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When General James Oglethorpe and the 120 passengers who accompanied him on the good ship “Anne” landed on a bluff high along the Savannah River in 1733, the recorded history of Savannah began. The colony of Georgia, named for England’s King George II, was founded by Oglethorpe as the 13th and final American colony. Savannah became America’s first planned city, laid out in a deliberate series of grids with wide open streets intertwined with public squares and parks as common and commercial areas. If you know the history of Historic Downtown Brunswick and are familiar with the pocket parks known as signature squares, you’re aware that our city was planned in the same manner.

Of the original 24 squares that made up the city, 22 of those squares remain and make up Savannah’s Historic Landmark District, which is bounded by picturesque Forsyth Park to the south and the Savannah River to the north. Some of these squares are more well-known than others. Chippewa Square is where Forrest Gump sat on the bench at the bus stop. A replica of that bench is on display at the Savannah History Museum. Another spot made famous by film (and THE book) is Monterey Square, the site of the Mercer-Williams House Museum and Carriage Shop, a key location in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Telfair Square is home to the oldest art museum in the South, Telfair Academy (where the Bird Girl now resides), its contemporary sister museum, the Jepson Center, and Telfair Children’s Art Museum. Also similar to Brunswick, Savannah has a Victorian District located just south of the Historic District with approximately 50 blocks of elaborate and colorful Victorian homes with wraparound porches and fabulous details that make them look like real-life gingerbread houses. Between homes like this and the stunning neo-Gothic Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, architecture enthusiasts will have an absolute field day in Savannah.

If shopping is what you’d like to do for the day, you’ll want to explore the pedestrian-only City Market which features boutiques, galleries, and shops offering sweet treats, as well as restaurants to keep you fueled. Bull Street is also a popular place to pass the time and you’ll find plenty of places to keep you occupied between Victory Drive all the way north to the riverfront. The Downtown Design District is located between Gaston and Liberty Streets on Whitaker Street. Clothing boutiques, upscale consignment, interior design, and home décor shops beckon. Don’t miss the opportunity to take home artwork, jewelry, and other creations by SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students at shopSCAD. Also be sure to treat yourself to a cone or cup at Leopold’s Ice Cream! A Savannah staple since 1919, this creamy treat in a wide variety of delicious and unique flavors, including the decadent chocolate bourbon caramel pecan combination of Savannah Socialite, is well-worth the wait in line on Broughton Street. Other sweet treats you may want to take home or give as gifts to commemorate time in Savannah are the tasty bites from Byrd Cookie Company and pralines from River Street Sweets.

Historic River Street is situated along the Savannah River in the location of the original Port of Savannah. In the 1700s this was the main location for goods coming into the city and by the mid-1800s Savannah was the leading exporter of cotton in the world. The four and five story buildings along the waterfront were cotton warehouses. A series of iron and concrete walkways between Bay Street and River Street connected the buildings to the bluff and are known as Factors Walk for the men who set the prices for cotton and other export. The hand-laid cobblestones that pave the slopes that lead from Bay Street down the bluff to River Street were originally used as ballast material on the many ships that sailed into Savannah’s harbor. The quartz, granite, basalt, chert, and other rocks collected by the ships from their initial locations, and exotic locations like Spain, France, Canada, and the British Isles, were deposited in Savannah when they unloaded, making them an affordable and abundant material and savvy craftsmen used them to build throughout the Historic District. The last cotton office on the waterfront closed in 1956 and the area was redeveloped in the 1970s to offer shops, art galleries, bars, and restaurants.

One of the best ways to sightsee in Savannah is a ride on the Savannah River Queen or the Georgia Queen, historic, restored riverboats that provide amazing views and the offer the luxury of a midday brunch or evening dinner while you enjoy the ride. The riverboat tours leave the dock right next to the exact location where General Oglethorpe first landed and head upriver, into the Port of Savannah, then turn around and head back under the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge and past the historic riverfront. The tours continue downriver passing the world-famous Waving Girl, Florence Martus, through the shipyards and just past the tip of Hutchinson Island and Old Fort Jackson, where boat then circles back upriver to return to the dock. To see more about the cruises offered and purchase tickets, visit savannahriverboat.com.

Of course, no trip to Savannah would be complete without learning more about the tales of pirates and ghosts that are imbued in the very character of the city. A visit to the world-famous Pirate’s House restaurant provides you with a delicious meal in a historic tavern that was first opened in 1753 as an inn for seafarers. Wooden ships, iron pirates and framed pages from an early edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island adorn the walls throughout the restaurant, but its most talked about feature might be its haunted rum cellar, accessible only by special tour. You’ll find numerous ghost tours offering you guided passage through the spectral and spooky haunts throughout Savannah. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, a stroll through the 100-acre Bonaventure Cemetery satisfies more than morbid curiosity when you pause to appreciate the beauty of its ornate, centuries-old gravestones and statuary.

If you’re a brave adventure-seeking bon vivant, make your day trip plans to include the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah. Planned for the morning of Saturday, March 16, Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in U.S., right behind New York City and Chicago. People come from all over the world to participate in this celebration of Irish heritage, marching bands, traditional dancers, and elaborate floats. Be prepared for a crowd though, because dedicated attendees camp out along the parade route, which begins at Gwinnett and Abercorn, to ensure they have the best views.

Savannah originally posted on by Elegant Island Living magazine.

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