Historic yet vibrant, Savannah is still the belle of the ball, y'all

SAVANNAH, Ga.

History has been kind to this charming coastal city. And that includes recent history. Everywhere you walk, or are carted in a horse-drawn carriage or tourist-packed trolley, you see familiar names, from your high school civics classes as well as movies, music, books and TV.

Isn't that the square where Forrest Gump narrated his quirky story of positivity? Isn't Clary's the restaurant mentioned in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? And over there, that's the home of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, not far from George Washington's encampment during a Southern tour in 1791. A short walk from it all is the Lady & Sons, Paula Deen's restaurant. These days, the Food Network's queen of butter may be the city's most important marketing tool. Get in line early for a reservation for that day; by noon you'll be out of luck and have to go somewhere else for your fried chicken.

You'll notice several businesses named Moon River. That's because Johnny Mercer, the song's lyricist, was born and raised in Savannah. His grave is in the Bonaventure Cemetery, another spot on the history tour.

There's a lot packed into Savannah's few-miles-square historic district. Most notable are the leafy squares that pop up every three or four blocks, surrounded by 19th century mansions, landmark churches and inns built for romance. On the weekends, the squares become outdoor wedding chapels. We spied three ceremonies on a recent Saturday. There are 21 squares, and one more, Ellis, is being restored after years as a parking lot.

The oldest city in Georgia has been boosted in every way imaginable by the Savannah College of Art and Design. Small in size, with just 9,000 students, but big in impact, the college has turned the city into its campus. Some 60 scattered buildings have been purchased, restored and transformed into housing, classrooms and auditoriums. The eclectic art vibe has made an old town young, bringing with it trendy shops and food.

Contemporary tourists aren't the first to find Savannah enchanting. Gen. Sherman saved it from his fiery rampage, presenting it instead to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present. For the rest of us, thank goodness.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

If you go | Savannah

Savannah is about 350 miles from the Tampa Bay area and can be enjoyed in a long weekend. There are many places to stay, including romantic inns and chain hotels (among them Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Doubletree). Go to visitsavannah.com for ideas. When you get to town, head to the Visitors Center at 301 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There you can pick up maps and brochures featuring tours, restaurants and other attractions. If you're able, park the car and walk a lot. Otherwise, hop-on, hop-off trolleys will squire you around.

On the Web

Go to travel.tampabay.com to view a Savannah photo gallery.

Historic yet vibrant, Savannah is still the belle of the ball, y'all 04/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 7:09pm]

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