Legend has it that General Sherman, best remembered for setting fire to the Confederacy as he marched to the sea, found Savannah so beautiful that he left it untouched. As it turns out, the legend isn’t true—but I’m glad Savannah was spared. It’s one of the loveliest small cities we’ve visited.
In early April, we spent a few days at Skidaway Island State Park, just 20 minutes from Savannah. The park is in the heart of Savannah’s Lowcountry—called the Moon River District in honor of native son Johnny Mercer’s famous jazz standard. It was a great location for exploring the city and the surrounding area.
Exploring Historic Savannah
I don’t know why we didn’t immediately hop on one of the trolleys for a tour of the city. It makes life so much easier when visiting a new place to get our bearings by having someone point out the sights. We can then return later to explore at our own pace.
Instead, we wandered around with a map, trying to figure out where we were, making a wrong turn, missing a street sign…and not finding anything remotely charming. I had just about decided that I didn’t like Savannah at all.
And then we turned a corner and found ourselves in a mosaic of town squares, each one shaded by centuries-old oaks and magnolias and surrounded by historic homes, churches, restaurants, museums, and shops. And I immediately decided I loved Savannah.
General James Oglethorpe did a good job when he laid out the city in 1733. Today, architects regard Savannah’s historic district as a role model for creating livable cities. The general was certainly a forward-thinking individual. He also established Fort Frederica, a village built on the ideals of freedom and human rights, which we visited at our previous stop on St. Simon’s Island.
The 22 downtown squares of Savannah have been declared a National Historic District and contain many fine examples of Georgian, Gothic, and Greek Revival style homes. One of the most famous is the Mercer-Williams home, the central location of the outrageous and highly entertaining book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Perched on a scenic bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, Bonaventure Cemetery is hauntingly beautiful; an outdoor museum of exquisite statuary, centuries-old tombstones, and curtains of silvery Spanish moss.
We happened upon an excellent guided tour of the cemetery—it’s free, and offered only on select weekends by the Bonaventure Historical Society. (If you can’t make the tour, you can download a mobile app from their website to help sort through who’s who in the graveyard.)
Beloved, extraordinarily prolific and poetic songwriter Johnny Mercer is buried here. Born in Savannah in 1909, many of his lyrics reflect his deep connection to the South. A bench at his family cemetery plot is inscribed with some of his best-known songs, including “That Old Black Magic,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Skylark,” and of course, the iconic “Moon River.”
I was disappointed to discover the graceful Bird Girl statue featured on the book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been moved to a Savannah art museum for protection. People were chipping pieces off of the statue for souvenirs. More than a few of the beautiful marble angels in the cemetery were missing fingers. I cannot fathom taking souvenirs from graveyards. That is just creepy.
Gullah-Geechee Culture at Pin Point
One of our favorite stops near Savannah was the tiny settlement of Pin Point in the Moon River District. Although perhaps best known as the birthplace of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that is most definitely not the reason we visited.
We made the trip to Pin Point to learn more about the Gullah-Geechee culture, which we first encountered visiting a rice plantation on our previous stop in Georgia. Slaves who lived in isolated communities along the coast developed a unique Creole language (called Gullah) and managed to hold onto many of the traditions of their African heritage.
The community of Pin Point was founded after the Civil War by freed slaves. Crabbing and oystering in the rich tidal lands sustained the community for generations, and the people today are committed to preserving and sharing their unique culture.
The Pin Point Heritage Museum, housed in the former oyster and crab factory, offers a window into the lives of the Gullah-Geechee people. The exhibits and tours are excellent—our guide shared some of the Gullah dialect with us, including the delightful expression “day clean,” which means “dawn.” I like the image that conjures, that every day is a new opportunity.
Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge
Our fellow bird-loving friends Henry and Loretta told us that we shouldn’t miss Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and they were right. It was a 50-mile drive from where we were staying, which is further than we generally like to drive for a day trip, but it was worth it.
This is a prime nesting ground for the prehistoric, awkward looking Wood Stork. The babies are really cute, in that “only a mother could love it” kind of way. We spent the day happily biking and hiking the 15 miles of trails in the refuge.
About the campground
We discovered Skidaway Island State Park when our friends LuAnn and Terry stayed there several years ago. It’s a beautiful park, with spacious, shaded sites; partial or full-hookups; nice bathhouses; laundry facilities; and good Verizon. We enjoyed exploring the miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the park and the convenient location for visiting Savannah and the Moon River Lowcountry district.
We also met up with fellow travelers Pat and Shelly who were staying at the state park and attending the Savannah Music Festival (on our list for next year). We shared a delicious meal at their campsite, great conversation, and fun travel stories. We’re currently plotting how we can meet up next winter.
There is so much more to Savannah than we had time for. We have a big long list for our next visit, which we already have on the calendar for next spring.
This is so helpful as we will be hosting at Skidaway Feb/Mar 2019.
