Holly Jolly Jekyll

Discover holiday lights and magical sights on Jekyll Island

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, it sits a short drive from Savannah with more than 10 miles of beaches, a historic landmark district, golf courses, and state park-protected land that includes a campground.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island was named Money Magazine’s #1 Place to Go in the U.S. in 2019. It also houses a sea turtle rescue center and has been the filming location for films like X-Men: First Class, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Walking Dead.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island packs a lot of action into its small seven-by-two-mile border. One of the four Barrier Islands that are accessible by car, this tucked-away gem off the coast of Georgia is a favorite vacationing spot. Plus it offers the best of nearby historic Savannah (1½ hours away) and Florida beaches (one hour away).

duBignon Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature lovers will feel right at home with eight miles of beaches, 20 miles of hiking trails, and a flat landscape all well within reach, making the area ideal for casual walking and biking. The Historic District surrounding the Jekyll Island Club—featuring 200 acres of buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the town was developed—helped it join the ranks of the most beautiful small towns in America, according to Architectural Digest.

GoodyearCottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to take in the lights from the comfort of your own vehicle? Follow Jekyll Island’s Self-Guided Light Tour map to see some of the island’s best light displays. (Be sure to follow traffic patterns and tour signs and remain in your vehicle while snapping photos of your favorite twinkling lights.)

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tap into your competitive spirit while celebrating the holiday season at Peppermint Land at Jekyll Island Mini Golf. Take a walk down peppermint lane and enjoy one or both of the 18-hole courses while surrounded by life-size gumdrops, peppermint sticks, gingerbread friends, and more.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

(Pro tip: If you play into the evening, you can also enjoy all the twinkling holiday lights!)  Or round up your group for the free Holly Jolly Drive-in Movie (December 12 and 19) to enjoy a special screening of the original “Frosty the Snowman” movie in the Jekyll Island Convention Center parking lot. Find your spot, wave hello to Santa on his big red fire truck, and tune in to the movie using your car radio. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, need to pick up some last-minute gifts? For holiday shopping, stroll through the beautifully decorated historic Goodyear Cottage which transforms into the Merry Artists Holiday Market showcasing one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces by local artists and makers—perfect for one-of-a-kind presents. Gift certificates are available for purchase.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or pop into the Holly Jolly Trading Post to pick up your Holly Jolly Jekyll season novelties and collectibles and enjoy Christmas candies and warm holiday beverages while you stroll.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a joyous parade. During the Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade (December 4), find your spot in the beachfront spectator areas to watch as Santa and his friends make their way beachside in a variety of golf carts and vintage vehicles—all lit up in their holiday best. 
For a nighttime celebration, ooh and aah at holiday fireworks (December 11 and 18) launching near Beach Village. Park beachside and watch the free show from your car to stay warm and cozy while taking in the spectacular sights. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If adventure is calling your name, infuse some excitement into your holiday vacation with outdoor activities on Jekyll Island’s beaches. 

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Show your daring side during the new Cold-Stunned Plunge (November 27) as you run into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. This fun (and frigid) fundraising event benefits the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on behalf of the Jekyll Island Foundation. Many sea turtles get caught in hypothermic water temperatures during winter months and your support assists cold-stun rehabilitation and recovery. Mascot Scute C. Turtle and friends will cheer on participants and hang around for festive photos. Take the plunge, raise some funds, and receive a commemorative T-shirt for your good deed. 

Related: 10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride into this holiday season with a one-hour horse ride on the beach (November 26-January 2)! The horses will be decked out for Christmas in Santa hats and jingle bells and ready for their photo-op. Come enjoy some holiday tunes while sharing a candy cane treat with them!

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

The holiday spirit is in overdrive in this beautiful, bikeable state park

You may be desperate to inject some joy into 2020’s finale. A holiday getaway that’s semi-remote with space to roam while packing some good tidings and staying COVID-safe.

Then consider Jekyll Island. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never heard of Jekyll? Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized island off the coast of Georgia is one of four beautiful barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—collectively known as the Golden Isles. Jekyll was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides partaking in myriad loops of the lights drive each night, take a turn through the mini-golf course—currently adorned with sugar plums, swirly oversized lollipops, and the likeness of Frosty and friends. Honestly, after the year we’ve had, leaning into some old fashioned holiday cheer never felt more necessary.

But this quiet island hideaway is an ideal escape any time of year. Here are some highlights.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the island’s northern end, a spacious campground shaded with enormous oaks is a dreamy spot to park an RV or pitch a tent. It sits within walking distance to Clam Creek and just across from Driftwood Beach, so-named for the ancient trees that fell there due to myriad storms and beach erosion. 179 total campsites with 167 full hook-up sites (back-in and pull-through options) and 12 primitive tent sites are spaciously located within 18 wooded acres.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 20 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. You can rent from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn to explore the island’s coastal trails. At just seven miles long, it’s hard to get lost on Jekyll. 

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources on a Park Ranger Walk. Walk down a historic trail through one of the island’s most diverse habitats viewing Jekyll Island’s active bald eagle nest. On tour with Jekyll Island Conservation staff, learn the trail’s history, identify unique vegetation communities, and see examples of active wildlife research efforts.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Jekyll’s southern tip, the Wanderer Memory Trail is a new educational experience on Jekyll Island that tells the story of America’s last known slave ship, the Wanderer. The trail is located along the banks of the Jekyll River where the ship illegally came ashore 160 years ago with more than 500 enslaved Africans. Made up of individual exhibits, the trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship. Visitors of all ages will follow Umwalla’s journey from capture through freedom told through interactive exhibits along the trail.

Marshes of Glynn, Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)