Note: though we traveled to Savannah, GA, during a 3 day weekend, I decided to merge the events together for the sake of time.
4th of July in Savannah, GA
Rich history, unique architecture, stunning beaches…Savannah, GA has it all. The state’s original capital, it takes Georgia’s southern charm and augments it with a coastal flair. The result is a city in which the people, history, architecture and even geography seamlessly meld together to form a unique, localized culture that noticeably impacts all who visit. From books to movies, it has also made its mark in the history of popculture.
As is so often the case, the trip begins at River Street. After parking, we walk a couple of blocks to a supposedly dangerous “historic staircase” that leads down to the Savannah River and aforementioned street. Though Savannah in general is packed for the July 4th weekend, this strip is “where it’s at”. Shops, bars and restaurants line the cobblestone road, which itself runs along the Savannah River. The architecture is definitely reminiscent of an older generation, with many original buildings from the 19th and even 18th centuries.
Many of the structures appear to have not been painted or restored in some time, offering a likely intentional rustic appeal. Boats and ships of all sizes can be seen traversing the calm water below. The sidewalks between the river and street feature an assortment of fountains, historical markers and small play areas. And so much of it has been decorated for the 4th of July.
We were sure to stop by Wet Welly’s, one of those small stops that has become a famous destination in Savannah. Although I’m not much of a drinker, this place has a variety of both food and beverage selections. Even if not to drink, it’s still a great place to visit for the experience.
World-Famous River Street Sweets
Next was River Street Sweets. Savannah’s (and probably Georgia’s) premiere candy store, this place has it ALL in the world of candy. There were selections here that I hadn’t heard of since childhood. They also handcraft many candies right in the store. As such, there are many phenomenal sweets that can only be found here. Some, of course, reflect Savannah’s coastal influence. Others are just so good that you don’t even care how they look. Of course, this store was also decorated for the 4th of July, like most in Savannah.
The other stores feature typical tourist-destination souvenirs. Not to say that the small shops along the strip lack interest; there’s something for everyone, so they’re still worth a visit. There are also plenty of restaurants to eat here, but I decided to grab lunch in a more…historic location.
The Pirate House
The Pirate’s House is an absolute must-see in Savannah. It’s a restaurant that doesn’t really look like much from the road. But there’s a reason for this. Serving a variety of unique, delectable dishes is only part of The Pirate’s House’s appeal. The building is divided into different rooms. Some of these are actually older building themselves incorporated within the overall structure, including Savannah’s oldest building (built in 1733). It’s a popular destination, so the wait times can get a little long. However, waiting for a table also offers patrons an opportunity to take one of several free tours detailing the history and features of The Pirate’s House.
This includes a drop leading to a tunnel that used to connect with Savannah’s own underground tunnel system. It is similar to the Paris catacombs in that they branch across the city but are largely (and legally) inaccessible. Some of the rooms absolutely reflect the expansive history of the Pirate House, with surprisingly small doors, former staircases, and furnishings designed to fit the era. According to our server, the Pirate House was actually a popular stop for pirates sailing the seas while visiting Savannah many years ago.
Skidaway Island State Park
Savannah wouldn’t be complete without its outdoor scene, and Skidaway Island offers the perfect outdoor experience to compliment the city. In it, you will find trails winding through an environment that features a variety of tropical plants melded together with the mossy trees and swamps made famous in this region. The trails are partially composed of boardwalks, which traverse over the marshes for additional points of interest. It’s an easy walk/hike, suitable for all and perfect for families. One of the boardwalks leads to a lookout tour, which offers a view of the surrounding marshlands. Small crabs cover the wooden planks, but they move away quickly as we approach.
As we head back, the tide comes in and begins flooding parts of Skidaway Island. Some trail segments are completely covered, and I can’t help but wonder how someone who hiked further down would make it back.
America’s Most Haunted City: A Guided Ghost Tour of Savannah
That evening, it was time to explore another side of Savannah: its haunted history. It’s considered one of the most haunted cities in America, and for good reason. Wars, plagues, and oppression have all led to an unusually high death rate for Savannah, with unmarked graves likely scattered underneath the city. As such, there are several ghost tours to choose from. We found an online discount code for one and set out to search for ghosts.