What an interesting place to host, Debbie! You’ll have plenty to keep yourselves busy for a couple of months in and around Savannah.
Perfect timing again! We are going to visit Savannah in April 2019. We’ll be going North to South, starting with the Antebellum Trail, followed by Savannah, the Sea Islands, Okefenokee, St. Augustine, Cape Canaveral and more. You continue to give us ideas on sights to see and places to visit. Thanks!
I’m so glad this might be helpful for you, Dick. Your trip sounds wonderful! So much beauty, history, and of course, great birding all along the way. It would be fun to meet up in Savannah!
I saw a documentary on Jonathan Green, and fell in love with Gullah culture through his art many years ago. Always a dream to visit and spend more time there. However, on our short foray to Savannah in 2007 I did manage to pick up some precious Gullah woven napkin rings that are like little baskets. The only thing I could afford. It is wonderful how they are keeping their culture alive.
Sue, I just became aware of the Gullah culture as we traveled up the Southeast Coast. There’s now a Gullah-Geechee Trail that extends from South Carolina to Jacksonville. You would love visiting Pin Point! Your Gullah woven napkin rings sound like a perfect souvenir.
I am going to go look that gullah geechee trail up for our travels in that vicinity next spring! Love it.
We too love Savannah and we did take the Trolley which gave us a convenient way of seeing and learning about town after which we did our own exploring. However, you have taken us to other interesting places we did not know about especially the wildlife refuge. I too can not imagine taking souvenirs from someone else tomb, creepy!
Lovely photos as always.
MonaLiza, I’m still wishing we had taken a trolley tour. I think I learned my lesson about always taking a tour first. (You guys set a good example!) You would have loved the wildlife refuge, and seeing the nesting Wood Storks. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)
Missing Savannah all over again- we probably won’t get back there until next autumn.
Pat, it’s thanks to you two that we found out about the music festival. We’re planning to be in Savannah for that next spring. Maybe we’ll see you this winter in Arizona!
I think you write the most beautiful blog on line, not only with your superb pictures but such beautiful writing. That first paragraph about Savannah is literarily gorgeous. We loved Skidaway when we stayed there our first year on the road. Probably before you were reading our blog. Glad to see you there and learn that it is still just as nice. I don’t think they’d adopted the Moon River title for the area or at least they weren’t promoting it enough for us to have heard of it. Your photographs do a great job of showing the beauty of the old town and the lovely cemetery. I am just appalled to hear that the statues are being desecrated. Nothing seems to be off limits. What sort of up bringing did such people have? Is Clarence Thomas Gullah-Geeche? Please say not. LOVE that look on the tour guide. Bet she was great. I’d love to visit Pin Point. In fact when we went to the festival in Beaufort we learned a Gullah Geeche “trail” was being planned. Wonder if Pin Point is part of it? How did we miss this? Fabulous pictures of the birds. Love the woodpecker shot. It was wanting to see all the NWRs that started our full time adventure. Harris Neck was in our early group as we headed out from Virginia south. If you guys meet any more friends to meet up with, none of us will ever get to see you. HA!
Sherry, thank you so much for your generous comment. There are so many excellent blogs out there that I sometimes wonder if it’s worth keeping this one going, but when people take the time to comment, it makes it all worthwhile.
You would love Pin Point. Now that I know a bit about the Gullah-Geechee culture, I want to visit more of the sites along the trail. I’d like to go to the festival in Beaufort!
We’re planning to see you two in Florida this winter. It’s been too long!
OK we meet at Savanna Spring 2019: We are Georgia coastal lovers, including South Carolina. You blog has made me wish to be in Gullah territory. :)
Diana and Ed and Eze
Yes!!! Let’s meet in Savannah next spring! We would love to explore with you. I know you have places to share with us, and we would happily revisit all of the places we discovered. Hugs to you three!
I was just mentioning you to my niece last night when she told me I should start a blog. I looked on my email and here you are. Beautiful photos. I like that you went to the cemetery. I like going through them as well. Beautiful architecture. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you took the photo of the bottle tree. I love bottle trees.
Thanks for sharing your ongoing adventures. I hope to start a blog of places I go and my photos. I love funky decorated yards. I just went to Bisbee, AZ this weekend and finally drove up and down streets. Took photos of two funky yards that I LOVED!!!
Thank you so much, Christine. I’m glad you noticed the bottle tree—I love decorated yards, too, and all of the quirky things we find along the way in our travels. Bisbee is one of the BEST places for interesting yard/street art, as you know. It’s one of our favorites.
I hope you do start a blog! Please let me know when you do.
Glad you didn’t give up on Savannah before you found it’s charm. Love your pictures.
