As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I pretty much can't get enough of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, re: Charleston and Savannah. The last time I had the opportunity to go was May 2015.
My 2017 trip was designed to be a much-needed getaway and reward for a jam-packed winter and early spring. And rewarding it was.
Wormsloe Historic Site
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea," goes the old adage. And Charleston and Savannah, with stops in Beaufort and Wilmington, was exactly what the doctor ordered. My first stop after arriving in Savannah from Charleston was not the beach though - it was Wormsloe Historic Site, about 10 miles from downtown.
I don't like to over-plan when I go on a trip, rather pinpoint a few places to visit, and leave the rest up to strategic yet aimless wandering and exploration. So I hadn't planned on visiting Wormsloe, until I was mindlessly Instagram-scrolling a few days before and happened upon a photo of Wormsloe's much-photographed, Spanish moss-draped, live oak entrance. TIP: Visiting somewhere new? Let other people do the research for you by clicking on Instagram's geo-tag (or, of course, city hashtag) of the place you want to visit, and you'll often find solid insider tips on what you should see or do.
Wormsloe features the ruins of the colonial estate of one of Georgia's earliest settlers. In addition to the structural remains, you can explore more of the former estate along the nature trails, which meanders next to some scenic marshes. TIP: Be prepared for wildlife; I spotted at least one snake, and was greeted by one friendly lizard that didn't hesitate to attempt to scatter up my pant leg.
Bonaventure Cemetery is to Savannah what Hollywood Cemetery is to Richmond, a historic garden cemetery that invites walking, visiting, exploring, and learning about the past. The well-known "Bird Girl" statue featured on the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," was originally located at Bonaventure, but has apparently been moved to the Telfair Museums' Jepson Center. (P.S. The book's cover photo was taken by Jack Leigh, one of my favorite photographers.)
One of the more prominent figures buried at Bonaventure is singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer - of course, the Mercer name is integral to Savannah's history, most notably tied its founding history and to the Italianate-style Mercer-Williams House Museum downtown. . . . . .WHICH I am just learning re: Mercer House, was the scene of the murder in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (bringing those connections together!).
What I love about Savannah, in comparison to Charleston, is its "grittiness." Charleston is all fun-loving, breezy, and sunny, while Savannah is a little darker, more Gothic, and eccentric. But don't all Southerners harbor some eccentricity?
One could spent all day in downtown Savannah, ogling the historic homes. If you are crunched for time though, my suggestion would be to first stop at Forsyth Park, the city's most popular park, where you'll spot loads of gorgeous old manses and homes along the perimeter. There isn't a ton of shopping around this area, but you should make a point of stopping into gift and home furnishings store, One Fish, Two Fish, which is near this park.
Much of the downtown area is built on a grid or city square scheme, designed for easy-of-navigation and community (which today's city planners, in my opinion, really need to get back to, instead of miles-upon-miles of asphalt and high volume highways like Broad or many suburban areas. The Fan is a good example of that grid-square-parklet pattern, where if one street is blocked off, you can just go down another and be on your way. If you are just dying to know more about community/suburban/urban planning, read "Suburban Nation.").
The above house is the aforementioned Mercer Williams House Museum. While you're scanning the next set of historic homes, know that there is shopping to be had in Savannah. You'l want to head to Broughton Street for that, and to a lesser extent, River Street. Savannah has all of the shops you'd expect to find in any trendy city, like Free People and Urban Outfitters (where a girl has GOT to get stocked up on her beauty/face masks, even though I can get the same thing in RVA), but it also has some fun shops like Paris Market, Savannah Bee Company, and Nourish, where I snagged some all-natural bath bombs and aromatherapy shower steamers in Mint Julep and Orange Blossom, and some summer-y hydrating mist in Coconut Lime.
The most popular beach around Savannah is Tybee Island, about 20 minutes from downtown, and after a long day of walking around, it was a great way to end my single, solitary day in Savannah. (Sorry - no photo! What was I thinking. . .) Until next time, Savannah! Stay tuned for recaps of Beaufort, S.C. and Wilmington, N.C.
If it's not yet clear that I LOVE the south, then perhaps the next series of posts will drive that point home. I recently road-tripped to the lowcountry yet again, with stops in Washington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Beaufort, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. I've covered a fair amount of tourist-y territory on previous trips (I used to live in Atlanta, so had access to the coastal deep[er] south more easily then), but I still trod some of that same high-traffic ground this trip, with some side excursions to see some things I hadn't seen before.
My most immediate, got-to-go-to-now visit (after a pit stop in Washington, N.C., where my brother lives in a prime river house on the Pamlico) was the Angel Oak on John's Island, about 12 miles from downtown Charleston. If you look it up online, Google describes it on its map simply as "an iconic photo opportunity of a large tree." That's plainly accurate, but I'd swap out "large" for "majestic" or some other sweeping word to describe this aged Southern live oak.
