The Best Things To Do On Georgia's Tybee Island

Enjoy a refreshing and unpretentious getaway in this historic beach town.

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Tybee Island

Courtesy of Visit Savannah

Traveling east from Savannah and following the Savannah River’s South Channel toward the Atlantic Ocean, the right-angle curve tells me all I need to know. If I head straight, I’ll dive, head first, into the ocean. But if I turn right, I arrive in a world of bare feet, sandy beaches, and three-scoop ice cream cones. As a child who only knew the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, I was overjoyed to know that a mere four hours in the car would bring me to the ocean’s edge. 

Decades later, the island mystique hasn’t changed much. As I drive past Fort Pulaski and the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, Tybee Island, known as “Savannah’s Beach” inches closer. Many times, I bypass historic Savannah, knowing a day-trip is inevitable, and make a beeline to the island that tempts everyone with a day at the beach.

A barrier island along the Georgia coast, Tybee Island is small yet mighty with its beautiful beaches, deep-rooted history, and local shops. With three miles of beaches, the island offers a refreshing and unpretentious getaway.

Tybee Lighthouse and Museum

Courtesy of Visit Savannah

What To Do On Tybee

Between Savannah and Tybee, Cockspur Island is home to Fort Pulaski National Monument. The site of the first use of rifled artillery in military history, demonstrations of cannon firings take place throughout the year.

On the island’s southeastern tip sits its stately lighthouse. Only accessible during low tide, Cockspur Island Lighthouse is tiny compared to most lighthouses but decorates the channel with a dignified presence. Its service ended in 1909, and the lighthouse is now preserved by the National Park Service. Though you can't go inside, you can still observe its maritime beauty from afar.

North Beach is family friendly with calmer waves yet plenty of shells and sand. Not as jam-packed as popular South Beach, North Beach is home to the Tybee Marine Science Center that educates visitors about marine life and protects the smallest of creatures, the nesting turtles. Next door, ramble through Fort Screven, a coastal artillery fort that played an important role in America’s defense. Across the way is the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, an idyllic collection of cottages with a classic striped lighthouse at their center, all enveloped by a white picket fence. Built in 1736 and considered the state’s tallest, the lighthouse is a hefty climb at 178 steps. Catch your breath in the museum and gift shop.

Discover the lure of Tybee’s Back River with Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures or Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours. Make it a solo trip on a kayak along the marsh waterways or a fast-paced jet ski tour through Dolphin Bay with Tybee Jet Ski and Watersports

On South Beach, the epicenter of the island’s activity, build sandcastles or search for seashells. Take a walk on the iconic pier to fish or people watch.

Punctuate the day with a Back River Beach sunset, one of the island’s best kept secrets. The view of Little Tybee Island from the beach is breathtaking, and the possibility of seeing dancing dolphin silhouettes in the setting sun is even more tantalizing.

Tybean Coffee

Courtesy of Visit Savannah

Where to Eat

Start with an icon, The Crab Shack, “where the elite eat in their bare feet.” As long as there’s been a trip to Tybee Island, there’s been a meal at The Crab Shack. Originally Chimney Creek Fishing Camp, the shack was born with a table here and there, for a few days a week. Choose waterside views of the marsh next to the ever-lively baby gator lagoon and feast at a table overflowing with Low Country Boil. 

While visiting the light station and Fort Screven, dine at North Beach Bar and Grill, a fun shack by the sea serving eclectic fusion dishes. More Caribbean hotspot than Georgia grill, this hideaway serves dishes with jerk spicing as well as the ubiquitous beach meal-on-the-go, the hot dog. 

Sandy toes at dinner confirms island time. Dine on the sand, underneath the orange and blue umbrellas at The Deck Bar and Kitchen, the island’s only beachfront dining spot. Located in the Beachside Colony Resort, The Deck serves fresh seafood including fish street tacos complemented by Georgia craft beers, frozen drinks, and fruity cocktails.

Launch your island morning with an espresso or cold brew from Tybean Coffee Bar, serving Georgia’s own Dancing Goats coffee. An online shop allows ordering ahead. For an extra kick to begin your day, try their Spicy Mocha with chili powder and cayenne.

Stepping outside the routine cuisine box is always entertaining. Sea Wolf Tybee serves crazy good cocktails like the Recombobulator. Add Va Va Voom Oysters or gourmet hot dogs made with Australian Wagyu. There’s nothing ordinary about this island joint.

Kids at Tybee Island

Courtesy of Visit Savannah

Where to Stay

Although Tybee Island is one of Georgia’s lesser-known barrier islands, those that know its charm have made it home. Notable celebrities like John Mellencamp, Sandra Bullock, and writer Mary Kay Andrews treasured its quiet charm and slow pace and purchased properties.

A native Georgian, Andrews shares her slice of heaven with two properties—The Breeze Inn and Ebbtide—available for rent through Mermaid Cottages. Both are beautifully restored and oozing with coastal charm and flair. And since they're each just steps from the beach, they're ideal for families or large gatherings.

A multitude of private homes are available for rent with various island rental agencies. No matter where you stay, reservations should be made well in advance. If a bed and breakfast better suits your needs, the charm of The Tybee Island Inn on North Beach combines luxury with style. 

Check out the sandstone-and-mint-edged Atlantis Inn, a quirky 1950s-era beach motel where no two rooms are alike. Within walking distance from the beach, it’s located on South Beach near Tybee Beach Pier and Pavilion on a blocs that is jam-packed with little stores to purchase all your beach day essentials.

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