Jo, I’m also really glad we didn’t give up on Savannah! I seriously turned to Eric and said, “Why are we here?” and then we found the charming part. And there’s a lot of charm! I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. It’s wonderful to hear from you. :-)
Skidaway State Park was one of the first campgrounds we visited that lived up to our expectations of what a campground should be, and we used it to visit both Savannah and Tybee Island – both of which are just lovely. Your photos of Savannah perfectly capture the very particular feel of that city. It’s like nowhere else. There’s just something mysterious and enchanting and magical about it. Glad you loved it as much as we did.
Thank you for your nice comment about our photos, Laura. You said it perfectly—Savannah is mysterious, enchanting, and magical. We’re planning to return next spring, and Tybee Island is on our list. I’m already excited about going back!
We, too, really enjoyed Savannah. We rarely take city tours, but we did take one here when we arrived. It was excellent. We then took our bikes back and rode around to see the sights again. It’s such a neat city.
Pam, you know we always enjoy walking and biking and exploring on our own, but we definitely learned that when we’re in a new city—especially one with so much history—a tour is the way to kick off our explorations. You guys did it right!
What do people do with the chipped off pieces when they get home? The music festival and wildlife refuge sound like they would be time well spent.
Debbie, the music festival is on our list for next year. We’re looking forward to it! I can’t imagine what people do with their graveyard contraband. Very strange souvenirs, that’s for sure.
Stunning photos! We’re definitely planning to catch a trolley to get our bearings when we visit. And Pin Point is on the list now too. The little heritage museum reminds me of Oysterville Sea Farms that was another great recommendation from you.
The birds are wonderful – you two have such an eye for finding them everywhere!!
Thanks so much, Jodee. :-) I know you’ll really enjoy Pin Point. And then I’ll get a great tour from you when you write about it! Beginning your visit with a trolley tour is the way to go. We’ll do that next spring on our return visit.
We loved Savannah, doing so much walking, exploring the various squares. And Skidaway is the perfect place to stay, allowing lots of biking. I wish we would have known about Pin Point and Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Wood storks are one of my favorite birds.
Thanks to you, we discovered Skidaway, LuAnn. We hiked several of the trails, but we didn’t have time for biking. Next time, for sure! You would enjoy both Pin Point and Harris Neck, should you return to Savannah.
I’m behind in reading blogs and I almost missed this one! We stayed at Skidaway State Park and loved it also. Savannah is one of my favorite cities to get lost in (literally and figuratively!) I was fascinated by the miriad wrought iron designs everywhere – each one seemingly different from the next. We did take the trolley tour first and it made our visit much more pleasant. It’s something we used to do often when we’d fly into a new city. Our lives now don’t take us into many cities, we’re trying to connect the dots and seeing what hides in between these days.
We didn’t visit Pin Point, a mistake on my part I see. It is on the list for next time around for sure. I love the blue glass bottle tree and it’s function. So many cultures have such interesting ways to keep the boogie man away!
I think that Wood Storks look prehistoric too, and even the adults have faces that only a mother (or another Wood Stork) could love.
Great post Laurel!
Thanks so much, Sue. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m excited about returning to Savannah next spring. Even though we saw a lot, there’s so much more on my list! It’s definitely a place that deserves more than one visit. I know you would enjoy Pin Point—the setting is lovely and the history and culture are fascinating.
Thank you for this introduction to Savannah as we have never been there. As you know, we have tended to prioritize international travel but your blog always makes us realize that there is much for us to discover in the U.S.
Savannah’s many public squares and rich architecture certainly appeal and the proximity of a wildlife reserve puts it over the top! Love the photos of both the architecture and particularly the birds. That photo of the storks caring for their baby chicks is quite incredible. Wow!
Terrific post and thanks for putting Savannah on the map for us for future travels one day in the U.S.
Peta & Ben
Peta & Ben, I’m delighted we’re able to introduce you to places that you might not have yet visited. It’s really extraordinary, how many fascinating places, cultures, and experiences can be found within the U.S. I love international travel and would like to do more, but meanwhile, we’re finding lots to keep ourselves occupied as we travel around in our little trailer!
Savannah looks lovely. We just got back from our 38 day adventure. We had fun. We’re analyzing what we liked and didn’t like about our trip. We both agree that in some places there are just too many people. Lol.
Brenda, I’m looking forward to hearing about your adventures! I hope you found plenty of places where you weren’t in a herd. So much depends on the time of year…then again, some places are always crowded. You’re accustomed to plenty of elbow room. That’s our preference, too. :-))
Yep, Savannah, Bonaventure and Harris Neck. All great places to spend some time and you captured it nicely. That picture of the pond with the wood stork nests…………..there’s always lots of activity going on there. Birds nesting, in the trees, flying overhead, swimming in the water. Not to mention all the gators and turtles. Definitely one of our favorite spots. We’ll get back that way someday if we ever tire of being here in the west.
Henry, thanks again for telling us about Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge—we loved our day there. Seeing the Wood Storks with their chicks was a highlight! You’ll probably never tire of the west, but as you know, there’s lots of good stuff in the east, too. We’re glad we’re finally exploring some of it.