Negotiating a family vacation can be difficult. One likes the beach, another wants a little more action, a third some culture. There is a reason Tybee Island, Ga. is called Savannah Beach. From the heart of Savannah, Ga. to the Tybee Pier and Pavilion is about 20-30 minutes, making this area of the Georgia coast a perfect city and sand vacation. As an added bonus, Tybee Island, Ga. is the closest beach to Atlanta. The distance from Atlanta to Savannah is only about 250 miles.
Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia – A City and Sand Vacation
One hundred seventy eight steps to the most beautiful views of Tybee Island beach and the marshes, but it was the light house glass, and the stories of the Tybee Island Lighthouse keepers and their families that had me fascinated. A visit to the Tybee Lighthouse is a great way to get a feel for the history of the island, and a sense of the place. Similarly, a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour in Savannah is a perfect way to start your vacation, and set the stage to choose between the many Savannah Ga. points of interest, because there is no way to get to everything in a single trip. Believe me, we tried. Thank you to Visit Savannah for sponsoring our trip and this post. Here are some of our great finds.
Where to Stay on Tybee Island, Ga.
You won’t find lots of chain hotels in Tybee Island, which is one of the charms of the area. Tybee Island rentals and Tybee Island hotels are all different, from the only beachside hotel the Desoto Beach Hotel, Tybee Island, Ga. to the historic Hotel Tybee, to the budget friendly Royal Palm Motel. There are lots of Tybee Island rentals and even beach vacation rentals available from local companies like Mermaid Cottages and several VRBO Tybee Island homes.
Although I love the character of the local beach establishments, we opted to base our trip out of Downtown Savannah Georgia at the cosmopolitan Hotel Indigo Savannah Historic District. The hotel was once a glass factory, and the original wooden supports that are more than a foot square, flank the front desk. There are nods to the glass factory throughout from the molds used to stamp the glass to the mural in our bedroom. There is a full service restaurant in the building, as well as a trendy bar, although I prefer the secluded outside patio for a nightcap. The best part about the Hotel Indigo was the location. We parked our car in the valet parking, and didn’t bother using it until we went to Tybee. One block north and we were on the uneven historic cobblestone walkways of River Street. One block south and we were in the heart of City Market, where bands were playing on an outdoor stage, and kids were doing cartwheels where in the summertime there is a splash fountain. In the morning, we walked a few feet from the hotel door to get the Old Towne Trolley for a hop-on, hop-off tour of Savannah. Pro Tip: Hotel Indigo is pet friendly.
Five Things to do in Tybee Island
The Pavilion and Pier at Tybee is good old fashion beachside fun, but there is a lot to do on the island in addition to playing in the sand or shopping on the boardwalk. Here are a few of our favorites.
Georgia Sea Kayak
The kayaks put in along the creek behind Georgia Sea Kayak, a rare treat delivered by high tides. 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, and may be the main draw of the island, and the Tybee Lighthouse is a popular attraction, but exploring Georgia 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 watched 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, due out in 2017, was filming. It’s not unusual to find crews filming in Savannah or on Tybee Island. We ran into crews setting up for a lifeguard tryout scene on the beach, and a crew staging area on our way to lunch at the Crab Shack.
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 shells. Pro Tip: 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.
Fort Pulaski is part of the National Park Service. The day we went they were having a special event that included a Civil War campout and cannon demonstrations. Cannons are always a draw for my boys. Pro Tip: Ask at the Ranger station for a set of FREE trading cards.
Savannah Bee Company Tour
On Wilmington Island is the headquarters for the Savannah Bee Company. For a few dollars, you can put on bee hats and take a tour of the hives out back. I wanted to go just for the bee hats, but I left with some tea honey that I’m now in love with and am going to have to go buy more. We found about about this at the Savannah Bee Company store on River Street (where adults can sample meade). Pro Tip: Feel free to sample all the different flavors of honey for sale, you’ll be amazed all the different flavors.
