Updated: Jun 16, 2019
I get this question ALL. THE. TIME.
I probably get asked this often because, for starters, I live near Tampa and the Gulf of Mexico, which has some of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., yet we drive 6 hours to go to Coastal Georgia & secondly, Tybee is still one of Georgia’s best kept secrets so lots of people haven’t heard of it.
So before we talk about the “WHY” of Tybee, let me tell you the “HOW”. In 2004, when Jon & I were almost 3 years into married life, he surprised me with a trip to beautiful, historic Savannah, Georgia. We traveled over my Spring Break, as I was teaching elementary art at the time, and we stayed at a cute little historic Bed & Breakfast. That trip made us fall in love with Savannah and over the next few years, we made several trips back to explore the area at all different times of the year. It became “our place” and each time we tried something new or did a tour we hadn’t done before. Our favorite times to visit were during the Spring, or right after Thanksgiving, but we found the Savannah City Squares to be unbearably hot in the summertime. One particular trip, we decided to take a drive out to the nearby beach we had seen signs for. It was only 20 minutes away and we were curious to know if that area might be more enjoyable in the summer. We immediately fell in love with quirky, friendly, sleepy little Tybee Island. It had such a laid back, non-touristy vibe. The pace was slow, the beaches were wide and uncrowded and there was so much to do.
This was our first trip out to Tybee in October of 2004. I love the totally natural light leak in the bottom right pic. I didn't use "filters" back then!
It had always been a dream of ours to find a place for our family to visit annually. When our first daughter was born, this became a tradition we really wanted to start. When she was one, we found a little Tybee house on Craigslist to rent for the 4th of July. It was magical!
We loved all the flags, the patriotic decorations, the people riding by on bicycles & the fireworks bursting above the Pier. We were hooked. The following 4th of July, we rented the slightly larger house just across the street and invited some friends to join us. We so enjoyed showing them around Tybee. We took them to the Lighthouse, the Pier, Ft. Pulaski, all our favorite restaurants, and the South End beach – where the Back River meets the ocean.
That summer, I found out I was expecting baby number 2 and between our love for Tybee and my obsession with Coastal Living magazine, we starting considering buying a Tybee beach house of our own. I had read about the darling Mermaid Cottages and the company owner, Diane Kaufman, in a few different magazine articles, including these Southern Living and Better Homes & Gardens articles. She managed a collection of beach rental home and had restored her own home then moved into her next project, which was right next door. I was also in awe of the design styles of Jane Coslick, who had restored and decorated several historic Tybee cottages in a bright, fun, but never cheesy, pop of bold color beach vibe. As we began looking at listings in 2011 and meeting with a realtor, I was in total fan girl mode that THE Diane Kaufman – from THE magazine articles had listed THE house, Mermaid Manor, which I had fallen in love with. Not to mention, she had a Bellamy Murphy painting that is still on my "someday I'll own one" list.
We HAD to schedule a viewing!!! Diane was home, but stepped out while we walked around the house and I was soaking in every detail. It was completely surreal to be even considering purchasing such a beautifully restored historic home in such an idyllic location. Our realtor mentioned to Diane that we would be interested in listing our future beach home with her as a Mermaid Cottage so we all sat down at her dining table and she thoroughly explained the rental process, gave us projected numbers, and answered every possible question we had. She shared with us how she runs her company, treats people, honors military, gives back, welcomes fur babies, etc. We just felt a real connection and friendship. We didn’t want to list our future beach home with any other company and from that time on, we have never rented from any other company on the island!
Side note: We rented Mermaid Manor a few times and while we loved staying there, we had decided that it wouldn’t be the best fit for us. The first time we rented it, Diane was living next door at Dutton-Waller Cottage, which she had lovingly restored as well. She has since told me that she was sitting on her porch one evening at sunset as Jon & I quietly crept out the front door after putting 2 littles to bed so I could photograph the sunset. I was hugely pregnant with my 3rd who was due mid July so we did an early beach trip in June that year. Diane said she just loved the way we sat together and talked. I have no idea what we said but something about our interaction or conversation made an impression on her, just as her friendship had made an impression on us and the rest is truly history.
My parents had joined us for a few days on that trip as well, and my Mom had snapped this photo of me chatting with Diane earlier that day as she watered her plants.
Our search for a beach house of our own continued and we made several trips back to Tybee for that purpose. Diane was a great reference to run houses by. We would often ask her opinion and she would often tell us, “No, you don’t want that one. It will be too small for you guys – it’s not really what you want.” You see, she “got” us. We had formed a friendship and she understood our dreams and our goals.
Long story short, in 2012, we DID find the perfect 1920’s historic beach home on Tybee with an ocean view and lots of space, but we had to walk away from it just 2 weeks before closing. We discovered right at the end that there were legal issues with the lot lines and it was too risky of a position to put ourselves in. We were heartbroken but knew it was the right decision.
Fast forward to 2019…Turns out, we love the freedom of staying in different Tybee cottages! The kids have their favorites, and it’s funny to hear the nicknames they come up with for them. We have become friends with several of the “Mermaids” who work for Mermaid Cottages and we try to visit 3-4 times a year! Diane is still one of our dearest friends and we keep in touch often. She even took the time to stop by and visit with us when we were just there 2 weeks ago, during one of her busiest rental weeks of the year.
That, my friends, is WHY we love Tybee. That is why we drive 6 hours to go to the beach when the Gulf is basically at our back door. That is why we recommend our favorite little beach town to everyone we know. It’s charming, the people are warm, the sunsets are incredible and we’re convinced that even a rainy day on Tybee is better than a sunny day anywhere else.
If you want to go see it for yourself, visit MermaidCottages.com and use code “JustRelaxBoo” at booking to save 5% off your reservation! (conditions apply) Maybe you’ll see us there!
Here are some throw back pics of us enjoying Tybee when we were just a family of 4.