A little over four hour’s drive north from the east coast of Central Florida, is Tybee Island, Georgia. Tybee Island is home to the beach that Savannah, Georgia residents use. Just across the Intracoastal Waterway, it’s a world apart from Savannah’s crowded, tourist-packed River Street district.
The drive over from Savannah takes you past the access to Fort Pulaski National Monument and a lighthouse on Cockspur Island, and gives you a glimpse of the Georgia low country, with salt marshes and savannahs stretching out from US Highway 80.
The Lighthouse sits across from North Beach and Fort Screven. You can purchase tickets that allow admission to both. There is no free public parking on Tybee Island, so even if you don’t tour the Lighthouse or fort, you still need to pay a daily fee for parking along the beachside.
We visited on a weekend in July. Stepping outside the air-conditioned car into the scorching 104-degree weather made us wonder whether we should have waited until cooler temperatures arrived on the island. Nevertheless, we were determined to see the sights.
Parking in the lot at the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum entrance, we made our way to the admissions booth. The fee included parking and access to the Lighthouse and the Museum.
Before we did anything, we decided to grab a bite to eat. Making our way across the street, we entered the North Beach area. There is a bar and grill there, called, get ready for it, “North Beach Bar and Grill.” Some patrons had opted for outside seating, but with the high humidity and temperature, we chose to eat inside.
The restaurant is a fusion style place with a flair for Caribbean cuisine. Glancing over the menu, we found several unusual options such as seafood nachos, collard green and bacon dip and, Plantains-N-Salsa, to name a few. For the main course, seafood is prominent on the menu, along with burgers and wings. Beer is served bottled and refreshingly cold.
While I opted for a grilled veggie sandwich, others in the party ordered citrus shrimp salad, hamburgers, and seafood nachos. We were all pleased with our choices. Although we were there in the afternoon, it was noted that the restaurant offers live music during the evening hours Thursday through Sunday.
After lunch, we headed to Fort Screven (Georgia’s last coastal fort) and the museum housed in Battery Garland. Thankfully, it’s air-conditioned, which was a welcome relief from the heat. It has some stairs to climb, so those people with mobility issues or baby strollers may find it a bit difficult to tour.
The museum’s displays highlight the history of the fort, the light station, and the surrounding area. Popular with educators and school groups, the museum is a great learning center.
Back outside, we walked over to the five-acre lighthouse grounds and entered the compound. The light station is, of course, the main feature. It is the tallest at 154’ and the oldest tower in Georgia. With 178 steps in a spiral staircase, it is a treat for those with good knees and no fear of heights. The top, near the Fresnel lens, offers a 360-degree view of the area.
There are six historical buildings on the grounds. The Tybee Island Historical Society has restored them to their circa 1900 condition. The buildings include the head lighthouse keeper’s cottage, the first assistant keeper’s cottage, and the second assistant keeper’s cottage. They are kind of interesting to view, and give you an idea of the day-to-day living for the keepers and their families.
Day Mark and Night Signature patterns were navigational aids used to identify different light stations. The Day Mark is the color scheme or paint design used on a specific light station. The Night Signature had to do with the light pattern emitted by the tower. The signature could be a series of blinks, rotations or fixed light patterns. The Tybee Island Light Station has a First Order Fresnel Lens, which magnified the light source. Of the approximately 850 light stations in the United States, only 15, including the one on Tybee Island, have their original First Order (Sea Coast Light) Fresnel Lens.
Tybee Island has had a lighthouse since the Colonial era, starting in 1736. However, the current tower is the third light station to stand on the island. It was originally completed in 1773 but has had a series of renovations since, particularly after the Confederates troops burned the upper portion of the tower in 1862 to prevent Federal troops from using it as a navigational aid to guide their ships. With the bottom 60’ left intact, the light station was renovated to become fire-proof.
Lighthouse keepers operated the tower up until 1948 when the last one died. After his death, the US Coast Guard occupied the structure until 1987. Although the Coast Guard still operates the tower as a navigational aid, the maintenance and restoration are shared by the City of Tybee Island and The Tybee Island Historical Society.
The Lighthouse is at 30 Meddin Drive, Tybee Island, GA 31328. Phone 912.786.5801. Open every day but Tuesday from 9 am until 5:30 pm. Closed New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. From May until September, sunset tours of the light station are offered.