Georgia road trip Savannah

It’s Tybee Time on Savannah Georgia’s barrier island beach

Tybee Island is the northernmost Georgia Barrier Island located at the mouth of the south channel of the Savannah River. Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is about ten miles north of Tybee Island. This barrier island is similar to other barrier islands of Georgia with marshland facing the coast and long sandy beaches facing the ocean. The proximity to the historic district of Savannah, about 17 miles, makes Tybee Island a major weekend and summer beach getaway for the area. The island was officially named Savannah Beach in the late 1950s and held that name into the 1970s when it reverted back to Tybee Island.

Blogger Disclosure:

Tybee Island was not on my original road trip plan from Orlando, Florida to Jekyll Island, Georgia; Congaree National Park, South Carolina; Asheville, North Carolina; and Great Smoky Mountains National Park of North Carolina and Tennessee. Somehow a conversation in Orlando with a Georgia tourism representative at the U.S. Travel Association IPW convention a couple of days before my road trip about Jekyll Island and African American Gullah-Geechee culture around Darien on the Georgia coast turned into a free night at a hotel on Tybee Island 20 miles out of Savannah, Georgia, courtesy of Visit Tybee tourism. The Georgia tourism representative in Orlando contacted a Savannah tourism staff person who emailed me to ask if I would be interested in visiting Tybee Island and she put me in touch with a VisitTybee tourism representative. From a five minute conversation two days before my road trip about driving to Georgia, after a couple of emails, I ended up with an invitation to stay at Desoto Beach Hotel on Tybee Island. This travel world moves quickly and sometimes I just go with the flow.

As disclosure, I had a $141 hotel room for one night courtesy of VisitTybee and I used my day in Tybee to explore the island. The hotel night was the only assistance for the Tybee Island trip. Everything else about the island visit was on my own Tybee time.

DeSoto Beach Hotel

DeSoto Beach Hotel on Tybee Island, Georgia.

DeSoto Beach Hotel Oceanfront claims it is the only beachfront hotel on Tybee Island. The hotel is sort of a landmark property on Tybee Island as it opened in 1939 as the DeSoto Beach Club. It was a beach club exclusively for guests staying in the luxury DeSoto Hotel in Savannah. The DeSoto is still around in Savannah today branded as the Hilton Savannah DeSoto. The original DeSoto Hotel was built in 1890 at Madison Square, one of Savannah’s 22 historic squares that dot the historic downtown city with green space. The Hilton DeSoto today is a newer building with the old hotel’s chandeliers still in the lobby.

Hilton deSoto  Hilton Desoto exterior

The DeSoto Beach Hotel on Tybee Island today has 4 of 5 circles TripAdvisor rating and ranked #3 of 10 Tybee Island hotels after 459 reviews. The hotel was remodeled in 1999 and is family-owned and operated. I thought the room was a typical beach hotel with a comfortable layout, working AC, mini-frig and microwave. My room was on the third floor of the hotel. Breakfast was complimentary in the morning and a typical midscale breakfast, similar to what you find at Holiday Inn Express or Comfort Inn. There are several other DeSoto properties on Tybee Island.

DeSoto Beach Hotel room-1   DeSoto Beach Hotel view

On a Friday afternoon around 3pm, I walked out to the beach. Dozens of people were on the sand and in the water in the vicinity of the hotel. Hundreds of people were on the several miles of beach on Tybee Island.

Tybee bike time

One of the interesting hotel history facts I learned is the Days Inn hotel brand originated on Tybee Island in 1970. Cecil B. Day, a Savannah real estate developer later became known as a prominent Christian philanthropist. Wikipedia claims he coined the phrase ‘budget-luxury’. Day died in 1978, but Days Inn is among the top five largest hotel brands in the USA today with about 2,000 properties, and a hotel brand in Wyndham Rewards. The Tybee Island hotel is no longer a Days Inn. Coincidentally, my first ever stay at a Days Inn since being Loyalty Traveler came the following night in Asheville, North Carolina.

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is a perfect place for bicycle transportation. The island is relatively small with a few miles of road. Whereas Jekyll Island had a $6 daily toll for island access, Tybee Island rakes in the big bucks charging for parking nearly everywhere on the island. My car was parked for free at the DeSoto Beach Hotel.

Tybee parking     Tybee parking meter

I mention parking since it was 93 degrees at 3pm in the afternoon and DeSoto Beach Hotel was a couple miles from the downtown area with the pier and restaurants and stores. Parking meters are enforced from 8am to 8pm. Different areas of the island have different rates with the meters near DeSoto Beach Hotel priced at $1.00 per hour and meters near the shopping and entertainment district priced at $2.00 per hour.

Tybee Island has a permanent resident population of about 3,000 people. I imagine many times that number try to visit the island on nice summer days.

I started walking across the island, but gave up after 15 minutes and headed back to the hotel for my car with air conditioning.

