Jekyll Island: Back to the Future

Crossing the 8 miles of the Jekyll Island Causeway takes only a few minutes. The bridge spans the low country marshes and then crosses over the muddy waters of Fancy Bluff Creek before touching down on the terra firma of Jekyll Island. But while the drive takes only a splinter of time, the experience of arriving on the island, once you take in the scene, feels more like stepping out of a time machine into the late 1800s.

Mammoth oak trees, some several hundred years old, line the lane that leads into the fabled Jekyll Island Club Resort. Spanish moss hangs from every branch and the sun illuminates the tangled masses like an old men's beards. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop past antique cottages. Vanguards of Pelicans fly in formation overhead and occasionally small deer saunter by like domesticated pets. Welcome to the unspoiled tranquility of Jekyll Island.

Before you stands the historic Clubhouse with its perfectly manicured croquet course (complimentary equipment available if you would like to whack a mallet or just watch the pros from the Jekyll Island Croquet Club in all whites). The main building, a century-old castle-like brick structure with a Rapunzel-Esque tower punctuating the architecture has welcomed guests since 1886 and now it welcomes you.

The Club originated as a social retreat for society's uber-elite during the gilded age at the end of the 1800s. In those days, the Northern aristocratic ilk would venture down during the winters for hunting, beachside motor-buggy races, oceanfront golfing, grass tennis, and opulent dinners in the Grand Dining Room. The Club shut down during WWII once German U-Boats were discovered trolling the coast, and the State of Georgia purchased the island and Club after the War in 1947. State law decrees that no more than one-third of the island may be developed and thus the vast majority of the island has remained wild.

But the new renovations and additions to the facilities bring it even a further step forward (or backward you might say) to the luxe visions of its Industrial Age founders. Rockefellers, Pulitzers and Morgan's hunted and vacationed here, and now, after $25 million in renovations, you can stay on property and feel like royalty as well. Choices of accommodations include the 157-room Historic Hotels of America Clubhouse and its AAA Four-Diamond Grand Dining Room. In the next room, you can sip on martinis in the resort's elegant Bar, a classic libation den that was featured in the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Surrounding the Clubhouse are the resort's historic Jekyll Island Cottages named Sans Souci, Crane Cottage, and Cherokee. More like small mansions with suites for multiple guests, these were originally designed as residences for some of the early elite members. A short walk brings you to the all-new riverside overwater restaurant called The Wharf, a casual seafood spot with westward views (and thereby spectacular sunsets). The only over-water restaurant for more than 65 miles by car, it features live music, hyper-fresh seafood, and a late-night menu.

Across the island on the Atlantic Side, the all-new Jekyll Island Ocean Club has opened, a boutique property with 40 oversized King and Double Queen Suites, each with a full living room and private patio or balcony replete with ocean views. The resort also features a new wood-fired oceanfront restaurant concept, Eighty Ocean Kitchen & Bar which features a raw bar, fresh fish grill, and wood-fired hearth oven, specializing in fresh-caught seafood and local fish. Guests of the Clubhouse have access to the Ocean Club and its beach as well.

Hop on a bike from Jekyll Wheels and the continuous bike paths around the 5,000 acres of the island are all yours. Ride out to the surreal Driftwood Beach, a phantasmagoric setting of sands littered with gorgeously mangled ancient trees--a must for Instagrammers. Or check out The Georgia Sea Turtle Center which acts as a rehabilitation center and hospital for fledgling turtle populations. For some historical perspective, visit the pint-sized Mosaic, the Jekyll Island Museum which offers a wonderful visual journey of the island's past, resent and future. Nearby take in the Faith Chapel, a Gothic Revival style church constructed in 1904 that boasts a rare Tiffany & Co. stained glass window. And on top of all that there are 63 holes of golf including three 18-hole courses - Oleander, Indian Mound, and Pine Lakes - as well as the historic 9-hole Great Dunes course originally put into play in 1910.

Typically, a vacation destination will check a box, maybe 2 if you are lucky, on the list of travel desires. Luxury accommodations? Historical interests? Golf? Great food? Outdoor activities? Low country adventure? Unspoiled natural vistas? With Jekyll Island, one of the "Golden Isles" off the coast of Georgia, you really don't need to choose. A visit to Jekyll checks all those boxes.

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