Tybee Island may be just 18 miles from Historic Savannah, but it can feel like it’s a world away.
You may have heard it referred to as Savannah’s Beach, but the truth is — Tybee is nothing like Savannah. It has its own charms, draw, and vibe.
If your family is looking for the perfect beach vacation, then it’s time to get this Georgia barrier island on your list! Tybee Island, Georgia is a great place to explore.
The beaches are wide and wonderful, the waves are great for kids, the seafood is spectacular, and there are just the right amount of off-the-beach experiences. You know…enough to make sure you don’t get bored, but not too many that you feel guilty leaving the beach too long.
So follow our lead, and take on these relaxing and fun things to do on Tybee Island!
On Tybee Beach and In The Water
Tybee is all about the water adventures! Whether it’s relaxing on the beach, learning about sea creatures, kayaking, or paddle boarding — Tybee’s got a lot to do.
Relax at the Beach
Tybee has a great number of activities, but being on the beach is still #1!
There are so many different public beaches here, all along the sandy shores of the Atlantic. We wanted to break down what you’ll find at each one, which will be especially helpful to first-time visitors, or those who maybe want to try something different on their next visit.
Here’s a list of the beach sections you’ll find on Tybee, beginning with the first stretch of beach you’ll come to as you arrive on the island from Savannah.
Savannah River Beach
Lazaretto Creek bridge to the North Jetty
Savannah River Beach offers very gentle waves. You’re at the mouth of the Savannah River here, which offers calmer waters. We stayed at a condo on this beach and found it to be a little too calm for my crazy boys, although it would be perfect for young toddlers.
It can be tricky to get to if you aren’t staying in a condo in this area, but you can access it from North Beach. Surf lessons are often held on the Savannah River Beach-side of the North Jetty.
North Jetty to 1st Street
One of the more popular public beach entry points for this section is right across from the Tybee Lighthouse — with restrooms, vending machines, and changing areas. Don’t forget, you must pay to park almost everywhere on the island, so have your credit card handy.
Another perk of this beach is that you can see the cargo ships coming in and out of Savannah, and the water here really attracts more dolphins close to shore.
My kids love to investigate the sea life that calls the North Jetty home!
1st Street to 14th Street
This is where you’ll find most of the locals who want to escape the crowds.
“Mid Beach” is considered the beach adjacent to 1st St – 14th St. You’ll hear some folks say that it starts at The Curve. Note that they mean the curve along Hwy 80 (the main street) and not the curve of the island (that’s North Beach).
14th Street to 18th Street
At South Beach you’ll find the Tybee Pier and Pavilion, which is really fun to explore. Bring cash for your drinks! (And pack an ID in your towel bag if you want to buy something alcoholic. They’re serious here.) Don’t miss a chance to head up to the pier to see the anglers and grab a great view of the Atlantic Ocean.
There is plenty of parking here, as well as restrooms. This part of the island is also where you’ll find most of the shops and hotels, like Hotel Tybee. You’ll also find greater crowds on the beach. Still, the beaches are so wide and wonderful, you’ll never feel claustrophobic. We had no issue playing frisbee or riding the boogie boards here.
Want to surf? This is where to do it!
Back River Beach
18th Street to Back River Fishing Pier
So, South Beach runs from the end of Mid Beach (14th Street) to 18th Street. After that, you’re on what’s called the Back River Beach – my absolute favorite!
This beach curves around the bottom tip of the island, up into Tybee Creek, where you’ll find the Back River Fishing Pier.
Every time we’ve been, there were only about 5 other people there. The beaches are wide, the water laps in waves but is calm, and it feels so peaceful.
There are a few places to park, and a public restroom at the pier. You can see Little Tybee Island across the river, too!
(Side note: During low tide it looks like you can walk to Little Tybee, it’s only about a mile. DON’T DO IT. Many people are hurt each year trying this stunt. DO go visit the uninhabited island – but go by kayak or the like, not on foot!)