The Angel Oak is estimated to be 400-500 years old, and it was impressive to see it in person, to say the least. It's a stunner. I was there on a Sunday, and my goal was to get there as soon as they opened at 1PM so I could snap some photos before it was overtaken by sight-seers. Don't do that. Everyone else was thinking the same thing. After everyone got their selfie or group photo in, the throng of tourists and park-goers thinned out, and I got my shots (still had to erase/clone out a few objects and people). In sum, my advice if you want to see the tree is to get there at least an hour after it opens.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
My next stop was the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, and while that may seem too "educational" for a vacation, it actually offers a great opportunity to explore lowcountry nature a little more, in contrast to the bustle and gleam of Charleston. I was told that I may see some alligators while walking around, and I was really hoping that'd happen, but c'est dommage, I didn't spot any. (If you go to Middleton Place, you'll probably have a better chance of seeing some lurking in the ponds.)
The Caw Caw Interpretive Center, now a wildlife preserve, is part of a former rice plantation situated in an expanse of cypress swamps. It features more than six miles of trails, with wetlands, boardwalks, and wildlife- and native plant-viewing.
How can you not be seduced by Charleston? This time of year (April), jasmine is in bloom, and Charlestonians LOVE it. It was covered on brick walls, gated entrances, trellises, wrought iron fences - just about everywhere - and the hot and humid air intensified the scent. Could not inhale enough.
I did the requisite tour of the Battery, near Rainbow Row and lots of stately antebellum homes and structures. Suggestion: Take a detour off the "main" roads re: off Bay and Murray and head down the alleys to see how homeowners have decked out their "backyards" and back porches. It's often with more southerly pomp than what you see on the "tourist-facing" street side.
The next day, I made my way to King Street, which is by and large the "Carytown" of Charleston, where you can find a mix of locally-owned boutiques along with regional/national retail shops, like J. Crew, Madewell, Blue Mercury, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, etc. I was happy to stumble into Roberta Roller Rabbit, where I spotted some boho embroidered tunics I wanted to snag, but resisted. I of course scouted out some new and old favorite bakeries, like Saffron and Bakehouse, both on E. Bay St.
I managed to make time for a beach visit in each city. In Charleston, my pick was Folly Beach. . .
My hotel was on the Mount Pleasant side, and I learned that the town had a seemingly new (or new to me) outdoor space called Memorial Waterfront Park, which offered one of the best up-close views of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. (There is no way I cannot think of Thomas Ravenel from Bravo's "Southern Charm" - the bridge is named after his congressman father... Yes, I watch that show, and yes, I'll be watching "Southern Charm: Savannah" too.)
I had a full day-and-a-half in Charleston - not enough to see and do everything I wanted. It's never enough time to soak in this gracious, fun-loving, decadent southern city. Up next: Savannah.
When I was a kid, my family spent a number of summer vacations on the Eastern Shore – we would stay at a hotel right off the bridge near Cape Charles. It had a rooftop deck with wide open bay views, which, in that pre-mobile-crazed entertainment era, was absolutely thrilling to me. Miles and miles of water as far as the eye could see! Other out-of-school seaside retreats were spent further up on Chincoteague Island, which as an adult, I can appreciate so much more now for its out-of-the-way, less accessible peace and solitude.
Chincoteague is the ideal remote getaway, one that feels worlds away from the chaos and commercialism of Virginia Beach, and is as equidistant from Richmond as that other beloved beach hotspot, the Outer Banks. Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel sets the stage for escape – the 20-mile crossing hovers over an expanse of sun-gleaming, blue, bay waters, dropping you off on the edge of the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.
Keep motoring for another 65 miles until you arrive in wild and wonderful Chincoteague. In April, the town is still emerging from its off-season dormancy – many shops operate on "If-I-am-there, I'm-there" hours, while others are only open three days a week, but that should only encourage you to spend more time in the wildlife refuge, which features acres of protected beaches, marshes, forests and wildlife, including it's world-famous wild ponies.
Around town and at the refuge, there are plenty of wildlife hiking and biking trails to explore and nature to experience up-close-and-personal. Fishing, boating, and cruising are, of course, other recreational options. Or get your hands dirty, drop a line with a chicken bone in the water and go crabbing. (Honestly, leave your fancy resort-wear and your noses-in-the-air behind, because this isn't the place.) Plan to end your day with a sunset view – you'll be hard-pressed to not find a prime spot for twilight-watching.
In search of dining options, you'll find ample restaurants, sandwich shops, barbecue pits and more than enough ice cream parlors. I like Mister Whippy for soft-serve (Isn't Mister Whippy the CUTEST? He reminds me of a cone-shaped Stay Puft Marshmallow Man...) and Island Creamery – the ice cream is dolloped generously in a waffle cone, just what you need after hoofing the nature trails in 75-degree spring heat.
