Tybee island is a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Even though it is an island, there is no need to take a ferry to escape the mainland to enjoy this funky, tranquil gem. I spent a week here in February of 2023 and I was surprised in many ways. I love Savannah Georgia. I stop in Savannah anytime I am on a road trip to Florida. When my son lived in Miami it was at least an annual trip. Every time I traveled to Savannah, I knew there was a beach close by but it always seemed just too far out of the way. Tybee Island is about a 25-minute ride from Savannah but it is so worth the extra time to get there. Having Tybee Island as the base camp for my trip was truly enjoyable as it was easy to park, walk almost anywhere and had lots of things to explore.
Here is what are the 6 surprises I found at Tybee Island:
- Sunrise perfection. My place was about a half mile walk to the beach. After my initial morning of navigating a private neighborhood with my dog, Baci, in tow, I realized that pets are not allowed on the beach and that, although there are several boardwalks to the beach, the initial few walkways were private. There was a handy bench on the boardwalk so Baci and I dutifully waited for the sunrise over the Atlantic from the boardwalk. The sun would slowly peak over the horizon as the birds seemed to be choreographed to fly through the majestic scene. Each subsequent morning, I went by myself so that I could walk on the beach. It was compelling how each morning was either a stark line across the horizon or a lavender haze seemed to envelope the sky. Clouds often created a cotton candy orange glow as the sun rose each morning. In the eight days I was there, I never failed to get up so that I could attend this spiritual rising.
- Tybee Island Lighthouse. One big surprise was that the lighthouse was about a 5-minute walk to the public beach on the north end of the island. So, my daily sojourn to the sunrise brought terrific views of the lighted sentinel from the beach. The lighthouse was first ordered in1732 by the Governor of the Georgia colony as boats sought to make a safe entrance into the Savannah River. It also has a First Order Fresnel Lens. It’s part of what would later be Fort Screven which was a military post during the Spanish American war. So, the lighthouse, the batteries of Fort Screven, the Atlantic Ocean and the Savannah River all converge on the north tip of the island amongst quaint summer cottages.
- Eclectic neighborhoods. Many of the homes I walked by each morning had a bohemian, down home charm about them. There would be painted buoys hanging in the trees, pink flamingos standing guard next to statues of unicorns, alligators and dragons. The neighborhood’s tiny library had a red roof (like the base of the lighthouse) and was surrounded by a pile of oyster shells. Mismatched painted fences, sea turtle signs, narrow meandering gravel streets and flip flops as door handles created a funky artistic vibe. This is not a pristine manicured resort that is found at Hilton Head. This is a one of a kind artistic mix and you never know what you will spy around the next corner.
- Joints and Shacks. The selection of restaurants in Tybee is definitely slanted towards seafood and dock/beach/marsh-side dining. This proved to be somewhat difficult for a vegetarian so I ended up having some great seafood at several spots. I never saw a McDonalds or Starbucks in my week at Tybee. These are all mom-and-pop joints or shacks. The Crab Shack is definitely NOT some franchise. It’s a shack with most of its seating outdoors under precarious roofing, alligators in a pond out front and garbage cans in the middle of the table with a roll of paper towels for napkins. Delicious fresh seafood but you will not find a white table cloth or metal silverware anywhere. Bubba Gumbo’s is a dockside joint right off the Lazaretto Creek which is more marina than tourist destination. Just some hand painted plywood warning not to eat imported shrimp. When I parked, I almost turned around as it felt like I was invading a working marina. The table I ate at had such a slant that I am sure an egg could have rolled off without any trouble. No fluff or polish but great food.
- Cockspur Island. Cockspur island is the home of both the Cockspur Lighthouse and Fort Pulaski. It’s a National Monument and requires an entrance fee. It has several trails on the island, one of which, I took to see the Cockspur Lighthouse which, at this point, sits in the middle of the south channel of the Savannah River. It’s an easy hike and you have a view of both the Tybee Island Lighthouse and Cockspur lighthouse at trails end. Fort Pulaski was completed in 1847 and the recent West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee, was in charge to a good degree of the planning the construction. It was never fired upon by foreign invasion but played a role in the Civil War. The state of Georgia initially occupied the fort at the beginning of the war and the Union fired upon it in April 1862 and it was taken under Union control. It was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers for the rest of the war. You can still see the artillery damage on the outside of the fort and it’s completely surrounded by a moat which you don’t see often in the US.
- Savannah. The best part of staying in Tybee is that if you want to go explore Savannah, it’s less than a 30-minute drive. I love the riverfront of Savannah and its cobblestone streets and array of shops and restaurants. Even in February, there were loads of tourists on a Thursday afternoon which surprised me. On a recommendation, I took a tour of the Bonaventure Cemetery which was absolutely serene and lovely in late February with its angelic sculptures, Spanish moss and live oak trees. There were plenty of stories about those buried in its hollowed ground. I finally got to see Forsyth Park with its enormous fountain and pedestrian thoroughfares. Savannah is always worth a visit or two.
Tybee Island is a delightful, laid-back break from a hurried world. I felt like I had hit the reset button while there and enjoyed all the surprises it had to offer. Do you need a reset?