Photos by Dori Arrington
At the end of an overnight run, we had one more turn to round the head of Tybee Island and line up our entrance into the Savannah River. Entering any inlet along the Southeast coast, from the Lowcountry of South Carolina to the Sea Isles of Georgia, sends you into a vast oasis of tidal salt marshes. The marsh seagrasses were a verdant green that morning, electrified with the new day’s sun shining low across the water.
The view we enjoyed heading into the river has changed little since James Oglethorpe cast his sights upon the marshlands in 1733, when he brought a group of settlers from England to establish the colony of Georgia and a new city which they would name Savannah.
Situated on a high bluff above the river, Oglethorpe and his surveyor, Noble Jones, laid out the plan for their city in an innovative grid pattern, consisting of six public squares, each surrounded by a mix of private houses and community buildings. The plan was so successful that city leaders continued to follow it for the next 100 years, eventually expanding the city to 24 public squares, 22 of which still exist. Savannah is one of the largest urban historic districts in the United States, with most of Oglethorpe’s original plan still in operation. The city on a bluff continues to embrace its savory stew of southern history and avant-garde vision of the future.
While Savannah has remade itself countless times, the spark that ignited its most influential period of redevelopment was the creation of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). A small group of forward-thinking newcomers realized there were too few colleges in the South with a significant focus on the arts. SCAD, which formed in 1978, kick-started a creative beginning that’s almost single-handedly responsible for the Savannah we see today. The city had a large inventory of abandoned historic structures, which were renovated and repurposed for college life, and the artistic and visionary talent drawn to the college continues to influence the city in a multitude of ways.
Students have brought Savannah a distinctive youthful blend, overlaid onto its well-preserved past. The riverfront is alive with a thriving network of cafes, art galleries and boutiques. New life is forming in areas where once-abandoned buildings were falling apart. The closed Starland Dairy property, for example, which sat at the center of two blocks of crumbling historic buildings is now the Starland Arts District, a vibrant mix of retail, office and residential space.
The downtown wharfs originally built for commercial ships now hold private yachts of all sizes at three different recreational marinas. Another prime location for visiting boaters can be found across the river on Hutchinson Island, at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Marina.
Wherever you tie up, make sure to bring your walking shoes, because Savannah is best appreciated up close and personal. Within a short distance of the downtown marinas, one can explore all of Savannah’s historic district. If you want to venture further out, Bonaventure Cemetery, one of the most beautiful and interesting cemeteries anywhere, is a short drive away. The cemetery is so beautiful that it’s one of Savannah’s most popular wedding locations.
This charming town likes to throw a party. There’s a festival just about every month of the year but none of them come close to Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Drawing 400,000 visitors, the St. Patty’s Day parade is the second largest in the US. Fountains around town flow green during the festivities.
As if there is not enough to see and do in Savannah, a short cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway from downtown brings you to the waterfront communities of Thunderbolt and Isle of Hope. Thunderbolt is home to several highly regarded yacht yards including Thunderbolt Marine and Hinckley Yachts. An easy bike ride from the Isle of Hope marina is where Oglethorpe’s surveyor Noble Jones built his historic Wormsloe Plantation. Part of the plantation is still used as the private residence of Jones’ descendants while a large portion of it is open to visitors as a Georgia State Historic Site.
There’s much to enjoy about this charming city, so set aside some time and explore the quaint streets and eateries that call this area home.