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Few places can say on their brochure that they’ve been a vacation destination for more than 3,500 years, but Jekyll Island can.

That’s because the island located off Georgia’s coast has been visited since 1,500 B.C., according to archaeological evidence. Early Native Americans would visit the island to hunt, fish, and collect shellfish.

British colonists settled the island in the early 1700s, and for more than a century, it was home to many cotton plantations. But after the Civil War, the island’s owners turned the area into a giant luxury hunting club and became very popular among the nation’s elite.

Historic clubhouse on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

As the 19th century came to a close, the Jekyll Island Club purchased the island, and it became a literal playground of The Gilded Age. Members of the club included the biggest names in U.S. business: J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, the Jekyll Island Club was called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world” by Munsey’s Magazine.

The “club era” ended with the beginning of World War II. The island was sold to Georgia, and it was then turned into a public state park. Today the island is home to more than 1,000 residents and has become a popular tourist destination where travelers can experience the lavishness and luxury of its past.

A horse-drawn carriage on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Today, you can wander the island, enjoying lush lawns and ancient oak trees, all still maintained around the vacation homes of the richest Americans. The area is now a National Landmark Historic District. Here you’ll find popular guided tours that will take you back in time and explain more of the inside story of the island’s history.

But Jekyll Island is more than a history lesson; it’s a growing year-round vacation wonderland.

Beach sunset on Jekyll Island.

Ten miles of gorgeous, sprawling beaches that offer varying experiences. St. Andrews Beach is known for its bird watching, while Driftwood Beach is where you can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and a host of other water sports.

The island has also become a popular destination for nature seekers, especially if you’re into turtles. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center has become internationally recognized in its studies of the creatures, and you can see live turtles in their natural habitat. You’ll also notice a multitude of “terrapin-crossing” signs throughout the island, so watch the roads carefully.

Sidney Lanier Bridge in Georgia.

Know Before You Go

Jekyll Island is easily accessible via plane, bus, car, or shuttle. Flying options are plentiful with airports of various sizes. Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK) has regular flights by Delta out of Atlanta and is just a 30-minute drive from Jekyll. Rental cars and shuttles are available.

International airports in Savannah (SAV) and Jacksonville (JAX) are also just a short drive away and accessible from anywhere.

Lodging opportunities on Jekyll Island are plentiful, and you will find a wide range of options, from boutique and family-friendly stays to private villas and first-class resorts.

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