Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Savannah Georgia

Biking in Savannah courtesy of Visit Savannah
Steve Atlas
Written by Steve Atlas

Spring is a glorious time to be alive. The coldness of winter has gone, and the heat of summer hasn’t yet arrived. It’s a good time to visit historic cities and districts that have both charm and walkability. As you stroll around a historic area, especially if there is a river nearby, it’s easy to (at least temporarily) forget about today’s hectic fast track way of life.

In this month’s Car Free Journey column, we will visit one of these delightful cities: Savannah, GA, and spend most of our time exploring the Historic Savannah district.

Forsyth Fountain, courtesy of Visit Savannah.

What’s Special about Savannah?
Couples, young and old, can experience the romance of coastal Georgia along oak-lined avenues, while history buffs will feel right at home in the state’s oldest city. Stroll along the Savannah River in the city’s Historic District. The period architecture houses, the Spanish moss hanging over much of the city, and the city’s 22 historic squares that are still used today as mini-parks contrast with trendy boutiques and eateries. Whether it’s a stroll around Savannah’s Historic District, enjoying the fountain at the city’s Forsyth Park, or enjoying one of the city’s many festivals and special events, a visit to Savannah is an experience you will treasure for a long time.

Getting Here
          By Air
Four airlines offer direct service daily to Savannah from the following cities:
American Airlines:  Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Washington, D.C. (National Airport)
Delta: Atlanta, New York City (LaGuardia and JFK Airports), and Detroit
Jet Blue:  New York City (JFK Airport), and Boston
United: Chicago (O’Hare), Houston, Newark, and Washington, D.C. (Dulles International Airport)

Getting Downtown from Savannah Hilton Head International Airport
Chatham Area Transit’s (CAT) 100X Airport Express travels between the airport and downtown Savannah every hour. The one way fare is $5. Round trip is $8.00. For details, go to http://catchacat.org/_meta/downloads/schedules/route_100x.pdf.

          By Train
CAT’s Route 29 connects with Amtrak’s Silver Meteor (but not the Silver Star). Buses leave the Amtrak station (2611 Seaboard Coastline Drive) daily at 6:50 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. This bus travels directly to CAT’s Intermodal Transit Center which is about two blocks from Broughton Street (the city’s main shopping street).

         By Bus
CAT’s Intermodal Transit Center, the main hub for all fixed bus routes, is also the connection point for all Greyhound bus trips. The Greyhound bus station is home to both Greyhound and Southeastern Stages (the local Trailways operator). The address is 610 Oglethorpe Ave.

           Park and Ride Lots
Some visitors, especially from the local area and nearby communities, prefer to drive in, and then walk or use public transportation after they arrive. CAT offers this suggestion: The best bang for the buck is the Liberty Street Parking Garage, which has low rates and is serviced by the Liberty Street Parking Shuttle.  The schedule for this shuttle can be found here — http://catchacat.org/_meta/downloads/schedules/route_8.pdf

Where to Stay
The closest hotels to the Amtrak station are located in or near the Historic Savannah downtown district. They include:
      Baymont Inn & Suites – Savannah West is approximately 3 miles from the Amtrak station, rates average $115-139 plus tax;
     Thunderbird Inn is approximately 3 miles from the Amtrak station, rates average $79-$149;
     Courtyard by Marriott Savannah Downtown Historic District is approximately 3.5 miles away, rates average between $129-$189 plus tax;
     Cotton Sail Hotel is approximately 4 miles away, rates average between $149-$219;
     Hyatt Regency Savannah is approximately 4 miles away, rates average between $159-$219;
    The Savannah Marriott Riverfront is about 5 miles away, rates average between $169-$249;
    Andaz Savannah is approximately 4 miles away, rates average $169-$249.

Other Savannah Neighborhoods Where You Don’t Need a Car
Two neighborhoods close to the downtown Historic Savannah area offer an alternative for visitors who don’t want to stay downtown in the Historic district.        

  • The Victorian District is the neighborhood just south of Savannah’s Historic Downtown neighborhood, and features 30-acre Forsyth Park. Its fountain is one of the most-photographed attractions in the city. The city’s first suburb, the Victorian District’s streets are lined with gingerbread-covered homes and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.
  • The Starland District, south of the Victorian District is named for the neighborhood’s old Starland Dairy building. It was conceived by two Savannah College of Art and Design grads who leveraged interest and investment to bring new life to a crumbling part of the city. Still an in-progress revitalization project today, it boasts some of the trendiest eateries and businesses.

Welcome to Savannah
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and the county seat of Chatham County. Established in 1733 on the Savannah River, Savannah was the first state capital of Georgia. It is Georgia’s fifth-largest city and third-largest metropolitan area.

