TYBEE ISLAND TIME: EXPLORING AN ECLECTIC BEACH COMMUNITY
Savannah is known for being the first city of the Georgia colony, established by reformer James Oglethorpe in 1733 as a buffer between the wealthy Carolinas and wild Spanish Florida. Even today, Georgia’s oldest city is known for its luxuriously languid pace of life, stately architecture and romantic moss-draped oaks lining squares and avenues.
But just a few miles to the east is Tybee Island, “Savannah’s beach” community, where Savannah’s quirkiness and eccentricity coupled with casual vibes and a love of the outdoors reach maximum levels. If you thought the pace of life in “Slow-vannah” was leisurely, welcome to “Tybee Time,” where everything is come-as-you-are and a bathing suit is a year-round necessity.
The drive out to Tybee is quick and beautiful as you cross the green and gold marshes that separate the mainland from Savannah’s suburban, mostly-residential islands, and you’ll know you’ve arrived when you cross the Lazaretto Creek bridge and are met with an explosion of tropical color. Everything on Tybee seems like it’s candy-coated, and cottages are surrounded by white picket fences with hammocks strung up between palm trees in yards. We could get used to this lifestyle! Everything on Tybee is also hyper-local, with no national chain restaurants or hotels anywhere in sight.
WHERE TO EAT
CoCo’s Sunset Grille is a don’t-miss dining destination. This brightly-colored river shack is well-known for fried oysters and shrimp, and you can watch the day’s catch being unloaded on the dock right outside the restaurant. CoCo’s bar and rooftop deck face the marsh and mainland, making it the perfect spot to catch a gorgeous sunset over the marsh grass. Every evening as the sun goes down, patrons in the bar greet the sunset with a conch shell trumpet and a toast.
A relative newcomer to Tybee’s food scene, The Deck Beachbar & Kitchen is one of three restaurants by Aussie Anthony Debreceny, and is the only eatery on the island where you can step off the deck and right onto the sand. Debreceny is the brains behind Savannah’s Collins Quarter and The Fitzroy, so some hungry from some Aussie-inspired fare you won’t want to miss. All of Debreceny’s restaurants do their own version of trendy and delicious avocado toast, and The Deck’s version features citrus-marinated feta cheese, heirloom tomatoes and sesame seeds (you can add local shrimp or a fried egg on top as well). Plenty of fresh salads round out the menu, along with a classic Fish and Chips, and Caribbean Roasted Cauliflower (jerk roasted cauliflower with pigeon peas and grilled pineapple salsa) provides a plant-based option.
Easy to drive right past is 80 East Gastropub, practically hidden in part of a Chevron station (that’s right, you read that correctly). This unassuming spot is super-affordable and super-innovative with its menu items. You’re familiar with Low Country boil, of course, but how about Low Country Tacos? 80 East serves up shrimp, corn, chorizo, fried potatoes, Old Bay of course, sriracha aioli, black beans and rice inside a tortilla that will change your perception of the Low Country staple meal. How about Pork Belly & Waffle Sliders? Duck Confit Potato Skins? You don’t know what you’ve been missing, but you’re ‘bout to find out.
When you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, the Tybee Oaks shopping center is home to rows of adorable cottage shops and galleries under a canopy of live oaks as well as Tybean Art & Coffee Bar. Adorable and adorably teeny, this place feels a little like a tree house and has some of the best espresso drinks, premium drop coffees, teas, frappes and fresh pastry and scones, too. Take a wander around the inside of the shop and add some local art to your order while you’re waiting on your latte! Then enjoy your beverage outside on the deck.
WHAT TO DO
As you drive into town on Highway 80, Fish Art Gallerie will be the funky folk art place you will have to U-turn to check out. Covered in eclectic and colorful pieces made from recycled materials by artist Ralph Douglas Jones, you’ll be transported to Wonderland as you wander the gallery.
Built in 1930 for soldiers stationed on Tybee’s Fort Screven, the Tybee Post Theater is a restored movie house with musical and theatrical performances as well as both classic and sometimes first-run movies. You can catch date night classics like “Casablanca,” a performance of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” concerts by touring musicians or acts like Cirque du Canines (you know you need to see what that’s about). Ticket prices are super reasonable and you sometimes even get a glass of wine included with your fee (check TybeePostTheater.org for details).
Tybee’s residential neighborhoods are best explored on a bike. Tybee Beach Bike Tours offers a Best of Tybee Tour daily, evening Sunset Tours, and private tours available by appointment. If you prefer to find your own way, rentals are available from Tim’s Bike & Beach Gear. Tim’s rents by the day or by the week, and can deliver your bike and any beach gear you’re interested in (chairs, umbrellas etc.) to your hotel or rental for your convenience.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodations on Tybee run the gamut from funky beach motels to romantic B&Bs to posh six-bedroom mansions, and there are many companies offering condo and cottage rentals. Booking as far in advance as possibly can often get you the best rate, so be sure to comparison shop and check a map of the island when you’re exploring options. Mermaid Cottages and Tybee Vacation Rentals have a variety of options and great photos on their websites. Surf Song Bed & Breakfast in the Officer’s Row area of the island (formerly the quarters of the officers stationed at Fort Screven) is particularly charming, and Hotel Tybee offers direct beach access and ocean views right next to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center (fun for adults as well as families, because everyone loves the turtles!) and Tybee’s famous pier and pavilion.
IF YOU GO
Be sure to pack your flip-flops and sarong, because real clothes and real shoes are totally optional here. Tybee Island is full of character and charm, sort of like the old Florida beach towns of the 60s and 70s, and everyone is welcome here. Leave your watch and your phone at home, because you’re on Tybee Time now.