ON THE ROAD AGAIN: SAVANNAH, GA

Savannah was founded in 1733 by British general James Oglethorpe who would go onto form the colony of Georgia. Civic officials are fond of saying that Savannah was the first planned American city. In the historic district, there is a park plaza every two blocks, and there seems to be a house of worship alongside spectacular mansions.

The lack of change in Savannah’s historic district, not to mention its beautiful scenery, has made Savannah appealing to Hollywood. Many scenes of 1994’s FORREST GUMP were filmed here. The bench in front of Forsyth Park where Forrest (Tom Hanks) was waiting for a bus with various strangers he meets, and where he uttered his famous “Life is like a box of chocolates” line, is on display at the Savannah Historical Society.

Three years later Clint Eastwood filmed MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL here. The film was based on a sensational murder and real life events that occurred in Savannah in the 1980s. Eastwood used the childhood home of Savannah’s most famous native son, composer Johnny Mercer, for most of the interior scenes.

Savannah, like Charleston its neighbor 90 miles northwest, has long been a bastion of religious tolerance. The first Jewish settlers arrived in Savannah a few months after Oglethorpe got there. Their congregation, Mikve Israel, was founded in 1733. Its current edifice was constructed in 1876 and it’s the only synagogue that was ever built in a neo-Gothic style so it appears to be a cathedral from the outside to the casual observer. Mikve Israel houses a torah from 14th century Spain that was smuggled out of the country before the Inquisition was in full force.

The first two African-American churches in the United States were formed in Savannah and are still utilized for services.

Being an important American port, Savannah was a key railroad town in the 19th century. The Georgia Railroad Museum located just outside of the historic district should please train buffs, as there are plenty of freight and passenger trains to tour. You can even take a ride around the property on a Central of Georgia diesel locomotive.

If you are a fan of old baseball parks then you have to make a stop at Grayson Stadium that was built in 1926. There are plenty of wooden benches and you have to walk to the very top of the stadium and go along a narrow wooden catwalk to get to the press box. The Mets’ South Atlantic League affiliate, the Savannah Sand Gnats, currently play their home games here. Savannah is where most Mets prospects go after they’ve completed a season for the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY-Penn League.

Savannah’s waterfront was in disrepair 20 years ago but that has changed with the development of River Street that has become a hotspot for nightlife and entertainment. You can catch dinner cruise ships here and enjoy the cuisine of fine restaurants such as Huey’s.

There are a lot of ways to discover Savannah. I recommend the services of Harriet Meyerhoff, a native of Savannah, who has her own company Personalized Tours of Savannah [tours@savannahsites.com  (912) 234-0014], and who will take you in her car and give you an insider’s view of her town.

Approximately ten miles east of Savannah is Tybee Island that was one of the South’s first resorts. For years it was referred to as Savannah Beach because of its location on the Atlantic and its proximity to the Georgia port city. Unlike Miami Beach, Tybee Island remains delightfully underdeveloped. If you want some strenuous exercise you can climb the 172-step spiral staircase of the Tybee Island Lighthouse that is located across the street from Fort Screven that was built for the Spanish-American War in 1898. Another point of interest is the Tybee Island Marine Science Center that is a small aquarium that showcases the local fish and fauna of the area.

There are plenty of hotels near the historic district. The Inn at Ellis Square has a centralized location, reasonable rates, and offers a complimentary breakfast buffet.

For more information contact the Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau at (877) SAVANNAH or log onto www.visitsavannah.com. You can learn more about Tybee Island by calling the Tybee Island Visitors Center at (800) 868-2322 or by logging onto www.visittybee.com.