Take a Beach Walk with Dr. Joe
912-596-5362 | Website
There is nothing as miraculous as understanding all that you see, hear and smell at the beach you’re visiting. It makes a typical beach trip stand out among all the rest.
Tybee offers multiple ways to do that.
First, the Burton 4-H Center is outstanding! They do not offer public programming, but we went a few years ago as part of a homeschool group. I’ve never experienced something so great, so if you can wrangle a group or head there for summer camp, I highly recommend it.
Second, the Marine Science Center offers some programs, which we’ll talk about it a little bit.
But for now – we’re talking about Dr. Joe!
He offers affordable rates – even a family rate of $75 up to 5 people. For this, he’ll take you out on the beach for about 2 hours during low tide. You’ll spend most of your time down near the water line in the wet sand beachcombing, examining tidal pools, and finding live specimens to learn more about.
He even carries a 50 foot beach seine net to catch (and release) fish and other animals, making marine science really come to life for kids and adults.
Reserve your spot early – everyone loves visiting this doctor!!
Enjoy Paddle Boarding and Kayaking
Beach walks and sand play are not the only ways to explore! In fact, you can see so much more of Tybee’s flora and fauna if you get out into the waterways.
Paddle Boarding with East Coast Paddle Boarding
Multiple meet-up locations | 912-484-3200
Rent SUPs or take a guided tour with East Coast Paddle Boarding.
I wouldn’t recommend the tour for young kids because the tours are about 2-3 hours long, but it’s a great way to see Little Tybee Island or tour Horsepen Creek.
Kayaking with Sea Kayak Georgia
1102 Hwy 80 | 912-786-8732
Kayaking is an awesome way to enjoy the waterways, alone or with the kids. Sea Kayak Georgia offers tours for decked or sit-on-top kayaks, SUPs, and canoes.
You’ll find 2-hour, 4-hour, half-day, and all-day guided kayak, SUP, and canoe tours — including some to Little Tybee Island. They also have multi-day paddle tours, where you paddle and camp overnight on a nearby island. How cool is that?!
When Sue visited, she put in her kayak along the creek behind Georgia Sea Kayak. Here is her story:
Under the shade of trees, we paddled quietly through the watery path into the marsh, leaving our cares on the shore.
Tybee Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Georgia, but exploring the islands by the water is the real treat.
As the rain clouds of the morning disappeared, we found ourselves surrounded by marsh grasses. Our guide Marcia expertly navigated us past an area called Chimney Creek where we watched dolphins swim, and saw egrets flying above.
We were brought back to civilization by the drone of a speedboat motor coming from across the grassy fields where Baywatch the Movie was filming. It’s not unusual to find crews filming in Savannah or on Tybee Island.
My favorite part of our Georgia Sea Kayak trip was the paddle past oyster beds the size of football fields to a brief stop at Little Tybee Island, an undeveloped barrier island. Within five minutes on the beach, we found a softball sized jelly ball in a tidepool, lots of oyster clusters on the beach, and a few fun shells.
Be liberal with the sunscreen and wear a heat and sunglasses. The tour is three hours long and it’s difficult to get away from the sun. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of water too, as well as a snack. Each Georgia Sea Kayak tour is unique and the guide will judge your group’s ability to ensure everyone can participate. We had the tide with us most of the time, but there were a few instances, especially on the way to Little Tybee where a bit of muscle behind the paddles was needed.
Adventure on a Dolphin Tour with Captain Mike
1 Old US Hwy 80 | 912-786-5848
While you are certain to see dolphins from shore, nothing beats seeing them up close in the wild. Captain Mike’s is most often praised as the best option for this in all of Tybee.
Your must-do romantic option? One of his Sunset Cruises!! They are peaceful and beautiful no matter what time of year you go, but just know that in the fall and winter, the migratory pods leave the area, so fewer dolphins are seen during the cooler months.
