Story and photos by Hope S. Philbrick
Despite having lived in Georgia for over ten years, I recently visited Tybee Island, about a four-hour drive from where I live in Atlanta, for the very first time. Upon arriving I realized two things: I should have visited much sooner and I’ll definitely come back.
Located only eighteen miles east of Savannah, Tybee Island is about twenty-two square miles in size and boasts a beach that’s three miles long. The beach is definitely the main attraction: it’s wide, sandy and remarkably clean. The stretch of beach near where I was lodging was routinely kissed by soft waves. It was exactly the sort of view that inspired long gazes and spontaneous sighs.
With toes firmly squished into the sand, the appeal of a wide beach quickly became clear. Here it’s possible to stretch out a beach towel without overlapping one belonging to some stranger. It didn’t feel crowded, even though there were many people enjoying the beach—folks power-walking, collecting shells, lounging under umbrellas, wading into the water, digging up clams, constructing sand castles, playing Frisbee and volleyball, soaking up rays, watching container ships sail by, socializing with friends, jogging with dogs, and strolling hand-in-hand.
Tybee Island is eclectic in terms of its people and its available accommodation options. “Visitors of any color, any age are welcome,” says Stacye Jarrell, owner of Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, LLC. As she speaks, it’s clear this south-Georgia native loves Tybee Island and that she’s eager to share the island with others. Since purchasing her first beach house in the late 1970s, Jarrell has hosted a wide range of visitors and groups, from family reunions to single travelers, corporate retreats to club meetings as well as vacation getaways for couples, friends and individuals. Her company currently represents eighty-five rental properties; the portfolio includes condominiums, town homes and single-family homes ranging from one to seven bedrooms. “I specialize in the bigger stuff,” says Jarrell, whose homes boast luxurious designs and thoughtful amenities. Several of her homes feature elevators to ensure easy access for elderly or handicapped guests. Many are pet friendly.
“We’re a series of neighborhoods,” Jarrell says of Tybee Island while driving me through clusters of homes mingled with town homes, condos, apartments and small businesses. Some neighborhoods face the ocean, others the Savannah River or tidal salt marsh. Some neighborhoods feature quaint cottages, others traditional homes and still others contemporary mansions. What you won’t see on Tybee Island are high-rises, since there’s a thirty-five-foot building height restriction—that, plus the many buildings that hail from the 1920s era, contributes to the island’s relaxed retro vibe. With so many housing options, Jarrell says that she and the Oceanfront Cottage Rentals staff routinely help visitors select the property that best suits their needs.
During my visit I stayed in Villa by the Sea, a mansion with five bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, gourmet kitchen and expansive living space. The house sleeps up to fourteen guests and was beyond the basic needs of our small party of three, but we readily welcomed the chance to live regally for a long weekend. In addition to private beach access and fabulous views, the house has multiple jaccuzzi bathtubs, an outdoor hot tub, outdoor pool and award-winning gardens. The upstairs master suite includes a huge walk-in closet, private balcony, fireplace and more—but my favorite surprise feature was the ceiling. A special glow-in-the-dark paint treatment done in a celestial pattern gave me the chance to “sleep under the stars” without having to leave the cushy comfort of a plush king-sized bed.
The kitchen was a cook’s dream, with double ovens, counterspace galore and a double-door stainless-steel refrigerator. But when on vacation I prefer to dine out. Tybee Island’s restaurants showcase Coastal Americana Cuisine. Seafood is the star on most menus, with options like shrimp, grouper, snapper and other fresh-caught fish available broiled, baked or fried. Crab is popularly transformed into tasty cakes and stews. Traditional lowcountry dishes like shrimp and grits and lowcountry boil are readily available. Even if you don’t feel like cooking there’s no need to go hungry. (Scroll down for a list of my favorite restaurant discoveries.)
There are hotels and camping sites on Tybee Island, but among the perks of renting a beach house is the chance to experience luxurious privacy and the opportunity to set your own pace—so sleep late if you want to, because you won’t hear strangers banging around in the room on the other side of the wall. And while Tybee Island boasts historic sites, music venues, water sports and many enticing entertainment options (scroll down for a list of some recommendations), it seems best suited for the simplest of vacation pleasures: The chance to unwind and exhale a satisfied ahhhhhhh.
If You Go
Summer is typically the busiest season for Tybee Island tourism. Fall and spring are usually less popular. The south end of the island is more commercial than the north end.
Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, LLC
Pricing varies by property, season and amenities. Sample pricing for weekly rentals include $1,000 for a one-bedroom condo with a pool and $6,350 for a beach house that sleeps 16 to 18 people. A minimal three-night stay may be required.
1315 Chatham Ave.
Excellent fresh seafood, pleasant servers and fun ambiance make this a great island dining choice. Don’t miss the crab stew.
Old US Highway 80
Enjoy fresh seafood alongside creative margaritas. To enjoy the breeze and the best marsh views, choose a table on the upstairs balcony (weather permitting).
40 Estill Hammock Rd.
Roll up your sleeves and peel yummy shrimp, crawfish and more at this lowcountry boil hotspot.
The Sugar Shack
301 First Street
Cool down with ice cream treats priced from $2.25 and up.
304 First Street
Yummy fish tacos, fried green tomatoes, fresh seafood and more are on the lunch and dinner menus, Monday through Saturday.
BONUS DINING TIP: While driving through Savannah on your way to and/or from Tybee Island, be sure to stop at Wiley’s Championship BBQ on Highway 80. This fabulous barbecue is served with excellent side dishes and is simply too good to miss. For details call 912.201.3259 or visit www.wileyschampionshipbbq.com.
Atlantic Beacon Gallery
1604 Butler Avenue
Shop at this boutique that specializes in works by over 100 local and regional artists.
Captain Mike’s Dolphin Adventure
1 Old US Highway 80
800.242.0166 or 912.786.5848
Observe bottlenose dolphin in their natural habitat aboard an hour-long cruise. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children; sunset cruises an additional $3 per person.
Tim’s Beach Gear
Rent what you need to enjoy the beach, from chairs to bocce ball sets, strollers to bikes.
Tybee Island Lighthouse and Museum
30 Meddin Ave
Tour the five-acre site that’s home to one of the nation’s most intact light stations, as it includes all the historic support buildings. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children. Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Tuesdays and some holidays.
Tybee Jet Ski & Watersports
1 Old Tybee Rd., US 80
Rent a waverunner for $79 an hour and up. Parasailing and kite boarding are also popular.
Tybee Island Tourism Council
Top photo: Villa by the Sea is one of 85 rental properties available through Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, LLC
Hope S. Philbrick is a freelance writer because she doesn’t think work and fun should be mutually exclusive. For more of Hope’s writing on food, wine and travel visit her blog at www.insathope.blogspot.com.