Tybee City Hall

Tybee City Hall Hurricane Storm Surge Elevation caught my eye. There is little impediment to storm surge water washing over Tybee Island.

Tybee dunes

The narrow strip of dune grasses and shrubs between the beach and residential structures is crossed by elevated boardwalks.

Tybee boardwalk

Tybee Island is another place where loggerhead turtles come to nest. I did not see any evidence of turtles during my walk on the beach. When I was at the Jekyll Island Georgia Sea Turtle Center, I read about some of the turtles there coming from Tybee Island.

Tybee sea turtle sculpture

Tybee Island Beach

Warm seawater at the beach is inviting for children and adults. The waves were calm and ships heading into and out of the Port of Savannah could be seen offshore.

Tybee Beach-2

The quiet hours of morning were more to my liking when the sound of the water lapping the sand and songbirds were the main sounds on the beach.

Tybee Beach

Tybee Beach at morning. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina visible in the distance.

About two miles south on Tybee Island from the Desoto Beach Hotel is the primary tourism area with shops and the pier.

Tybee Island Pier-1   Tybee Island pier-2

There were several people fishing from the pier early on a Saturday morning.

Tybee pier-3   Tybee Pavilion

The streets around the pier reminded me of many of the small beach towns I see on the California coast with surf shops, t-shirt shops and bars.

Tybee shopping     Tybee retail

An interesting side note for me as someone from California on a road trip through the southeast U.S. was seeing the US Route 80 sign on Tybee Island.

Tybee US Route 80

U.S. Highway 80 was commissioned in 1926 as the first cross country route connecting the Atlantic Ocean at Tybee Island, Georgia to the Pacific Ocean at San Diego, California. Interstate highways replaced this old route between 1964 and 1990. US 80 as a named road only goes as far as Dallas today.

Tybee beach-2

Tybee Island seemed like a laid back beach town that probably gets crazy congestion in peak season. Being someone who lives near the beach in California, sitting on a beach getting a tan has no interest for me. I actually preferred the marsh wetlands side of the barrier islands I visited.

Tybee marsh piers

The marsh side of Tybee is residential. I came across a beach on the coast side of Tybee Island where a morning sea kayak tour was being prepared. Sea Kayak Georgia offers 3 to 4 hour tours for $55 to $65.

Tybee sea kayaks

Attractions to see around Tybee Island include the Tybee Island Marine Science Center by the Tybee Island Pier and Tybee Island Lighthouse.

Tybee lighthouse

A lighthouse has been on Tybee Island since 1736 to mark the entrance to the Savannah River. The first light station was destroyed by a storm and replaced in 1742. That lighthouse was rebuilt in 1757. In 1773 thethird lighthouse constructed is the foundation of the current lighthouse. The Mulryne lighthouse, one of seven surviving colonial era lighthouses, stood to the Civil War when it was badly damaged by Union forces occupying Tybee Island. The lighthouse was rebuilt in the 1860s and damaged again in 1871 in a hurricane. The repaired lighthouse suffered more damage in the Charleston Earthquake of 1886. The current lighthouse was renovated and restored in 1998 by the Tybee Island Historical Society who received ownership of the lighthouse in 2002.

Tybee Island Cats

I can’t leave Tybee Island without mentioning the feral cats and Frank the cat caregiver. Around the neighborhood of the lighthouse I noticed all these cats eating from plates of food set out in the grass. A man on a bicycle had greeted me as I was searching for the road to the lighthouse and then I saw him again a little way down a dirt road with cats running out of the woods to greet him.

Tybee Island cats

Frank said he cares for about 30 island cats, feeding them daily, and that has been his mission for 13 years. One of these cats in the photo is one he has been feeding all that time. He knows them all by name and they adore him. I could not get any of the cats to come near me. Apparently, Tybee Island is known for its feral cats and regular fundraisers raise money for spay/neuter procedures and veterinary care.

The cats were one of the charming local features I found on Tybee Island.

Tybee beach-3

Tybee Island, Georgia – Savannah’s beach town.

Loyalty Traveler Road Trip Orlando to Knoxville June 4-9, 2015

  • Westin Jekyll Island, Holiday Inn Resort and Quality Inn Jekyll Island
  • Savannah, Georgia Historic Buildings and New Hotels
  • The Brice, Savannah, a Kimpton Hotel
  • Tybee Island, Georgia beach and lighthouse
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument and Civil War history in Savannah region
  • Congaree National Park, South Carolina
  • Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
  • Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
  • The Inn at Biltmore, Asheville, North Carolina
  • Asheville Vibrant Craft Beer Scene
  • Waterfalls trails in DuPont State Forest, North Carolina
  • Brevard, North Carolina – white squirrels and Pisgah National Forest
  • Blue Ridge Parkway Motor Road, North Carolina
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee