Places We’ve Seen

Places We’ve Seen

It’s important to us to get out of our motorhome and out of the campgrounds and see some of the sights in the area. One of the questions we always ask ourselves is, “Why is this place here?” And we don’t leave until we get a satisfactory answer. If it’s a populated area, it’s usually because of transportation or natural resources. If it’s a natural wonder, it’s usually because of geological forces from long ago.

Below are the places we’ve seen most recently. Click here to see all the places we’ve seen since going full-time.

On the Beach - Daytona Beach FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

Daytona Beach is historically known for its beach where the hard-packed sand allows motorized vehicles to drive on the beach in restricted areas. We drove down to the beach using the University Dr ramp. The cost is $10.00 for a day pass. 

This hard-packed sand made Daytona Beach a mecca for motorsports, and the old Daytona Beach Road Course hosted races for over 50 years. This was replaced in 1959 by Daytona International Speedway. 

It was sad to see that the town is still rebuilding from the damage it sustained during hurricanes Matthew, in 2016, and Irma, in 2017. Many of the beachfront hotels were pretty beat up. And the amusement park at the pier is completely shut down. Reportedly there was also considerable flooding on the Halifax River side of the town as well.

But the beach is still spectacular. We had a great time.

Beach Most Elegant - Jekyll Island GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Jekyll Island was only half an hour from our campground at Blythe Island. The weather was right, so we decided to hop on over. What a lovely place! We were pleasantly surprised by its beauty and tranquility. We started our visit with an early lunch at the Wharf Restaurant and then walked over to the Jekyll Island Club Resort and Historic District.

During the Gilded Age, the island was a winter playground for the super rich. We recognized many of their names (Vanderbilts, Astors, Lorillards) from our trip to Newport RI. Turns out that some of the same families who made Newport their summer home also spent their winters in Jekyll Island.

In 1886, the island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, which was a turn-of-the century vacation resort patronized by 55 of the nation’s wealthiest families. Membership was very exclusive, and included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, Jay Gould, and William Rockefeller. Morgan used to visit the island on his 300 foot yacht, the Corsair, and dock at the Club’s wharf. When asked how much it cost to operate the yacht, he famously said, “if you have to ask that question, you can’t afford it.”

The Jekyll Island Club has an illustrious history. Following the Panic of 1907, Morgan along with several other banking and government leaders met at the Club and devised a plan that resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System.

The Club fell on lean times during the Depression, and the entire island was abandoned at the beginning of World War II, since members felt it was vulnerable to enemy submarine attack. After the war, the State of Georgia purchased the island from the Club, and opened it to the general public. Fortunately, many remnants of the Gilded Age still exist, most notably the Jekyll Island Club Resort.

There are also several beautifully restored mansions, called “cottages”, that some of the families built around the clubhouse, along with a number of smaller service buildings. The clubhouse and surrounding buildings form a Historic District of 33 structures situated in a park-like setting. The clubhouse has been restored as a luxury hotel, the cottages are mostly museums or part of the hotel, and the service buildings are mostly shops.

The Historic District is fenced in, and closed to automobile traffic. This makes walking the landscaped grounds a pleasure.  After we had explored the Historic District thoroughly on foot, we drove off to see the rest of the island.

Our first stop was Driftwood Beach, which is at the north end of the island. We were amazed by the huge driftwood and fallen trees that resemble a giant tree graveyard. The north end of the island is slowly eroding away and being deposited on the south end of the island, which causes the trees on the north end to collapse into the sea. Recent hurricanes have accelerated the destruction.

Driftwood Beach is beautiful, but has a lot of debris, so it is not the best beach for sunbathing. However, it is a wonderful location for picture taking, and we took a lot. It’s also a very popular site for weddings. When we were there we saw what we thought was a wedding, but on closer inspection it appeared to be a photo shoot for wedding gowns.

Next we drove to Beach Village, which is a newer commercial area on the beach in the center of the island. This is where most of the modern hotels are located. There’s a long sandy beach in front of the hotels as well as a convention center nearby. And finally, we drove toward the south end of the island, and stopped at Great Dunes Beach, which is a broad public sand beach with a huge parking lot.

Sadly, there was a lot of damage from Hurricane Irma over much of the island, especially on the north end. This was the second year in a row that a hurricane has hit the island (Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017).

But despite the damage, the impression we came away with is that Jekyll Island is a gem, mostly unspoiled, elegant yet affordable. We can only hope it stays that way, especially when you compare it to many other East Coast beaches that are overbuilt, overcrowded, and overpriced. We loved it.

Historic Downtown Savannah - Savannah GA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

Our campground in Yemassee was situated between Charleston and Savannah, so it was always our plan to visit both cities by car on this trip. Because Charleston was 1½ hours away, we chose to stay there overnight. But Savannah was only 45 minutes away, so we decided to make it a day trip. Looking back, we wish we had stayed overnight in Savannah as well, because we enjoyed it even more than Charleston.

In many ways, the two cities share a similar history. They were founded during the colonial period, Charleston in 1670 and Savannah in 1733. Both are peninsular cities that became major seaports for plantation crops during the slavery period. Charleston shipped rice and Savannah cotton. Both were important Southern cities during the Civil War. And both survived the war fairly intact. 

