Visit River Street in the historic district of Savannah, Ga.
Stretching only 75 miles from Savannah to Brunswick, the short coast of Georgia is long on history and scenic beauty. A panorama of the South’s storied past unfolds along lazy back roads that meander through a landscape of sweeping, river-veined marshes and hamlets draped with Spanish moss.
Begin your journey down U.S. Highway 17 South, Georgia’s lowcountry highway. Soak up the antebellum mood along cobbled River Street at the city’s seaport, where shops and restaurants are staked out in former cotton warehouses. Savor freshly made pralines at River Street Sweets, then browse one-of-a-kind souvenirs in the atmospheric old buildings at City Market, site of Savannah’s original 18th-century marketplace.
Leaving town, you’ll wind through lush, magnolia-scented squares designed in 1733 by Savannah’s English founder, Gen. James Oglethorpe. Elegant townhouses recall long-ago cotton and shipping titans.
Peek into the tiny suburb of Sandfly, where you’ll find Wormsloe Plantation. It’s a magical realm established more than two centuries ago for the cultivation of cotton, rice and exotic fruits; a magnificent avenue of live oaks leads to the plantation’s ghostly ruins.
Hook up with the highway and head for the leafy little burg of Midway, home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence. You can ponder the lives of early land barons at the cottage-style Midway Museum, filled with original 18th-century furnishings.
A few miles south, on a bluff overlooking a vast expanse of marshland, stands Fort King George. From 1721 to 1736, it was the British Empire’s southernmost garrison in America. Tour the barracks and blockhouse and view a film that depicts the dire struggle of British soldiers trying to adapt to an unfamiliar environment.
Drive onward to this Civil War hot spot. Burned to the ground by Union troops, Darien is now a picturesque fishing village. Tuck into thoroughly Georgian fare—including shrimp and grits and grilled-peach pound cake—at Darien River House.
After lunch, set off for the waterfront where you can check out the works of local artisans, plus books on coastal Georgia, at The Shops at 107 Broad. Down the road, Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation invites you to explore its expansive riverside grounds and the mansion where a Dixie rice-growing dynasty once held sway.
Your last stop is this somnolent shrimping hub that’s also the gateway to a vacation mecca known as the Golden Isles of Georgia. Brunswick’s Union and Newcastle streets take you past graceful Victorian homes dating to the late 19th century, when the town was a bustling shipping center. Today you’ll find shops, galleries and plenty to eat. (The town lays claim to the 1898 invention of Brunswick stew, a popular Southern dish.)
Dockside, you’ll see a fleet of shrimp boats dozing under a blazing sun. At the foot of Gloucester Street, linger under the ancient oak where Sidney Lanier, Georgia’s foremost poet, was inspired in the 1870s to write his finest work, The Marshes of Glynn.
As a fitting end to your journey, breeze across the causeway that connects Brunswick to the islands and explore 140-year-old St. Simons Island lighthouse. The Victorian keeper’s cottage brims with artifacts and vintage photographs that tell the singular, captivating story of coastal Georgia.
Longing for the antebellum south? For a place to stay, go to AAA.com/hotels.
Photography courtesy of Wikipedia
This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.