Overcoming Destination Addiction Guideline #4: Become a Tourist in your own City (or surrounding Cities)
People travel in order to experience something new, to gain a new perspective, to meet new people or to take a break from the monotony of their daily routines. However, contrary to popular belief, you do not need to go thousands of miles away or even visit an “exotic” destination to have a fulfilling experience. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your city’s limits in order to travel. By exploring a different neighborhood, trying out a new café on the opposite side of town or finally visiting that local attraction you just never “quite got around to”, you can reap the rewards of the traveler’s high, no passport stamps required. But if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, just hop on over to the next town, you’d be amazed at what you could explore in just a day’s drive.
This is exactly why every year more and more people are opting for staycations, the alternative to vacations, in which you choose to stay close to home and visit local attractions. A tell-tale sign that you may be long overdue for a staycation is if you’ve ever had an awkward interaction with an out of towner who raves about an attraction and/or destination either in your current city or within driving distance and is shocked when you inform them that you’ve actually never been. It’s a sad but true fact that most people overlook what’s right in their own backyard, rationalizing that “it’s not going anywhere” and a result, they themselves never actually end up going. Logical, right?
However, taking the time to view your current city (or surrounding cities) through traveler’s eyes will prove invaluable for restoring your sanity when coping with destination addiction. A quick weekend getaway is like a breath of fresh air, a respite from the drowning sensation of anxiety that occurs from being stationary when you have gypsy soul.
Jacksonvillians, especially, have no excuse for not making weekend getaways a common occurrence. Our unique location in Northeast Florida conveniently places us smack dab in the middle of several major interstates that connects us to the rest of the country (I-95, I-10, etc.). This vantage point serves as an advantage when dealing with destination addiction since Jacksonville is within a 2-3 hour driving radius of some of the most world renowned travel destinations including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Orlando, Tampa, Cumberland Island and Savannah, Georgia. We can pack a small bag, hit the road and within 3 hours be immersed in a new setting. Not to mention, Jacksonville is surrounded with nearby natural wonders that are not to be missed including state parks, springs, beaches and our own version of the Everglades, Okfenokee Swamp.
Recently, my husband and I took the 2 ½ hour drive up to Savannah to reunite with one of my best friends from college, who was down visiting from Philly. It goes without saying that I was excited to spend time with my friend but I still would have dropped everything to go even if she had been more of a frenemy. After being stuck in a no-travel slump for almost two years, I was more than eager to get the hell out of town, even if it was just for 3 days. And this quintessential southern town was just what I needed.
However, don’t be fooled by this city’s charm. The oak lined streets drenched in Spanish moss and the quaint lush squares on every other block give the impression of a sleepy town but Savannah has a long, tumultuous and vibrant past. It is a city that stood the test of time against invasions, epidemics and natural disasters. A city with a proud history, as it played a key role in the Civil War and in the Civil Rights Movement, but also a city with a scandalous past of murder and mystery. A city where pirates and bootleggers once roamed and where spirits still roam today (as Savannah is said to be the most haunted city in America).
Savannah still stands as an iconic city where modern stores and trendy cafes are intermingled with colonial style buildings along the cobblestoned streets of the Antebellum south. It’s a fascinating destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list, especially if you live in Jacksonville.
In order to make the most out of your weekend getaway, don’t miss these top 10 iconic attractions that will be sure to immerse you in the true essence of this ancient river city.
- Take a trolley tour
I’m not usually one to promote group travel on over-sized monstrosities (aka tour buses. Like the Duck Tours in Miami and other major cities, no. Just no!) However, I do highly recommend taking a trolley tour while in Savannah. These open-air trolleys represent a time gone by as they seamlessly fit into the scenery. Trolleys are to Savannah what the red double decker buses are to London, a compliment rather than an eyesore. These trolleys are not only a great way to learn about the city’s history (since all of the drivers double as certified tour guides) but are also a great way to familiarize yourself with the city (and trust me, with a small park on just about every block, it’s easy to get turned around). These trolleys make frequent stops around town and some offer day passes, allowing you to hop on and off at your leisure. So I recommend staying seated for the first loop, learn about all of the history and where all of the points of interest are and then for the rest of the day, utilize it as a form of public transportation. I recommend using Old Savannah Tours, the company with the cute white trolleys, as they are locally owned.