The most notable difference between the two cities as we experienced them was that Charleston seems much more formal and rooted in its Antebellum past, even to the point of being especially proud of its role in the Civil War. Savannah on the other hand is more modern and casual. It seems to highlight the way it adapted after the war and to embrace its multi-racial and multi-religious heritage.

Another difference is that Savannah is built on a high bluff overlooking the Savannah River. The streets are wide and shaded with huge live oak trees. The original layout of the city included 24 park-like squares, of which 22 still exist. Even though we took an Old Town Trolley Tour, we found ourselves retracing the route on foot to get the full effect. Savannah is arguably one of the most walkable cities we’ve visited, with the exception of Colonial Williamsburg.

Charleston’s streets on the other hand were more narrow and clogged with people and automobiles. Charleston also hosts cruise ships, which can overwhelm the historic area. That said, Charleston has done a wonderful job preserving its historic area, and provided a model for Savannah to follow.

Our favorite locations in Savannah were the wonderful Forsythe Park, the beautiful city squares, the historic churches where John Wesley and M.L. King Jr preached, the oldest Reform synagogue in the United States, the festive City Market, and even the touristy East River Street.

We came away from Savannah with a strong desire to visit again. We’ve even added it to our short list of permanent locations to live after we give up being full time nomads. Who knows? 


Historic Downtown Charleston - Charleston SC

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

Even though our campground was an hour and a half from Charleston, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit this historic Southern city. So we left the motorhome at the campground and drove the car to Charleston for the night.

We stayed in the center of the historic district at the beautifully restored Mills House, which opened in 1853. The Mills House is within walking distance from the scenic waterfront parks, fine shopping, and historic homes and public buildings that make Charleston such an enjoyable city to visit. 

It was a chilly morning, so before we started exploring the city we stopped for lunch at the only waterfront restaurant in Charleston, Fleet Landing. The food was good, and we had stalled long enough for the sun to come out and warm up the day. The restaurant was close to pretty Waterfront Park with fountains and a half mile walk along the Cooper River, so we began our exploration here.

We continued to the the Battery which is a landmark defensive seawall and promenade at the lower end of the peninsula. The Ashley and Cooper rivers converge here to form Charleston Harbor where Fort Sumter is visible from the Cooper River side and from the point. It’s a beautiful walk from the Battery, across the street through White Point Garden, to the historic antebellum homes.

It is only a few blocks from the lower peninsula to the main hub of Charleston, the shopping mecca of King Street. Here we found art galleries, antique stores, unique and name brand clothing and jewelry stores. We did some window shopping, but were pretty worn out by this point so headed back toward our hotel for dinner in the courtyard serenaded by bluesman Shrimp City Slim.

Charleston is an interesting place to visit. We loved that wherever we looked, cars were sharing the roads with horse and buggy tours. We took a carriage ride ourselves, and enjoyed the beauty of the city and its architecture. As we explored, we tried not to think too much about the underlying economic and racial issues that have divided Charleston’s people since its founding.

Sadly, these issues are very real and very apparent. One prominent example is the Confederate Museum, which is owned and operated by Charleston’s Chapter #4 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It’s a temple-like structure located at a very busy intersection in the historic district. Our carriage driver urged us to visit the museum and not to miss the exhibit of General Robert E Lee’s lock of hair, which he assured us is highly regarded in the city. Weird, and offensive on many levels.

Compared to Jefferson’s Monticello and other southern cities, such as Montgomery, which face their slavery past honestly and with respect, Charleston is uncommonly proud of its antebellum past. This is reflected in its public monuments and statues, which tout the city’s leading role in the American Civil War. Our carriage driver, who is an ambassador of the city, even referred to the war as the “War of Northern Aggression” without a hint of irony.

The bottom line is that Charleston is a truly beautiful city, which has yet to constructively deal with the evil upon which it is built and the sickness that infects it one hundred and fifty years later.

Canal Walk - Richmond VA

RATING: ♦♦♦♦

It was the last nice day of our stay at Pocahontas State Park. The weather forecast was calling for cold and rainy days ahead. David had some things to do around “home”, so I drove into Richmond on my own. I had read about the downtown Canal Walk and thought it would be fun to take some pictures.

I parked at the west end of the Canal Walk, which was close to the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge. I had to check out this bridge which hangs under the Robert E. Lee Bridge which is part of U.S. Route 301. This pedestrian bridge crosses over a section of the James River to small Belle Isle in the middle of the river. The walk over the bridge was interesting and traffic was not as loud as you might imagine. The river below is only 5 feet deep, rocky, and beautiful.

After walking the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge, I continued along the Canal Walk, which runs along the James River. There were many small bridges spanning the canal, making it possible to cross over and walk along either side. I noticed many downtown employees having lunch or otherwise taking advantage of the pretty area. The Canal Walk has access points at nearly every block between 5th and 17th streets.

Not far from the Belle Isle Pedestrian Bridge is the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge, which is another (newer) pedestrian bridge. This one spans the entire James River. I walked halfway across and then back, and headed home.

There were signs and quotes along the Canal Walk that illustrated the important roll Richmond played in the Civil War. It was worth a day of exploring.