By Bill Vanderford

Sunrise Near Tybee Island-Photo by Bill Vanderford
I first visited Savannah Beach on Tybee Island when I was 10 years old, more than half a century ago. I remember riding over several bridges and through miles of marshland just to get there. It couldn’t have been more than 20 miles from Savannah, but the long ride down the palm-lined, two-lane road in an the old ’48 Nash coupe seemed to take forever. It was the first time I was to see a real beach, and the excitement had my heart pumping wildly.

In the language of the early Georgia Indians, Tybee is the word for salt although locals will often call it “Tacky Tybee”, in the hope that the name will keep the resort crowd at bay. Perhaps its nickname has worked because Tybee’s storefronts, streets, and island cottages haven't changed much from the island’s glory years in the 1920's and 30's when it attracted all manner of holidaymakers. It's that feeling of time-standing-still that is its appeal today.

Although Tybee Island has always been a magical fairyland for a youngster, as I grew older, I also found it to be a romantic spot to enjoy with special ladies who caught my eye. And, despite hurricanes, progress, and the changing tides, a recent visit confirmed that Tybee is still a great place for a romantic rendezvous. Not only does its year-round population seem to exude a counter-culture to fashionable Savannah, its six miles of beaches are as great for walking and shelling as they have always been. Sunsets are unforgettable and its famous lighthouses - the first was built in 1736, still stand as testimony of Tybee’s place in history whether as a pirates’ safe haven or battlegrounds during the Revolutionary War and War Between the States.

Georgia Marshes Near Tybee Island-Photo by Bill Vanderford

Stay a while
If you go, check out the Savannah Beach Inn, a gorgeous structure that’s one of nine elegant homes on the National Register that were built along the “Officers' Row” section of old Fort Screven. The Inn is a classic Victorian design with five (still working) fireplaces, ornate tin ceilings, grand sitting and dining rooms, and real maple floors. Antique furnishings are scattered throughout and lovely guest suites offer ocean or lighthouse views. A mouth-watering breakfast can be served in the dining room, on the large wraparound porch, or in the spacious kitchen at the turn-of-the-century lunch counter.

Tybee Lighthouse-Photo by Bill Vanderford

The best eats
Another real find is Hunter House on the south end of the island. “I grew up in Florida, and Tybee reminded me of many of the beach towns there before all the commercialization occurred,” explains owner John Hunter. “With only one road in and out of Tybee, and no room for a golf course, Tybee has remained much the same through the decades.”

Hunter House is a beautifully restored, 1910, three-story building which, though often referred to as a bed and breakfast, is actually better known (at least to locals) as the island’s finest restaurant. Besides, sitting in one of the rocking chairs, on the wraparound porch, with a night cap after dinner is a quintessential southern Georgia experience.

If you go:

Tybee Island: www.tybeevisit.com or www.tybeeisland.com
Savannah Beach Inn: 912/786-8776 or www.savannahabeachinn.com
Hunter House Inn: 912/786-7515 or www.hunterhouseinn.com

Photos: Bill Vanderford

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