The oldest city in Georgia, Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, who organized the city in grids, giving rise to its claim as the country’s “first planned city.” Local legend has it that it was the city’s beauty that saved Savannah from being razed during General Sherman’s famed March to the Sea during the Civil War, and as such, the city suffered far less damage than others in the South. Today, the former state capital serves as an important port on the Atlantic coast. A humid subtropical climate makes for balmy, almost tropical summers and winters that rarely see temperatures below freezing.
The City’s Culture
Oozing Southern charm, Savannah is the epitome of antebellum style, with horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets shaded by trees dripping with Spanish moss, and one of the largest historical districts in the country. Deep Irish roots have made the city the home of the largest St. Patrick’s Day festival in the south, and a Celtic Cross in Emmet Park—itself named for an Irish patriot—honors those of Irish descent. Savannahians are known for their friendliness and hospitality, which gave rise to the city’s promotional nickname of the “Hostess City of the South.” In recent years, traditional regional dishes have received makeovers, resulting in numerous nouvelle Low Country restaurants that serve updated versions of she-crab soup, hoppin’ john, and okra.
Savannah’s antebellum architecture has made it the centerpiece of many Hollywood films, including Forrest Gump, whose iconic “life is like a box of chocolates” scene was shot in Chippewa Square. Forrest’s bench, however, is now in the Savannah History Museum, which is chock-a-block with exhibits about the city and its most famous residents, including Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. Now open to the public as a historical museum, the Mercer Williams House is best known as the central shooting location of the 1993 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The inn that Robert Louis Stevenson mentions in Treasure Island still stands and today acts as both a working restaurant and living museum, with original pages of Stevenson’s classic on view. Due to its Southern gothic reputation, the city hosts several haunted walking tours that delve into the local lore and legends.
Where to Explore
Although most every corner of the city is postcard-worthy, the bulk of the historic architecture is located in downtown’s Historic District, where just wandering the streets can be an all-day activity. Attractions in the area include the childhood home of writer Flannery O’Connor and the iconic Parisian-style fountain in Forsyth Park. Located along the Savannah River, the aptly named River Street is a hub of activity, with the waterside strip crowded with shops, restaurants, and street performers. Nearby Tybee Island is a popular vacation spot even for locals, due to its beaches, historic sites, and picturesque lighthouse.