Savannah and Tybee Island, make up one of the most beautiful, artistic, delicious, and historic vacation destinations in the south – or the United States, for that matter. Located on the coast of Georgia, only a 45-minute drive south of Hilton Head Island, a 2-hour drive south of Charleston, South Carolina, or a 2-hour drive north of Jacksonville, Florida, it’s a great spot to include as a stopover or destination for your Lowcountry coastal vacation.
Friends often contact me to ask for recommendations for “oceanfront accommodations” in Savannah. While the beautiful downtown area of Savannah is located on a gorgeous and historic riverfront (the city itself is separated from South Carolina by the Savannah River) it is not actually located oceanfront.
“But, it’s a coastal city!” you say.
Yes, you are correct. It is a well-known “coastal city” – but in order to enjoy the actual “Savannah beach”, you will need to drive about 17 miles from Downtown Savannah to Tybee Island, a small barrier island and city known for its wide, sandy beaches with a pier and pavilion.
Before you visit this area, consider the goal of your vacation…
First, are you traveling with kids? This could make a difference in how you choose to explore this area. I recommend that you take into account what all is involved in summer-time exploring with kids as you choose the type of trip you want to plan for the Savannah/Tybee Island area.
Next, is the goal of this vacation to spend most of your time touring the Downtown area of Savannah, with its beautiful riverfront district, historic parks/squares, homes, dining opportunities, antique and eclectic shops, and art galleries (because Savannah is home to SCAD – the famous Savannah College of Art and Design)?
Or, is it to enjoy a very laid-back, no-frills, beach vacation, and take a side trip or two to Savannah?
If it’s the latter, a beach vacation, then I suggest you opt for accommodations and activities on Tybee Island. If this is your choice, I have a few favorites and suggestions to offer.
Things to Do & See on Tybee Island
The main thing to enjoy on Tybee Island is the beach. Load up your cooler, sand buckets, shovels, umbrellas, and flip flops and then head over to the beautiful beach for a day in the sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen and a good book, and perhaps some binoculars to watch the large ships from your beach chair, as they travel back and forth to the port of Savannah hauling their cargo across the ocean and rivers.
Historical Sites On or Near Tybee Island
If history is your thing, get ready to enjoy a visit to Fort Pulaski National Monument off U.S. Highway 80 on Cockspur Island, about 10 minutes west of Tybee Island. Outdoor activities here include hiking (there’s a 3/4 mile trail to an overlook of the Cockspur Island Lighthouse), biking, bird-watching, and fishing (you must have a valid Georgia fishing license). Exhibits inside the Visitor Center highlight General David Hunter and Robert E. Lee and you can learn about the construction of Fort Pulaski and the signifigance of the battle for Fort Pulaski in April 1862. Arrange a guided fort tour and/or a ranger program if time permits.
Head to the north end of the island to climb to the top of Tybee Island Lighthouse and museum, and explore Fort Screven. Located just next to the lighthouse, North Beach is also a very nice, calm beach with small waves – great for kids. Use the changing areas and restrooms open to the public, and walk up off the beach right into North Beach Grill if you’re hungry for food and occasional entertainment. You will have to pay for parking, most of the time. Also, the Tybee Pier and Pavilion hails not too far away but closer to the southern end of the island. It’s a fun place to visit, relax, and watch or partake in the fishing scene.
Outdoor Activities on Tybee Island
One of my favorite things to do on Tybee, besides enjoying the beach, involves taking time to explore the entire island. We rent bikes for the duration of our trip from a company that delivers and collects them directly to and from our door. The island is small enough that you can bike all over it, and we do!
If you’re looking for other outdoor activities, explore the beauty of Tybee Island via kayak or canoe. You may even see dolphins and porpoises! Arrange a fishing excursion, or an adventurous outing waterskiing, jet-skiing, surfing, wind-surfing, and kite-surfing. Eco tours are also available. Do your research and choose a reputable outfitter who has a strong respect for protecting the natural environment of the land and waterways.
Where to Eat on Tybee Island
There are several restaurants on the island that have gotten great reviews, but I’m always comfortable recommending only the ones at which I’ve eaten. These were all good, with plenty of fresh seafood and land-lubber choices.
