Tybee Island has become a playground for celebrities like John Mellencamp, who filmed scenes for his “Our Country” music video on the same sands where he enjoys leisurely strolls at his beach house on the island’s posh Officer’s Row. The Heat star Sandra Bullock also cools off in Tybee’s waves whenever she stays at her oceanfront home on North Beach, and best-selling author Kathy Hogan Trocheck (who is better known by her pen name Mary Kay Andrews) owns several properties that are available for rent through Mermaid Cottages.
So, why do these and other famous folks, from actor John Travolta to pop star Miley Cyrus, flock to Tybee? The answer is simple: They’re drawn by its quiet charm. The barrier island off Georgia’s coast isn’t known for its fancy restaurants or luxury resorts, but thanks to its close proximity to chic boutique hotels and renowned Southern eateries in nearby Savannah, the island is an ideal day-trip destination that transports visitors to a simpler era. It has everything you need for a good time — sand, waves, frozen cocktails and a relaxed vibe that begs for long bike rides, barefoot walks on the beach or an afternoon in the water (guided kayak tours to Little Tybee Island are a must-do activity for first-time visitors).
But don’t let Tybee’s modest persona fool you. Tucked between the cozy beach cottages sit some excellent restaurants that draw locals and stars. At the top of the list is Sundae Cafe — you know you’ve hit the jackpot when the first item on the menu is a “seafood cheesecake.” This appetizer is a tasty creation of shrimp and lump crab cake with a hint of smoked Gouda in a garlic butter crust that’s drizzled with balsamic syrup. For a proper lunch or dinner, skip the fried seafood platters in favor of a classic surf-and-turf plate or the sweet and spicy pistachio-crusted tuna.
Another talk of the town is Tybee Island Social Club, which opened its doors in 2010 and has been busy ever since. The long white outdoor curtains and soft lighting give this little gem a touch of glamour, but the real star is the cantina-inspired menu featuring funky tacos like the orange pork (shredded Boston butt topped with raisins, banana pepper, toasted almonds, cilantro, garlic aioli and caramelized onion) and the Zissou (marinated seared tuna, horseradish aioli, arugula and cucumber pico). And for a casual seaside treat, check out North Beach Bar and Grill, said to be one of Ben Affleck’s favorite spots whenever he comes to stay at his nearby coastal home on Hampton Island. On the eclectic Caribbean menu, you’ll find fresh-caught daily seafood specials and entrées such as Cuban ropa vieja and free-range jerk chicken served with sautéed vegetables and red beans and rice. The food is excellent, but the atmosphere is casual and meant to be enjoyed with flip-flops instead of heels.
If you choose to turn your day trip into an overnight stay, opt for accommodations from companies such as the aforementioned Mermaid Cottages or Tybee Vacation Rentals. Both businesses offer large, modern oceanfront homes ranging in size from one to six bedrooms, and some properties include private pools. The Lighthouse Inn Bed & Breakfast is another option. Located on the peaceful North Beach, this quaint inn celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010. Originally built as officers’ quarters for Fort Screven, the structure played a key role in the coastal defense system from 1897 until its closure in 1947. The inn’s wraparound porch provides ample space to kick back on a rocking chair and sip away on sweet tea, and serenity (and privacy) is assured since there are only three guest rooms.
Be it with hotels, cuisine or activities, Tybee’s easygoing culture emphasizes the stuff of summer dreams — as the island’s lazy days and laid-back charm make Hollywood’s elite and everyday travelers feel worlds away.
Photos Courtesy of Adam Kuehl and TybeeVacationRentals.com