By Mike Steely

A day away drive from Knoxville, granted it’s an 8 or 9 hour drive, gets you to Savannah, Georgia. It’s a trip worth the drive. It’s rare to see a southern city that survived the Civil War, yet there is Savannah in all its glory.

Savannah was one of American’s first “planned” cities thanks to General James Oglethorpe, a founder of Georgia. From 1733 until now the city has grown around Chippewa Square and the square supports the nation’s oldest theater. Lots of other squares in the city are historic and beautiful, some may be known to you already. Taking a guided bus ride around town, for as little as $25 per person can quickly get you acquainted or you can start with the River Walk and go from there.

There are lots of restaurants, gift shops, historic homes and many homes and churches invite you inside to tour. If you’re hungry for Southern cooking there are several restaurants including Paula Deen’s “The Lady and Sons.” There’s also the “Moon River Brewery,” “The Chart House,” and many other good places to sample the food, including fresh sea food.

You probably should start out at the Savannah Visitor’s Center and catch one of the many shuttle busses. The Visitor Center also has a museum, exhibits, and a gift shop. You can hop off and back on as you like from the busses and they come by their routes every 15 minutes or so. Some of the tour busses have actors climbing aboard with you and presenting themselves and their stories.

If you’re into motion pictures you’ll love Savannah. You can go to Chippewa Square and sit on the same bench as Tom Hanks did in “Forrest Gump.” There are lots of other places around town that the movie featured, including the steps of the Presbyterian Church. Or you can take a walk over to the sites featured in the original and remake of “Cape Fear.”  Check out the Federal Courthouse there and then get a copy of the original movie with Gregory Peck. It’s a great and scary tale.

When we were there recently they had closed off a couple blocks and were filming “Sponge Bob Square Pants 2.” On another visit a few years ago, they were filming the Lincoln Assassination film “The Conspirator.”

Within the Savannah area is the long white beach at Tybee Island, just 30 miles away. There are also old Southern mansions, rural scenes, and several pre-Civil War forts that served both sides in the conflict. One of the least visited is Fort Jackson, north of the city that overlooks the river and has costumed actors and a cannon firing.

There’s a couple different ways to get to Savannah. Interstate 75 from Knoxville to Macon and then Interstate 16 connects Savannah to Macon is the most direct route. You can take Highway 17 at the end of I-16 and get downtown easily. If you are camping I suggest Skidaway Island State Park just south of town.

Things to do and see on the way to or from Savannah could include the Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, a visit to Vidalia (famous for sweet onions), or Juliette, Ga., where you can eat at the “Whistle Stop Café” from the movie. Or, for a quick side trip, you can stop by High Falls State Park between Atlanta and Macon and drive just a couple miles off Interstate 75 to take a break and visit the park there.

Sometimes those side trips help break up a long trip and, surprisingly, a side trip can actually be a highlight of the trip.