Exploring America via a classic road trip is a rite of passage for most of us. It allows us to discover the immense spectacular landscape of our country while experiencing splendid cultures and learning about our history. For me, it all started in the very way back of our family’s station wagon, long before the mandatory seat belt laws kicked in. I eventually graduated to the coveted college road trips and now I’m taking my own family along for the ride.
Road trips are for people that enjoy the journey as much as the destination, but all road trips should have an objective, so you know when you have arrived. This time, we took a two week drive to better acquaint ourselves with the Deep South. Final destination: Savannah, Georgia. On the way there we made stops in Tulsa, Little Rock, Memphis, and Atlanta where we experienced Honky Tonk, the Blues and some R&B as well as some Tex-Mex, barbeque and grits. The drive is an easy one with beautiful tall pines lining much of the highway after leaving Oklahoma. If you plan to stop in Atlanta, give yourself plenty of time because there are so many things to do, even on the “short list.” We spent four days there and still did not tick off all the boxes on our list. Atlanta is worthy of an article on its own. If you are visiting Atlanta I would suggest adding Stone Mountain, CNN, the Aquarium and the Coke Museum to your itinerary.
At last, we pulled into Savannah, Georgia. It is a fairly easy city to navigate, with a grid system layout of most streets. Parking can be pricey so look for a hotel within easy walking distance to the places you wish to visit. The city offered us most of what we expected; it is one of the most beautiful cities in the south with its original footprint planned in 1733. It is one of only a few major cities in the south that still has its beautiful antebellum appeal and architecture remaining intact. With streets canopied with giant live oak trees covered in Spanish moss and impeccable squares, 24 to be exact, at every turn, the historic district is a sight to see. One thing that is impressive is that while you are in the Historic City Center you instantly realize that the city relies deeply on tourism, but is not overflowing with the expected tourist traps. They are also very strict about panhandling and you will not find any street performers. Savannah is a versatile destination with something for everyone and every group. It is easy to plan for a family, an assemblage of friends and yes, romance. As you would expect, there are horse and carriage rides, trolley cars, taxis and rickshaws, in addition to free public transportation in the Historic District. It is an easy area to walk and you can make it almost anywhere on foot.
The city is rich with history, antique shops and privately owned restaurants dishing up good food. There are plenty of places to shop and explore. If you like architectural styles you will find an abundance of eye candy everywhere you turn. Expect to see Georgian, Italianate, Second French Empire, Regency, Greek Revival, Federal and Gothic Revival styles all around the city.
To start off your visit in Savannah, I recommend a Trolley Tour. We chose the Old Savannah Tour, but there are other operators, and from my understanding, they are very similar. We were very pleased with our selection and enjoyed the experience; our driver was fun and incredibly informative. We purchased the “hop on hop off” ticket, but we ended up staying on the trolley all the way around and never used it due to the walk-ability of the city.
The tour gave us great history and the bearings we needed to navigate the city easily. So, I suggest you save the money and just purchase the basic ticket.
While walking through the city make sure to stroll through the gorgeous Forsyth Park. The former Savannah Parade Grounds is now adorned with monuments and a fountain immolating Paris’s beautiful Place de la Concorde, which is located in the center of the park. As you walk through the park, it is interesting to know that during the Civil War the Union soldiers once took up camp on the very ground beneath your feet. Besides the daily activities of biking, jogging and couples strolling in proper southern style under the Cizannesque moss-draped oaks, special events and activities are held throughout the year .
One great thing about the Historic District is the availability of privately owned restaurants. Of course, there is Paula Dean’s place but if you plan to go there book in advance. We opted for The Olde Pink House instead, which I recommend booking in advance as well. If you are looking for an unusual dining experience go to the historic Pirates’ House. While I was expecting an over the top hokey experience it was not that at all. The restaurant is housed in a historic old building circa 1753, where pirates used to meet to drink their grog. The Pirate’s House offers fun and interesting history about the Pirates and Pirate trade in Savannah. The delicious food coupled with excellent service results in a very nice evening. The tiny Herb House adjoining the Pirates’ House is said to be the oldest house in Georgia. It was built in 1734.
Bonaventure Cemetery is a short drive from the Historic District. Be warned, if you are going there to seek out the infamous Bird Girl statue made famous by the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt you will not find her there. She has a new home at the Telfair Museum in town.
This is a quintessential cemetery to visit if you like that sort of thing. The cemetery is part of the Bonaventure Plantation and you will find it is historically significant. It has been drawing visitors and has been a noted tourist destination for over 150 years. Not only does it offer amazing tree lined narrow roads, it has a nice view of the Wilmington River that boarders one side. There are elaborate sculptures and gorgeous architecture. The folklore, mystery and intrigue of the cemetery runs deep and it has been tagged as the most haunted cemetery in the United States. It is a Georgia Landmark and listed on the Historic Tree Register. The area is tranquil, but if you are looking for ghost, be aware that I never felt haunted or spooked. The cemetery is located at 330 Bonaventure Road. There are plenty of signs guiding the way and the entrance is well marked. It is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m daily?.
You can easily visit all of the highlights of Savannah in a long weekend. If you have a few extra days Hilton Head, South Carolina is about thirty miles away. You could also plan a visit to Tybee Island which is a short drive just outside of the city. One place that is a must see while in the area is Fort Pulaski about a fifteen minute drive outside of Savannah and is part of the National Park System.
After Savannah, we resumed our road trip making our way back to Texas. Along the way we visited the beautiful white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. While there, the National Naval Museum is a must see along with the Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum. The lighthouse provides stunning views of the coast and if you time it just right you can see the sunset from the top. The lighthouse was built in 1859. Said to be haunted, it was featured on the television show Ghost Hunters. If you are looking for a fun dining experience consider McGuire’s Irish Pub. Try their micro brewed beer, it is awesome. This is a crazy restaurant with a fun staff, great food that is well priced and an unusual atmosphere.
On the way back, if time allows, you could easily stop in Mobil Alabama, dart off to New Orleans or spend some time in Shreveport and eat some Cajun food. So, next time your life is dislocated by mundane routine, pack up the kids and the car and hit the road. There is an adventure out there waiting for you!