Savannah’s location in the heart of the southeastern lowcountry makes it an ideal place from which to see the beautiful marshes and islands of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
Several of the sea islands of Georgia and South Carolina have been developed into seafront resorts, ideal for beach-going and relaxation or for active and outdoor recreations such as golfing, fishing and boating. Tybee Island is nearest to Savannah and is a popular choice for beachgoers. Further down the coast, near Brunswick, are the more upmarket St Simons Island and Jekyll Island. Hilton Head is also close by.
Most of the islands and marshes, however, have been minimally developed. Georgia’s oceanfront and tidelands are home to a wide range of wildlife and particularly, birdlife. Along the coast and marshlands are numerous state parks and wildlife refuges, providing ideal spots for hiking or biking or for nature study and photography.
Along the coast are many historic attractions, including spots important in America’s colonial, antebellum, and military and maritime history, from forts and lighthouses to historic towns and plantation grounds.
18 miles from Savannah and probably its most popular resort, the small community of Tybee Island is a favorite destination for Savannah residents and for visitors from further afield.
Besides the miles of beach, Tybee has numerous annual festivals and parades, nearby Fort Pulaski National Monument, and the Tybee Island Lighthouse, one of the most completely preserved lighthouses in the United States.
Hilton Head is another favorite resort just over the South Carolina border, less than an hour from Savannah.
Especially popular with golfers, Hilton Head also has numerous beaches and natural areas for active recreation, including the nearby Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Plantation ruins, a lighthouse and the adjacent city of Bluffton are also attractions.
St Simons Island is another of Georgia’s sea island resorts, an hour or so south of Savannah. The Island was the site of one of Georgia’s earliest colonial settlements, later devoted to cotton plantations and now built up into a small town.
Fort Frederica National Monument and the St Simons Island Lighthouse are favorite things to see, besides beach-going and activities such as golfing, biking, kayaking and fishing.
Adjacent to St Simons Island is Jekyll Island, once the winter retreat of some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the country and now redeveloped as a public resort.
Attractions include the Jekyll Island Club Historic District, where the hotels and “cottages” of those 19th-century visitors remain, beaches (the “tree graveyard” at Driftwood Beach is a particularly interesting sight), golfing, and nature and active pursuits. Historical and nature-focused tours of the island are also available.
Nature and wildlife attractions abound in the coastal regions around Savannah.
State-managed parks and some historic sites are ideal for hiking, biking and camping. Many of the sea islands are undeveloped and preserved as wildlife refuges, offering almost pristine and often secluded spots for outdoor activities, and bird and wildlife spotting. Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding Trail outlines many of the spots most suitable for bird watching.
Many migrating species and larger wading birds can be seen in the marshes and coast northwards and southwards of Savannah, besides the region’s alligators, deer, lizards, snakes and small mammals. Some of the sea islands, including Blackbeard and Wolf Islands, are nesting grounds for the endangered loggerhead turtle.
One of Georgia’s most beautiful state parks, Skidaway Island State Park, is only a few miles from Savannah. The undeveloped Little Tybee and Wassaw Islands are also nearby, if you have access to a boat.
Along the coast are the several national wildlife refuges of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, mostly located on or near the region’s sea islands. The exception is the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, situated on the Savannah River a few miles inland from the city, where wildlife and birdlife and the remnants of rice plantation ditches can be seen.
Within an hour or so of Savannah are several historic forts (mostly managed by the State of Georgia or the National Park Service) representing a variety of fortification types employed from the early colonial period up to the 20th century.
The most completely preserved sites are at Fort Pulaski and Fort James Jackson, both only minutes away from Savannah. Fort Screven, a Spanish-American War era fort that has since been mostly integrated into the surrounding neighborhood, is also nearby.
Earthwork forts and their remnants from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War can be seen at Fort McAllister and Fort Morris, respectively. Furthest down the coast are the colonial era Fort Frederica and Fort King George, the latter reconstructed to its original appearance.
Lighthouses were an important aspect of Georgia’s maritime history. Three of the state’s five surviving lighthouses are open to the public.
Tybee Island Lighthouse, one of the most completely preserved lighthouses in the country, is located on the north of Tybee Island. It also has an attached museum. Nearby Cockspur Island Lighthouse, whilst technically open to visitors, is located on a rock off Cockspur Island, making access difficult.
St Simons Island Lighthouse is likewise open to visitors. A small museum is onsite, and entrance to another museum at the Maritime Center is included in the admission fee.
The Sapelo Island Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Altamaha River, is operated by Georgia State Parks. It is open to the public, but can at present only be visited on guided tours of Sapelo Island.
The Colonial Era plantation of Wormsloe, managed as a state historic site, is only a short drive from central Savannah. The ruins of a tabby plantation house and an avenue of live oaks can be seen, with nature trails and interpretive sites.
LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation is a former rice plantation further down the Georgia coast, in the small, colonial-era city of Midway. Much of the site is now in disrepair, but the peaceful, wooded grounds are open daily, with guided tours available by appointment.
Another former rice plantation is Hofwyl-Broadfield, a historic site operated by Georgia State Parks, which has a museum, a plantation house, and a nature trail. The site is open Wednesday through Sunday.