Wednesday, May 01, 2024

What to see and do on Tybee Island: Our Top Tips for a Fun-Filled Family Vacation

Tybee Island, located just off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, is a charming barrier island known for its pristine sandy beaches, historic sites, and laid-back atmosphere. Whether you're seeking a relaxing beach getaway, outdoor adventures, or a taste of local culture, we recommend visiting Tybee Island. This barrier island has something for everyone. Tybee Island promises a memorable experience for visitors of all ages. Check out our recommendations for visiting Tybee Island and making the most out of your experience. 

Tybee Island Pictures

Practical Tips for Visiting Tybee Island, Georgia

Before you head out, here are some practical tips to help you make the most out of your visit. As you plan your trip to Tybee Island, be sure to consider the best time to visit for your tastes to make the most of your experience. The spring and fall months offer the most mild and pleasant temperatures in the 70's. Hurricane season starts around August and peaks in September and October. It rains the most in the summer months. And summers are hot! Know what the temperatures and weather patterns are like in the season you wish to visit Tybee Island so you can be prepared!

We visited in July, so our experience with the weather was hot, hot, hot. Since we were there in the heart of summer, we also learned summer equals bugs! Don't forget to pack sunscreen and bug spray, a hat, and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated under the Tybee Island sun. Every time we took a step out the door, we applied bug spray and if we were going to be in the mid-day or afternoon sun, the sunscreen was added liberally. It really only rained twice during our stay, but it really down poured for an hour or two. Then all was clear again.

Whatever you prefer, a bustling summer atmosphere or a quieter off-season getaway, there are accommodation options on Tybee Island to suit every traveler's needs. Whether you're looking for a luxurious beachfront condo, a relaxing home or, like us, a restful campground, you'll find it on Tybee Island. There are so many options for finding the perfect place to rest and recharge during your stay. 

We took the camper with us and stayed at River's End Campground. This campground is ideally located with flat sites. We had a premium site which was back away from the road. All of the sites were packed gravel with a few trees (minimal shade). There's a heated pool and it was walking distance to a beach on the north side of the island with the fewest people. A couple weekday evenings, we had the beach all to ourselves. 

If you're bringing your own vehicle, getting to Tybee Island is as easy as following your GPS and crossing a few bridges. Once you're there, you'll find parking, with metered spaces, permit pass spots, and free lots available. There are several places with golfcart rentals that have permits to park in the permitted areas as an option as well. During the weekday, parking isn't much of a problem. You'll just need a little patience for finding a great spot. However, weekend parking can become much more difficult to find. Once you are settled into the area of the island you are staying in, a bicycle ride around the island would afford an easy way to get from place to place without worrying about parking. Also, if you stay at the campground, check with them about purchasing a parking permit. Sometimes they have them available.

We rented a golf cart for part of our stay. Be advised that there are highways (like HWY 80) that golfcarts are not permitted on. We recommend taking a picture of a map (one was hanging on the wall at the golfcart rental store we used) so that you can refer to it while planning your route. And be sure to ask for clarification about where you can cross and which roads not to take the golfcart out on. Also, the island is moving toward electric powered golf carts, so if you have the option between electric and gas, go with electric.

Now let's talk about the Tybee Island Beaches!

With miles of sandy shores and crystal-clear waters, Tybee Island is a beach lover's paradise. Whether you're into swimming, sunbathing, shoreline walks, or surfing, there's something for everyone. On the east side of the island, you'll find the pier and public beach access area. This is the most packed part of the island. Get here early to find a parking spot.

Tybee Island Pier

The north side of the island has the least crowds and with a little walking you can find a more private area. This is where we spent most of our beach evenings. 

Tybee Island beach

The beaches offer lots of glimpses of wildlife. There are sea turtles nesting and hatching, dolphins playing just offshore, starfish, lots of crabs scurrying around, and fish of course. If you are into collecting, we found lots of shells, and I even found a shark tooth!

History and Culture of Tybee Island

Steeped in history, Tybee Island has seen its fair share of pirates, soldiers, and beach-loving tourists over the years. From its iconic Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum with panoramic views to its charming beach cottages and old Fort Screven, the island's culture reflects a unique blend of past and present, making it a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered.

The Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum stands as a beacon of history and maritime heritage, guiding ships along the Georgia coast for over two centuries. From its humble origins to its enduring presence today, this iconic structure has witnessed a myriad of events and transformations that reflect the evolution of navigation and preservation efforts. The lighthouse was constructed in 1736, making it one of the oldest lighthouses in the United States. Designed in the classic colonial style, the lighthouse stands at 154 feet tall and has a distinct octagonal shape. There is a small parking lot that you may park in for free with your ticket for visiting the lighthouse and museum. On the grounds are buildings with information and a movie. You are permitted to walk the grounds and go up and out on the walkway of the lighthouse. The views from here are splendid.

Tybee Island lighthouse

Another historic attraction on Tybee Island is Fort Screven. Built in the late 19th century as a response to the Spanish-American War, this historic fortress boasts a rich military history and stunning architecture. You can take a leisurely stroll through the fort or admire the views from atop its roof. The ticket for the fort is included with your lighthouse admission. For our family, this wasn't really something that we'd say is a must see, but there was lots of historical information inside. The outside was more impressive than the inside (it was rather dank and damp).