Each year Savannah attracts millions of visitors to its cobblestone streets, parks, and notable historic buildings. These include:

  • Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low: founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA,
  • Georgia Historical Society: the oldest continually operating historical society in the South,
  • Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences: one of the South’s first public museums,
  • First African Baptist Church: one of the oldest African-American Baptist congregations in the United States,
  • Temple Mickve Israel: the third oldest synagogue in America, and
  • The Central of Georgia Railway Roundhouse Complex: the oldest standing antebellum rail facility in America).

Savannah’s downtown area, which includes the Savannah Historic District, the Savannah Victorian Historic District, and 22 parklike squares, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States (designated by the U.S. government in 1966). Downtown Savannah largely retains the original town plan prescribed by founder James Oglethorpe.

Besides the Savannah Historic District, one of the nation’s largest, the city has four other historic districts:

  • Victorian District
  • Cuyler-Brownsville District
  • Thomas Square Historic District
  • Pin Point Historic District

Enjoy one of Savannah’s Festivals
You may want to plan your visit during one of the city’s many festivals.  Here is a short list of a few of those festivals:

  • Savannah Book Festival (savannahbookfestival.org): This annual book fair held on Presidents’ Day weekend in the vicinity of historic Telfair and Wright squares, includes free presentations by more than 35 contemporary authors. In addition to the festival, special events with featured writers are offered at nominal cost throughout the year.
  • Savannah Black Heritage Festival (http://savannahblackheritagefestival.com/) is generally held in February. Visit the website for information about the 2018 festival
  • Savannah Film Festival (http://filmfest.scad.edu/): October 28-November 4, 2017
  • Savannah Voice Festival (http://savannahvoicefestival.org/): This annual celebration of the classical voice (August 5-27, 2017) includes operas, concerts, and special nights devoted to International, Broadway, and Sacred. This is a festival unique to Savannah.
  • Savannah Jazz Festival (https://savannahjazzfest.com/): September 17-23, 2017.

For a more complete list of festivals and special events, go to www.VisitSavannah.com, or call (toll-free) 1/877/SAVANNAH
The city is also home to several classical music performing groups, dance (Savannah Ballet Theatre) and theater.

Points of interest
Savannah’s architecture, history, and reputation for Southern charm and hospitality are internationally known. The city’s former promotional name was “Hostess City of the South,” a phrase still used by the city government.  An earlier nickname was “the Forest City”, in reference to the large population and species of oak trees that flourish in the Savannah area. These trees were especially valuable in shipbuilding during the 19th century. In 2014, Savannah attracted 13.5 million visitors from across the country and around the world. Savannah’s downtown area is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States.

Savannah has consistently been named one of “America’s Favorite Cities” by Travel + Leisure. In 2012, the magazine rated Savannah highest in “Quality of Life and Visitor Experience.” Savannah ranked first for “Public Parks and Outdoor Access,” visiting in the fall, and as a romantic escape. Savannah was also named as America’s second-best city for “Cool Buildings and Architecture,” surpassed only by Chicago.

Squares
Savannah’s historic district has 22 squares (Ellis Square, demolished in 1954, was fully restored in early 2010). The squares vary in size and character, from the formal fountain and monuments of the largest, Johnson, to the playgrounds of the smallest, Crawford.

Elbert, Ellis, and Liberty Squares are classified as the three “lost squares,” destroyed in the course of urban development during the 1950s. Elbert and Liberty Squares were paved over to make way for a realignment of U.S. highway 17, while Ellis Square was demolished to build the City Market parking garage. The city restored Ellis Square after razing the City Market parking garage. The newly restored Ellis Square opened in March 2010. Separate efforts are now under way to revive Elbert and Liberty Squares.

Sports and Recreation
Savannah’s local baseball team is the Savannah Bananas, a member of the Coastal Plain League. In existence for more than 20 years and consisting of 16 teams, the Coastal Plain League is considered one of the leading prospect leagues for professional players along with the Northwoods League and Cape Cod League. Players can be drafted by professional leagues after their high school graduation. The Bananas play at Daffin Park’s 1926 Grayson Stadium, which has a 4,000-seat capacity.

Savannah is also home to the Roller Derby League’s Savannah Derby Devils, as well as college athletic teams at Armstrong State University, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and Savannah State University

Getting Around
           Public Transportation
The local public bus system is Chatham Area Transit (CAT). For schedules, fares, and other information, visit www.catchacat.org, or call (912) 233-5767. Press 1 for fixed routes and schedules.

CAT’s one-way regular fare is $1.50.  One-way for seniors is $0.75 (half-fare).  Transfers are free. A day pass is $3.00, a weekly pass is $14, and a monthly pass is $50.  A ten ride card is $15.  The Airport Express (100X) is $5 one-way or $8 roundtrip. All passes can be purchased on the bus except for the monthly pass.  Passengers can also purchase passes at the Intermodal Transit Center located at 610 West Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah, GA 31401.

