Desperate to scratch our travel itch on the cheap, we chose Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s four Golden Isles, for a budget-friendly getaway.
Located only a 4.5-hour drive from Atlanta (and only 1.5 hours from Savannah), Jekyll Island is an ideal destination for a laid-back weekend escape on the Georgia coast.
It was both of our first visit to the barrier island and we immediately fell in love with it’s Spanish moss-covered oak trees, slow pace, and southern charm.
Camping on Jekyll Island
In order to cut costs (and since we planned on spending most of our time at the beach anyway), we opted to camp at the Jekyll Island Campground. We paid $25 per night for our “primitive” campsite, which included a picnic table, fire ring, spigot, and access to bathrooms and showers (albeit, the showers looked as though their last scrubbing was in the mid-90s. But, hey, can’t beat the price.)
Unsurprising considering our general bad luck with weather, we arrived at the campsite amid torrential rainstorms. Not an ideal start to a beach weekend.
I’ll admit that at this point I was regretting our decision to camp, since pitching a tent in the rain is about as fun as getting a root canal. I not-so-subtly noted every hotel we passed to Sam in case we needed a backup plan.
Luckily, the rain let up just as we arrived at our campsite, so other than a little mud and plenty of mosquito bites, our set up was hassle free.
Once we set up camp, I realized camping wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We spent most of our time at the beach or exploring the island, but we also enjoyed relaxing by the campfire and gorging ourselves on s’mores at night.
The one downside to staying at the Jekyll Island Campground is that reservations must be completed by phone (not by email or online), which was frustrating because we ended up playing phone tag for several days trying to confirm our reservation.
Things to do on Jekyll Island
Despite being relatively small, Jekyll Island has a wide array of options for activities. Some of its more popular attractions include the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the Summer Waves water park, and bike rides along its various paved paths.
But for us, this weekend was all about relaxation.
After setting up our campsite, we made a beeline for Driftwood Beach (only about a ten minute walk from the campground). It was hands-down our favorite spot on the island.
As the sea continues to erode the beach, it has left behind a haunting graveyard of dead trees. The result: An eerie and extremely photographable beach landscape.
While Driftwood Beach’s unique scenery is always breathtaking, the views at sunrise or sunset are particularly spectacular. We enjoyed sunset walks along Driftwood Beach both nights we were on the island.
Be sure to take your camera along, since you will want to snap a photo every 3 seconds. Just be wary of getting in the water, since the current is strong and the submerged branches pose danger to swimmers.
Great Dunes Beach
While the views at Driftwood Beach are incredible, when we were ready to lay back and soak up the sun we headed down the coast slightly to Great Dunes Beach.
We arrived at 8:30am and were delighted to see that we had the beach almost completely to ourselves, despite the fact that it was a Saturday in early August.
Though the beach filled up more as the day went on, the crowds were nothing compared to other more commercial beaches in the southeast, such as Tybee Island or Myrtle Beach.
Cloud coverage and a nice breeze kept the temperatures down, so we spent the morning and afternoon lazily lounging in our beach chairs, strolling down the coastline, playing in the waves, and kayaking. It was the perfect beach day.
To maximize our beach time (and minimize our trip cost), we kept a cooler with sandwiches and snacks in our jeep for easy access at lunchtime.
Public restrooms are located at the entrance to the beach.
Sadly, the weather didn’t hold out, and late afternoon brought another round of thunderstorms.
Mostly because our alternative options were hiding in our jeep or cramming ourselves—sweaty and salty—into our tiny tent, we decided to wait the rain out at the Jekyll Island Beach Village we’d passed on our way to the campground.
The Jekyll Island Beach Village—a classy shopping area—contains a variety of stores, restaurants, and coffee shops.
We spent more than an hour at Club Café, sipping tea and playing cribbage (does that make us sound like an 80-year-old couple? We have also been known to go to bed at 9pm…just saying…).
When the rain cleared, we enjoyed visiting some of the island’s historic sites in order to get a feel for its heritage.
Jekyll Island was once home to tribes of Native Americans. In 1733, it was colonized by the British General James Oglethorpe. By the 1800s the island had gained popularity among society’s elite as a vacation destination, with the Jekyll Island Club boasting members such as J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer.
Though much more inclusive today, visiting sites such as the Horton House (built by Major William Horton in 1743 after his first home was destroyed) and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel bring the island’s rich history to life.
We spent Sunday morning back on Great Dunes beach soaking in more sunshine before reluctantly bidding Jekyll Island farewell and heading back to Atlanta (and reality).
Note: Part of the reason Jekyll Island remains so well-preserved is because it is officially a Georgia State Park. Be prepared to pay $6 when you enter the island.
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