With Hilton Head
By Jim Morekis
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- ebook $11.99 $15.99 CAD
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- Explore the City: Navigate by neighborhood or by activity, with color-coded maps of Savannah’s most interesting areas
- See the Sights: Take a guided tour of Fort Pulaski or climb to the top of the Tybee Island Light Station. Stroll bustling downtown Savannah, visit historic gothic cathedrals, and admire classic antebellum architecture. Tour the First African Baptist Church, or take the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, rent a bike, and pedal among the ruins of old mansions
- Get a Taste of the City: Sample classic fried chicken, home-style Southern cooking, and the smokiest slabs of barbecue around
- Bars and Nightlife: Jam to live music at a pub or kick back with the locals at a fun dive bar (and take your beer with you in a to-go cup!)
- Honest Advice: Savannah native Jim Morekis shares a local perspective on his beloved city
- Itineraries and Day Trips: Follow itineraries designed for families, beach lovers, history buffs, foodies, and more, and get outside the city to Hilton Head or the Golden Isles
- Full-Color Photos and Detailed Maps
- Handy Tools: Background information on Savannah’s landscape, history, and culture, tips on getting there and getting around, and advice for travelers with disabilities, families with children, seniors, and LGBTQ+ travelers
Hitting the road? Try Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip. Seeing more southern cities? Try Moon Atlanta or Moon Charleston.
8 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Savannah
SOUTHERN COOKING: HIGH STYLE AND HOMESTYLE
SAVANNAH IN ONE DAY
African American Heritage
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Kayaking Southern Swamps
In an increasingly homogenized society, Savannah is one of the last places where eccentricity is celebrated and even encouraged. This outspoken, often stubborn determination to make one’s own way in the world is personified by the old Georgia joke about Savannah being the capital of “the state of Chatham,” the county in which it resides. In typical contrarian fashion, Savannahians take this nickname as a compliment.
Savannah was built as a series of rectangular “wards,” each constructed around a central square. As the city grew, each square took on its own characteristics, depending on who lived on the square and how they made their livelihood. Sounds simple—and it is. That’s why its effectiveness has lasted so long.
It is this individuality that is so well documented in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The squares of Savannah’s downtown—a National Landmark Historic District since 1965—are also responsible for the city’s walkability, another defining characteristic. Just as cars entering a square must yield to traffic already within, pedestrians are obliged to slow down and interact with the surrounding environment, both constructed and natural. You become participant and audience simultaneously, a feat made easier by the local penchant for easy conversation.
Savannah is also known for being able to show you a rowdy good time, and not only during its massive world-famous St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Savannahians will use any excuse for a party, exemplified by the city’s very liberal open-container law. It is this sort of freedom of merriment that captures Savannah’s essence.
So go on, join in the fun—you may even learn something new about yourself.
8 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Historic Tours: The historic downtown area of Savannah is best experienced on foot or by carriage (click here).
2 Southern Cuisine: Some of America’s finest award-winning chefs ply their trade in this city, serving up dishes both homestyle and high style (click here).
3 Festival Fever: St. Patrick’s Day is famous in Savannah—come find out why (click here).
4 Cemetery Scenery: For both intriguing American history and scenic beauty, check out Bonaventure Cemetery (click here), Laurel Grove Cemetery (click here), and Colonial Cemetery (click here).
5 African American Heritage: Savannah’s history is black history, from the oldest black congregation in North America to the living legacy of the Gullah from the nearby Golden Isles (click here).
6 Forsyth Park: This verdant expanse ringed by old live oaks and chockablock with memorials is the true center of downtown life (click here).
7 To-Go Cup Revelry: Savannah is one of the few cities in the United States where you can stroll the streets enjoying an adult beverage—legally (click here)!
8 A Day at the Beach: From family-friendly beaches on Hilton Head Island to romantic solitude on Cumberland Island, there’s a beach here for everyone (click here).
Planning Your Trip
It’s only natural to start one’s adventures in Savannah where Oglethorpe’s adventures themselves began: on the waterfront, now dominated by scenic and historic River Street. Once the bustling center of Savannah’s thriving cotton and naval stores export industry, the waterfront also includes Factor’s Walk and Bay Street.
