Less than five hours from the tricommunity sits Savannah, Ga. Whether your fancy is gardens or ghosts, beaches or antebellum history, this coastal city has it.
It’s a perfect Labor Day weekend destination for families, couples, groups or solo travelers. I spent two jam-packed days in the area, including Tybee Island and Richmond Hill, and here’s the best of what it has to offer, though there’s plenty more to discover if you go.
Bygone times If you enjoy stories and artifacts from yesteryear, there’s an ample supply in this corner of Georgia. Savannah features prominent historic homes and monuments on nearly every block downtown.
On Tybee Island, be sure to stop by the lighthouse. The tallest in Georgia, the Tybee Island Light Station contains 178 steps. Built in 1773, it’s still open to climbers. Your ticket also includes the surrounding cottages with period furnishings and a historical museum across the street. Cost: $5-$7.
Traveling even further back in time, you can see the oldest standing structure in Savannah at the Wormsloe State Historic Site. The estate of an early Georgia colonist, Wormsloe was constructed between 1737 and 1745. Today, it boasts the ruins of the Tabby House, an observation deck, Living History Camps and a grand live oak avenue. Cost: $3.50-$5
For the ghoulish side of ages past, there are plenty of historic cemeteries, guided ghost tours and old buildings with rumored hauntings.
Gardens galore Besides its richness in history, Savannah is also rich in greenery. Forsyth Park is worth a stop to see flowers and foliage year-round. The park features an interactive play fountain and a classical fountain with swans and mermen. In general, the downtown area has plenty of blooms and floral arrangements highlighting its many parks and squares. Cost: Free.
The Bamboo Farm & Coastal Gardens features banana trees, u-pick blackberries and strawberries, flowers and, as expected, bamboo. Have a picnic under the covered pavilion near the pond and watch for birds. Cost: Free.
A smaller preserve, the Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs, Inc., Botanical Garden includes a picnic area, camellias, vegetable garden, roses, ferns, bog garden, pond, amphitheater and more. It’s a quiet place to get away from the bustle of the city. Cost: Free.
Water, water everywhere A big draw for tourists is the beaches of Tybee Island. They’re not overcrowded and there’s a slew of stereotypical beachfront shops nearby. Parking is pricey, though, so consider combining your trip to the lighthouse with the beach, so you pay the meter only once.
You can venture further into the water by renting a kayak or jet ski or — a trademark of the island — see the dolphins. I boarded Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours, per its great reviews on TripAdvisor. During the hourlong cruise, we saw pelicans, heard narratives about the sites visible from the ocean, including two lighthouses and Fort Pulaski, and of course, saw quite a few dolphins. Cost: $15 adults, $8 children.
To add a special touch to your afternoon or evening, check out Savannah Riverboat Cruises. The company offers lunch and dinner cruises and cruises featuring music, storytelling, murder mystery, dancing and gospel music. I selected a dinner cruise on a moonlit night. The package includes live music and dancing, and there’s just something magical about being out on the water as the sun sets. Cost: $10.95-$48.95 (depending on the type of cruise).
Don’t leave River Street without a stop by the shops. During the day, the candy stores, boutiques and gift shops are eclectic and inviting.
Fine dining Before you leave Savannah, you must experience the height of Southern hospitality and refinement. At The Tea Room, you can sample a wide array of teas with elegant main dishes, from soup and sandwiches to fish and quiche. If it’s your first time, try the Afternoon Tea, which features a tiered arrangement of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones, shortbread, fruit, cream, preserves and candies. If it sounds overly dainty, don’t worry — the décor is artistic, not girlish, and the food not only attractive but tasty. It’s also a great opportunity to try new teas. I recommend the Red Bush or the Mirabelle. Cost: $20.
Cheap, charming lodging After all that walking, wind down at Fort McAllister State Historic Park. Though it’s a half hour from Savannah, the prices can’t be beat if you’re taking a group. For $125, you can rent a cottage that sleeps eight — that’s less than $16 a person. It includes air conditioning, dishes, towels, soap, a TV, oven, microwave and showers.
While there, check out the museum and earthworks fortifications. I was surprised at how engaging the Civil War fortifications and displays were. The park also includes free fishing and nature trails, as long as you bring a park pass (available for checkout at local libraries). The museum also houses an extensive gift shop. Cost: $3.50-$5.
For more information on all this coastal area has to offer, go to www.savannahvisit.com, www.tybeevisit.com and www.gastateparks.org/FtMcallister.
Events Savannah Craft Brew Fest. Sept. 3-4. www.savannahcraftbrewfest.com. 912-644-6452.
River Street Labor Day Celebration. Fireworks at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 3; 9 a.m.-dusk Sept. 4-5 on River Street. Free. www.riverstreetsavannah.com.
Labor Day at Fort McAllister. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 4 at Fort McAllister State Park. Includes demos by blacksmiths, carpenters and more. $3.50-$5. 912-727-2339.
Gospel Dinner Cruise. 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at River Street. $39.95 adults; $24.95 children. 800-786-6404.