To introduce my kids to the South, my sister planned a three-day road trip for us to explore some of the “big name” southern towns. We began our trip driving from Atlanta, GA to Charleston, South Carolina. Of course our first stop was at Chick Fil’ A to try their seasonal peach milk shake in honor of the notorious peaches of Georgia, but for the most part, we wanted to experience the real south, even though we weren’t quite sure what that would mean.
Everyone loves Charleston. Every time we mentioned we were heading there, people would ooh and awe and tell me how much they loved it. And it IS beautiful. Perhaps too beautiful. We began our tour of Charleston at Fort Sumter National Monument, where the Civil War is said to have begun. My 7-year-old is a big history buff and we joined the Jr. Rangers program there and set out on a ferry that took us to the small fort built on a sandbar for a one-hour tour. The rangers were full of knowledge and from the fort we could see from where the first shot of the war was fired. The National Park’s museum (ticket office for the ferry) houses interesting artifacts and relics from Lincoln and the slaves who had been brought there. The impressive South Carolina Aquarium also sits in Liberty Square, although time did not allow us to explore it.
The fort tour took up most of our afternoon and we were hungry. We found Fuel, a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives recommendation. The Caribbean-inspired restaurant inhabits an old gas station and we enjoyed Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Mahi Mahi tacos, and sweet plantains on the outside deck, while the kids played bocce ball and corn hole toss.
We drove down the historic King Street, which appeared to be a shopping mecca of high-end retail, so we split to the waterfront and got out of the car to explore on foot. It felt strange to stumble over the cobblestone brick that had been laid by slaves. Looking up at the colorful historic homes, we read the plaques that named the men who had built them. We saw our first real-life gas lamps, lit and glowing, beckoning the days of old. Strolling down the waterfront, we came across children laughing in the fountains, and elderly ambling through the park. Everything was clean and orderly. Exactly a week later, a racial act of terrorism ripped the city’s heart apart and exposed the ugliness hidden under the tourist façade.
Savannah, once know as the “Pretty Girl with the Dirty Face,” felt more like home to me. We drove into downtown and checked into the Downtown Springhill Suites Marriott, the perfect hotel to house all six of us in one room, allow us to walk to our points of interest, and helped us save money with the free daily breakfast.
We meandered toward City Market, where the kids tried candied pralines, passed the locals cooling off in the Ellis Square Fountains, and made our way to wobbly, steep stairs that lead down to the Historic River Street. I was bound and determined to find me some Spanish moss dripping off the Savannah trees; an image that resonated when I thought of this southern city.
Walking the entire River Street, passing touristy stores, historical statues, and plaques dedicated the people of the sea, we popped up at the Pirate House to eat and look around the “oldest house in Georgia,” be entertained by the roaming pirate, and learn some swashbuckling history.
Known for its 22 city squares, we walked Savannah’s historic district in about four hours. Yes, we push our kids while traveling, and perhaps paying to take a trolley for 90 minutes and drive by these squares while listening to the city’s history with A/C blowing may have been easier, but working with a paper map and coming upon different sites still can’t be unmatched in my mind. We strolled through the Colonial Park Cemetery where we read of Georgian historians and signers of the Declaration of Independence. We followed the steeple to St. John the Baptist Cathedral where, upon entering, we sat in silence, each in our own pew, taking in the majesty of this European-style place of worship, and left in hushed reverence.
I’m not a fan of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (also known as “the book” in Savannah), but I am aware of the fountain that sets the stage for the Savannah-based story. We found said fountain in Forsyth Park, along with my Spanish moss I was looking for. At the time it was being cleaned and my heart sunk not to see it in its full glory, but we walked around the park, experiencing the Fragrance Garden, playing at the incredibly cool (and gated) play structure, and got some sweet tea at the park café, all while watching the visiting Girl Scouts congregate nearby. Savannah is the first head quarters of the Girls Scouts, and every summer brings a fresh batch of scouts trekking to the city for a new patch. When it was time to leave, the fountain was in full force and I had my ideal, romantic, southern picture in front of me. I breathed in Savannah in that moment, and was sad to say goodbye.
At least three locals in Savannah told me not to go to Tybee Island. Being from California, they thought we’d be less than impressed. But my kids needed to put their toes in the Atlantic, and Tybee, just outside of Savannah, seemed like the perfect place. We were told not to go by the pier. (Why? I do not know; perhaps too busy.) So we pulled off on one of the side roads and walked the boardwalk to the flat beach that spread wide before us. The ocean water was warm and there were no rough and rogue waves like we are used to on the west coast. No undertow grabbed at our feet and pulled us in. When the sun began to set, it lowered behind us, casting our shadows into the water. I’m not sure why it was thought we wouldn’t enjoy it, but enjoy it we did.
We had a few days left in Atlanta when we returned from our road trip, so to complete my son’s “All-things-Civil-War” tour we made a day in Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Before climbing to the top of Big Kennesaw, we watched a (free) 30-minute film on what took place at the battlefield. Then we saw in the (free) museum, artifacts that had been found on location. At the top of the mountain, expansive views of downtown Atlanta spread before us, and we walked by actual Civil War cannons, reminding ourselves once again what took place on this sacred ground. Before leaving the area, we drove to Cheatham Hill where it is said the Civil War was won.
The next day found us at Amicalola Falls State Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I wanted to get out and stretch my legs and commune with nature, and this park did not disappoint. The hike up to the falls was a tad bit strenuous for my road-weary kids (there is an option to drive up if need be), but the view up at the top was worth the tears. (It really wasn’t that bad, I have a melodramatic tweener.) It was nice to see some moving water after coming from California, a drought state. We breathed in the fresh air, took in the view, and then the kids ran down the mountain. It was the perfect place to end our introduction to the south. We’ll be back.
Discover Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things for Families to do in Georgia.