When the words "Southern" and "hospitality" were first strung together into a single phrase, the wordsmith was likely attempting to describe Savannah.

For what other city in the Deep South is so inviting to vacationers, culinary gourmets, beach bums, duffers and history buffs alike?

"There's so many reasons to visit here," observes Martha Giddens Nesbit, a columnist for Savannah Magazine who has authored Savannah: Crown of the Colonial Coast and a half-dozen other books on the city and its culinary charms.

"There are the beautiful squares, and all the beautiful homes. The live oaks draped with moss can be very romantic.

Then there's the ocean"”Tybee is just a great beach town.

"Many people come here just to play golf," continues Nesbit. "And, there's the good food. Incredibly fresh seafood."
Savannah, in fact, is all about assuring visitors the ultimate in sight-seeing experiences. Compare the town's permanent population"”about 150,000"”to the number of annual visitors"”nearly 6 million"”and you'll quickly deduce that just about every resident makes their living in one way or another by catering to the whims of tourists.

The city made famous by the film Forrest Gump as well as the best-selling Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an architectural wonder, a throw-back known best for its public squares: From picturesque Oglethorpe Square to stately Chippewa Square, the town is a veritable patchwork quilt of these two dozen block-wide parks, all framed by antebellum mansions and "kudzu" vines dripping from massive oak trees.

Downtown itself, in fact, is one of the nation's largest National Historic Landmarks and makes for wonderful walking, even if it's a bit frustrating for a drive (the grid pattern of squares does tend to impede vehicular traffic).

The reason the city"”founded in 1733"”is awash in historical structures when the rest of Georgia is not? During the Civil War, Union Gen. William Sherman relentlessly marched his troops to the sea, burning everything in sight. But when he reached Savannah, he oddly spared this port city from the torch.

TOURIST'S DELIGHT
The main business district is built along bluffs that overlook the Savannah River and River Street, a mile-long stretch that is tourist central. The massive Hyatt Regency Savannah dominates the street, which is dotted with dozens of gift shops and bars (Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is a favorite Celtic music watering hole). Make time to purchase a box of the dreamy pralines from River Street Sweets. Or, visit one of the shops purveying the Byrd Cookie Co. Key Lime Coolers, available in a distinctive commemorative tin.

Afterwards, board one of the Savannah Belle ferries and cross over to Hutchinson Island, directly across the river from the downtown waterfront.

Hutchinson is the latest success story that proves Savannah is old South, but new money. The island is home to the recently constructed Savannah International Trade and Convention Center as well as the $98-million Savannah Harbor Resort complex. The crown jewel of the island? The lush 16-story Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa.

Once you've indulged in all the amenities the island holds, head back to the city proper for a more in-depth investigation of the areas outlying downtown. While a host of carriage companies offer guided tours, consider hopping into your car as well. Motor up Victory Drive between Abercorn and Waters streets for an eyeful of historic midtown mansions. Don't miss Forsyth Park in the heart of midtown, known for its ornate fountain and beautiful magnolias.

Many a visitor stops for a tour of the Mercer House on Bull Street, home to the famous"”or infamous"”Jim Williams, the central character in Midnight. Tours are $12.50. Oh, if you want to stroll through the cemetery made famous in Midnight,  head to Bonaventure Cemetery"”but don't expect to find the "bird girl" from the book's cover still here. It has been moved to the Telfair Museum of Art for safe-keeping.

A more cultural visit might be to the Telfair, located on Barnard Street, which lays claim as the oldest art museum in the South. The $9 admission lets you gander at the facility's impressive collection of American decorative arts and furniture. And yes, the "bird girl" statue is displayed here as well.

Like most cities, Savannah has its own stable of homegrown celebrities. Songwriter Johnny Mercer lived here, as did Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts. This explains why you see so many Girl Scouts strolling the streets on their annual pilgrimages to the Low home, now the Girl Scout National Center.

And even though the city has the pristine reputation of a Girl Scout, it also has a casino: The Diamond Casino showboat departs on five-hour cruises once or twice each day, and features 220 slots and 15 gaming tables. Three-card poker, roulette, blackjack, craps and Texas hold-'em are among the gaming options.

LOWCOUNTRY FARE
Worked up an appetite yet? Your dining options are myriad, from traditional Southern to "Lowcountry" delights.
"Paula's the biggest thing in town these days," notes Rich Wittish, author of the Insider's Guide to Savannah. "People come here and line up around the block at her restaurant."

"Paula" would be Paula Deen, the Martha Stewart of the Savannah restaurant business, who runs a virtual dining empire"”all fed by her success on the Food Network. Whether you check her Lady and Sons restaurant on West Congress, the Oyster House on Bryan Woods Road, or take the "Paula Deen Tour" or even attend the Paula Deen Cooking School, it's hard to miss this culinary entrepreneur (if you somehow do, grab a copy of the Cooking with Paula Deen magazine on your way out of town).

Residents also recommend Garibaldi's Cafe on West Congress (known for its whole flounder in apricot sauce), the Olde Pink House on Abercorn, the Pirates' House on East Broad, and the famed Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room on West Jones (the lunch sitting is at precisely 11 a.m., and is served family style, with heaping bowls passed among the tables).

The chicken fingers at Spanky's on River Street are also a local favorite"”mmm, good"”as is the crab stew at the Crystal Beer Parlor on West Jones.

Outside of downtown, locals flock to Elizabeth on Thirty-Seventh and Johnny Harris Restaurant, the oldest dining spot in the city and famed for its barbecue.

If the beach is your thing, head to Tybee Island, about 15 miles east of town. Sample Lowcountry boiled shrimp at the Crab Shack, or head to A.J.'s, located on a picturesque marsh.

The biggest new trend on the Savannah dining scene? "Shrimp and grits are showing up on many menus," says Nesbit, herself a co-author of two cookbooks with Paula Deen.

Know that St. Patrick's Day in mid-March is not just another Hallmark holiday in these parts. It's a big deal, marked by one of the nation's largest St. Pat's parades (the first parade started, or stumbled, out in 1824). Let's just say the green beer flows and the city's restaurants churn out the Irish fare. A hundred thousand or so revelers fill up the hotels and bars, and you can legally drink alcoholic beverages along the parade route, but in no more than 16-ounce plastic cups. Honorary St. Pat's guests, by the way, have included three sitting presidents: William Howard Taft, Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter.

TRAVEL INFORMATION
Getting here can be half the fun. Savannah International Airport is located about 10 miles outside the city limits. Another popular way of getting to the city is to take an Amtrak sleeper car. (Trains depart from Cincinnati's Union Terminal for Washington, D.C. three times a week, with a transfer to the Silver Meteor or Silver Star inside D.C.'s Union Station.)

What are the best times to travel? That depends on whether you like a warm winter or hot, humid summer.
Temperatures average in the 80s and 90s during summer months, but plummet to the 50s during the winter holidays. Savannahians, and this is a true story, are known to turn on their air-conditioners at Christmas, just to be able to light a fire in the hearth.