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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Visiting Savannah, Georgia & Tybee Island / Historic Squares, Forsyth Park, Downtown, Savannah Bells Ferry, City Market, Fort Pulaski, Tybee Beach, and more!

November - December 2016, Weekdays

We spent four nights in Savannah, Georgia at the Homewood Suites. I am sharing information from our experiences to assist future travelers to the area. One the first bits of information I want to share is about parking. All of the hotels downtown charge rates of $20 or more per night for parking. You can purchase a 24-hour parking pass from the city for $8, and you can purchase a 2-day pass for $14. More information is available in my Homewood Suites blog post (link above), and at the City of Savannah website. We purchased two 2-days passes, so our total parking cost was $28.  Much better than the $104 we would have paid at our hotel (not counting valet tips). We did not have any difficulty finding a parking spot in Bryan Street parking garage located directly behind Holiday Inn Express, or in Whitaker Street garage.

View of City Hall from Johnson Square

Savannah Historic Squares, Colonial Park Cemetery, Forsyth Park 

There are many narrated tours available to learn about Savannah history--trolley tours, walking tours, group and private tours. There is also considerable information available online and elsewhere, if you want to visit Savannah Historic Squares at your own pace, which is what we did. Here are a few online resources to assist with planning: Visit Savannah's Historic Squares, free Visitor's Guide, Historic Squares with descriptions, and my favorites: Squares and Parks and Self-Guided Walking Tour. I had prepared a rough draft of our walking tour plans before our trip, and then I left the folder of maps and info at home! We easily got new maps and information from the Visitor's Center  on E. Bay Street, our hotel concierge, and from various booklets around town.

Wright Square

We spent two days visiting the squares, Colonial Park Cemetery, and Forsyth Park. We could have done this in one day; however, we wanted to take our time and enjoy everything, including shopping and dining along the way.

Colonial Park Cemetery

The first day, we had intended to take the dot (free shuttle bus) to Forsyth Park, and then take our time walking back to the hotel as we visited everything on the south and east sides of town. The ride did not turn out to be as enjoyable as we had hoped, because the bus windows were covered with advertisements, and we could not see out. We had hoped to get a view of our surroundings during the ride. According to the schedule, we should have been picked up at the stop by #19 on the map at 9:20 a.m., and arrived at Forsyth Park about ½ hour later. The bus was late arriving, and then the driver left the bus for over 10 minutes after stopping at the Transit Center. We ended up getting off the bus to walk from the W. Liberty Street stop at 10:00 a.m.

Forsyth Park
Public restrooms are labeled on most of the area maps. There are restrooms and a cafe in Forsyth Park. There is no charge to visit any of these sights. If you tour the area on your own, be sure to bring a printed sheet with the historical information about each stop. There is a lot of interesting info! We viewed and participated in many things, including the famous Forest Gump scenes in Chippewa Square, and the legend of Tomochichi in Wright Square.

Savannah City Market

I had not done any research about Savannah City Market  beforehand, other than look up the location, as this is pretty self-explanatory--a shopping and dining mecca. We found this area disappointing because it is only a couple of blocks, and we expected more. If you like visiting art galleries, this is the place to be. There were several art galleries, along with the few shops and restaurants. Some of the restaurants were not open when we visited in the afternoon.

Savannah Belles Ferry

Savannah Belles Ferry provides complimentary transportation from the Savannah riverfront to Hutchinson Island, where the Westin and International Trade & Convention Center are located. We took the ride just because we like boats, and we wanted to see the island. The ferry was only running between the Marriott (next to our hotel--Homewood Suites) and the island during our visit; the stop at City Hall was closed. During our ride, someone told us that stop had been temporarily closed because a passenger had recently fallen overboard and drowned. When I searched for this online later, I found a news story saying the ramp had collapsed. Our experience on this boat was different than any other boat we have been on; no one provided instructions or assistance to passengers embarking or disembarking, and no information was given about life jackets or anything else. Granted, this was a short trip; however, I have never been on a boat before (even for a short/shuttle ride, and I have been on many) when instructions for boarding and life jacket information were not provided.

