Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Located just 18 miles from historic Savannah, Tybee Island is positioned near the Savannah River and at the easternmost point of Georgia. It’s most known for its 145-foot-tall lighthouse, which commonly shows up on postcards and in stock images. Many beachgoers flock to Tybee to go swimming—the beach has two access points at South Beach and North Beach, and lifeguards are on duty from the beginning of May until Labor Day.
From May to October, Tybee Island is a known spot for turtle nesting. After 10 p.m., beachfront lights are turned off so leatherbacks, green sea turtles, Kemp Ridley turtles, and most commonly, Loggerheads, can lay their eggs in privacy. These turtle nests should not be disturbed, but later in this blog, I will cover the best way to see a loggerhead turtle from close range.
This post will cover the best things to do, the most popular places to eat, and the coziest and most convenient places to stay in Tybee Island, Georgia.
Tybee Island Light Station and Museum
The Tybee Island Lighthouse was originally constructed from 1732 to 1736, but the structure was destroyed and rebuilt twice due to storm damage and harsh tides. The base that stands in place in the present day was built in 1773, but in 1871, the rebuilt lighthouse aside from the base was destroyed once again by a hurricane. In 1999, the Tybee Island Lighthouse was finally restored to the glory that visitors are used to seeing today.
Visitors to the lighthouse can purchase a ticket to go inside and climb the 178 steps. After taking in the scenery, guests can visit the Tybee Island Museum, which is housed inside an 1899 military battery. The museum has more than 400 years of history including exhibits on Fort Screven, the Euchee tribe, and Tybee’s Golden Era.
Tybee Island Marine Science Center
The Tybee Island Marine Science Center offers one-of-a-kind experiences for tourists. They provide walks, talks, and treks including a Beach Walk where guests learn about wildlife, a Marsh Trek through a salt marsh, a Turtle Talk covering Tybee’s turtle nesting season, and a variety of other educational and fun opportunities.
If you’re not interested in joining a guided tour, you can make your way through the center’s Coastal Georgia Gallery, which features a variety of live animals as well as a touch tank. This center is home to Admiral, a loggerhead turtle who visitors can see up close. The exhibits provide information about sea turtles, sharks, shells, and a variety of mammals, and because the gallery changes from time to time, visitors can return when they’re in town to see what new critters are available for viewing.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Located on Cockspur Island, this fort served in the Civil War as a prisoner-of-war camp and a place where the Union Army tested the James Rifled Cannon against the Confederate in 1862. The cannon caused severe damage to the fort’s walls, causing the Confederate commander, Charles H. Olmstead, to surrender. In recent history, the fort was used in two films: The Conspirator and Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.
Fort Pulaski National Monument is open to the public for visitation, and visitors can choose to peruse the fort on their own, or take a guided tour to learn more about the monument’s history. The area also includes an indoor museum and hiking trails that allow history buffs to further understand the backstory of what occurred there.
Tybee Beach Pier (and Beaches)
I’m sure you weren’t about to visit Tybee Island without doing a little bit of swimming, were you? Many visitors to the island start by venturing out to the Tybee Pier and Pavilion—a spot with incredible views and fishing opportunities. Visiting the pier is free, though it can also be rented if you are planning a special event. From the pier, you can reach the beautiful South Beach area and take a dip in the water.
The other main access point to the water is at North Beach, which is home to many shops, restaurants, and historic attractions. In fact, it’s home to the island’s main shopping district, which includes Tybee Oaks shopping center and The Shoppes at 1207. Along with swimming, visitors have options to rent jet skis, charters, and even take surfing lessons.
Little Tybee Island
Little Tybee Island is a nature preserve that can only be accessed by water. Despite its name, it’s actually double the size of Tybee Island itself, and it’s considered to be a hidden gem of sorts to visitors of the island. There are many creative water transportation methods used to reach the preserve—some guests rent boats while others choose to rent a jet ski or a kayak.
Lovers of nature will feel right at home while visiting Little Tybee Island. It’s common for guests to spend the day bird watching, fishing, and even fossil hunting. The island is home to salt marshes as well as beaches and nature dunes.
If you’re an animal lover, Tybee Island offers numerous dolphin tours led by a slew of reputable companies. One of the companies, Capt. Mike’s Dolphin Tours, is home to several cats that lounge on the docks and live in the office for adoption. Another tour company, Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure Tour, ensures that their high horsepower engines will produce enough waves to make dolphins jump behind the boat. Regardless of which tour you choose, you’re sure to have fun viewing dolphins in their home.
Places to eat:
One of the most popular restaurants on the island is The Crab Shack, which features an alligator lagoon and exotic birds as well as an abundance of menu items ranging from crab legs, boils, shrimp, and chicken. Coco’s Sunset Grille is another great dining location, offering sunset views over the marsh, a large seafood menu, and a variety of alcoholic beverages.
Bubba Gumbo’s is housed in a 1940’s building with an indoor and outdoor dining room. Along with classic seafood options, this eatery also serves burgers, chicken strips, and fresh salads. For dessert, many locals head over to Paradise Snow Cone and Fresh Squeezed Lemonade with Beach Treats. A great option for families with children, this eatery sells toys and has games to play.
Where to stay:
The DeSoto Beach Hotel is located on the beach in Tybee Island. It offers beach umbrellas for patrons to rent, an outdoor pool, and an arcade for families.
Hotel Tybee is also close to the beach as well as the pier and tons of shopping locations. Great for couples, it has a poolside bar and two outdoor pools.
The Sea and Breeze Hotel is the most economical option on this list, but it’s still located just minutes away from the beach. This hotel includes a restaurant and three beach bars.
Tybee Island may be a small beach town, but that’s a part of what makes it charming. It offers what many people are searching for in a vacation, from beautiful beaches and historic landmarks to shopping retailers and local seafood restaurants. With all of these factors and more, there is sure to be something for every member of the family to do on Tybee Island.
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