A quick note: even if horror and the idea of ghost hunting aren’t really your thing, this may still be an experience worth exploring. The tour will introduce you to Savannah’s rich history, hidden treasures and architectural wonders. I don’t want to spoil it for future participants, so I’ll just cover a few highlights.
The tour begins in Wright Square. Here, participants gather and meet their guide. From there, we begin walking down the street, with haunted sites beginning almost immediately. We were slightly delayed as our guide graciously ran to the aid of a driver that had been trying to parallel park her car for 10 minutes to no avail. As we walked the streets of Savannah, we were introduced to buildings and sites that bear significance but are easily overlooked.
The Convergence of Horror and History in Savannah
Some of these buildings were home to famous historical figures, while others are featured in pop culture, both past and present. The tour really began to paint a picture of just how influential this area has been through the generations, and how much tragedy has struck the region. Along the way, our guide would often point out a specific building as one that we’d “definitely want to take pictures of.” Supposedly, pictures of these areas frequently revealed orbs and distortions caused by spirits. Unfortunately, I never saw anything of the sort in my photos, and I’m pretty sure no one else did either.
4th of July on Savannah’s White Sandy Beaches
After that, it was finally time to head to the beach at Savannah’s nearby Tybee Island. It was (no surprise) crowded this weekend. However, the sky was clear, the weather was warm, and the water was cool. It was, all the same, a perfect day to relax on the beach and swim in the ocean. From umbrellas to bathing suits, emblems of the American flag could be seen everywhere. The waves were calm today, though they were still fun to swim through. Nearby, a pier offered food, music, and fishing. It was also busy, of course, but all of the patrons seem to be having a great time. Nearby, Tybee Island’s small shops and restaurants are reminiscent of a typical seaside getaway.
July 4th Savannah River Cruise
Later that day, it’s time for the Savannah River cruise. These are offered a few times per day at varying prices. Seating is available indoors and outside on the ships’ upper decks, which themselves reflect a more classical period of Savannah’s history. A massive cargo ship with thousands of tractor-trailer sized containers flows by shortly before departure. Such sites will never cease to amaze me. It’s incredible that humans have found ways to organize such massive structures and float them on water. The ships depart from River Street and sails towards the massive bridge connecting it with Hutchinson Island. After crossing under, it circles back under the bridge before heading closer to the coast.
Along the way, we see plenty of industrial centers along the Savannah River’s bank. The pace is slow, and the breeze is nice. Bands are playing on each deck of the ship, and lights are flashing and twirling against the awning of the upper deck. In the lower decks, food is served to patrons who are surprisingly content with remaining inside. I couldn’t hold my anticipation for long and found a spot right at the front of the boat as it drifted down the river.
It’s quiet at first, but other soon begin to fill the ship’s bow. It’s not long before we’re packed in there, but with the gentle breeze and calm currents, it’s okay. The Georgia Queen sails along several industrial centers before passing Old Fort Jackson, a national monument used during the Civil War. Apparently, reenactments are held here regularly, but it’s quiet as we sail past. As we coast further along, there really isn’t much else to see. It’s mostly forests on both sides before the ship turns around. Heading back, however, we did see a dolphin briefly jump above the water’s surface. The sun is setting as we head back, and fireworks occasionally dart above Savannah and across the sky in celebration of July 4th.
One Last Stop before Leaving
Shortly after, it’s time for our coastal excursion to come to an end. However, after driving out of the city, we did come across the Guido Gardens in Metter, GA, on the way back. It’s a unique site built by Sower Ministries. The office is closed for the 4th of July, but the garden is still available for self-guided tours free of charge. There were a number of unique plants and arrangements along the way, with a chapel near the middle.
I could definitely see a number of people getting married here. A few sections also included themes, with some reflecting Bible verses and one replica of the cave Jesus was buried in. According to Explore Georgia, the entire garden is decorated for Christmas with over 2 million lights. It was a cool little attraction along the way as my 4th of July weekend in Savannah came to a close.