Drive 20 minutes east of Savannah, Georgia, through a few miles of wide sky and salt marshes. This is where you’ll find Tybee Island — perhaps the most laid-back location on the southeastern coast.
On this uniquely charming island, nature lovers mingle with movie stars, bird watchers with good ol’ boys. Pirate raids are regular happenings. There are parties of epic proportions and silent beach sunrises. And everyone on Tybee Island, from townie to tourist, watches out for the sea turtles.
There are miles of beach; forts and museums and a great old lighthouse; endangered birds and other animal species; kayaks and bikes to rent (along with all kinds of hotels, motels, cottage, and condo rentals too).
Days on Tybee Island are as active, or lazy, as mood demands. Local galleries, shops, and restaurants offer changes of pace and taste. And, of course, historic Savannah’s nearby.
Tybee Island is the beautiful barrier island on the Georgia Coast that ancient Indians named “salt” (“duh bee” in the old Euchee tongue)—and a place you’ll wish that you, too, had discovered long ago.
Tybee Island Light Station
Tybee’s Light Station, built-in 1773, is Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse, and one of America’s most complete historic light stations. It has been guiding mariners safely into the Savannah River for more than 270 years, although it has been rebuilt several times.
All of its original support buildings are still located on the five-acre site off US-80 at Fort Screven. Still, a functioning navigational aid, the station’s light, courtesy of a first-order Fresnel lens, can be seen 18 miles out to sea.
Visitors willing to climb the 178 steps to the top of the recently restored lighthouse will enjoy a spectacular view of the entire island. The newly renovated head keeper’s cottage, the Tybee Museum, and gift shop are also on-site.
Tybee Island, Georgia Museum
The Tybee Museum is located off US-80 in an 1898 coastal Georgia artillery battery at Fort Screven, the site of the Tybee Light Station.
Completed in 1961, the museum features collections of historical items, pictures, and relics that chronicle nearly 400 years of the island’s history.
Fort Screven, Georgia
In 1786, the Georgia Legislature approved the creation of a fort on Cockspur or Tybee Island to be named in honor of General James Screven, a Revolutionary War hero. The fort was never built by the state, but in 1808, the property fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal government as Fort Screven Reservation.
In 1855, the government approved building Fort Screven on the north end of Tybee to provide modern seacoast defense. Six poured-concrete, low-profile gun batteries (named for war heroes) and a minefield were ordered for Tybee along with hundreds of other military buildings. From 1897 to 1947, the fort was an integral part of America’s Coastal Defense system. Troops stood guard on Tybee through the Spanish-American War of 1898, World War I, and World War II. In 1947, the Fort was closed and sold to the Town of Tybee and tourism returned as a major part of Tybee’s history. By the 1950s many of the fort’s buildings had been converted for use by private owners.
In 1961, Battery Garland, the former gun battery and magazine for a 12-inch long-range gun, became the Tybee Island Museum. A room that once stored six hundred pound projectiles and two hundred pound bags of gun powder, now hold the collections and exhibits of more than four hundred years of Tybee Island history.
Today, visitors marvel at the private residences nestled atop the fort’s walls, the magnificent ocean and river views –- and the fort that played a role in so many phases of American history.
Battery Brumby, erected by Venerable Construction Company C. 1897-1898, was the first six gun emplacements at Fort Screven.
Cockspur Lighthouse – Cockspur Island, Georgia
The Cockpur Lighthouse is located on an islet off Cockspur Island, at the South Channel of the Savannah River by Lazaretto Creek, and is considered part of Fort Pulaski National Monument. The beacon appears to float at high tide when water covers the islet it stands on. As a result of this flooding access to the lighthouse is most often by small boat or kayak. Crossing by land to the lighthouse is not advisable. The Cockspur Lighthouse is open to the public, but no official tours or accommodations are made.
Built in 1854, the illuminated beacon survived the bombardment of Fort Pulaski, despite being directly in the line of fire. It was heavily damaged by an 1881 storm, which destroyed the keeper’s residence, but kept shining until 1909 when it was finally extinguished due to the less frequent use of the south channel. In 2000 the upper portions of the lighthouse finished being restored.
The Cockspur Lighthouse is one of the five surviving historic lighthouses in Georgia. Relit in March 2007, the beacon is best viewed from Fort Pulaski’s Lighthouse Overlook Trail.
Marine Science Center at Tybee Island, GA
Visit the Tybee Island Marine Science Center to view marine life indigenous to the Georgia coast.
The aquariums and exhibits are home to an amazing variety of fish, reptiles, invertebrates, corals, and other interesting sea creatures.
Learn about barrier islands, the living Georgia state seashell, and horseshoe crabs. Compare turtles from the salt marsh and the sea. Feel a sharkskin or touch whalebone in the Discovery Room and “shake hands” with a hermit crab in the popular touch tank.
The non-profit Marine Science Center promotes the appreciation, conservation, and understanding of the marine ecosystem of coastal Georgia through educational programs and services. For more information please call (912) 786-5917.
Tybee Island Pier & Pavilion
The original Tybee Pier, built in the early 1900s, burned down in a great fire. Rebuilt in 1996, today’s Tybee Pier & Pavilion is one of our most visited and visible attractions. Located on the south end of the island in the main business district, it is open and free to the public.
Terrific for spectacular ocean viewing and great fishing, the Pier is also a popular spot for dances, music performances, and special events. it features picnic tables, a snack bar, and public restrooms. An abundance of shops, restaurants, hotels, and motels are just steps away.
Little Tybee Island, Georgia
A pure, uninhabited nature preserve, accessible only by boat, “Little” Tybee is actually more than twice Tybee Island’s size.
This wilderness gem showcases rich coastal salt marshes; pristine beaches; natural dunes and subtropical forests of live oak, pine, and palm. Wildlife includes egrets, herons, white ibis, and the endangered wood stork. Roseate spoonbills, ospreys, and bald eagles are also often seen. Kayak tours and charters are popular ways to see Little Tybee. And, camping is allowed.
Tybee Turtle Tour
In addition to being a great place to enjoy the sun and surf on Georgia’s Coast, Tybee Island beaches are important nesting areas for endangered sea turtles. They return to Georgia’s Beaches each year from May 1 to October 31.
In an effort to create public awareness and appreciation of these magnificent creatures, artists within the Tybee community and the surrounding area have created a public art forum designed to engage the viewer with humor and personality on a tour of decorated statues of sea turtles. Turtle locator maps are available at the Tybee Island Visitors Center.
Fort Pulaski, Georgia
Strategically located on Cockspur Island near the mouth of the Savannah River, Fort Pulaski was constructed between 1829 and 1847 to defend the port city of Savannah, from foreign attacks or invasion. However, early in the American crisis that became the Civil War, Georgia state troops seized this masonry fortification.
On April 11-12, 1862, events at Fort Pulaski forever changed defensive strategies worldwide. Union forces deployed bullet-shaped projectiles from rifled artillery batteries on Tybee Island. After only 30 hours of bombardment the 7.5 feet thick brick walls of the fort were breached and the Confederates surrendered.
Today, the fort is a remarkably well-preserved example of 19th-century military architecture.
Fort Pulaski is located approximately 15 miles east of Savannah on US-80 and is open daily from 9:00 to 5:00.