Monday, April 24, 2017

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah in the spring is about as perfect a vacation as you can get with the kids. It's got a nice mix of interesting historical attractions, great food, and unique natural environments to explore. And with temps in the high 70s/low 80s in April (and the sand gnat situation relatively under control), the conditions are ideal for everything from strolling through the historic district to hanging out at Tybee Beach. We toured Savannah on a trip to the South that also included the lovely city of Charleston, two hours away.

What to Do

One of the main reasons we decided to visit Savannah was because my daughter became a Brownie this year, and Girl Scout headquarters is located here. You can take a tour of the home of the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, and purchase a special pin for your vest that indicates you attended the tour. I'm a sucker for things like that. The tour itself was very interesting for my daughter, who learned all sorts of things about Juliette, but my son couldn't get out of the house fast enough!

Juliette's birthplace is just one of many significant buildings in Savannah's historic district. We got a sense of that particular area with a hop on/hop off bus tour run by Old Savannah Tours. If we had more time, I would've picked up the Savannah Safari scavenger hunt booklets for the kids so they could look for animals in the architecture around the historic district.

A really interesting part of the city to explore is River Street, which is all restored buildings, historic bridges, and cobblestone streets and steps. There are plenty of gift shops and restaurants to choose from along the river, and the kid-magnet that is Savannah Candy Kitchen is located there as well.

We spent a morning at Skidaway Island State Park, a beautiful piece of land covered with live oak, Spanish moss and salt marshes. Everything about the ecosystem is so different from our hikes in the Northeast. The park offers bike rentals, and somehow we found bikes that fit everyone in our family, even the 5-year-old. We biked the Big Ferry Trail to the Observation Tower, then left our bikes in a clearing to hike a little farther down the trail before turning back. It was the perfect way to enjoy a spring morning in lowcountry.

I'm not a big fan of forts, as I find them to be overrated and fairly boring for the kids, but our experience at Savannah's Old Fort Jackson was the exact opposite  it was an under-the-radar attraction that turned out to be pretty entertaining. The staff does an excellent job of reenacting the history of the fort, particularly with the cannon firings that occur twice a day. It was oddly entertaining to watch a young soldier in full-on period garb demonstrate how to load up a cannon (with a blank) and then fire at a ferry full of tourists sailing down the Savannah River.

Where to Eat

We knew we wanted to eat as much barbecue as possible while down South, and I chose Sandfly Barbecue for its rave reviews, even though it was a bit out of the way. When we arrived at the tiny restaurant located in a strip mall, my heart sank  but fortunately the reviewers knew what they were talking about. The no-frills barbecue is finger-licking good, as are the sides. I had more than my share of the mac and cheese and fried okra!

One restaurant that seems to be on everyone's must-experience list is The Pirates' House, situated in a building that's been operational since 1753, originally as an inn for actual pirates. The restaurant totally looks like a pirate hangout, all exposed brick walls and low ceilings. The food, a hodgepodge of Southern cooking, is pretty good, too.

The old-fashioned Leopold's Ice Cream shop is another popular stop; when we got to it, there was a line down the street. We didn't really want to wait for half an hour, but then we figured when in Savannah! The wait was worth it. In addition to the usual flavors, there were so many interesting seasonal ones such as Japanese cherry blossom, lavender, and Thin Mint (as in the Girl Scout cookies). And the ice cream is rich, creamy and the perfect treat with which to stroll around the historic district.

What's Nearby

About half an hour from Savannah is Tybee Island, which is a great area in which to spend a day. Tybee Beach is beautiful, clean, and family-friendly, and the Colonial-era Tybee Lighthouse is nearby. Anyone can climb to the top (there are no age restrictions, but the 178 steps are no joke) and gaze for miles across all the different waterways surrounding Savannah.

If you're out on Tybee Island and love seafood, I highly recommend lunch or dinner at The Crab Shack, which is an experience worth driving out for all on its own. From the absolutely delicious seafood boils to the festively lit riverfront dining space to the gator lagoon (where the kids can feed the alligators special food using long wooden sticks), this restaurant is just plain fun!