In local parlance, the phrase “City Market” refers not only to the refurbished warehouses that make up this tourist-friendly area of shops and restaurants in the historic district’s western portion but also to its bookends, Franklin and Ellis Squares.
Life in the bulk of downtown revolves around Savannah’s many historic squares, legacies of the colony’s founding. Churches, homes, shops, and businesses abound in this sizable but very walkable National Landmark Historic District.
The name means “South of Forsyth Park,” and this pretty, quiet, but up-and-coming area includes Savannah’s Victorian district as well as turn-of-the-20th-century “streetcar suburbs.” It also has many of Savannah’s foodie gems.
Boasting 50 blocks of fine Victorian and Queen Anne frame houses, Savannah’s Victorian district is truly magnificent. The city’s first suburb, it was built between 1870 and 1910. In addition to the glories of Forsyth Park, some key areas for connoisseurs of truly grand Victorian architecture are the residential blocks of East Hall Street between Lincoln and Price Streets—one of the few street sections in town with the original paving. Some other nice examples are in the 1900-2000 blocks of Bull Street near the large Bull Street Public Library, including the famous “Gingerbread House” at 1917 Bull Street.
Eastside includes many areas that are technically islands, but you’ll sense little difference from the mainland. Marshland, Spanish moss, and outdoor scenery are the draws.
To most locals, “Southside” refers to the generic strip-mall sprawl below Derenne Avenue, but for our purposes, the term also includes some outlying islands. They are among the most scenic areas in Savannah.
Its name means “salt” in the old Euchee tongue, indicative of the island’s chief export in those days. And Tybee Island—“Tybee” to locals—is indeed one of the essential seasonings of life in Savannah. Tybee is part and parcel of the city’s social and cultural fabric. Many of the island’s 3,000 full-time residents, known for their boozy bonhomie and quirky personal style, commute to work in the city. And those living “in town” often reciprocate by visiting Tybee to dine in its few but excellent restaurants, drink in its casual and crazy watering holes, and frolic on its wide, beautiful beaches lined with rare sea oats waving in the Atlantic breeze.
Outlying areas of Savannah differ in character, ranging from the bustling new growth of West Chatham County, featuring the Mighty Eighth National Air Force Museum, to the Henry Ford-related history of the bedroom community of Richmond Hill, to the blackwater ecosystem of New Ebenezer, to the quaint and quiet Liberty County, home of two out of three of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence.
When to Go
Springtime is for lovers, and it’s no coincidence that springtime is when most love affairs with the region begin. Unless you have severe pollen allergies—not a trivial concern given the explosion of plant life at this time—you should try to experience this area at its peak of natural beauty during the magical period from mid-March to mid-May. Not surprisingly, lodging is the most expensive and most difficult to secure at that time. Hilton Head’s busiest time is during the RBC Heritage golf tournament in mid-April. While last-minute cancellations are always possible, the only real guarantee is to secure reservations as far in advance as possible (a full year in advance is not unusual for peak times).
Activity here slows down noticeably in July and August. But overall, summertime in the South gets a bad rap and is often not appreciably worse than summers north of the Mason-Dixon Line—though it’s certainly more humid.
My favorite time of year on the southeastern coast is the middle of November, when the tourist crush noticeably subsides. Not only are the days delightful and the nights crisp (but not frigid), but you can get a room at a good price.
What to Take
Unless you’re coming in the winter to take advantage of lower rates or to enjoy the copious seasonal cheer, there’s not much need for a heavy jacket. A sweater or windbreaker will do fine for chillier days. Also note that the ocean and the larger rivers can generate some surprisingly crisp breezes, even on what otherwise might be a warm day.
Because of the area’s temperate climate, perspiration is likely to be a constant travel companion; pack accordingly. Whatever you wear, stay with natural fabrics such as cotton. The humidity and generally warm weather combine for a miserable experience with polyester and other synthetic fabrics.
Unless you’re coming in the hottest days of summer or the coldest part of winter—both unlikely scenarios—plan on a trip to a drugstore or supermarket to buy some bug spray or Skin So Soft, an Avon product that also keeps away the gnats.