- Forsyth Park
This park, probably the most iconic image of the city, is one that definitely can’t be missed. Within its 30 acres you will find walking paths that are shaded with giant oaks, a pristine fountain, tennis courts, basketball courts and open fields for soccer, Frisbee and other sports. There is also a café, a bandshell where public concerts are frequently held and the weekend farmer’s market that’s held every Saturday. Needless to say, this park offers endless photo ops.
- Aimlessly walk around the city and relax in a park
The biggest attraction in Savannah is actually the attractiveness of the city itself. Rated one of the “Most Beautiful Places in America” by USA Weekend Magazine, it’s an event all of its own to meander and wonder through the oak lined streets appreciating the Colonial and Victorian architectural styles and admiring the lush greenness that so many cities lack. Take time to linger in the old antique shops or browse the SCADS (Savannah College of Art and Design) Museum. And if you get tired from all that walking, relax in one of the 22 squares strategically placed throughout the city. A personal favorite is Chippewa Square, also known as Forrest Gump square since scenes from this classic film were filmed here. There is a cozy coffee shop on the corner of this square called The Gallery Espresso with good drinks and awesome deserts. Be sure to stop in!
- Grab a to-go Cup
Savannah is one of the few cities that has an open container policy, allowing you to take your alcoholic beverages with you on the go! So take advantage. And don’t feel shy about asking for a beer for the road, not only is it the norm here, it’s your patriotic duty. Anti-prohibitionist fought long and hard to get the ban lifted (as Georgia was one of the last states to repeal this law). So pay your respects and drink up.
- Go on a river cruise
The Savannah River has played a vital role in shaping the city’s history. A leisurely ride down stream in an old fashioned riverboat takes you back to a time when Savanna was a thriving southern port city. The city offers several types of riverboat excursions including day tours, sunset tours and dinner cruises.
- Indulge in Southern food, served family style
Savannah is famous for its Southern home cooking and no trip would be complete without gorging on fried food with side dishes soaked in butter. The best place for this is Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. This family-owned dinning establishment has been a fixture in Savannah since 1943. It’s only open Monday – Friday, 11am-2pm. But be sure to get in line early, as there is usually a lined wrapped around the building by 10am (did I mention it doesn’t open till 11?) The meal is served family style and contains southern staples like fried chicken, corn bread, okra and sweet potato soufflé.
- Tour a house
Savannah takes pride in its house museums and it would be a shame to visit this city and not step foot into at least one of these examples of history frozen in time. And as cliché as it is to say… imagine if walls could talk.
- Visit a cemetery
Savannah, although beautiful, also has an eerie feel. While Charleston is the bright and bubbly sister to the north, Savannah is the gothic sister to the south. It’s a city built on the dead – literally. Acres of tombstones have been removed for city expansion, so visit a site where the markers for the dead still remain.
The Colonial Park Cemetery is located in the heart of the Historic district and these 6 acres is where over 9,000 souls rest in peace. You can even go on a scavenger hunt as you explore this site, searching for the tombstones that represent the everlasting sick jokes of former soldiers, who camped out in the cemetery during the Revolutionary War, and messed with the dates on the grave markers. Someone residents of the cemetery died before they were even born.
Another can’t miss cemetery is the Bonaventure Cemetery, the most famous in Savannah, which is located just a short drive from the Historic District. This site is the epitome of Southern Gothic style with its creepy statues and hauntingly beautiful oak trees covered in Spanish moss.
- Go on a ghost tour
Since Savannah is considered the “most haunted city in America” it would be a sin to not go on a ghost tour. Even if you’re not a believer, you can still enjoy these tours for their stories about Savannah’s darker side of history. In my opinion, the best tour is the one given by Old Savannah Ghost Trolley. This particular one is hugely popular as it is the only tour that can take you inside the Sorrel-Weed House as well as the rum cellar in the Pirate House, two of the city’s most haunted sites. Both have appeared on shows like Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.
- Visit the Wormsloe Plantation
This attraction is the perfect way to get a glimpse into the old south. This Wormsloe Plantation includes picturesque oak avenue, the ruins of Jone’s house, and a museum. Definitely worth the sort trip from the historic district.