At Christmastime, this jewel turns into a festive coastal destination.
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Jekyll Island Club
Credit: Peter Frank Edwards

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.

Holiday History

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 forties, 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.

Jekyll Island
Credit: Thierry Hennet/Getty Images

Join the 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 the hundreds of thousands of 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, holiday lights shows, and guided twilight tours too. The miniature golf course also turns festive 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
Credit: Getty Images

Beyond the Festivities

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 golf 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 that's 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.