Savannah vs. Tybee Island: Where Should You Stay?

For those looking to spend some time vacationing along the Georgia coast, Savannah and Tybee Island are among the most popular destinations. While Tybee Island is only 20 minutes away from Savannah, the two areas are very different. For this reason, in comparing Savannah vs. Tybee Island, you might wonder where you should stay.

Savannah is home to some of the most rich history in the Southeastern United States. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but some people prefer to spend their time relaxing along the beach. We will help compare the pros and cons so that you understand a little more about the nuanced differences between the two Georgia getaways.

Which Is Better? Savannah vs. Tybee Island

Tybee Island is fairly small compared to nearby Hilton Head Island, and it is also somewhat difficult to get to. You will have to navigate through Savannah and continue for another 20 minutes to arrive at the beach. Still, this might be one of the biggest selling points. Other beach destinations draw larger crowds than Tybee Island.

Savannah is more easily accessible for most tourists and features a more urban experience. Of course, the big benefit of visiting this region is that you can stay in one town, and easily visit the other.

In comparing Tybee Island vs. Savannah, make sure to visit the Tybee Island pier regardless of where you stay.
Tybee Island Pier

Location and Geography: How Close Are Savannah and Tybee Island?

The Savannah River runs alongside both Savannah and Tybee Island. South Carolina sits directly across the river, but much of this Lowcountry area is filled with marshlands. Even so, the ecosystem creates beautiful scenery and the perfect environment for outdoor enthusiasts interested in kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and fishing.

Savannah, Georgia

The city is nestled along the Savannah River, which is the defining feature of the cityscape. The river not only serves as a beautiful backdrop for the city but also plays an important role in the city’s history and economy.

Savannah enjoys a coastal location, but the center city isn’t directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the Savannah River, which is an important shipping channel, provides easy and direct access to the ocean.

While the Port of Charleston, a few hours north, is an even more important seaport, the Savannah Harbor is the fourth largest seaport in the nation. The historic downtown sits along the riverfront and is a popular gathering place for locals and visitors alike.

The city is very hot during the summers, but the winters are mild and enjoyable. This makes Savannah a fantastic place to visit during non-peak vacation season.

Savannah River Front. In considering Savannah vs. Tybee Island, it is worth noting that Tybee Island is on the ocean, while Savannah is on the river.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island is a small island that sits on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, but while it is an island, it isn’t far from the mainland. The Savannah River forms the northern border, while the Bull River and Tybee Creek form the western and southern borders.

The area is covered in marshes and waterways, creating a natural and dynamic environment. In fact, while Tybee Island covers more than 5 square miles, 30% of the area is covered by water.

Since Tybee Island is much smaller than nearby Hilton Head Island, it is a great place to ride your bikes through town. It is a very bike-friendly community with a small beach town feel.

Here is a fun fact: Aside from its beautiful beaches, Tybee Island is also known because a B-47 bomber jettisoned a nuclear bomb near Tybee Island in 1958. There were several unsuccessful searches for the bomb, but it is now presumed lost somewhere in the Wassaw Sound near Tybee Island. Today, the missing nuke is referred to as the “Tybee Bomb.

Tybee Island light house is the oldest light house in Georgia.
Tybee Island Lightstation

What is the Difference Between Savannah and Tybee Island?

While Tybee Island is often referred to as “Savannah’s Beach,” they are separated by more than 15 miles and two different cultures. You will find the best of Southern charms in Savannah, while Tybee Island is more of a quaint coastal getaway.

Rivers and Ocean! Savannah vs. Tybee Island Waterfront

The riverfront in Savannah is as beautiful as it is historic, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of beachfront. Certainly, there are many water-based activities that take place along the Savannah River, but that’s not quite the same as relaxing on warm beach sand.

Tybee Island is often referred to as “Savannah’s Beach.” It features five miles of public beaches that are generally well-maintained and clean and feature mostly gentle waves.

The most popular spot for tourists is South Beach, which is near the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion. It is a great spot to catch some rays, and nearby to the commercial district, where you will find shops and eateries. This is also where you will find the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

Mid Beach and North Beach are located closer to residential areas and generally less busy because of the limited access. Most tourists don’t venture to this section of the island for the beaches, but if you do, you will find more natural-looking beaches and a serene atmosphere.

Outdoor enthusiasts also will enjoy the Back River Beach and Savannah River Beach areas, which are popular for kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and fishing. Back River Beach is often referred to as the island’s secret beach. Near the Savannah River, you can also watch the large container ships as they navigate toward the Port of Savannah.

Each beach is a little different, but all are well worth your visit.

In comparing Tybee Island vs. Savannah, Tybee Island is where you can enjoy the beaches.

Activities: Does Savannah or Tybee Island Offer More To Do?

The beauty of visiting the Savannah area is that you get the benefit of activities in the city, as well as those near the coast. Spoiler Alert: If you are looking for a unique experience while you are in town, try to find tickets to a Savannah Bananas exhibition.

What Activities Are Available Near Savannah?

You won’t find any major attractions near Savannah. There are no major forts and no local boardwalks and roller coasters. You won’t find any tourist-driven shopping centers that you might expect to see in Orlando or Las Vegas. And all this is the selling point for Savannah.

Savannah is a beautiful town with a rich history, but it’s not the type of place you want to visit if you have the need to be constantly entertained. Instead, most people spend time strolling the historic downtown and exploring the local coastal ecosystem. Places like the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge are popular.

Still, there are several art galleries and museums, such as the SCAD Museum of Art. In fact, the oldest public art museum in the South is found in Savannah. The Telfair Academy features works from renowned artists from around the world. The Telfair Academy expanded under the name of Telfair Museums and now includes the Jepson Center.

Naturally, the local beaches like Tybee Island and Jekyll Island are also very popular. Once you are done exploring the beaches and natural beauty, we recommend you explore some of the great dining and shopping options downtown. Check out the Olde Pink House Restaurant & Tavern for a local favorite.

For a more whimsical experience, go to a Savannah Bananas baseball game. They are an exhibition baseball team that describes itself as a “World Famous Baseball Circus.”

What Activities Are Available Near Tybee Island?

Tybee Island is lesser known and smaller than some coastal destinations, such as Hilton Head Island, but you will still find plenty of activities.

The iconic Tybee Island Light Station and Museum lead the list of things to do. Originally built in the 1700s and standing 145 feet tall, the Tybee Island Lighthouse is both the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state of Georgia. You will also find three keeper’s cottages and a museum full of archaeological finds.

Fort Pulaski National Monument is another popular local attraction. The fort is located on Cockspur Island, situated between Tybee Island and Savannah, but easily accessible. The Confederate army used Fort Pulaski to defend against the Union during the Civil War and is best known as the site where the Union Army forced a surrender.

Beyond these top attractions, Tybee Island visitors are likely to spend time at the Pier and Pavillion and explore nearby shops and eateries. Outdoor activities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, and fishing, are also popular on the island.

In fact, Tybee Island’s diverse ecosystem makes it great for birdwatching. The surrounding area is part of the Colonial Coast Birding Trail. The diverse ecosystem invites a range of marine life, too, so tourists often spot bottlenose dolphins just off the coast.

And while Savannah is 20 minutes away from Tybee Island, it is hard to talk about one without the other. You can stay in your preferred location and still access contrasting activities. Where Tybee Island is a great beach experience, Savannah offers museums and fine dining. The proximity gives you endless options for your visit.

Fort Pulaski is a common tourist destination.

Places To Stay: Where Will You Stay?

In comparing Savannah vs. Tybee Island, your decision will come down to personal preference. Stay in Savannah if you want more places to eat and more ways to occupy your time. Choose Tybee Island to disconnect and enjoy a slower pace of life.

Where Should You Stay Near Savannah?

The most popular place for tourists to stay is a stretch connecting the Savannah Historic District from the riverfront over toward the City Market. The downtown area in Savannah is brimming with Southern charm and beautiful architecture. It makes sense for most people to stay nearby so that they can walk to restaurants and explore.

A few blocks away from the riverfront, you can also find some great places to stay near the Victorian District. You might also enjoy the Spanish moss draped from the old oak trees in Ardsley Park. All of the major neighborhoods near downtown Savannah boast beautiful, historic architecture and mature, tree-lined streets.

One thing you will find is that it is very intuitive to find your way around downtown Savannah. The city’s layout was meticulously planned and designed in a grid pattern and is built around 22 picturesque squares.

