In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara, comparing Savannah and Charleston to the much younger city of Atlanta, called the older locales “aged grandmothers fanning themselves placidly in the sun.” Today, the cities are among the South’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors annually with their history, restaurants and streetscapes.
Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia, was established in 1733. Its streets are made from cobblestone and tabby (ground oyster shells, lime, and sand, mixed with salt water), and it’s known for a series of picturesque, parklike squares, lined with live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
CHIPPEWA SQUARE: The 22 squares include Chippewa Square, which honors American soldiers killed in the Battle of Chippawa (different spelling) in the War of 1812. The park bench scene in the movie Forrest Gump was filmed in Chippewa Square, though the bench was a fiberglass prop.
BONAVENTURE CEMETERY: Savannah-born songwriter Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken are buried in Bonaventure Cemetery, about 5 miles outside of town in a beautiful setting alongside the Wilmington River.
The cemetery, known for its spooky but romantic statues, memorials and more of those live oaks draping gravesites with Spanish moss, was also featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book’s famous cover image showed the cemetery’s hauntingly lovely “Bird Girl” statue, resulting in so much attention that “Bird Girl” was moved to the Telfair Academy.
CITY TOURS: Old-fashioned horse-and-carriage tours offer overviews of the architecture and history of South Carolina’s oldest city, founded in 1670. Many historic homes and nearby plantations also offer tours. Middleton Plantation is known for its landscaped gardens as well.
CITY MARKET: A National Historic Landmark, the City Market complex is one of the city’s top attractions. Its open-air market buildings date to the early 1800s but were given a $5.5 million facelift that was completed in 2011. The 150 vendors sell everything from tourist T-shirts to sweetgrass baskets, handwoven onsite.
MEETING STREET: On Meeting Street is the site of the former South Carolina Institute Hall, where the Ordinance of Secession was signed Dec. 20, 1860, withdrawing the state from the Union.
FORT SUMTER: Meeting Street ends at White Point Garden, also known as the Battery, a seawall and promenade from which you can see Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. The fort is now a museum accessible by a half-hour ferry ride or tour boat.
SEA ISLANDS: Beyond Charleston’s city limits, within 15 miles or so, are the Sea Islands: Folly, Johns, James, Kiawah (home of the exclusive golf resort), Seabrook and Sullivans, among them.
ANGEL OAK: It is worth a side trip over one of the “connector” bridges to the southern end of Johns Island to gape at one of nature’s exceptional creations. It is about a mile or two off Bohicket Road and down a dirt road that first appears to lead nowhere. But there, in an isolated park, is the stunning Angel Oak.
This live oak tree, named after the family that once owned the property, is 400 to 500 years old. It’s 65 feet tall and 25 feet in circumference, and its longest limb is nearly 90 feet long. Its area of shade is 17,000 square feet. Many of its limbs rest on the ground.