His daytime dolphin tours pass Cockspur Lighthouse, Fort Pulaski, and the Tybee Lighthouse, so in addition to dolphins, you’ll see some Tybee history, too.
For those who adore deep sea fishing, we also recommend Captain Mike. He calls Lazaretto Creek Marina home, which is the closest one to the ocean, so there is less time spent traveling to the fishing grounds. His 32-foot cabin cruisers can carry you and five of your closest friends.
Explore the Island
There’s more to see on Tybee Island than just water! Check out these excursions your family will love.
Tybee Lighthouse and Lighthouse Museum
30 Meddin Dr | 912-786-5801
Did you know Tybee Island Light Station is the oldest and the tallest lighthouse in the state?! 178 steps!
You can climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse for fantastic views of the Savannah River. (We were on top when we took the title photo at the top of this article.) In fact, sometimes you can see Hilton Head!
The light station was first erected on orders of General Oglethorpe, with construction occurring in 1736. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America’s most intact light stations, having all of its historic support buildings on its three-acre site — and it currently holds its 1916 day mark.
Your ticket also offers the ability to see an 1899 Military Battery that houses the Tybee Island Museum. Exhibits cover the time of the Euchee Tribe, the history of Fort Screven, Tybee’s Golden Era and more.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
US-80 | 912-786-8182
Fort Pulaski is part of the National Park Service. You’ll find it on Cockspur Island, which is on the way to Tybee Island from Savannah.
Prior to the Civil War, President Madison declared he wanted fortification for the coast. Pulaski was to be Savannah’s protection. Construction was completed under the watchful eye of then West Point graduate and Second Lieutenant Robert E. Lee.
Yes – that Robert E. Lee.
Another fun fact?
In 1862, during the American Civil War, the Union Army successfully tested rifled cannons in combat, which rendered brick fortifications obsolete. That’s a pretty big deal…
We loved climbing to the top of the fort, seeing the period “characters” talk about loading cannons, and imagining what it was like to raise the drawbridge on the moat! My kids love exploring the “tunnels” around the fort — they’re really amazing.
If you have time, take a walk out on the nature trail to the Cockspur Lighthouse. The lighthouse is closed for entry, but it is still a beautiful site to behold.
Insider Tip: Your kids can be a Junior Ranger here! Pick up a handbook at the visitor center, then after completing the activities, your kids will earn a certificate and badge.
Tybee Island Marine Science Center
37 Meddin Drive | 912-786-5917
NOTE: The Science Center has moved to a brand new facility on Meddin Drive! As part of their phased reopening, starting Thursday, February 18, 2021 the Gift Shop will be open Thursday through Sunday, 10am-4pm. In addition to shopping, visitors can also enjoy the spectacular views from their Ship Watch Loft and Amphitheater.
The West Gallery will open on Thursday, March 25th, followed by the East Gallery, Sea Turtle Workshop and Open Air Classroom and Gallery, opening Saturday, May 1st. More info can be found here.
The Marine Science Center provides year-round programs for island visitors and groups on the beach, in the marsh, on the water, in the classroom, and at their Coastal Georgia Gallery.
The hope is to instill in kids and adults alike an attitude of responsible stewardship of coastal Georgia’s natural resources.
You can see a few marine animals in the Gallery, but the real value is in talking with the staff. There are several programs here, including Turtle Talks where everyone can learn about the species and what we can do to protect them.
Don’t miss other programs, too, like the daily Sift ‘n’ Seine Program where guests pull a 10-ft seine net through waist-deep water. You might catch pompanos, sea jellies, or crabs, and afterward you’ll explore the marine life by sifting various organisms from the wet sand on the beach.
There are marsh treks, beach walks, and so much more that you won’t want to miss!
Insider Tip: The calendar isn’t posted online *that I could find* so call ahead and find out the program times. There are several a day, and you’ll want to work at least one into your schedule when you visit!