The Best of Savannah
Downtown Savannah comprises one of the largest historic districts in the country, and is certainly among the most walkable and friendly. This itinerary also takes you to outlying areas around Savannah and down the beautiful Georgia coast, where you can experience the area’s natural beauty and pleasant climate.
Hit downtown Savannah hard today, starting with a walk down River Street. Then enjoy the aesthetic charms of the two adjacent museums, one traditional and one modern, composing the Telfair Museums. Tour the exquisite Owens-Thomas House Museum and then take a walk through the squares, visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Lafayette Square and the Mercer-Williams House on Monterey Square.
On your way out to Tybee Island, stop for a walk through amazing Bonaventure Cemetery—about 15 minutes outside downtown—and pay your respects to native son Johnny Mercer. A half-hour drive takes you to scenic and historically important Fort Pulaski National Monument. Scoot on into Tybee another 10 minutes and climb to the top of the Tybee Island Light Station before dinner.
THE GOLDEN ISLES
Drive down scenic U.S. 17 through the Altamaha River estuary, about an hour and a half south of Savannah, and stop by historic Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, near Brunswick, for a glimpse at an authentic old rice plantation. Make the five-minute trip over the causeway and enjoy the afternoon at The Village on St. Simons Island, with a visit to historic Fort Frederica National Monument.
This morning, a 20-minute drive takes you into the Jekyll Island Historic District. Tour the grounds and have lunch at any of the great restaurants on-site. Rent a bike and pedal up to the Clam Creek Picnic Area, checking out the Horton House Tabby Ruins along the way. Ride on the sand to Driftwood Beach and relax awhile.
This morning, drive an hour south to St. Marys and have a walk around the cute little downtown area before heading out on the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore. The 45-minute ferry ride takes you to a full day of biking or hiking the many trails among the ruins and dunes.
Make the half-hour drive into Folkston and the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Take a guided tour up and down the blackwater canal, or walk the trails out to the swamp’s prairie vistas and drink in this unique natural beauty.
With More Time
HILTON HEAD ISLAND
Drive to Hilton Head Island, where you can spend a few hours sunning or biking on the family-friendly beach, shop, or visit the free and informative Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. A half hour away, make a late-afternoon stop in Old Town Bluffton to shop for art, see the beautiful Church of the Cross on the May River, and have a light dinner. Another half hour’s drive puts you into a cute B&B in Savannah to relax for the night, maybe stopping in a pub for a pint or two.
African American Heritage
The cities and Sea Islands of the Georgia coast are integral to a full understanding of the experience of African Americans in the South. More than that, they are living legacies, with a thriving culture—called Gullah in South Carolina and Geechee in Georgia—whose roots can be traced directly back to West Africa.
Check out the African American Monument in Rousakis Plaza on River Street.
Visit the former center of black life in Savannah, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (once West Broad St.), and see the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
The Second African Baptist Church is where Sherman announced the famous “40 acres and a mule” field order.
The Beach Institute is a repository of African American art, culture, and history. Check out the restored schoolroom at Massie Heritage Center, Savannah’s first African American school.
Tour the First African Baptist Church in City Market, the oldest black congregation in North America. Nearby is the Haitian Monument, a nod to the volunteers who helped the cause of independence in the Revolutionary War.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once studied at the Carnegie Branch Library, Savannah’s first black library.
Pay your respects at Laurel Grove Cemetery South, a historic African American cemetery with stirring memorials to some of Savannah’s most notable black figures.
The Golden Isles
Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge was once the site of an African American community, displaced for a World War II airfield. Be sure to visit the vernacular Gould Cemetery near the landing within the refuge.
If you drive all the way down to little Meridian near Darien and ride the ferry out to Sapelo Island, you can take a guided day tour of the island and its rich Gullah/Geechee history, including the community of Hog Hammock.
On Hilton Head, stop by the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn and take an African American heritage tour, visiting the site of Mitchelville, the first community of freed slaves in the United States.
- On Sale
- Nov 27, 2018
- Page Count
- 297 pages
- Moon Travel