I went to Savannah College of Art and Design years ago (earned my BFA in Computer Art in 1999!) in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia; during my four years there I fell in love with the South. Upon my return to southern California after graduation, Georgia remained as a murmur in the back of my mind; eventually, in 2012 my husband Josh and I moved our family to a rural area just outside the city.
Coming back to the city as a family opened our world up to all kinds of new adventures seen through the eyes of our hilarious kids, and I wanted to pull together all my very best don't miss places for you to have a fun family vacation in a spot that skews very much towards "visit these historic (translation: usually boring for kids) places". If you're a history buff, this map could be a great help in compromising! Visit a historical landmark, then throw in one of these kid-friendly locations to give them a brain break!
Here's my list of do not miss places to take your kids in Savannah, from left to right on this map:
1) City Market - Pizza at Vinnie Van GoGos, Ice Cream at Savannah Candy Kitchen. Because pizza and ice cream. Afterward, if it's a warm day advance token to Ellis Square and let the kids play in the splash pad that's technically a fountain (if it's flat and people run through it every day I'm sorry you built yourself a splash pad).
2) Free River Ferry Ride on River Street - If you take the ramp down to River Street at City Hall (I believe there's a Hyatt hotel right next to it), you can hop on the river ferry and take a ride on the Savannah River for free. Ride across the river during the holidays and you can see the gingerbread house display they put up every year in the hotel lobby across the way!
3) Savannah Bee Company store on Broughton Street - You get to visit the honey tasting bar (which will blow your mind), and your kids will get to play in what's basically a beehive themed fort. It's amazing.
4) Leopold's on Broughton Street - because ICE CREAM.
5) Forsyth Park - Travel down Bull Street from City Hall, and you'll run right into Forsyth Park. The last Saturday in April is Savannah College of Art and Design's Sidewalk Arts Festival, and they let kids participate in drawing on a sidewalk square with chalk for free!
6) "The Globe" at Derenne and White Bluff Road (Southside Savannah) - Every time we drive past this globe, my daughter Joy and I play a game where we try to guess what's inside it and what we would do if that's what was in there. (e.g. - "What if it was full of blue and green M&Ms?" "I would eat them all but I would share with you.")
7) Exotic Underworlds pet store (Southside Savannah) - this pet store is like a tiny aquarium. Tons of really cool fish and reptiles to see, and a huge tortoise that walks around free through the store.
8) Chatham County Aquatic Center (Southside Savannah) - this is the city's public pool, and it's super affordable to go play for a couple of hours in their gloriously heated pool. (Usually heated to around 88 degrees.)
9) Oatland Island - If you only take your kids to one place on this list, Oatland Island should be it. Like a zoo, this animal rehabilitation center has a long trail through the woods where your kids will see animals like a mountain lion, alligators, deer, foxes, and wolves. Phil's favorite exhibit for AGES was the wolves - if you're a detective you can find our Calvert family board on the wooden walkway near the wolf building.
10) UGA Marine Science Center and Aquarium - This isn't a full-size aquarium like the huge one in Atlanta, but there's still tons of great exhibits, a touch tank, and a beautiful nature trail outside. We discovered it when we received tickets to go during the library's summer reading program a few years back!
11) Captain Mike's Dolphin Adventure: There are a few different dolphin tours out towards Tybee Island in Savannah, but this is the one we've been on and can recommend. We went during the solar eclipse a couple of years ago and it was super fun!
12) The Crab Shack on Tybee Island is one of my happy places. There's nothing better than sitting in their outdoor area on the dock, looking out at the wetlands, eating a ridiculous pile of seafood. Wait, the only thing better is seeing random raccoons in the trees above and the cats that wander around outside helping to keep the pests away. And did I mention they have a gator pit? Full of live gators? THAT YOU CAN FEED FOR $2???
13) Fish Art Gift Shop - as you head out towards Tybee Island Lighthouse on Highway 80, you can't miss this shop. The outside of it is literally COVERED with all kinds of interesting sculptures for sale. Last time we were there we saw a life-size metal great white shark sculpture with a mannequin leg hanging out of its mouth. Inside, you'll find an entire section of gems, minerals, and rocks, and your kids will keep you there for an hour or more while they try to decide what they're bringing home.
14) Tybee Island Lighthouse - Don't skimp. Pay the money to walk up into the lighthouse. You won't regret it.
15) Marine Science Center on Tybee Island - If you're going to the beach on Tybee, this is an easy stop to make and another super cool and educational place to check out!
16) The Sandbox Children's Museum (Hilton Head Island, South Carolina) - I included two locations in South Carolina because it's literally RIGHT THERE. And we went there a ton when we lived there. Plan to make a day of it, and let your kids explore the whole place on their time. If you do, make sure to bring a sack lunch! No restaurant or vending machines, but they do have picnic tables out in front. The age range on this museum I think tops out at about 7-8 years old, but I have heard they have plans to expand in the future to make more exhibits for older kids.
17) And if you're driving to Hilton Head Island, make a stop at Coligny Beach! After years of taking our family to Tybee, once I went to Coligny that quickly became our beach of choice for the free parking and the splash pad to rinse off in.
Want to visit these places in person? I created a Google map to share - you'll find exact locations of all these spots along with gobs of other gems that couldn't quite fit in my layout! Click here for more information on these places: http://bit.ly/SAVwithKidsMap