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Once a colonial capital, this Southern city holds on to the charm and elegance that made it famous

Travel through a door to Antebellum South colonial splendor. Walk down streets lined with 200-year-old stately oak trees draped with Spanish moss. Smell the fragrance of the magnolia in bloom and live the history of the Old South. You've arrived at Georgia's First City. Welcome to Savannah, y'all.

Savannah, Georgia, was first established in 1733 by James E. Oglethorpe on the banks of the Savannah River, just 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The most important city in the 13th colony, Savannah quickly became a bustling seaport that supported imperial trade from England and served as a protective buffer from the Spanish colonies in Florida.

Oglethorpe designed the town into five symmetrical 60-by-90-foot blocks. Included in this layout were 24 public squares (22 still exist) that were intended to be used as public meeting areas as well as places for residents to hide out and fortify themselves against attacks from natives, the Spanish and even pirates. Visitors to Savannah can still visit the squares that house some of the city's most important monuments, churches and landscapes.

The fight for America's Independence spread to Savannah in 1778, when the city was lost to the British. American generals knew that the city was an important seaport and, if not taken back, could mean the loss of the war. In 1779, American and French troops marched on Savannah. The Siege of Savannah lasted nearly three weeks, but the American troops once again lost the city. The British occupied Savannah until 1782.

Visitors to Savannah can retrace the steps of the British and American troops at Tricentennial Park, home of the Coastal Heritage Society. While there, you can kick around in the Georgia State Railroad Museum. This National Historic Landmark has a fully operational turntable, historic cars and rolling stock and, with a little help from one of the many museum guides, you can take a short ride on a handcar. You can also board a train and ride. Rides are scheduled daily.

When the Civil War broke out some 100 years after the American Revolution, Savannah was once again in the forefront of the fighting. The city was unfortunately on the route of General George Sherman's famous "March to the Sea." The General burned every city he and his troops marched through except Savannah. There are varying theories for why Savannah was spared, but what remains is one of the oldest, most beautiful, downtowns in the nation. You can visit the Green-Meldrin House, located on Madison Square, and see where the general lived while he occupied the city.

Savannah's Historic District is the largest in the nation and is home to several museums and 10 churches, one of which is the First Bryan Baptist Church. This church holds the distinction of being the first and longest operating African American Baptist Church in the United States.

With all this history, it stands to reason that there might be a few ghosts hanging around. And it's no wonder; the city is beautiful by day or by night. Savannah holds the otherworldly distinction of being America's most haunted city, according to many experts of the paranormal. If you'd like to check out the ghosts of Savannah, you can tour the city in a hearse, by carriage or by boat in hopes of seeing the city's spirit residents. There are dozens of tours given nightly sure to thrill and chill even the biggest skeptic.

Rivers and Beaches
Surrounded by rivers to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Savannah offers lots of water activities. Do you like to fish? You can take a deep-sea fishing excursion or fish from the bank in the low country, where you'll find redfish, speckled trout and flounder. Maybe you only like to look at ocean dwellers. You can take a dolphin tour that will please the entire family.

If you're a bit more adventurous, you can rent a jet ski, go parasailing or just paddle around the city's waterways in a kayak. If you don't want to paddle, let the boat do it on one of Savannah's riverboat cruises.

Just 20 minutes east of the city sits Tybee Island, known as Savannah's Beach. This barrier island has five miles of white sand beach perfect for sunbathing, sandcastle building or playing in the surf. Sit on the sand and watch the shrimp boats scoop up the night's dinner or track the huge ocean cargo ships skirting the horizon.

What coastal town would be complete without a lighthouse or two? The Tybee Island Light Station was built in 1773 and has been guiding mariners to the mouth of the Savannah River nonstop ever since. The Cockspur Lighthouse sits at the south channel of the Savannah River.

Dining Out
There are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from when visiting the Savannah area. Everything from haunted taverns to riverboat cruises offer the catch of the day or a 12-ounce filet. One name stands out in the Savannah café list: Paula Deen, TV cook extraordinaire. The Lady & Sons Restaurant lies in the heart of Savannah. Reservations are required, and when you go, be prepared to meet the lady herself. She may stop by your table, so take a pen for an autograph.

Did you know...?
Check out these fascinating facts about Savannah:

• Savannah has been dubbed "America's first planned city" because of its grid layout with 24 public squares. Twenty one of the original squares exist today.

• Parts of Forest Gump were filmed in Savannah, most notably the bench Forest sat on the north side of Chippewa Square, where he delivered the famous "Life is like a box of chocolates" quote. The bench is now located in the Savannah History Museum.

• Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low was born in Savannah. The very first Girl Scouts meeting took place in Savannah.

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