Naturally, you can also choose to stay on one of the nearby beaches if you are interested in a more beach-focused getaway. There is a unique separation between Savannah and the local beaches, but spots like Tybee Island are only 20 minutes away from downtown.

Downtown Savannah, Georgia.

Where Should You Stay Near Tybee Island?

There is an extent to which lodging options are just what you might expect on Tybee Island. There are a few hotels and lots of vacation rentals. At the same time, you will find quaint bed-and-breakfast locations like the Georgianne Inn. Plus, the Hotel Tybee is known for its unique design and location near the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion.

The South Beach area of Tybee Island is where you will find the most activity and the most walkable experience. Those staying near South Beach can easily walk around to local restaurants or hang out near the pier.

The rest of the island is full of more residential-type vacation rentals, so you will find no shortage of unique options on Tybee Island. And still, some people prefer to stay in Savannah and drive over to the beach. It all depends on your favored experience. Stay on the island for a laid-back vibe where you can walk around in flip-flops and t-shirts.

Dining and Nightlife: Where Are The Best Places to Eat and Drink

Savannah naturally offers more options for dining and nightlife, but in considering Savannah vs. Tybee Island, there are fun places to eat and hang out in both locations.

Where Should You Eat and Hang Out In Savannah?

It all starts and ends with the Savannah City Market in historic downtown Savannah. The market has served as the city’s gathering place for decades upon decades, and that continues today.

In years gone by, you might have found local fisherman selling their daily catch in the market, but times have changed. Today, you are more likely to find shops hosted by local artisans (think hand-crafted jewelry). You will also find an entire lineup of restaurants and eateries.

The Savannah City Market has been around since the 1700s and stands proud as a spotlight on the region’s history and a showcase for its current culture. It is eclectic and features delicious eats, so you must check it out.

Beyond the Savannah City Market, we previously mentioned that The Olde Pink House is a must-visit. But before you visit, know this: Savannah is well thought of as one of the most haunted cities in the United States, and the Old Pink House is known as a haunted restaurant.

If you are looking for a dinner tour theme while in town, consider a tour of Savannah’s top haunted restaurants. 😀😉😎

The City Market is the most popular place to hang out and grab something to eat in Savannah, Georgia.

Where Should You Eat and Hang Out Near Tybee Island?

Dining and nighttime activities are clustered in a few primary spots on Tybee Island. The most obvious is the cluster of restaurants and eateries near the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion. There are several walkable blocks along the coast near the pier that is full of fun restaurants and stores.

Pier 16 might be the most popular restaurant, but it is far from the only option. There are multiple seafood spots, and you will find pizza and other common pier food too.

A few streets across the island, you will find AJ’s Dockside Restaurant along the Back River Beach. This is a favorite spot for locals and boating enthusiasts because you can dock your boat right at the restaurant!

Aside from these spots, many tourists drive to Savannah for at least a few meals while they are in the area. We recommend checking out the various restaurants inside the City Market in Savannah.

Savannah Riverfront
Savannah Riverfront Near Tybee Island

Should You Visit Savannah or Tybee Island?

In considering Savannah vs. Tybee Island as a potential getaway destination, the reality is that you can’t go wrong. Even so, there are obvious differences. You can stay in a beachside rental on Tybee Island while you can stay near some of the richest Southern history in Savannah.

And in some ways, it is interesting how different the two areas are. Some tourists are more likely to consider Charleston vs. Savannah or Hilton Head vs. Tybee Island as destinations because the experiences vary so much.

Kiawah Island, near Charleston, is another Tybee Island alternative, but it is much more exclusive and secluded.

This is the same reason that the Savannah and Tybee Island region is so interesting to consider. You can access the best of multiple worlds.

The Verdict: Savannah vs. Tybee Island

We recommend Tybee Island for families looking for a relaxing atmosphere to unwind and connect with each other. Tybee Island offers a number of popular restaurants and shops and access to a surprising amount of entertainment for such a small island. Visitors can see the lighthouse or For Pulaski, hang out on the beach, or go kayaking.

On the other hand, we recommend that you stay in Savannah if you are interested in museums, art galleries, fine dining, and refined culture. Savannah is also a better location for those interested in exploring the nightlife.

Either way, we are confident you will enjoy your coastal Georgia getaway!

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.