Dripping with Spanish moss and Southern charm, Savannah’s graceful architecture and rich history make it the perfect place to visit—and use as a base camp for exploring the wilder side of this Georgia gem.
Go Back in Time
One of your first stops in Savannah should be its world-famous Historic District. More than 20 cobblestoned blocks contain striking antebellum mansions, historic churches, manicured gardens, and parks shaded by towering live oaks. There are 22 historic squares, each with a different personality. (Chippewa Square is where Tom Hanks’s character waited for the bus in Forrest Gump.) Take a guided walking tour to get a feel for the unique town plan laid out in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, or climb aboard a horse-drawn carriage for a different perspective.
Park It By The Fountain
The largest park in the historic district, Forsyth Park has 30 acres of shady paths and sweeping green spaces, always lively with families, joggers, and folks kicking a ball around. The main attraction (and one of Savannah’s most Instagrammed spots) is the Forsyth Park Fountain, built in 1858. Nearby benches provide the perfect spot to enjoy a coffee and indulge in some good people-watching. The park also has a unique walled Fragrant Garden, originally designed to be enjoyed by the blind, with braille markers and plantings meant to be touched. On Saturday mornings, check out the Forsyth Farmers Market at the park’s south end.
Explore a Famous Cemetry
One of Savannah’s most iconic locations is Bonaventure Cemetery, some three miles east of downtown. If it looks familiar, you have a good eye: Bonaventure was featured in John Berendt’s blockbuster-hit book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and portions of the movie were filmed here. (The evocative “Bird Girl” statue on the cover of the book became so popular that it was moved to the Jepsen Center for the Arts.) Started in 1846, the cemetery encompasses more than a hundred acres along the picturesque Wilmington River. The historic section of Bonaventure is Victorian, with curving pathways leading past ornate marble carvings and heartbreaking statues of lost loved ones. Free guided tours take place one weekend a month (see the schedule), or you can explore it using the cemetery’s app (iOS and Android).
Experience the Avenue of Oaks
Head about 20 minutes south of the city to take what might be the most picturesque drive of your life—down an avenue of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss—to arrive at the Wormsloe Historic Site, home to the oldest standing structure in Savannah. A walking trail winds through maritime forest to the remains of a fortified house built in 1745 of tabby, a type of concrete. Wormsloe also has a museum, colonial reenactors, and events like the annual Colonial Faire and Muster celebration.
Play on River Street
Spend an easy afternoon on Savannah’s historic River Street, exploring the shops and restaurants housed in former cotton warehouses that line the cobblestone street. Don’t miss Factors Walk, another row of quaint spots to explore, on the bluff above River Street. When you’ve had your fill of shopping and sipping, wander over to Rousakis Riverfront Plaza for an expansive view of the Savannah River and the colorful Savannah Belles ferries heading to and from Hutchinson Island. Check the schedule of events to see what’s happening here while you’re in town—Oktoberfest or a bacon celebration, maybe.
Bike a Rail Trail
Get out and explore the wilder side of the area with a ride or hike along McQueen’s Island Trail. The six-mile trail, about 10 miles east of Savannah, is actually a stretch of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad line, an excursion railway that took passengers between the city and Tybee Island before it was abandoned in 1933. The trail winds through white sands and cordgrass, at times skirting the south channel of the Savannah River. If you start at the trail’s eastern point, on Tybee Island, rent a bike from Tim’s Beach Gear (north-end location) and take your time cycling back toward the city.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Often called “Savannah’s Beach,” Tybee Island is close enough for a morning excursion but just far away enough (about 18 miles) that it can feel like another world. Rent a surfboard from North Island Surf and Kayak and head to the Tybee Island pier for some East Coast swells, or get a lesson from the Tybee Surf School on the south end of the island. If you’d rather surf the sand than the waves, stake a spot on quiet North Beach or bustling South Beach and enjoy the view.
Off the Beaten Path
Kayak to a Deserted Island
To really get away from it all—and we mean really get away from it all—kayak from Tybee Island to Little Tybee, an uninhabited barrier island accessible only by water. North Island Surf and Kayak offers guided kayak or stand-up paddleboard eco-tours, with naturalists along to share information about the salt marshes and hardwood hammocks, and to point out the area’s rich wildlife. Sightings of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are common, as are sightings of egrets, herons, and other wading and migratory birds. (Manatees sometimes make an appearance.) If you’d like to stay and experience a night under the Southern stars, North Island will set you up with everything you need to camp—including a hammock in which to sway the day away and a pristine beach all to yourself.
Nancy Gupton is a freelance writer, editor, and lover of books, music, and, of course, food. You can follow her on Twitter.