The drive from Charleston to Savannah is a little more than 2 hours and not particularly picturesque. En route is a popular historic site called Old Sheldon Church Ruins but after a slight detour we found it to be temporarily closed to the public due to renovation works. This was an omen for other attractions we tried to visit over the coming days.
We did stop briefly at this quaint roadside store to sample apple cider, peanuts and pecans…
Savannah is a popular city so finding a reasonably priced AirBnB is not easy. We settled on a place about 15 minutes drive from downtown. Savannah unlike Charleston does not seem to have much traffic congestion so it wasn’t an inconvenience to drive back and forth each day.
Our hosts were nice and their little dog was super friendly and playful which made us miss ours even more.
What to Do
Let’s be real – the city of Savannah is a big tourist trap catering to an older demographic – but it’s still worth a visit. The Top Things to Do list on TripAdvisor recommends a bunch of sights and activities that we would normally skip or expect to see lower on the list. Nevertheless, there is still lots to do but nearly all require a hefty admission fee that didn’t suit our budget.
We didn’t spend much time at the waterfront as it mainly consists of souvenir shops. An ‘Irish’ pub is generally a good indication that you are in the middle of the trap. When Irish eyes are rollin’…
Girl Scouts First Headquarters
We stopped by the Girl Scouts First Headquarters early on a Tuesday morning to check out this historic site (est. 1912) but we were turned away without even a cookie to show for our efforts.
Congregation Mickve Israel
We hoped to have better luck visiting the Jewish Synagogue as it is one of the oldest in the United States (Est. 1876). Unfortunately it too was closed. At least they had a good excuse – the holiday of Yom Kippur!
Where the Girl Scouts and Jews failed, the Catholic Church didn’t let us down – they’ll never miss the opportunity for a donation! Having visited MANY churches I must say that this was one of the most impressive.
The rest of downtown is populated with a large park, beautiful historic mansions and homes. It’s perfect for sightseeing by foot. However many tourists take a guided tour via trolley so you’ll see them whizzing about all day long. Priced at $30+ per person, we thought it was prohibitively expensive. Instead, take the free shuttle (unguided) to get you around town and see all the same sights.
A memorial to the Haitian regiment of free men of African descent who volunteered to fight in the War of Independence in the campaign to expel the British from Savannah.
Georgia Railroad Museum
While Alina sipped on coffee I took myself off to the historic Georgia Railroad Museum for a few hours to explore this historic site. Included in the admission fee ($10) is the option to take various short guided tours to different parts of the railroad and learn the history behind the development of the railroad in the United States. This is a really good place for kids or adults reliving their childhood days of playing with a model train set.
Just 25 minutes outside of Savannah is Fort Pulaski. It is a huge five sided fortress last occupied during the Civil War and now under the control of the National Park Service.
Construction began in the 1830s at the mouth of the Savannah river to protect the city of Savannah from attack. A certain fresh graduate from West Point named Lieutenant Robert E. Lee oversaw the preliminary construction. It was named in honor of Casimir Pulaski – a famous Polish cavalry officer who volunteered on the American side in the War of Independence.
The moat has a few small alligators for added protection!
The fort was occupied by Confederate forces immediately once Georgia seceded from the Union in 1861. Considered indestructible, by Union and Confederate forces alike, it succumbed astonishingly quickly to a 30 hour siege by 14 rifled Union cannon. The fort was no match for this new technology and it would forever change how defensive positions were designed. For the remainder of the war the fort was used as a makeshift prison where captured Confederate soldiers were held in awful conditions.
Fort Pulaski is a really cool place to spend a few hours or more and it’s very well maintained by the NPS. Besides the fort, there is a small visitor center and plenty of hiking trails to explore too.
Not Pictured: The parking lot where Alina slept while I explored the fort (Editor’s Note: I can only see so many forts)!!!
Where to Eat
B. Matthews Eatery
Our first bite to eat in Savannah was at the B. Matthews Eatery where we enjoyed a really good Sunday brunch. It was also my first time trying Fried Green Tomatoes (FGT) and now I’m a convert.
FGT Eggs Benedict. To. Die. For. Figuratively speaking.
Meanwhile Alina was Shrimpin’ and Gritin’ like nobodies business…
Located inside the Savannah College of Art & Design, this Arts Cafe is a cool little hang out spot built around a London red bus.
