Author Mary Kay Andrews’s guide to Tybee Island

The bestselling author on how to enjoy Tybee, her happy place

Mary Kay Andrews's guide to Tybee Island
The Tybee Pier

Photograph courtesy of Explore Georgia/Ralph Daniel

Approaching Tybee Island on U.S. 80 from Savannah, you’ll see blinking signs that caution approaching drivers to slow their roll. And that’s a perfect metaphor for this throwback island’s communal consciousness.

Slow down, and set your watch to Tybee Time. Ain’t nobody out here in a hurry.

Tybee Island. What’s not to love? Only 2.5 miles long, the island’s five miles of ocean- and riverfront beaches are wide and wide open to the public, surely the most democratic beach in the South. Tybee has no “plantations,” no security-gated members-only clubs, no clubs of any kind—well, that is, unless you count the American Legion, housed in a circa 1911 hall that features weekly bingo nights, line dancing, and, most importantly, a bar that serves the stiffest, cheapest drinks on the island.

The locals insist that Tybee is a state of mind, and they’re not wrong. The sensibility is laid-back and low-key. You won’t need anything dressier than flip-flops and shorts, no matter where you go.

What’s there to do on Tybee? You could show off and climb all 178 steps to the top of the Tybee lighthouse on the north end, where you’ll be treated to panoramic coastal views. Kayak or paddleboard over to Little Tybee Island on the south end. Take the kiddies to the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center, or book an eco-tour or dolphin-watching boat trip. Rent a golf cart or, better yet, a bike to tool around the island.

Or you could just surrender to the charm of Tybee, which is to say, not do much at all. If you’re an early riser, catch a hibiscus-hued sunrise at one of the beach walk-overs. Take a book or stop by Seaside Sisters, which stocks beach reads (including mine!), and stroll down to the beach. At lunchtime, get yourself over to Tybee’s only supermarket, the IGA, and order a deli sandwich or some excellent fried chicken, and make yourself a picnic. Or buy some bait and a net and go crabbing or fishing off the Tybee Pier.

At the end of the day, sunburnt and hungry, you could ride over to Chamacos for decent Mexican-style street tacos. Play some old-school video games while you wait for your food. Or go for pizza and a round of cornhole at Huc-A-Poo’s Bites & Booze (or Poo’s, as the locals call it). Best bet? Treat yourself to dinner at Sundae Cafe, which was featured on a recent episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. (Pro tip: Sit at the bar.) If you’ve still got some energy, see what’s playing at the Tybee Post Theater, the restored 1930s movie house for the U.S. Army’s now-decommissioned Fort Screven, which shows a mix of recent-run and classic movies, along with an eclectic lineup of live music from tribute bands covering the Allman Brothers, Journey, and yes, inevitably, Jimmy Buffett.

Ideally, though, you’ll pour yourself an adult beverage and find your way to the south end of the island, around the 19th Street crossover. Park yourself in the sand, sit back, and wait for the best show going: a trademark Technicolor Tybee Island sunset.

Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of 31 novels, including her most recent, The Homewreckers, which is set on Tybee Island. A full-time resident of Atlanta, she and her husband have owned vacation rental cottages on the island for 16 years.

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This article appears in our August 2023 issue.