Fort Screvens, Tybee Island

I would be remiss in not mentioning that just off the island onto its own island is Fort Pulaski. Fort Pulaski holds a significant place in American history for its role in the Civil War. This imposing brick fortress, named after Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski, stands as a testament to military engineering and strategic warfare. From the siege and battle that tested its defenses to the ongoing preservation efforts that ensure its legacy endures, Fort Pulaski remains a compelling destination. There was so much to see here. We were especially excited about the fig trees, planted during the fort's encampment (You are allowed to pick ripe figs from it, which are delicious.) Another treat was finding the soldier graffiti still seen on the walls. The boys were also delighted to see fish jumping over the water in the moat. And Fort Pulaski has a junior ranger program, so the boys earned badges here.
Fort Pulaski, Georgia

Unique Water Activities on Tybee Island

Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at kayaking, paddleboarding, jet skiing, or take a boat tour  - the possibilities are endless! There are so many options. You can even take surf lessons. An especially unique experience is one of the boat tours available takes you to an island to look for shark teeth fossils. 

We took a kayak tour out to see the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, built in 1855 to guide ships safely through the winding waters of the Savannah River, this little lighthouse has certainly seen its fair share of action over the years from Civil War battles to hurricanes. No one is permitted on the island, but you can paddle up to it. Be sure to have strong kayakers as the wind can pick up and the water gets choppy very fast. I struggled to move very fast as the water got more difficult to navigate. Dolphin sightings are very common on kayak and boat tours. We didn't see any up close, but there were several out a bit farther.

Conservation and Nature 

Explore Tybee Island's natural beauty in a sustainable way by opting for eco-friendly activities and tours. Kayak through the marshes, go birdwatching to spot local species, bike and explore the quiet marshes, join a guided nature walk, participating in beach clean-ups, or make your way at low tide to a Tybee Beach Ecology Tour.

Another possibility is visiting the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. This is a small center, but there's interesting information about sea turtles and is a memorable stop for us. There was a fossil room, interactive tanks, and a beautiful view. 

Sea Turtle from Tybee Island Science Center

Top Restaurants and Eateries in Tybee Island

When it comes to dining on Tybee Island, you're in for a treat. From fresh seafood shacks to cozy cafes, there's a culinary experience for every taste bud. If you don't have any special dietary restrictions, don't leave Tybee Island without trying some of the local specialties. Sink your teeth into a classic Low Country Boil, savor the fresh flavors of shrimp and grits, or indulge in a slice of key lime pie for a sweet Southern finish to your meal.

Some top restaurant recommendations include The Crab Shack for a casual seafood feast with a deep south feel and A-J's Dockside Restaurant for waterfront dining with a view. We chose to eat at Pier 16 on the top deck one evening and for our other meals we made a run to the local grocery and ate at the campsite.  

Hit the Unique Shops
Tybee Island shopping is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by those seeking one-of-a-kind treasures. From eclectic boutique shops to charming souvenir stores, this quirky island offers a plethora of unique finds that are sure to delight any shopper's heart. Whether you're searching for handmade jewelry, funky home decor, or locally crafted art pieces, Tybee Island has it all. 

On the north side of the island, you can stroll along the shopping shanties at 1213 HWY 80. These shops offer a unique experience and just walking along the decks and porches is fun and gives you a tropical feel. Just a few doors down is Seaside Sisters and there is a small, local artisan gallery, Tybee Cottage Art Gallery, next door with some really beautiful pieces. Every store feels like a treasure trove waiting to be explored.

Ship photo booth

On the east side of the island, you'll find bustling Tybrisa Street lined with colorful storefronts and friendly vendors. You'll soon find yourself getting lost in a sea of whimsical trinkets and must-have souvenirs. For a real ocean themed items, we loved the Seagulls Outdoors shop for beach themed decor. And they have the best band aids!

Shells playing cards

A day on Tybee Island
Our typical schedule on Tybee Island looked like this: After breakfast, head out and explore one of the historical sites or nature stops, shop, or go to another attraction on the island or in Savannah. Break for lunch. Take a ride on the golf cart or relax in the air conditioning. Get our swimsuits on and have dinner. Then head to the beach. After the beach, rinse off, have dessert, and finish the night in the pool. Then we put that on repeat for 5 days.

Tybee Island beach at sunset

Next time we make it to Tybee Island, we plan to do one of the Tybee Beach Ecology Tours, take a tour out to hunt for shark teeth fossils, participate in one of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center programs, and rent a jet ski to zoom around out on the water!

As you prepare to depart for your sun-soaked vacation on this coastal paradise, keep these tips in mind for a great family vacation. Enjoy the memories you'll make and the experiences you'll enjoy listening to the sound of waves crashing on the beach, the taste of freshly caught seafood, or the warmth of the sun on your skin, Tybee Island leaves a lasting impression on all who visit.  

alligator at Tybee Island Science Center

Have you been to Tybee Island? What were the highlights for you?

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