Sisters of the New South
The Sisters of the New South is the opposite of a salad bar. It’s more like a heart-attack buffet of southern specialties. Our take-out dinner consisted of baked chicken and sides of okra, collards and mac ‘n cheese. And cornbread. You CANNOT forget the cornbread.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room
On the surface Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room might appear to be your classic tourist trap with its thousands of positive reviews and long lines at opening time but don’t let that deter you!
The restaurant only opens from 10am-2pm with around 80 people being seated at communal tables at a time. It would seem they manage to get at least 3 or 4 seatings per day.
For $20 you can enjoy a feast of Southern dishes served family style along with some sweet ice-tea. The grand-daughter of the original Mrs. Wilkes still hosts and carries on a tradition dating back to 1943.
The food is incredible and it is a very social atmosphere. My only negative is that it can feel a little rushed especially for somebody like me who wants to linger at the dinner table for at least an hour (or two).
The drive west to Montgomery involved a pitstop at Brian’s Giant Submarine Sandwiches for a tasty pastrami sandwich. We actually made a slight detour to visit this place out based on its popularity. Pretty good but not ah-mazing as Alina would say!
Lane Southern Orchards
Continuing the drive west we I couldn’t help but stop at Lane Southern Orchards to see what they had to offer. These lovely peaches turned into an ah-mazing cobbler with the obligatory ice-cream on the side.
We felt obliged to pay a visit to Montgomery as it was the scene of much civil rights history. In fact it is also the state capital of Alabama. Arriving late in the afternoon we just missed out on the last guided tour of the Rosa Parks Library and Museum which was unfortunate but we still took time to drive around this eerily quiet downtown.
Martin Luther King Jr. House
Yada yada yada. CLOSED too!!
The state capitol building with the statue to fallen law enforcement officers in the foreground…
First White House of the Confederacy
You guessed it…CLOSED!
Those that have watched the powerful movie titled Selma about voting rights in the 1960s would especially appreciate a visit to the town where much of the drama unfolded along the Edmund Pettis Bridge. It was here on March 7, 1965, when armed policemen attacked peaceful demonstrators with clubs and tear gas as they were attempting to march to the state capital of Montgomery. The national outcry paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
On the way we passed many cotton fields…
Before arriving at the infamous Edmund Pettis bridge…
We had the pleasure of crossing the bridge in the company of these lovely folk who were coincidentally on a road-trip like us but going in the opposite direction from Chicago.
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset before continuing our journey to our hotel in Birmingham…
We stayed overnight in Birmingham at La Quinta Inn & Suites that we booked last minute while driving from Selma. Nice room, comfortable bed, good shower and a decent breakfast – it ticked off all the boxes.
I can’t say too much about the city of Birmingham except that it is definitely worth more than the half day we dedicated to it. It is steeped in history especially around the Civil Rights movement and the growth of heavy industry in the south. I would recommend at least one full day (perhaps two) to visit the many points of interest and museums around town.
The city of Birmingham was incorporated by southern entrepreneurs in 1871 in the hope of exploiting the natural resources nearby. The Sloss Furnaces was a product of this early development making it very profitable to produce iron close to the source of its raw materials.
We visited a few days before Halloween just as they were turning the site into a giant haunted maze. It’s already a creepy place so I imagine it is a lot of fun around that time.
16 Street Baptist Church
It was here that Ku Klux Klansmen planted dynamite near the front entrance that would kill four schoolgirls and injure 22 others. The bombing marked a turning point in the Civil Rights movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The sculpture in the foreground depicts the schoolgirls killed on that day…
Kelly Ingram Park
Opposite the church is Kelly Ingram Park which was the site of many protests and demonstration. The area is loaded with painful history with the park itself a setting for several pieces of sculptures related to the civil rights movement.
A good natured homeless guy gave us an impromptu history lesson and guide to the park which in itself was an interesting experience.
Police dogs were used to control and intimidate…
We barely scratched the surface of Georgia and Alabama both in terms of geography and historical sites. We experienced southern hospitality at its finest but also got a glimpse into a dark and painful past. This region is certainly worth a visit for its history but also the incredibly tasty food and friendly people.