Tim’s Bike and Beach Gear
1101 US-80 | 912-786-8467
Tybee is an excellent place for bike riding! If you didn’t bring your bike, no worries. You can rent them from Tim’s Bike and Beach Gear. They offer adult and kiddo bikes, trailers, pull-behinds, and even tandem bikes! And each one comes with a helmet and cup holder. Rent them by the day or by the week.
They can also hook you up with beach and baby gear, which is cool. Beach carts, umbrellas, chairs, even a Bocce ball set! If you’re flying in with a baby, check here for cribs, high chairs, joggers, and other necessities.
Where to Eat and Shop
Yummy seafood, amazing views, and shopping too! Tybee has it all.
The Crab Shack
40 Estill Hammock Rd | 912-786-9857
The Crab Shack is a bit off the beaten path if going by car, but along the main drag by boat.
The Crab Shack definitely has the quirkiness of a shack, but it’s actually a pretty big complex with entertainment, as well as delicious food. We sat outside on the deck and enjoyed flavorful fresh shrimp, both steamed and in a refreshing shrimp salad, as well as relaxing marsh views.
If you can, you want to get a table outside at dusk. The lights strung around the live oaks begin to twinkle, but you can still see views of the marsh. With a pile of crab on your plate and a rum drink in hand, it doesn’t get much better.
Afterward we took a look at the gators that live on property. We purchased a few bags of gator food and fed them with long poles, which made the boys whoop with delight!
Is it a little touristy? Maybe. But it is definitely worth the stop again and again.
The Deck Beach Bar and Kitchen
404 Butler Ave | 912-328-5397
The Deck sits inside Beachside Colony Resort, but please don’t let that stop you from visiting; it’s not just for the resort guests. You’ll want to visit when it’s still light outside so you can catch the gorgeous beachfront views.
The modern decor is great, the food is delicious, and the drinks were wonderful.
Just a quick note — this is a seasonal restaurant, so you won’t find it open during the slower winter months.
1315 Chatham Ave | 912-786-9533
We were so excited to visit A-J’s Dockside after everyone on Facebook told me it was a must! We loved it. It’s close to Back River Beach, with gorgeous views of Tybee Creek (and an amazing sunset view to match).
Take in salads, sandwiches and seafood for lunch, plus great dinner additions like gumbo, crab, flounder, and more. The vibe is very laid back and casual, but their is nothing casual about the food – it’s great!
Fridays and Saturdays are best – you can catch live music!
Insider Tip: After you chow down, you can rent a kayak or paddle board from A-J’s, which is perfect since they are so close to Little Tybee Island!
North Beach Bar and Grill
Nestled between the Tybee Lighthouse and North Beach, the North Beach Bar and Grill offers an amazing lunch and dinner menu that everyone loves.
With food with a a Caribbean flair, their menu features local, sustainable seafood and fresh ingredients. They also serve hot dogs, crab cake sandwiches, fish tacos, and wings in our quaint beach shack by the sea.
It’s the perfect place to stop after a long day on the water!
Note: It’s closed in January.
80 east Gastropub
Note: We are sorry to report that 80 east Gastropub closed permanently in 2020.
725B 1st St | 912-786-4782 Our meal at 80 east Gastropub was the best meal we had on our trip! The salads and steak were super, and the boys loved their burgers. We had a great time on the patio, with a very attentive and welcoming staff. When you first enter, it looks like a bar. No worries if you’re with kids…dining seating (indoor and out) are through the door near the back.
Tybean Art & Coffee Bar
1213 Old US Highway 80 | 912-224-5227
Tybean is where we had coffee each morning, and it was SUCH a good brew!
This entire area is filled with cute shops, and even a restaurant and bar. Go for the coffee, but stay a while walking around the entire space.
Tybee Island Social Club
1311 Butler Ave | 912-472-4044
NOTE: Tybee Island Social Club is temporarily closed.
We didn’t have time to visit Social on this trip, but I want to give them a shout out because a few regular visitors to Tybee told me they have the BEST Sunday brunch.