          Other Transportation Options
Savannah Pedicab Bike Taxi Service  (http://savannahpedicab.com/savannah-pedicabs/PageId/21/Service-&-Rates.html, or call (912) 232-7900) is a popular option for sightseeing or a quick trip around downtown: for less than 30 minutes or quick trip from point A to point B, they offer a “trips for tips” program, where passengers pay whatever they feel is appropriate. They can also hire the pedicab for 30 minutes for $25 per couple, an hour for $45 per couple, or for the entire day (10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) for $150. Pedicabs operate from Bay Street (with access to River Street via the elevator) to Park Avenue just south of Forsyth Park and west from MLK Jr. Blvd to East Broad St..

Other taxi options include:
Yellow Cab of Savannah (call (912)604.9845) operates 24 hours, 365 days a year,
Chatham Cab (Call (912) 691.4466) operates 24 hours a day, by appointment only

Both Lyft and Uber service Savannah.

What to Do
Chatham Area Transit Planning Director Grant Sparks suggests “flying into Savannah or taking the train, taking the bus to the downtown Intermodal Transit Center, and grabbing a room at one of the nearby hotels. If the weather cooperates, the heart of downtown Savannah is a short and pleasant walk away.  If you prefer to take a shuttle or would like to take a quick, free trip around downtown, I would highly recommend taking the “Dot Express” Shuttle, which picks up at the Intermodal Transit Center.  The main attractions in downtown Savannah are historic River Street, Bay Street, Broughton Street, and Forsyth Park.  All are easily accessible by shuttle, walking, or biking.”

Visit Savannah (the Convention and Visitors Bureau for Savannah) suggests visiting the www.VisitSavannah.com website. Go to http://www.visitsavannah.com/essential-savannah/things-to-do-in-savannah.aspx. Here, you will find a list of 15 Must-See Sights in Savannah. These include: City Market, the Davenport House Museum, River Street, the Jepson Center Museum of Art, Leopold’s Ice Cream, the Beach Institute, the Ships of the Sea Museum, Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons Restaurant, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Tricentennial Park, The Savannah Theatre, the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, Telfair Academy, Forsyth Park, and The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

A fun and free way to explore the Historic Savannah downtown district is by taking the free Dot Express Shuttle around downtown, and taking time to get off at different stops and explore the area.

The Downtown area, about 2 miles long and 1 mile wide, includes the Historic District (the oldest part of Savannah), as well as the Victorian District and the Starland Design District.  In addition to excellent CAT bus service, most of downtown is laid out on a walkable grid.

CAT staff members recommend visiting the Georgia State Railroad Museum (formerly known as the Roundhouse Railroad Museum) and the Jepson Center with its three museums.

The Georgia State Railroad Museum (http://railga.com/oddend/roundhouse.html), located at 655 Louisville Road is the oldest and largest existing nineteenth-century railroad operations complex in the nation. Construction began in 1850. Thirteen of the original structures remain today. The Central of Georgia Railway handled freight, passengers, maintenance, and manufacturing at this single location.

The complex is owned by the City of Savannah and has been operated since 1989 by the Coastal Heritage Society. Five of the buildings house permanent exhibits, including the roundhouse with its operating turntable. Here, you can see steam and diesel locomotives, rail cars, steam-powered machinery, model railroads, and a 126-foot brick smokestack with privies around its base.

Across Old Louisville Road from the museum is the former Central of Georgia passenger station (301 M.L. King, Jr. Blvd.), now the Savannah Visitors Center. Built in 1860, it is one of the oldest railroad stations in Georgia. Inside are exhibits on the history of the city. Under the train shed is Central of Georgia No. 103, a Baldwin steam locomotive built in 1890.

Across the parking lot from the passenger station are two more former Central of Georgia buildings. The red brick Romanesque Revival structure at 233 M.L. King, Jr. Blvd., designed by Alfred Eichberg and Calvin Fay and built in 1887, once housed railroad offices and an outbound freight warehouse. Rehabilitated by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to house its School of Building Arts, it is now known as Eichberg Hall.

Next door at 227 M.L. King is the SCAD Museum of Art. This 1856 Greek Revival building was originally the railroad’s administrative offices.

The Jepson Center for the Arts (http://www.telfair.org/visit/jepson/ or call (912) 790-8800) consists of three distinct buildings: The Jepson Center (contemporary art and an educational program), Telfair Academy (two nineteenth-century period rooms and houses nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and European art from the museum’s permanent collection), and the Owens-Thomas House (This historic house museum, boasts a decorative arts collection comprised primarily of Owens family furnishings, along with American and European objects dating from 1750-1830. The site also includes a beautiful English-inspired parterre garden and an original carriage house-which contains one of the earliest intact urban slave quarters in the South.). You can enjoy audio architecture tours of the three buildings (http://www.telfair.org/visit/archtours/) , suggested itineraries (http://www.telfair.org/visit/itineraries/) and purchase a combined ticket for all 3 buildings (presently $20).

