I have written about many Southern cities in the past few years including Oklahoma City, Knoxville, Birmingham, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, New Orleans, Myrtle Beach, Raleigh, Charlotte, Houston and Jacksonville. As a born-and-raised frenetic New Yorker I found many things to enjoy in the “laid-back” south. Most of the trips mentioned above were structured press familiarization trips with activities all day.
Could I really relax on a “free to do what you like” trip? The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa proposed just such a three night restful long weekend in late September. My Continental Express flight would be two hours to Savannah and less than an hour drive to Hilton Head Island. Why not spend a day visiting one of the Revolutionary & Civil Wars’ most important cities (remember Sherman’s march to the sea and the British defeat of the American forces?)
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa extended an invitation and I was on my way. The hotel has 403 rooms, a PGA Championship golf course and a Greenbrier Spa. I parked my rental car and took the free water shuttle (Savannah Belles Ferry) from the Westin/Convention Center side of the Savannah River to the historic downtown side and then the free DOT Express shuttle bus that runs from the River Street dock area through 10 stops along the Historic District. Not many people knew about this free service. By the time you read this another free city transportation system should be up and running- a vintage 1930 streetcar that will operate along River Street. With very limited parking, the city of Savannah should be congratulated for offering all these free alternative modes of transportation.
Savannah has a population of 325,000 with 6 1/2 million annual visitors. The average year-round temperature is 51 degrees. It has the largest National Historic Landmark District in the United States. The city was founded in 1733. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau supplied me with a VIP pass to many of the attractions and meal coupons. I chose Old Town Savannah Tours and stayed on it for its entire 1 1/4 hour circle tour. The next day I used the “get on/get off” feature to visit sights that I had picked out.
Colonial Park Cemetery
The Savannah Visitors Information Center has car parking available for people on the different trolley tours. The Savannah History Museum is a good starting point with its 18-minute film showing the history of the city.
Ron’s Choices for The Best of Savannah:
Mickve Israel Temple built in the Gothic style and the third oldest in the US; Savannah’s remaining 21 squares, containing statues and small parks; The founder of the Girl Scouts Juliette Gordon Low’s home; the read-worthy tombstones at the Colonial Park Cemetery; Fort Pulaski National Monument (outside town); Telfair Museum of Art; Fort Jackson where General Sherman captured the city; First African Baptist Church, the nation’s oldest historically black Baptist Church; City Market with its shops and restaurants; Savannah College of Art & Design and, last but not least, River Street with its shops and restaurants. On the way out of or into the Savannah airport stop at the Mighty Eight Air Force Heritage Museum.
Mickve Israel Temple
I was on my way to Hilton Head, which is the largest barrier island between New Jersey and Florida. If you have time you can stop at Beaufort, whose downtown area is a historic district; Bluffton, which is part of greater Hilton Head, and for shopaholics there is the Tanger Outlet Center. Once over the bridge on the 12-mile long by 5-mile wide island, read the signs carefully. There are no large billboards allowed, no McDonald Arches, everything is small and discrete.
tory- In 1663 English sea captain William Hilton claimed the island for the British Crown (did he stay at a Hilton Hotel?). In 1790 the first Sea Island cotton crop was harvested and by 1860 twenty-four plantations were in operation. In 1861, during the Civil War, the largest naval battle fought in American waters took place and Federal troops occupied Hilton Head. After the abolition of slavery the island suffered an economic downturn due to a lack of available workers. In the 1940s the island experienced a rebirth with a lumber industry using sea pine trees. In 1956 Charles Fraser, whose family was one of the island’s owners, created a master plan for a resort community. That is the same year the bridge to the mainland was constructed.constructed.
Westin Hilton Head Island Spa & Resort
Hilton Head is golf, sand, fishing, water sports, wetlands, wild animals, bike riding, jogging, eating and drinking. There are 2.3 million visitors every year and most come for the ocean and beach even with 23 golf courses (4 are private), 350 tennis courts and 8 marinas. You can ride a bike, as I did, on the 12 miles of sandy beaches or the 50 miles of paved pathways and nature trails. If you insist on sights try the Harbour Town Lighthouse Museum, which was built as an attraction, rather than a working lighthouse. The Coastal Discovery Museum, Audubon Newhall Preserve and Sea Pines Forest Preserve are there waiting for your visit. The Sandbox is a hands-on interactive children’s museum.
Port Royal Plantation is a mixed-use area with three 18-hole championship golf courses, 14 tennis courts, bike and jogging paths, private residences, vacation clubs and the location of the AAA 4 Diamond Westin Hilton Head Island Spa & Resort, where I spent three nights. The 412 rooms are set in oceanfront five-story wrap-around buildings. It is a long walk to either of the side elevators but is perfect to help you digest the dinner seafood and breakfast buffets. The hotel has a seasonal Westin Kids Club and children’s pool and is very pet friendly. With a workout room, yoga studio, Heavenly Spa by Westin, one indoor and two outdoor pools you are set for every season. I am told there are only a few months (December-February) where you can’t walk around in shorts. It was in the high 80s the last week in September.
I truly had a dose of Southern Hospitality. Now if only I could bottle it!