Fare is a little Southern, a little seafood, and a little Mexican….but the Bloody Mary is supposedly a can’t miss. Also – Live Bluegrass Music while you eat. How fun!
Seaside Sisters Gift Shop
1207 US-80 | 912-786-9216
Seaside Sisters is where you want to pick up all your souvenirs and holiday gifts!
They offer home décor, furniture, original art, books, women’s accessories and more. They were voted the best gift shop on the island!
1111 Butler Ave | 912-786-4601
The cutest in seaside gifts? Nope. James Beard Award winning dishes? Nope. BUT…Tybee Market is a must stop because it’s the local grocery!
If you’re staying at a condo or vacation rental, need an extra bottle of wine for your view of the ocean from your hotel room, want to grab some sunscreen, or need more diapers…this is the place to go!
Insider Tip: Tybee Market delivers! You can have groceries delivered right to your front door as you arrive for vacation. Just fill out a simple form with what items you would like and someone will call you to confirm everything and pay.
Where to Stay
Tybee Island Hotel Options
Best Location: Hotel Tybee has been providing island-style Southern hospitality since 1889! Today, it’s enjoying a renaissance as the largest Tybee Island beach hotel. With two outdoor pools, and located right on the beach and within walking distance of shops and restaurants, this gets our vote as the best hotel location on Tybee.
Best Amenities: The DeSoto Beach Hotel is also located right on the beach, has an outdoor pool, a game room, and a free continental breakfast, too! The Tybee Island Lighthouse and Museum is only a 4-minute drive away.
Best Rooms: The Admiral’s Inn is located just across the street from Hotel Tybee — meaning its location is great, and it also features newly renovated rooms. Bathrooms feature custom overhead rain showers, LED backlit mirrors, and vanities with quartz countertops. Enjoy the year-round outdoor pool here too.
Tybee Island Campgrounds
Tybee Island has River’s End Campground — a popular (and packed!) RV spot on the island, but if you’re looking for something a little quieter, we like The McIntosh Manor in Townsend, GA. McIntosh Manor RV park and Campground is located in beautiful coastal Georgia on historic highway 17, in an area rich with history. Nestled under majestic live oaks and the winding Sapelo River, McIntosh Manor is the perfect place to take a step back in time, and enjoy the wonders of nature.
Bed and Breakfasts
If you are enjoying a romantic getaway, I recommend staying at a bed and breakfast. Try DeSoto Beach BnB, with an ocean-view pool, hammock, beautiful sleeping porch, and so many other amenities.
Run by the same folks, The Georgianne Inn has options for couples or families. They are about a half-block from the beach.
Finally, try Beachview Resort. Enjoy clean, sophisticated interiors, luxurious linens, fireplaces, private porches, air conditioning, & lush, fragrant gardens.
They serve farm to table delights at breakfast, dessert before bedtime, and there’s always a sweet cookie in the kitchen. Guests staying at Beachview will also receive complimentary visits to the saunas and steam room.
Tybee Vacation Rentals
Multiple Locations | (855-651-1840
Looking for a cottage or condo rental? Tybee Vacation Rentals is the widest and best known source.
With over 300 properties to choose from, you will have no problem finding just the right place for your getaway. Find a variety of privately owned vacation rentals — homes, beach cottages and condos. From luxury to budget-friendly, ordinary to extraordinary, traditional to modern . . . they have it all!
Pet Friendly rentals are also available.
Multiple Locations | 912-313-0784
Another great vacation rental opportunity is Mermaid Cottages. Their rentals offer small and large homes, pet-friendly, and so much more.
We love that Mermaid homes include historic options, and that they are committed to paying their housekeepers well.
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Disclosure: We are honored to work with Savannah and Tybee Visitor Center as a content ambassador and to report on Tybee Island as part of that program. Opinions here are all our own. This post may also include affiliate links, which could help us buy another cup of Tybean coffee on our next trip to the coast.