View of Westin and Belles Ferry on right, from Savannah riverfront
There is a nice outdoor fire pit at the Westin by the water where you can sit to socialize and view water activity. Boat dockage is available along the wall. I suggest bringing your own beverage, as beverages at the Westin were among the most expensive we purchased our entire week.

Fort Pulaski National Monument, Tybee Island, dining

Fort Pulaski National Monument is on the way to Tybee Island, and we stopped there right when it opened at 9:00 a.m. The cost to visit Fort Pulaski was $7 each. You can tour the grounds on your own, and a narrated tour is available. The first tour started at 10:00 a.m. Guides were also available to answer questions, when we toured on our own.

Top of Fort Pulaski
There is a small Visitor's Center and gift shop inside the park near the fort. Restrooms were located in a building next to the Visitor's Center. The picnic area was scattered with fallen trees from hurricane Mathew at the time of our visit, although the facilities in this area were also open.

View from our seat north of the pier on Tybee Island
We parked in the beach parking lot on Tybee Island. The cost was $2 per hour, and the minimum purchase time with a credit card from the machine was two hours. The information I read online said that some parking meters are half this cost; however, parking rates were not posted on any of the meters we looked at. When I called the telephone number on the parking meter to ask how much time you get for 25 cents, the person I spoke with said it is the same as the beach parking lot, about 7½ minutes. My understanding of what I read online is that all of the parking meter rates are being raised to $2 an hour, although some have not been raised yet. Until all the meters are changed, there is a chance you could park for $1 an hour, if you choose the right meter and have enough quarters.

Military planes flying overhead while on Tybee Island
Our visit was peaceful during the off-season, even though it was close to 80°F the day of our visit. We found a swinging bench seat in an area out of the wind where we relaxed and watched some military planes flying overhead. It looked like some type of practice was going on.

Pier in the distance from the
south end of Tybee Island beach
Jellyfish on Tybee Island beach

The ocean water was warm enough for wading, although we did not go swimming. The sand was soft, and the beach was easy to walk on, just like it had been on Hilton Head Island. A few shops and restaurants were open at the time of our visit, although many were closed.

The Crab Shack
We stopped for a late lunch on our way back to Savannah, although we did not find the place we were initially looking for. We turned too soon and ended up at The 'original' Crab Shack. The experience was unique with a live alligator pond, and views of Chimney Creek. Our original plan had been to eat at Coco's on Lazaretto Creek or Flying Fish Bar & Grill closer to Savannah. Things like this happen when we forget our destination information and maps at home!

Misc. shopping & dining Downtown Savannah

Downtown Savannah has a lot to offer, and we enjoyed having a couple of days to leisurely walk the area. Many bars and drink stands had signs advertising drinks to-go. We mistakenly thought this was like New Orleans, and that we could also bring our beverage(s) into the next establishment. We found that some bars/restaurants would let us enter with a beverage and some would not. A couple of places we liked with good Happy Hour specials: Moon River Brewing Co. with a Beer Garden, Vic's on the River, and Joe's Crab Shack for their $5 Patron margaritas. Live music was almost always playing at Tubby's Seafood Riverstreet. You could not bring beverages into this location, and they did not have any specials when we were there. You can easily hear the music from benches by the water, if you do not want to visit. We found great sushi and beer specials one afternoon at Ruan Thai Cuisine on Broughton Street. I could not find a website for this location.

Patron margarita at Joe's

Most of the souvenir shops we visited had the same products for similar prices - with the same sale promotions as soon as we entered! This was consistent between River Street Market Place, the rest of the riverwalk, downtown, and City Market. Most of the food and candy stores gave free samples, and some stores had coupons in the Visitor's Guides for free items and/or purchase discounts.

Near City Hall
Be on the lookout for historical displays along the riverwalk and throughout downtown Savannah. We observed many monuments and statues that we had not read about beforehand.

On the riverwalk
Looking west on the riverwalk from River Street Market Place
City Hall and bridge to SC in the distance

Let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to share this post for others. We thought Savannah was a great place to visit!