After a lovely long Labor Day weekend, I'm back at my desk and wishing I was still on the beach at Tybee Island, Georgia. I headed down south to Savannah and Tybee this past weekend and relied heavily on your picks, so thanks to all those of you who submitted them. They were, as always, fantastic.
Just after getting off my flight, my aunt drove us into Savannah for lunch. I've always loved visiting the city, which has been portrayed in recent history as the host to both Forrest Gump's famous bench and the bizarre true crime book (and film) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
But I love how the antebellum culture of city is just as thick as the Spanish moss dangling from all the trees. Founded in 1733, it is known as America's first planned city, with 24 town squares that break up the grid of streets and offer residents a shady respite from the heat (Gump's bench was in Chippewa Square, but has since been placed in the Savannah History Museum). Cotton created an economic boom for Savannah, the results of which can still be seen in the downtown historic district, with its elegant homes, many with intricate wrought-iron porches. These homes and porches can still be appreciated thanks in part to the fact that Union general George Sherman decided not to burn the city down and instead offered it to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift.
We got about that close to history while dining out at Vic's on the River, a favorite of my aunt, which was also recommended by reader Katie. The restaurant is housed in an old cotton factory building that looks out onto the river, and you can watch from the windows as the riverboat cruises line up like ladies at a beauty pageant. The food had all the trappings of southern comfort, from the biscuits that arrived first with honey butter and marmalade, to our main courses, one of which was an amazing helping of shrimp and grits that had me longing for a larger plate. But the most authentic aspect of our meal wasn't on the plates at all, but hidden in the walls. We sat in the main dining room, just to the right of a map which was preserved under glass. I noticed that it hadn't hung like a typical artwork, and a small placard next to it explained that it had been found during a renovation of the building in 1901. During the Civil War, Union soldiers had occupied the building, and they'd mapped out General Sherman's march through Tennessee to Georgia on the plaster in the wall. It was a fascinating glimpse at history.
After Vic's we walked along River Street, watching the shipping containers slip by as they brought goods from as far away as China. Time magazine's Justin Fox reported that Savannah is quickly becoming one of the largest working ports in the country, and one of the few that is actually exporting goods. Among their largest exports: wood pulp and frozen chicken feet, which are a delicacy in China. I fortunately didn't get to see any of the feet.
But luckily, I did get to put my feet in the sand for one last beach weekend in Tybee Island. The island is just 18 miles from Savannah, and has long been known as the city's shore. It has five miles of public beaches, and the hard-packed sand can be tough on your bottom (best to bring a beach chair) but perfect for bike riding. I took a cruiser bike out myself to explore the tiny town, which was heavy on kitschy souvenir shops and ice cream stands. The beach was lovely and not too crowded, as the locals tend to thin out after the 4th of July when the heat becomes a bit too intense. And the water wasn't quite at bathtub levels, but easy enough to jump in without a second thought. My aunt and uncle now live full-time on the island, in a cottage that was once army housing, and I certainly encourage anyone visiting Tybee to look into a rental for a few nights or a week. Many of the cottages are painted in bright funky colors, a trend credited to local designer Jane Coslick, who has found great success buying up dilapidated properties and sprucing them up with her original designs. I stayed at Fish Camp (pictured, right), a periwinkle cottage with teal-blue shutters and a bright yellow door, and it was lovely, inside and out.
When we weren't eating my aunt's amazing food, we ventured out to a few local eateries worth noting: AJ's Dockside Restaurant, which has a great view of the water and some fantastic buffalo shrimp, and North Beach Grill, whose waitstaff was a bit overwhelmed, but when they finally got around to it, served up some amazing fish tacos and french fries, both of which were incredibly tasty. The Grill is right at the foot of the famous Tybee Lighthouse, and just steps from the beach. My cousin, who once worked there, said it's the perfect place to hang out and drink peach margaritas, but unfortunately, I had to hop a plane and head back to D.C.
Thanks to all those of you who made suggestions, especially Horse N. Buggy, whose list far exceeded the limited time I had to spend. I'll be sure to use it when I head back!
Photos: Janelle Nanos