Later in the growing season, you'll want to hit up some of the local farmers markets, like Church Street Produce, get your coffee fix at Main Street Shop & Coffeehouse, or grab some DEE-licious hot donuts from the Sandy Pony Donuts food truck.
In-season, yes, there is shopping to be had, and by then, merchants should have regular hours. Pop in to Sundial Books and peruse some new and used beach reads, The Brant for island gifts, laid-back fashions, and Christmas ornaments (there is always at least one shop at the beach that celebrates the holidays year-round), and Hollyhocks on Main for vintage treasures and beachy home decor.
If you like a slower pace while on sabbatical, Chincoteague is for you – the speed limit rarely exceeds 30 miles per hour anywhere on the island, so if you are one of those types who gets itchy and impatient driving, walking or otherwise mobilizing around, go to Nags Head or Virginia Beach. Here, you soak in nature at your leisure, unhurriedly appreciate the egrets and sandpipers, purposefully breathe in the salty marshes and just, relaaaaaxxx. Chincoteague is still a small fishing village, and it still is the "best kept secret" in Virginia's tourist industry, and, even though I'm writing about it, I hope it stays that way.
There are two cities that I could return to again and again - and again - and never tire of: Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. On the surface, you may think they have a trapped-in-amber quality - and they do in the very best ways - but they are two cities with an edge, defying convention and breaking free of common perceptions.
Charleston clings to the edge a little closer than Savannah, but both cities are constantly reinventing and renewing, whether that's through maintaining and preserving a sense of history of old buildings by adapting them for new use (see some of the decades-old buildings the Savannah College of Art and Design has renovated) or by being a national attraction on the culinary scene (Sean Brock, anyone?), where you can find food that's both traditional AND modern and like no where else all at the same time.
I lived in Georgia from 2001 to 2003 when I was getting my Masters at Georgia State University - in fact, I only applied to all-Georgia graduate schools because I wanted to live in the state for a while and experience the South, a South much deeper than Virginia. And, if afforded me a closer proximity to Savannah, another bonus.
Any chance I get - and it is way too far and few in between these days - I visit Charleston and Savannah and absorb the sea salt air, coastal, flow-y, Spanish moss vibe, southern hospitality and all-around decadence that is ingrained in the air, soil, trees and streets. These cities know how to live and take care of people.
So take a quickie photographic tour through the lens of my most recent visit to the Hostess City of the South, spring 2015, and try not to fall in love.
Charleston, S.C. is one of my favorite cities. So is Savannah, Ga. (which will be a separate post.) What I love about both cities are their deep sense of history, character, reverence AND hedonistic charm - it all mixes together and permeates the air, the streets and the people. While both are deeply southern, Charleston is a bit more upscale, Savannah a little grittier, but no less welcoming.
In Charleston, the main strip is sandwiched between King Street and Meeting Street, an area packed block-to-block with only-in-the-South-type cafes, boutiques, restaurants, markets, museums, historic sites and other things-to-do-and-see. One truly needs at least a week - if not more time - to uncover all that Charleston offers.
Charleston's side streets are even more interesting, and are quickly being filled with shops that you need to just drive around and discover on your own, on a whim. The less touristy sections will also give you a chance to see some incredible historic homes, where you can peer in through the wrought iron gates at the dressed up entryways and secret gardens.
I was in Charleston in May, and only had two full days to spend there this go-round. I've visited a few times before, so fortunately I could point myself in the right direction. But the city - much like any desirable city - changes year to year. Even still, when I arrived, I made a beeline for the Battery, where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers converge at Charleston Harbor. White Point Garden, a live oak-filled waterfront park, and Rainbow Row, a cluster of famously colorful antebellum homes, are also located here at the tip of the peninsula.
Later, I returned to King Street because, quite frankly, I wanted to shop. Because of my affinity for baked goods, I made sure I allocated time for a hard-target bakery spree - if there was a bake or sandwich shop (because, like Liz Lemon, I love a good sandwich) within a reasonable radius and time allotment, I was there. The hit list included Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts, Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, Cupcake Down South, Queen Street Grocery and Bull Street Market (which I knew of before, and LOVE). I missed Butcher & Bee, and Saffron Bakery, and apparently several others, this time around. And yes, I did visit Southern Season in Mount Pleasant to stock up on local brews (like this lovely Gose, a German-style sour wheat beer from Westbrook Brewing Co.).
I only had a chance to visit one restaurant while there (because the wait was short, and we were hungry dammit). Those "Best Charleston Restaurant" lists have been compiled but others and you can find them here and here if you need guidance on where to get your grub on.
In addition to sight-seeing and bakery-escapading, the rest of my time in Charleston was spent meandering the back streets, gazing at the mansions and architecture, or exploring Sullivan's Island.
Charleston has a lot in common with Richmond. . . motor down Monument Avenue or take a walk along East Grace Street in Church Hill anytime and - except for the lack of palmettos and Spanish moss - it feels like you could be in the Holy City. Looking forward to a return visit.
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