If you are planning a road trip this summer and fresh out of ideas, let me recommend a few days in two of the most picturesque cities in America. The sister cities of Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC provide riveting splendor for everyone from history buffs to small children.
Most anyone I asked agreed that Savannah should open the show and Charleston should remain as the grand finale when it comes to coupling the sister cities together on the same agenda.
Here are some savvy travel tricks for taking in the best of each city while avoiding unnecessary tourist traps.
- Lodge Away from Riverfront – Find lodging in Savannah that is one block off of the riverfront. You will save a few dollars and still enjoy the Savannah River when dining or strolling along the riverfront. If you simply must stay in a riverfront hotel, go with the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, Autograph Collection. It is more for romance than for families, with adequately sized rooms that are decorated to the max.
- Carriage Ride/Trolley Tour Upon Arrival – Don’t waste any time before hopping on a local carriage or trolley tour once arriving in Savannah. Historic Savannah Carriage is one of the better ones, but has fewer carriages running than Old Town Trolley. So, if booking an “on and off” tour, the re-boarding tends to be a problem. Initially, it may sound like the on and off tour is the way to go; however, I recommend doing a full 90 minutes non-stop around the city to become quickly acquainted with the top sites. Once you know where you want to go, you have an option to take the free express shuttle called the DOT that even includes a ferry stop. Additionally, the Chatham Area Transit (CAT) Bike Program is also available.
- Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) – While I’m not so sure it would be prudent to send a freshman off to college at SCAD with a “Trump 2020” bumper sticker, this fascinating place not only guides creatives through a curriculum in the arts, but prepares them for a career in channeling that creativity into something sustainable. This private liberal arts college is a wonder in and of itself with its campus being housed throughout town, but also centered in a renovated Savannah Volunteer Guard Armory. This 1892 structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a sight to behold.
- Forsythe Park – Whip out the travel blanket and plan to picnic or exercise in majestic Forsythe Park. Like no place you have ever seen, the oaks seem to tell stories and provide the perfect canopy for a long stroll. There are restrooms and a small café available with Starbucks coffee.
- The Olde Pink House – No trip to Savannah is complete without a fancy dinner at The Olde Pink House. Should you have to wait for a table, don’t worry because there is live music with plenty of space to enjoy. Lunch is not offered on Mondays so plan accordingly. For the best quick lunch locations in Savannah, try historic Broughton Street where reasonably priced food of every flavor is offered, as well as an ice cream shop and a Starbucks.
- Tybee Island – Be forewarned that if you are traditionally a Gulf-dweller, than the sandy dunes of the barrier reef island of Tybee will miss the mark of the customary white sands and emerald waters; however, this ecological delight is a haven for bird watching, collecting shells, viewing marine life, rock jetties, and enjoying the grainy sands of the Atlantic shoreline. With only about 3,000 residents, Tybee is a pedestrian’s paradise with lots of local shops and decked out retro motels that take you back in time. With a historic lighthouse on the horizon, Tybee is attracting more and more celebs that want to get off the beaten bath, such as Sandra Bullock who now rents her island getaway for $1400/night with a 4-night minimum. There is a reason why. Tybee is a place to take vacation seriously and completely unplug with more beach than you would ever need, including shallow shorelines that are great for families.
- Fort Pulaski National Monument – This is a MUST SEE while in the Savannah area. Begin your visit with an educational video about the Civil War and end with a guided tour and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and bird watching. Located on Cockspur Island, just minutes from downtown Savannah, this is a historic wonder and a nature lover’s playground.
- Dolphin Cruise – Whether you go with Captain Mike or Captain Derek, two of the famous locals, you just can’t go wrong with a sunset dolphin cruise near Tybee Island. Evening temperatures vary so a light jacket is recommended.
- Fort Sumter – Take the low country roads from Savannah to Charleston and experience the excursion of a lifetime. It only takes one visit to Fort Sumter to realize that no classroom education can rival the experience of walking the grounds of the sea fort where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Many combo packages are available at FortSumterTours.com, with one of the best being the Old South Carriage combo. By far, one of the most magnificent experiences is riding through the streets of Charleston in a horse drawn carriage. Experience Rainbow Row, The Battery, and a bevy of 18th and 19th century mansions that take you back in time.
- Experience Broad St. – On the National Register of Historic Places, you will find that the Board of Architectural Review takes preservation of Broad St. more seriously than you can imagine. Justifiably so is the scrupulous review, since it has historically been home to some of the finest mansions in town, that is, when not being ravaged by the Civil War. Still today, the architectural feast has been restored again and again, named by the American Planning Association as one of America’s “great streets.” As Charleston tradition has it, a sign of a suitor’s affection for the future lady of his house would be to build her a mansion. Broad St. offers plenty of these showplaces and has become the center of the Charleston high society universe. Since everything is relative to Broad St., why not cap off the evening by dining at one of the many nearby restaurants, but not without a reservation in advance. I recommend becoming a true SNOB for a night and dining at Slightly North of Broad.
- Boone Hall – Whether it’s Forrest Gump, The Notebook, or North & South you remember most of all, a visit to Boone Hall is a charming day trip for all ages that brings your favorite movies to life. Listen to the songs of the Gullah people as they tell the story of transitioning from Africa to this historical plantation. Take a hayride through the strawberry fields and, of course, dream about Noah in the rain, shouting, “It wasn’t over! It still isn’t over!!”
A visit to Savannah and Charleston truly is a treasure chest of the American heritage. When you unlock the secrets to the Southern Sister Cities, you will find that the mysteries they behold do not lie in the majestic oaks, the brackish air, or the decadent display of 18th century American culture. Instead, the truths of the past that attempt to define them lay in the bloody ground. They have risen from the ashes repeatedly. More beautiful, still, do these two sisters sit with full splendor on display and laugh at the days to come as time moves onward.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette.