Savannah, Georgia, thinks of itself as “Hostess City of the South” and knows how to act the part. All gracious hostesses are sensitive to the comfort of guests—and vacationers generally are comfortable only when maneuvering freely within the limits of their travel budget.
So when you plan a vacation to Savannah and budget a little more for high-end seafood, souvenirs and another big-ticket attraction or two, don’t worry that you won’t find fun ways to stretch what’s left. Savannah is thinking of you. Here are some great inexpensive ideas.
How’s this for a nature photo op?
The Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge – almost 2,800 acres of incredibly diverse habitats—is truly fertile ground for nature lovers and bird and wildlife photographers. Just over 50 miles south-southwest of Savannah, the refuge is about 75 minutes by car from The Studio Homes, much of the trip down fast-moving rural Interstate 95. It’s open daily during daylight hours, and it’s entirely free—unless you take part in controlled bowhunting in the fall for deer or feral pigs, in which case you’ll need to buy a permit.
The refuge comprises saltwater marshes, trees, thickets, managed freshwater rookeries, bordering saltwater ideal for fishing, and even farmable land. The rookeries attract countless species of migratory birds year-round including endangered wood storks and even painted buntings, considered the most beautiful birds in the United States. You can view and photograph these birds and other wildlife—which includes wild turkeys – from a four-mile automobile route and a network of hiking and biking trails. You also can go crabbing and even shrimping.
The history of the acreage that now constitutes the refuge – which opened in 1962—is almost as diverse as the modern activities that take place there. Originally deeded to freed slaves after the Civil War, the lands were taken from owners by the federal government in 1942 under eminent domain law and converted to training ground and airstrip for World War II pilots. No sign of the airfield remains, but takeoffs and landings continue every day.
You can’t catch fish here, but you can geocache.
The University of Georgia’s Marine Education Center & Aquarium is home to about 50 species of animals and fish native to coastal waters, reefs, marshes and beaches. It’s child-friendly; its 17 marine tanks include a touch tank and its interactive exhibits include a shrimp boat that youngsters can board.
The MECA, a half-hour drive from The Studio Homes at Ellis Square, on Skidaway Island, also includes the Jay Wolfe Nature Trail, short and long hiking and biking routes – the one three-tenths of a mile, the other seven-tenths – through thick forest. There’s also an ADA-compliant boardwalk over salt marshes to a salt beach. You can’t fish off the bridge or from the beach, but the sightseeing alone is worth the adventure.
And ever hear of geocaching? It’s a high-tech treasure hunt game with navigational clues transmitted via handheld GPS devices. Five geocaches are hidden along the nature walk, yours to discover with a device you can pick up at a trail kiosk.
There’s a lot to do at MECA – which is open mornings and afternoons Monday through Saturday – and for next to nothing. The top-tiered adult admission fee is just $6. Credit cards aren’t accepted, but that’s a tiny inconvenience for a day full of family fun.
See a Savannah high point at this ‘Low’ point.
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, which honors the life work of the founder of the Girl Scouts of America, became Savannah’s first National Historic Landmark in 1965. The Victorian-style home at 10 Oglethorpe Avenue East was built in 1821 and opened as a museum in 1956. It’s actually one of three buildings that constitute the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District. The others are the First Girl Scout Headquarters on Drayton Street and the Andrew Low House on Abercorn Street. The Birthplace is a 6-minute walk from The Studio Homes at Ellis Square, mostly south down Whitaker Street.
The Birthplace offers tiered admission prices. All individual admissions are $9 or lower, with discounts for Girl Scout member and registered adult members. In addition, families of two adults and up to four children are admitted for $25.
The museum showcases the accomplishments of Low (1860-1927), who created the Girl Scouts in 1912 and championed the movement the rest of her life despite enduring a heartbreaking series of personal hardships. The daughter of a Confederate Captain, Low suffered severe hearing loss in both ears in separate incidents—one eardrum was punctured in the removal of rice thrown at her wedding—yet developed multiple talents including sculpture. Hers is a story of courage and perseverance, and at the Birthplace, it’s told by people who still care about her greatly.
History and nature buff? Go ‘fort’ and prosper.
Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island, a barrier island 25 minutes southeast of The Studio Homes. Fort Pulaski was the site of one of the most significant sieges in U.S. military history, a Union conquest in the Civil War that exposed the vulnerability of brick forts to evolving weapons. Now it’s the historic centerpiece of a 5,400-acre, federally managed nature park.
Fort Pulaski, which took 18 years to build, was considered unassailable. The five – sided structure’s walls were 32 feet high and 7 to 11 feet thick. Its surrounding alligator-infested Savannah River marshes made infantry approach unlikely and the advance of traditional limited-range cannons impossible. That notion changed—and so did military history – with the battlefield introduction of the James Rifled Cannon.
The state of Georgia had seized the idle and lightly defended fort in 1860 during Southern unrest after South Carolina’s secession. When the Civil War began a year later, Fort Pulaski became a Rebel stronghold vital to control of the Savannah River.
By April 10, 1862, Union troops were staring at the fort from across the river and awaiting reply to their demand for surrender. No, the fort commander said. Wrong answer. The Union commenced 13-inch heavy mortar bombardment with the revolutionary high-powered guns. No fort could withstand that firepower. It took only 30 hours to win the Rebels’ surrender.
But the legacy of Fort Pulaski only begins there. Abolitionist Union Gen. David Hunter immediately declared all slaves in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida freed. By the time Abraham Lincoln delivered his own Emancipation Proclamation in September 1962, the “Underground Railroad” was delivering hundreds to the safe haven of Fort Pulaski.
If you visit, you can see a historic marker honoring the Underground Railroad. You can inspect the fort’s original walls, cannons and other artifacts. You can see a film and other displays in the visitors’ center. But you can do so much more at the Fort Pulaski National Monument.
Outside the fort itself, the monument encompasses almost all of Cockspur Island. Fish. Kayak. Go bicycling. Enjoy the bald eagles, loggerheads, manatees, peregrine falcons and other protected park inhabitants. See the historic Cockspur Island Lighthouse. Or simply walk the scenic trails, including one that follows the dike system engineered by a fresh West Point graduate named Lt. Robert E. Lee.
You can do it all for nothing, or next to nothing. Admission to the monument is $5 for adults and free for children 15 and younger. And on selected days every year, such as Martin Luther King Day weekend, National Park Week and Veteran’s Day weekend, it’s free for everyone.
See three museums for one low, low price.
The Telfair Museums founded in 1883, is the oldest public museum in the South. Home to more than 4,500 works of American and European art – paintings, sculptures and more – exhibited in three separate buildings in the Savannah Historic District. The Telfair Academy is a 6-minute walk from The Studio Homes, and the Owens-Thomas House and Jepson Center both are 8 minutes away by foot.
The Telfair Academy and Owens-Thomas House both are National Historic Landmarks that date to the 1800s, both designed by the noted architect William Jay. The building that houses the academy on Telfair Square actually was the home of Edward Telfair, Georgia’s first governor, and donated to the Georgia Historical Society—art collection and all—by his daughter, Mary Telfair. The Jepson Center, completed in 2006, houses more contemporary artwork than the older buildings including African American art.
You can pay a $12 or $15 per adult single admission to each building, depending on the building. Or you can visit them all one time each within a week of purchasing a special admission package that costs far less: $20 for adults ($18 for seniors) and just $5 for students kindergarten through college.
No matter which of these budget-stretching attractions you visit on your stay at The Studio Homes at Ellis Square, one thing is clear. Savannah offers a great deal of great deals.