I love road trips and knew I was going to love this one when I picked up my car, a 2015 Mazda CX-5, courtesy STI – The Drive Experience Co., at the Jacksonville, Florida, International Airport and headed north.
The car, with all its bells and whistles, handled beautifully as I drove north on I-95 toward my first stop – Savannah. It had been at least 20 years since I visited this southern gem and I was anxious to see her again.
It took some doing, but I finally found River Street Inn and checked in. The hotel is housed in a centuries-old building facing the Savannah River and radiates the city’s history and charm.
I headed out into the evening crowds and walked along the riverfront, stopping at shops and candy stores for a sample of fudge. The area was teeming with locals and tourists out for a night on the town. The buildings now housing the businesses once served as cotton warehouses, echoing the city’s long storied past.
The next two days I explored the city. Fortunately there are three hop-on/hop-off tour companies: Old Savannah Tours, Oglethorpe Tours and Old Town Tours. I chose Old Town Tours and was pleased with the history I learned from the driver/guide as he pointed out the sites.
America’s first planned city, Savannah was established in 1733 by English Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe to serve as a buffer protecting the Carolinas from Spanish Florida and French Louisiana.
The city is famous for its beautiful mansions facing 24 park-like squares, lovely architecture and southern hospitality. I got off at several stops including Forsythe Park, a gathering place for tourists and locals alike, and The Owens-Thomas House (photo below).
Considered by architectural historians to be one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America, The Owens-Thomas House was built from 1816 to1819 for cotton merchant and banker Richard Richardson and his wife, Francis Bolton.
The house tour takes guests into a time of opulence and luxury; only the finest will do.
I enjoyed exploring several of the city’s famous squares and photographing the beautiful architectural design elements, browsing the many gifts shops along Broughton Street and having homemade soup and ice cream at Leopold’s Ice Cream, an institution in Savannah.
St. Simons Island
My journey continued south as I headed back down I-95 toward St. Simons Island and The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort.
The hotel was founded in 1935 as a seaside dance club by Frank Horn and Morgan Wynne. The hotel took on this name because the two men – one tall and heavyset, and the other short and thin – were called "the king and the prince" when seen together. In 1996, the resort became a member of the Historic Hotels of America and, in 2005, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perched on a pristine beach, the resort offers the best in accommodations, amenities and atmosphere.
My room overlooked the ocean making for spectacular views and remarkable sunrises.
The nice thing about the island is it is truly a place to kick back and enjoy. Hike, bike or fish if you want, but there’s no need if basking in the sun is what you like.
Always curious about the history of a place, I headed toward Pier Village and the St. Simons Trolley Co. pickup point. A friendly driver/guide greeted me and I settled in for a nice leisurely trip back in time. This is not a hop-on/hop-off tour, but rather an overview of the island giving passengers an idea of what they might want to explore further later in their visit.
We drove past Bloody Marsh, the site of the 1742 battle between the English and the Spanish; Fort Frederica, the colonial town and fort settled by General James Edward Oglethorpe; and Retreat Plantation, where relics from the slavery era still exist.
The only stop was at Christ Church. Our tour guide had many stories to tell about the centuries-old church including the fact that both John and Charles Wesley Whitefield preached here. John went on to become known as the father of the modern Methodist Church, while Charles is remembered today for his many beautiful hymns including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
Again my journey took me south on I-95 past Jacksonville, onto U.S. 1 and into St. Augustine where I found my home away from home for the next three days – Bayfront Marin House.
We all know from our American history that during Ponce de León’s 1513 voyage of discovery, he became the first European to set foot on the shores of what would become the United States. He named his discovery La Florida.
It was in 1565 that Pedro Menendez of Aviles proclaimed the land for Spain. The first Catholic mass was held at what is now the Mission de Nombre de Dios by Menendez and his men. St. Augustine is celebrating its 450th birthday this year.
Historic sites include Mission Nombre de Dios where it all began; Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States constructed by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695; and Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to name a few. The Old City, with its centuries-old houses and businesses, is an area not to miss, and St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is a great attraction explaining yet another chapter in the city’s long history.
Although it’s easy to walk to many of the sites, there are two hop-on/hop-off trains: Old Town Trolley Tours (green) and Ripley’s St. Augustine Sightseeing Trains (red). Tour guides narrate the city’s history and points of interest as they drive from stop to stop.It was a wonderful week of exploration, learning and relaxation. This narrative only touches on what you will find at these beautiful and historic coastal destinations.
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