Although the USA has an infinite amount of travel options, the beautiful south remains one of the most intriguing regions to explore. Especially charming are the many quaint cities along the Atlantic coast like Charleston and Savannah.
A visit to historic Savannah, Georgia, offers an unmistakeable mix of southern sophistication and vibrant energy. Guest contributor, Sam Lowe, explains the best way to explore this sultry southern city.
Two things to remember before taking a trip to explore the wonders of Savannah, the Georgian gem in the southern crown:
First, don’t be in a hurry.
Second, take good walking shoes.
Few other places in the United States invite the old, the young and everyone in between to relax and enjoy the charm it offers through leisurely strolls, walking tours and the scenic beauty of its parks, where Spanish moss creates a natural drapery across the massive oak trees.
Walking around Savannah
The city was laid out in 1733 by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, who apparently had peace and contentment on his mind when he drew the original sketches. He included more than 45 cultural attractions, plentiful foliage and 27 historic squares. And so, although he may not have realized it at the time, Oglethorpe was creating one of the most walkable and most enjoyable cities in the United States.
Spend time in the Savannah Squares
The squares held the most appeal for Lyn, my wife, and me. They are all within blocks of each other.
Every one of them has breathtaking displays of foliage, statuary, fountains and landscaping. Plus they have plenty of what some of the locals called “jes’ settin’ places,” which afford good spots to linger, sit a spell and relax while the Southern atmosphere gently caresses the body and frees the mind from the mundane.
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All the squares are filled with museums, antebellum mansions and churches. And each square contains at least one statue of some famous person (famous at least in the South). The monuments are dappled by the sunlight as it filters through the shrouds of Spanish moss that hangs daintily from the huge oak trees.
Some of the trees appear to be at least a century old. One old tree has become a major tourist attraction because it’s so large that it takes at least two people to encircle it with outstretched arms so they can have a photograph taken of them hugging an oak tree.
Another camera-appealing site is the fountain in Forsyth Park, one of the squares. It shoots water into the air from a wide variety of spouts and spigots, creating a determined, but quiet, departure from the serenity of its surroundings.
We also explored Bonaventure Cemetery and Colonial Park Cemetery, two venerable burial grounds, and examined headstones that go back more than 200 years. Even though the graves and markers have lain there in silence for decade upon decades, we found ourselves whispering in some sort of awed reverence.
Visit the Historic District on a Savannah walk
Then we walked to the Historic District, encompassing 2.5 square miles. It’s designated as the largest National Historic Landmark District in the U.S.
Graceful old mansions, some allegedly survivors of the Civil War, line the cobblestone byways, many of them leading to the next favorite stop – the Savannah River Street. There, candy shops, art galleries, gift stores and souvenir vendors wait patiently to exchange their wares for dollars while paddle boats churn their way along the Savannah River as it glides into the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the shops are located in reconstituted old buildings that were originally cotton warehouses.
A short distance away, the City Market plays host to visitors, locals, diners, street musicians, young people, kids, old folks, itinerants and merchants, all blended together to create a melange of color, charm, hospitality and warmth. We took a breather there, and sat a spell next to an independent merchant who whistled old Southern tunes while crafting bracelets from palm fronds and native grass.
Then, as our final walking venture, we marched over to Bull and Broughton Streets and browsed through the antique stores selling things we threw away decades ago. They’er now on sale for much, much more than what we originally paid.
So the need for good walking shoes and an unhurried pace are obvious.
Explore Tybee Island
But, of course, there are other means of transportation that will take you to places not available to those clad in sneakers. Tybee Island is one of them. It’s about 20 miles east of downtown Savannah and it features a very photogenic lighthouse, along with sand dunes, waving sand grasses and a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean.
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And for the foot-weary, the tourism and visitor agency can recommend narrated trolley and bus tours that afford glimpses of the city’s more than 100 tourist attractions. One of the more interesting is the Hearse Ghost Tour, which transports guests to supposed haunted houses and other spooky sites in a genuine hearse.
The key element to enjoying Savannah, I believe, is this:
Take your time. Even by walking fast while shod in good footwear, or riding on four wheels, you aren’t going to see everything in one day. Spend at least a couple of days, or even a week, and let the Old South ease your soul.