Day passes are available as are week-long passes which go for $28.
We had gorgeous weather when we visited in spring. Evening’s and mornings are cool and breezy so bring a light layer. And while we didn’t experience any rain, we’d recommend packing a rain jacket so that you can explore even if it showers. Winter temps range from low 40’s to low 60’s and summer temps range from mid 70’s to high 80’s.
We didn’t experience any bugs but you will be on an island surrounded by water so be prepared with a little spray.
The Best Things to See, Do and Eat on Jekyll Island and St. Simon’s Recap
Whether you’re looking for a fun day trip while exploring the coast of Georgia or are looking to stay overnight, Jekyll Island and St. Simon’s are the perfect playground for just about everyone. There’s tons of activities to do on the water, a number of incredible restaurants to dine in and miles of trails to walk, run or bike on.
Have you been here? If so, what did you think? What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you!