The Best Things to Do on Jekyll Island at Christmas

At Christmastime, this jewel turns into a festive coastal destination.

Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade
Photo: Alexa Hawkins/Jekyll Island Authority

There's just something about Christmas at a classic Southern resort. The whole celebration tends to go soft and glowy: There are grand trees festooned in seas of lights, elegant Christmas dinners and holiday breakfasts laid out on gleaming china, mugs of hot chocolate by the fireplace, and cheery visits with Santa. If you're lucky, you can also catch a parade, sit down to a holiday tea, and decorate some Christmas cookies. And if you like to enjoy those holiday celebrations by the seaside, you should point your compass toward Jekyll Island in Georgia.

Indian Mound Cottage Decor Jekyll Island
Alexa Hawkins/Jekyll Island Authority

Stay for Historic Charm

One of Georgia's barrier islands, Jekyll is home to the Jekyll Island Club Resort, which is festooned in evergreens and lots of Christmas red come December. What began as a private hunting club in 1879 opened as the (also private) Jekyll Island Club about a decade later. It was a getaway of choice for the likes of Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Pulitzers in those days, and many of these wealthy families built homes and cottages on the property. Purchased by the state of Georgia in the '40s, Jekyll Island became a state park and was opened to the public, who came to visit and enjoy the pristine beaches and natural wonders of the island. As for the resort, the original club house was restored and reopened as a hotel in 1987.

Many historic properties on the island can be booked for events, like the Indian Mound Cottage, a former winter retreat for the Rockefellers.

Peppermint Land Jekyll Island
Alexa Hawkins/Jekyll Island Authority

Join the Holiday Fun

These days, the island puts on a big calendar of activities during the holiday season. Visit during Holly Jolly Jekyll, and you'll find the historic district decked out in Christmas finery, with a tree lighting, carriage rides, and visits with Santa on the agenda. A trolley tour will whisk you through 1 million lights that have been strung across the island to transform it into a winter wonderland (35,000+ lights on the Great Tree alone!) There's usually ice skating, fireworks, a light parade, a winter carnival, and guided twilight tours too. The miniature golf course also turns festive, bedecked in giant peppermint drops and gingerbread men, while taking on a new name: Peppermint Land.

The Jekyll Island Club Resort pulls out all the stops from Thanksgiving through New Year's. Some events, like a Christmas buffet and New Year's Eve prix fixe dinner, are open only to resort guests, while others, like the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes and New Year's Day breakfast buffet, have been open to the public in past years. You can find out what's available closer to the holidays at jekyllclub.com.

jekyll island girl on bike
Getty Images

Enjoy the Outdoors

Book a stay at the resort, and in addition to the seasonal fun, you can claim a spot on the links at the Great Dunes Course. Guests enjoy all manner of amenities across the property. Bike paths criss-cross the area, and you can rent cycles at the resort to pedal around and see the sights.

Beyond the resort, Jekyll is known for its miles of unspoiled beaches. (It's a state park, remember? No condo towers. Just beautiful ocean views.) Driftwood Beach at the northern end of the island is one of the best known because it's home to big stretches of driftwood half-sunken in the sands and weathered by the salty Atlantic winds. It makes for a beautiful place to take in the natural wonders of the area (and snap photos, if you're looking for a seaside photo opp).

Ready to pack up the SUV and head to Georgia? We thought so. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a fun and festive beach trip.

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