Owens Thomas House courtesy of Visit Savannah

Black Heritage Tour
Enjoy experiencing the rich diversity of Savannah’s Black Heritage. For information about tours and itineraries in Savannah, visit http://www.gpsmycity.com/tours/african-american-heritage-self-guided-tour-of-savannah-3486.html.

If you enjoy nature and the outdoors, two places you will want to see are Forsyth Park and Skidaway Island State Park.
Forsyth Park is a great place for walking, sitting and enjoying the large fountain. To see what visitors think about the park, go to https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1EODB_enUS594US625&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=forsyth+park&lrd=0x88fb9e6a92a69d8f:0xdf05eb676fd29fe3,1. Google users rate this park as a 4.7 (out of 5). Trip Advisor also has great praise for this Savannah treasure: (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60814-d259614-Reviews-Forsyth_Park-Savannah_Georgia.html).

Skidaway Island State Park: If you are here on a weekday (Monday-Friday), take time to visit Skidaway Island State Park (www.gastateparks.org/SkidawayIsland). The park borders Skidaway narrows, a part of Georgia’s intracoastal waterway. Trails wind through maritime forest and past salt marsh, leading to a boardwalk and observation tower, To get here using CAT buses, take CAT route 31 from the CAT Intermodal Center. At Walmart and Montgomery, transfer to CAT route 20 and take it to the park entrance. Since the 20 only runs 4 times every weekday (twice in the morning and twice in the evening), we recommend taking a morning bus to the park, staying most of the day, and then taking the 20 and 31 back to downtown Savannah.

Do you enjoy shopping? Then take time to visit Broughton Street (considered Savannah’s Fifth Avenue). Stroll through City Market where artists and artisans display and sell their work, while frequently enjoying live music in the background. The Downtown Design District’s many eclectic finds are tucked into a cluster of historic homes along Whitaker, Jones and Charlton streets. Check out the unique furnishings, fashions and antiques here.

If you want a one-stop shopping mall, take CAT’s route 14 to Oglethorpe Mall

Shopping in Savannah courtesy of Visit Savannah

Biking in Savannah courtesy of Visit Savannah

Walking, Bicycling, and Organized Tours
You can find a variety of walking tours at http://savannahchamber.com/for-members/member-directory/40/419.

Oglethorpe Tours, Old Town Trolley Tours and Old Savannah Tours are offer popular guided tour options. There are many other touring companies with a wide variety of tours here. These include carriage tours, walking tours and even Segway tours

If you are a visiting bicyclist, you can find information and bicycle itineraries and trails at http://www.visitsavannah.com/essential-savannah/bicycling-in-savannah.aspx. You can take
your bike on CAT buses. Consider staying at the Brice Hotel in Historic Savannah. Guests at The Brice can borrow a bike at no charge. For more information, visit http://www.bricehotel.com/.

Let’s Eat
Some of Savannah’s most famous restaurants are The Olde Pink House, The Pirates’ HouseMrs. Wilkes Dining Room and Elizabeth on Thirty Seventh. Standout up-and-comers include:
The Grey, The Starland Cafe and Cotton & Rye. For an after dinner treat, visit Leopold’s Ice CreamLulu’s Chocolate Bar or The Savannah Candy Kitchen, famous for freshly made pralines.

CAT staff members recommend Skylar’s (at the East Bay Inn on Bay Street), and the Mellow Mushroom.

Do You Enjoy Theater and the Performing Arts?
Savannah is home to one of the country’s oldest continuously operating theaters, the 1818 Savannah Theatre. The Lucas Theatre for the Arts hosts live shows, cabarets and films. The city is also the home of the Savannah Philharmonic, a professional orchestra performing a full range of concerts from classics to pops each September-May season.

For more information about entertainment in Savannah, go to http://www.visitsavannah.com/start-exploring/entertainment.aspx.
For details about theater, symphonies and other classical music, museums, and other cultural activities, visit http://www.visitsavannah.com/start-exploring/entertainment.aspx.

For More Information
          For Information about Where to Stay and What to See: Go to http://www.visitsavannah.com/,  or call toll-free (1/877) SAVANNAH.
         For Information about Local Public Transportation:  Go to www.catchacat.org or call (912) 233-5767

Do you have a favorite vacation spot that can be enjoyed without a car? E-mail your ideas to steveatlas45@yahoo.com. Please include your contact information so Steve can get back to you with any questions.

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve’s column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: “Car Free at the Beach”, and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at www.pubtrantravel.com.

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