The splendor of a Savannah, Ga., getaway stretches beyond the city limits, but still well within reach. These five distinct low country locales deliver beautiful beaches along with history, nature and sport. Looking for an easy day trip or a reason to extend your Savannah visit? Look no further.
1. Hilton Head: Hit the Links or Lounge Ashore
This South Carolina island packs a potent vacation punch: 24 golf courses, 12 miles of sand and nearly 60 miles of bike baths. Coligny Beach Park, one of seven public beach access points, is an ideal place to start. A brick-lined path flanked by Adirondack chairs and porch swings leads the way to the beach, where a wheelchair-accessible pathway awaits. Grandkids will go gonzo for the splash pad, and several restaurants — including a sandwich and ice cream shop — are within strolling distance.
If golf is your game, plot your course from the 24 options. Pete Dye’s lauded Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the RBC Heritage PGA golf tournament, is one of three public courses on the expansive Sea Pines Resort. Sea Pines is also home to Harbour Town, a bustling cluster of shops and restaurants adjacent to the Harbour Town Lighthouse & Museum. In the evening, join the crowd under the giant Liberty live oak for Gregg Russell’s sing-along concerts, held every night in the summer.
Drive time: Approximately 45 minutes
2. Tybee Island: Wander the Beach Town Time Forgot
With its kaleidoscopic, low-slung beach houses and kitschy seafood spots, Tybee Island, a Georgia barrier isle, delivers on character as well as convenience. By day, you can sun, shell and swim on the lovely beach; go fishing or people watching on the Tybee Pier & Pavilion; or climb to the top of the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, the oldest and tallest in the state. Local businesses line Highway 80 and its side streets. Pop into Fish Art Gallerie to browse the maritime wares of folk artist Ralph Douglas Jones or hit Seaside Sisters next door for an eye-catching beach bag or summerystatement necklace.
Wind down with dinner at Coco’s Sunset Grille, a laid-back seafood shack that serves wild-caught Georgia shrimp. The restaurant sits on marshy Lazaretto Creek, a prime thoroughfare for shrimp boats returning from sea. From May through September longtime tour guide Captain Mike offers sunset dolphin tours that depart from a dock next door.
Drive time: Approximately 30 minutes
3. St. Simons Island: Soak Up History and See the Shifting Tides
The largest of Georgia’s picturesque Golden Isles, St. Simonslays claim to white-sand East Beach, a pristine stretch that expands dramatically with the lowering tide. Beyond the beach, a rich history unfolds, from the island’s 16th-century discovery by Spanish explorers to the postcard-worthy vacation destination it is now.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, St. Simons was home to several large cotton plantations. The First African Baptist Church, organized by enslaved Africans at one such plantation, still operates out of a gabled white church constructed in 1869, 10 years after its founding. St. Simons Trolley Tours cruise the island twice a day (April through August). If you’re short on time, it’s the best way to take in the historic sites, which also include the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, Fort Frederica and Christ Church.
Cap off the history tour with dinner at the oceanfront ECHOrestaurant at the King and Prince Resort. This elegant hotel served as a U.S. Navy post during World War II, and the restaurant sits in the space formerly occupied by officers’ quarters, classrooms and radar towers.
Drive time: Approximately 1.5 hours
4. Jekyll Island: Meet Sea Turtles and Trace the Steps of Tycoons
Jekyll Island’s half a dozen beaches along 10 miles of unspoiled shoreline offer the ultimate in quiet relaxation (with free beach wheelchairs at three access points). Bring your camera — the best Jekyll Island souvenir is a photo taken on Driftwood Beach, where wind- and sun-ravaged fallen trees act as eerie natural sculptures in the sand, or of the migratory birds on St. Andrews Beach.
In the 19th century this expansive Georgia island was a private retreat for the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts and other bold-faced names of the Victorian era. As a result, it was the site of several historic happenings — the first transcontinental telephone call and the creation of the Federal Reserve among them. Take it all in on a guided tram tour of the 240-acre historic district, which includes glimpses inside two preserved guest cottages and the striking Faith Chapel, complete with terra-cotta gargoyles and Tiffany stained-glass windows.
Jekyll Island is also home to Georgia’s only rehabilitation center for endangered sea turtles. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center offers several opportunities daily to meet the recovering reptiles. During nesting season (June and July), learn about their precarious life cycle and observe active nests during nighttime turtle walks.
Drive time: Approximately 1.5 hours
5. Hunting Island State Park: Surround Yourself in Nature
If you’re in search of peace and quiet — and maybe a little fishing too — South Carolina’s secluded Hunting Island is the place. Marsh and maritime forest give way to a saltwater lagoon, ocean inlet and five miles of pristine beach. Seahorses and barracuda make their home in the lagoon, and the roster of dry-land wildlife includes raccoon, deer and hundreds of species of birds.
An eight-mile-long hike & bike trail traverses the island, with several options for shorter walks. The two-mile Maritime Forest Trail is a peaceful sojourn past slash pines, live oaks and cabbage palmettos, while the ¼-mile Marsh Boardwalk Trail is a tour of the salt marsh that ends on a dock with the perfect perch for sunset viewing.
Anglers can fish Johnson Creek or the lagoon, or surf cast for bull redfish on the beach. (Gear is available for purchase or rent from the campground store.) Interpretive walks, guided bike rides, tours of the 143-year-old lighthouse (up 167 steps) and other special events are offered daily — check the park calendar.
Drive time: Approximately 1 hour 15 minutes