Tybee Island Marine Science Center: By the time we headed to the Pavilion and the beach after the Tybee Island Lighthouse, the Marine Science Center was closed. This is definitely on my list for next time.
Oatland Island Wildlife Center: We saw the signs for this on our way from Savannah to Tybee and each time we passed, I was intrigued.
Six Things to do in Savannah, Ga.
The majestic oaks, dripping with Spanish moss always intrigued me. My first visit to Savannah was a short stop on our way to Florida in 8th grade. I’d never seen Spanish moss before, or those elegant oaks. It made quite an impression on me then, and now. Savannah’s neat squares shaded by grandfatherly oaks are one of the main attractions of the area. But there is a lot more to Savannah than just trees. Here’s a list of the places we visited that might help you decide what to do in Savannah, Ga.
Start with a Trolley Tour: Start your visit to the city of Savannah with one of the Savannah trolley tours. Old Town Trolley had a station right outside the Hotel Indigo and the gentleman working there was so nice and informative, that we opted to take their tour over Old Savannah Tours, but I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Pro Tip: Do the hop-on, hop off tour. This will allow you to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time, but also be able to get out at different stops for other tours, lunch, shopping, whatever. The trolley bus is fun too and a bit of a novelty for kids.
Visit a Historic House: Savannah has several historic houses open for tours. Definitely plan to visit at least one, even with kids. Seeing the historic squares from the outside is nice, but you understand the people more when you visit one of the homes. Girls may want to visit the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace (she was the founder of the Girl Scouts) We toured the Owens-Thomas House, which had one of the first indoor toilets in the country, even before the White House. The stairs have decorative bronze on the bannister, to reflect light in the evenings (the house was built before electricity). Pro Tip: Be sure to ask about the history behind the haint blue paint on the ceiling of the slave quarters.
Take to the River: Savannah was started and still is a port town. It only makes sense that a trip includes some time on the river. Savannah Riverboat Cruises are a great way to do that, and get some history during your leisurely ride. Pro-Tip: Go on the 3:30 pm tour, when you pass Old Fort Jackson they’ll shoot a cannon from the fort at the boat. (don’t worry, it’s a blank.)
Walk Down River Street: Before or after your boat ride, take a walk down the uneven cobblestone on River Street. This is a touristy area, but it’s fun to be by the water. Kids will especially enjoy the two candy shops where you can watch them make Savannah’s famous pralines. For a more modern shopping experience, walk a few blocks to City Market. They often have outdoor entertainment, and a splash fountain, as well as shops and restaurants, including the Byrd Cookie Company where you can sample cookies from this famous Savannah bakery. Pro Tip: Ask for samples of the famous Savannah Pralines at the sweet shops.
Take a Ghost Tour: You can’t visit Savannah without taking one of the ghost tours. My son was quite apprehensive, but the tour by Ghost Talk/Ghost Walk was more informational than scary. We visited the house that inspired Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, heard stories of ghosts playing on the playground and enjoyed a beautiful night walking through Savannah’s historic squares.
Explore Savannah’s Historic Squares: Savannah’s layout and the many squares make it a very pedestrian friendly city. Each Square has a different character. Some have statues, others fountains, and we even found one with a musician playing.
Where to Eat on Tybee Island
Shoes and shirts are required, but it’s a casual atmosphere at the restaurants on Tybee Island. Here are a two we enjoyed, as well as a few suggestions from readers.
Crab Shack: The Crab Shack is a bit off the beaten path if going by car, but along the main drag by boat. We arrived by car and had to go through a sea of production trucks for the movie crew of Baywatch the Movie to get to the restaurant, which kind of added to the allure.
