For years we have heard amazing things about Jekyll Island. People raved about what a beautiful and fun place it was to visit. Internet searches uncovered gorgeous driftwood beaches and charming historic homes.
Thus we were excited this spring to have the opportunity to work with the Jekyll Island Authority and spend a week camping on the island so we could explore all it has to offer families. And what we discovered did not disappoint!
Although we visit new places every year, it’s not often we find a place where we almost immediately find ourselves plotting a return trip. But that’s exactly what happened for us during our time on the island. Much like the Outer Banks, we found that Jekyll Island offers so many historical, cultural, and outdoor recreational opportunities that even families with diverse interests (like ours) will find something for everyone.
Here are 10+ ways to explore and embrace all the island has to offer families of all ages:
But first, here’s a video recap of all our fun!
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is first and foremost a hospital for sick and injured sea turtles–the only place of its kind in the state of Georgia. But it also features a visitor’s center where engaging, hands-on exhibits teach about the life-cycle of turtles, turtle rehabilitation, and turtle conservation. Families begin their visit with a card that they stamp at four different stations as they track the life of their sea turtle. Each station offers more than one “stamp” choice so every turtle card will have a slightly different story if families choose different options.
Visitors can also attend special programs where you can “meet the patients” or watch a turtle feeding. Our kiddos thoroughly enjoyed learning about the current patients’ conditions, their treatment, and their future prognosis. They also had fun watching through a glass window in the main visitor’s center as veterinary staff treated one of the turtles. For $6 per child (ages 4-12) and $8 for adults, it’s a great family-friendly stop (especially for rainy island days!).
This picturesque location is where many a family has posed for photos among the remains of ancient live oak trees and other driftwood. But it’s also a huge natural, jungle gym where kids can play and climb. Our kiddos loved scaling across the trunks and up the limbs of the toppled trees. Bring a hammock and find a spot to enjoy the ocean view. Unfurl a kite and toss it up on a windy day. Or bring along the sand toys and let the kids build sandcastles on the beach.
The Wanderer Memory Trail at St. Andrews Beach chronicles the story of the last known slave ship to land on America’s shores. The interactive walking trail follows Umwalla, an African boy on the ship, as he is kidnapped from his African homeland and brought illegally to Jekyll Island.
With more than 20 miles of bike trails that circle the island, Jekyll Island is a great place to bring the bikes. The bike trails pass by the beach, around the historic district, and through wooded areas. Along the way there are several spots where families can stop to use the restroom.
If you can’t bring your bikes with you, the island offers lots of rental options, from adult and kid bikes, to tandem bikes, bike surreys, and bike trailers. Bike rental locations are scattered around the island, including the Bike Barn that is located next to the miniature golf course.
The miniature golf site offers two 18-hole courses, one for beginners and another for more advanced players. Kids will love the animal characters and various themed-obstacles that comprise both courses. After a round of miniature golf, if your kids are like ours, they will likely want to run off some more steam at the playground, which is located in the same complex. Two playgrounds offer age-appropriate play equipment for older children on one and preschoolers on the other.
In 2019, the island reopened its history museum, called Mosaic. The exhibit area traces the history of the island from ancient times all the way to the present, intermingling artifacts, interpretative sections, photographs, and oral histories. The new state-of-the-art facility boasts lots of hands-on displays perfect for children to explore while learning more about the island’s history. One of our kids’ favorite parts: Getting to “drive” a vintage Red Bug car. If you are interested in visiting the museum, consider doing the Landmark Tour as well to get the best value. Purchase of the tour ticket grants access to the museum and Faith Chapel as well.
This activity is probably best suited for families with elementary-aged children. The fun part for kiddos is getting to ride on a red tram around the historic district while a tour guide details the history of the island, the Jekyll Island Club, and the people who put it on the map. In addition to stops in a few of the historic homes, the tram ticket also grants access to Mosaic as well as Faith Chapel. This small non-denominational chapel, which combines Gothic Revival architectural with a rustic design, boasts two stained glass windows–including one signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
For families eager to learn more about how the island came to be a winter home for America’s millionaires, this is a must-do stop. If you have kiddos who are history buffs, then it would also be worth checking out some of the special summer camps the island offers. To learn more, visit the webpage here.
If your visit to Jekyll Island is in January or February, then your family is in for a special treat! Jekyll Island offers a unique scavenger hunt for visitors to the island. Every day during the special event, Beach Buddy volunteers hide several plastic float balls around the island. People who find them can take them to the island’s visitor’s center where they get to exchange the plastic ball for a glass float ball, specially created by artisans to replicate the ones fishermen used to mark their nets in the early 1900s. This year Beach Buddies hid 450 of the clear, plastic globes in “plain site” around public areas on island throughout the months of January and February.
Although we didn’t find any of the island treasures (this year at least!), we found the treasure hunt was a great way to explore lesser known nooks and crannies of the island. And while you are out looking for those island treasures, you might be near a few “hidden treasures” that we learned about, including a hollow tree you can stand inside and cannon mounts that date back to the Spanish American War.
The hollow tree is located just off a bike path trail. To find it, take Riverview Drive to Bond Street. Park in the grass across from Bond Street, and follow the walking path onto the bike path. Turn right onto the bike path and walk just a little bit until you see an area on the right where a trail has been beaten down. Walk a little bit along this beaten down path and the hollow tree will be just ahead on the left.
To find the historic cannon mounts, follow Riverview Drive South or Beachview Drive South to Macy Lane. Take Macy Lane to the end of the street and you will see a small parking area at the intersection of Macy Lane and St. Andrews Drive. Follow the trail past the “no pets allowed” sign. When you pass the “fire control road” sign, turn right up a slight hill. This trail will snake around a little bit until you arrive at the cannon mounts.
Our kiddos were a bit disappointed that our early spring visit didn’t coincide with the water park’s normal summer season, which doesn’t begin until May. Summer Waves looks like a lot of fun, though, with a lazy river, wave pool, splash zone, and several slides. It would definitely be a great spot for families to beat the summer heat.
Photo credit: Jekyll Island
For a completely different experience, families can schedule a 90-minute dolphin/sightseeing tour that departs from the Jekyll Wharf located in the island’s beautiful historic district. The boat tour travels along Jekyll Island waterways scoping out spots where bottlenose dolphins feed and play. The region is home to one of the world’s largest populations of the aquatic mammal, and is also replete with other wildlife like sea turtles, manatees, and water fowl.
At Tidelands, families can view live animal exhibits of native Georgia species. The display includes a touch tank, aquariums, birding area, and more. Tidelands also offers canoe and kayak rentals, guided kayak tours, and guided nature walks from March to October. Admission is $5 per person.
Although the Fort Frederica National Monument is not located on Jekyll Island, it is a great spot for families to explore while in town. This national park site on nearby St. Simons Island offers a Junior Ranger badge program that is one of the best our kids have had the chance to do. Rangers provide the kids with a haversack filled with fun tools (like spyglasses, a compass, and map) to help them complete their mission. The interactive, pop-up booklet guides the children around the ruins of Fort Frederica.
If you have time before visiting Fort Frederica, children can also complete the Junior Archaeologist and Underwater Explorer Badge packets. If they do, they can earn a special Fort Frederica Master Junior Ranger patch in addition to the badge.
So those are 10+ ways to enjoy Jekyll Island as a family. Do you have any other kid-friendly Jekyll Island ideas to add? If so, leave us a comment below.
And if you need a place to camp while visiting Jekyll Island, be sure to check out our Jekyll Island Campground review here.