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Tybee Island: Savannah’s Sandy Eclectic Neighbor

Post image for Tybee Island: Savannah’s Sandy Eclectic Neighbor

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.

Tybee Island LighthouseTybee Island Lighthouse

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.)

AJ's DocksideAJ’s Dockside

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

KnowB4YouGo

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.

Where2Stay

Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, LLC
800.786.5889

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.
www.oceanfrontcottage.com

Where2Eat

AJ’s Dockside
1315 Chatham Ave.
912.786.9533

Excellent fresh seafood, pleasant servers and fun ambiance make this a great island dining choice. Don’t miss the crab stew.
www.ajsdocksidetybee.com

Café Loco
Old US Highway 80
912.786.7810

Enjoy fresh seafood alongside creative margaritas. To enjoy the breeze and the best marsh views, choose a table on the upstairs balcony (weather permitting).

Crab Shack
40 Estill Hammock Rd.
912.786.9857

Roll up your sleeves and peel yummy shrimp, crawfish and more at this lowcountry boil hotspot.
www.thecrabshack.com

The Sugar Shack
301 First Street
912.786.4482

Cool down with ice cream treats priced from $2.25 and up.
www.tybeesugarshack.com

Sundae Café
304 First Street
912.786.7694

Yummy fish tacos, fried green tomatoes, fresh seafood and more are on the lunch and dinner menus, Monday through Saturday.
www.sundaecafeattybee.com

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.

What2Do

Atlantic Beacon Gallery
1604 Butler Avenue
912.786.9386

Shop at this boutique that specializes in works by over 100 local and regional artists.
www.atlanticbeacongallery.com

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.
www.tybeedolphins.com

Tim’s Beach Gear
912.786.8467

Rent what you need to enjoy the beach, from chairs to bocce ball sets, strollers to bikes.
www.timsbeachgear.com

Tybee Island Lighthouse and Museum
30 Meddin Ave
912.786.4077

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.
www.tybeelighthouse.org

Tybee Jet Ski & Watersports
1 Old Tybee Rd., US 80
912.786.8062

Rent a waverunner for $79 an hour and up. Parasailing and kite boarding are also popular.
www.tybeejetski.com

4MoreInfo

Tybee Island Tourism Council
912.786.5444
www.tybeevisit.com

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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Will June 21, 2009 at 8:02 am

Our family is from Savannah and we love Tybee. We share our home with others because it is one of the largest ones on Tybee and allows large families like ours gather in one place. Tybee is such a wonderful quiet family retreat. My wife and I married on the beach near the pavilion.

Kristen June 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I love Savannah and, after reading this article, would love to check out Tybee, even just for a nice getaway weekend. Are there any accommodations that are budget-friendly? I find it hard to find anything reasonable in the area.

spence July 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Kristen – Check the Royal Palms Motel on Butler St. Old but clean, has pool, very reasonable rates.

Hope S. Philbrick March 9, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, LLC offers a range of properties at different price points. Talk to one of their agents about your specific needs and you may find just what you’re looking for. Other options abound. Visit TybeeIsland.com and TybeeVisit.com for more suggestions.

Catherine Sweeney July 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Great post. I’d love to visit Tybee one of these days.

There is a very popular restaurant in Tybee called The Breakfast Club. I’ve heard that it’s fantastic for breakfast!

Michael Vegis July 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm

My wife and I got married on Tybee Island. We rented an 8-bedroom beach house, got married in St. Michael’s Church there on the island and had the reception in the beach house’s back yard. Rehearsal Dinner was at the Crab Shack. Everything was perfect! In fact, our cat is now named “Tybee.” I’m currently the PR Director for Kiawah Island Golf Resort but I absolutely loved the wonderful rough-edges of Tybee circa 1998…

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