Jekyll Island, Georgia offers a variety of inexpensive and highly educational options to help you create a fantastic family vacation. It has been my go-to budget beach vacation for years. The first visit was centered around visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to satisfy my son’s desire to learn about turtles. Since that time, we have made several more trips to Jekyll and the surrounding area. But, Jekyll’s family atmosphere and budget-friendly options hold a special place in my heart.
There are several important points to consider before deciding on Jekyll as your destination.
- Jekyll Island requires that a parking pass be purchased for the duration of your stay. It’s important to note that Jekyll Island is not covered by your Georgia State ParkPass. It is covered, instead, by GORP (Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass). The cost is $6 per 24hrs or $28 for a seven-day pass.
- Fill your gas tank before heading onto the island. The first time we stayed there, there was either no gas station or it was currently unavailable. We made this mistake and almost ran out of gas trying to get back to mainland to fill up! The last time I visited, there was one gas station and it’s prices did not compare well with the mainland.
- Purchase food, for your stay, before you enter Jekyll Island. Jekyll has been growing up since the first time I visited several years ago. But, the first time was my lesson to pack in our food. Once your at Jekyll, you’re at the mercy of the very limited selection of places to purchase your everyday snack and meal food.
Staying the night:
Lodging options, on Jekyll Island, vary according to your level of comfort and budget. There happens to be a campground near Driftwood Beach for tent campers or those with an RV. While this isn’t my ideal camp and doesn’t offer much in the way of seclusion for campers, it can greatly reduce your costs. For a measly $28 a night, tent campers will have electricity, water, and possibly even wi-fi! That’s a tremendous discount from the usual hotel/motel rates on Jekyll.
Our hotel of choice, on Jekyll, is always the Days Inn. While the rates may be a bit higher than some of the other more budget-friendly options, it was worth the splurge for me. First, being semi-secluded from the other hotels on Jekyll, it offers prime beach access with little traffic other than the hotel’s own guests. I prefer this as it makes it easier to relax, enjoy and keep an eye on the kids playing near or in the ocean. It also offers a complimentary breakfast with a view that can’t be beat – watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. For someone like me, who is usually forced to camp for vacation due to budget-restrictions, this is luxury. TIP: Choose an island-side room for a lower cost than an oceanview room. There is really no benefit to choosing an oceanview room. The hotel also provides two swimming pools for your enjoyment.
Jekyll Island is a treasure trove of educational entertainment that is fun for the whole family. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the crown gem of Jekyll Island, offering fun & informative exhibits and programs. Take a walk through the center, engaging in interactive exhibits before heading to the, “Sea Turtle Hospital,” where you can get a close-up look at how they care for their rescued sea turtles. You can stay for one of the educational talks, RSVP to go on an evening “turtle walk,” and find souvenirs. I highly recommend taking the kids on one of the turtle walks. Admission is a cool $7/adult, $5/child, and free for 3 & under. *Turtle walks are additional cost
Tidelands Nature Center is another great opportunity for inexpensive and interesting edutainment. For $4 admission, you have access to a touch tank and many other native animals such as turtles, alligators, crabs, snakes, and more. If you are adventurous, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat for $15/hour and explore the waters. Guided Nature Walks ($3-$5) will pair you with an expert to explore the beach and ecology. There are many programs held by this 4-H center, including many homeschool specific programs. Check out their website while planning your vacation to include the dates you really want!
Be sure to visit Driftwood Beach for an interesting stroll. Many people refer to it as, The Tree Graveyard. It more closely resembles a natural sculpure art exhibit, to me. The beach is covered in large driftwood trees and branches. This is due to erosion of the north end of Jekyll Island. There is a pier, some picnic places, and a nice stroll underneath some massive oaks. You will want to be aware that much of Driftwood Beach is not accessible during high tide. Tide information can be found online, or at the visitor info center.
Five other must-have experiences on Jekyll Island:
Nature Trails – Jekyll Island is teeming with nature trails to hike and explore. These are perfect opportunities to take a closer look at beach & barrier island environment. Do some research on salt marshes before you visit, as the majority of Jekyll Island is salt marsh. Make sure you find a map at the visitor center before you set off.
Birdwatching – There are many overlooks to stop and peacefully observe the birds. Bring a few pair of binoculars and see how many you can identify during your bird watching session.
Seafood – If it’s in your budget, you should definitely choose a Seafood restaurant to serve up some fresh caught seafood for at least one evening of your stay.
Beach Time – Of course, you’ll want to hit the beach for play, exploration and maybe shell hunting. Depending on the time of year, keep your eyes open for cordoned-off sea turtle nests. I recommend using the hottest times of the day to make visits to the indoor activities on your itinerary to avoid sunburn.
The Sky – Please get up early, at least once, during your vacation to hit the beach and witness the glorious sun rise over the Atlantic. Also, don’t forget about the sky at night. The stars over Jekyll offer an opportunity to search out the constellations – and, do a quick search to find out if there will be any meteor showers during your vacation time.
One more suggestion. Use the map to find the Jekyll Island post office and send your relatives a postcard from your vacation. You can also send one to yourself and see if it arrives at your home before or after you!
About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.