The Crab Shack definitely has the quirkiness of a shack, but it’s actually a pretty big complex with entertainment, as well as 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. Afterwards we took a look at the gators that live on property. Who needs Gatorland when you can view the gators at the Crab Shack. A little further down, there is a room full of rescued exotic birds. Some say hello, others do a dance to My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. I guess they have them indoors because there are also a cat condo, and lots of signs letting folks know the kitties are well cared for and not strays, never a dull moment at the Crab Shack. Pro Tip: Purchase food pellets to feed alligators using fishing poles.
Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp: I like a place that is what it is, and does what it says. Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp is such a place. This roadside bar with patio seating is a true Island establishment. It may not have a lot of frills, but it does have yummy fried shrimp that is ever so lightly breaded. The restaurant gets the shrimp fresh each day off the docks about a block away. I preferred the shrimp to the BBQ, but apparently stars in town for local productions love it. Pro Tip: Wash down your fried shrimp with freshly squeezed limeade.
More great restaurants on Tybee Island, Ga
Huc a Poos: Field Trips with Sue reader Beth Phillips says don’t miss Huc a Poo’s for awesome pizza.
Where to Eat in Savannah
The smells of delicious southern dishes wafts through the air as you walk down the sidewalks of Downtown Savannah. There are so many options. Here are a few that are tasty, and add a bit of fun for kids (ok, and adults).
Leopold’s Ice Cream Parlor: I’m an ice cream fanatic, so even amidst the many wonderful restaurants in Savannah, having lunch and ice cream at Leopold’s was a highlight. Meeting Stratton Leopold the owner and son of one of the founders made the afternoon even more exciting. Leopold left the business for a while to make his way in Hollywood. You’ll see photos of him with various Hollywood stars on the wall. I asked him if any of them were ice cream lovers. He said Tom Cruise. He once had to ship ice cream to New York so they could put it on his jet headed for London. Ice cream melts when it has to go through customs. Pro Tip: Leopold’s offers a free frozen treat for your pooch with the purchase of a human ice cream cone. Pro Tip 2: No time to wait in the line at Leopolds? Visit the Hotel Indigo restaurant Five Oaks Taproom for the Peach Cobbler, topped with Streusel Pecan Ice Cream made especially for the hotel by Leopold’s Ice Cream.
The Pirate’s House Restaurant: Savannah may have the reputation as a genteel Southern city, but there were plenty of scoundrels about too, and most congregated at one time or another in the building now known as The Pirate’s House. The site began as an experimental garden called the Trustee Garden. The original house, which still stands, was the head gardeners home, now it’s a private dining room that is said to have it’s own ghost. Another ghost said to haunt The Pirate House is Captain Flint, the gnarly seaman from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. My son and I were reading Treasure Island before we went to Savannah, so it was fun to see pages from early, rare editions of the book. In addition to wonderful stories, my favorite being the local policeman who came to enjoy a nightcap and woke up the next day on a ship bound for China, The Pirate House also has some very good food. My spinach salad was a perfect blend of sweet nuts, blue cheese crumbles and even had egg in it. My son and I split the fried chicken, which was an entire side of a chicken, but mmmmm it was crispy outside and juicy inside. As a testament to the food, we happened to see someone the next day that had also eaten at The Pirate’s House the night before. They actually struck up a conversation with us that began, “Weren’t you at the Pirates House last night? Wasn’t that food amazing!” Pro Tip: Take the tour before or after dinner. It’s short but you’ll get some of the more colorful stories that surround the building, as well as a few ghost tales.
While I was in Savannah, Field Trips with Sue readers were posting on Facebook all the places I should visit and eat. Too many to get to in such a short period of time, but here are a few they suggested. Have others? Let me know and I’ll add them.
Olde Pink House Restaurant: Reader Lindsey Haynes suggests dining in this 18th Century mansion, with outdoor dining and live entertainment nightly.
Pearls Saltwater Grille: A dockside eatery. Reader Kim Hatcher suggests the fried shrimp.
Rocks on the Roof: A rooftop bar at the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront. Kim also recommends this for sunset drinks. Well, if I must.