A-J’s Dockside Restaurant
I would classify A-J’s as your typical seafood beach “dive” – but a fabulous one! Dine on the deck overlooking Tybee Island’s beautiful Back River, enjoy friendly service, and choose from an extensive menu and a full bar. This is the place to go and enjoy the amazing sunset over a leisurely, casual, relaxing meal with friends. I recommend the fried shrimp, a cold drink, and the live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings. You can even rent kayaks and paddle boards here. Perfect.
The Crab Shack
Their slogan is “Where the elite eat in their bare feet”, and that’s a pretty good description. Worthy of your elite diners with discriminating palates, and casual enough for the rest of us, The Crab Shack is often voted “Best of Savannah” by locals and tourists.
When you ask just about anyone where to dine in the Savannah region, you’ll normally hear this as one of their first mentions. Crab, shrimp, oysters, ribs, and more – they’ve got it – all that and a never-ending party too!
MacElwees Seafood House
We just happened upon this spot for dinner one evening when we were early for a wedding and needed a bite to eat. Located just off the main highway, just before you turn onto the main street on the island, we were a little concerned because there weren’t many people there and we didn’t have to wait at all for a table.
It turns out, however, that we had just barely beat the evening crowds, because the wait soon got much longer. We truly enjoyed our meal in this small and casual restaurant which has been on the island since 1982. They offer traditional island favorites, cooked to order. The food was fresh and delicious, and we were served by a really sweet waitress, too.
Where to Stay on Tybee Island
Instead of high-rise condos and ritzy resorts, Tybee Island has elected to retain its “shabby chic” style and refurbish the quaint cottages and beach houses that have been around weathering the storms of time for decades.
The result is not only the relaxing, laid-back atmosphere of the island and affordable choices, but also the fact that you won’t be finding your typical resort with olympic-sized pools, lazy rivers and spas on the island. Here are a few of my favorite choices for kicking back at the end of a salty and sandy Tybee Island day.
The Mermaid Cottages
By far my favorite choice for Tybee Island accommodations are The Mermaid Cottages. They’re a slice of vintage heaven from the past! I could spend hours pouring over the photos of the beautifully renovated cottages on their website.
Each has it’s own quaint name and decor. Some pay homage to old fish camps with their rustic bead-board paneling and porches with swings or rocking chairs. Others bring back that colorful, kitschy, funky 50s/60s beach shack vibe, while others opt to create a distinctly shabby chic beach spa retreat atmosphere.
And here’s a little secret – Paula Deen even has her own beach cottage rental available, in case you’re a fan and want to check it out!
Some girlfriends and I rented the “Key Lime Parrot” for our getaway, and were very pleased with the service, cleanliness, convenience, and overall cuteness. And, if you need more space for a larger group, you could rent the precious cottage right next door to it, too – “The Shrimp”!
Beachview Bed and Breakfast
One of my best friends held her beautiful wedding reception and spent her honeymoon weekend at the gorgeous Beachview Bed and Breakfast.
It was wonderful! The owners went out of their way to make sure that everything was quite simply, perfect.
From the rooms, which were so cute and well-appointed, to the venue in which they held their reception dinner (which the owners catered), the experience and service was impeccable.
And affordable. Amazingly affordable. And romantic.
(I must disclose – it doesn’t really have a “beach view”, but is located just a short walk from the beach. They do provide beach chairs, towels, bikes, coolers, and more.)
A List of Sites for More Tybee Island Rentals
Though I can not recommend any of these because I’ve not used them myself, I wanted to provide a list of sites in which you may be able to find something that will suit your particular needs, in case the others do not. Be sure to let me know if you use any of these and how they turned out!
OCEANFRONT COTTAGE RENTALS
TYBEE ISLAND RENTALS
204 1st Street
MY BEACH HOUSE RENTALS, LLC.
TYBEE BEACH VACATION RENTALS
Don’t forget, you’re not too far from Downtown Savannah and all it has to offer. Overall, Savannah and Tybee Island provide the perfect Lowcountry southern getaway for everyone. Let me know your plans and how you end up enjoying your vacation to Georgia’s “First City” and its beautiful beach – Tybee Island!