In Savannah, history's around every corner

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Most people who vacation off the coast of either South Carolina or Georgia usually do so for relaxation or perhaps some golf, but for a nice little diversion, take a short drive to Savannah.
With tourism being one of the city's main industries, you know you will be well taken care of in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
Savannah is one of those areas that cannot be fully appreciated by driving around. The town just begs for a close inspection, so bring your walking shoes.
That being said, though, the best thing to do when arriving in town is to take advantage of one of the many escorted tours offered by various companies. A trolley, a limousine, a horse-drawn carriage, a riverboat or your own two feet are just some of the ways you can enjoy your tour.
Once you've had a 90-minute tour narrated by a well-trained guide, who can rattle off, nonstop, interesting facts about the city, you will be ready to strike out on your own for hours of closely exploring every neighborhood in this history-laden city.
Along the river: Savannah's Historic District is anchored by River Street. As the name implies, the street stretches along the Savannah River with the area closest to the river sporting a meandering park perfect for strolling or sitting along the waterfront.
Street entertainers vie for the attention of park visitors. Dancers, animal acts and musicians are some of the attractions adding to the atmosphere amid the backdrop of the river with boats and ships of all sizes and styles traversing the water.
Ready to spend some money? Then walk across the cobblestone street to check out the many tourist stores, restaurants and hotels located in refurbished cotton warehouses along River Street.
More shops await visitors on the upper floors of the warehouses, but getting there can be a challenge. To reach Bay Street, which runs parallel to River Street, you must climb up some very steep and narrow steps or a winding cobblestone lane.
But it's worth the trek to see the iron and concrete footbridges that connect the sidewalk to Factors Row, the area that houses stores, offices and hotels in what was once the Cotton Exchange.
Head across Bay Street and start plotting your exploration of the rest of the city.
City Market is a must-see. Quaint shops, art galleries and restaurants are housed in what were 19th-century grain warehouses. Outdoor dining is offered at some of the restaurants, which is a great way to enjoy some of the regularly scheduled entertainment on the plaza.
Shop, shop, shop: As you head deeper into the city and away from the river you will come across the downtown area with several upscale shops. Antiques, collectibles, furniture, exclusive gifts and art are just a few of the treasures you will come across during your exploration.
There are even more shops scattered throughout the city. A lingerie shop on one corner, a bookstore on a square and a pub off the beaten path give this town a cozy feeling.
You can spend hours strolling the shady streets of Savannah. There are more than 20 squares, all with historical names that define the various neighborhoods.
Architectural treasures: You will find delightful views and exciting architecture around every corner, not to mention the wonderful gardens tucked between houses.
During the 19th century, people made their fortunes off cotton and as the money flowed, beautiful homes were built throughout the city. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the city was falling victim to urban decay.
A small group of women formed the Historic Savannah Foundation, and they worked diligently to preserve the city. Their worked paid off and in 1966, a 21/2-square mile section of the city was declared a Registered National Landmark.
Over the years real estate prices in the historical district have skyrocketed, but the preservation efforts of the property owners adds immeasurably to the charm of the city.
Ghost stories: As evening settles on Savannah, the fun is just beginning, especially if you'd like to learn more about the town's famous ghosts. Savannah takes its ghoulish reputation very seriously with tour companies offering all types of "haunted" adventures.
Savannah is the type of city that leaves you wanting more: Wanting to come back and join a half-million revelers for St. Patrick's Day; wanting to come back to see the azaleas and magnolias in full bloom; wanting to come back and check out that restaurant you saw featured on the Food Channel and wanting to come back to soak up more ambience.

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