Forrest Gump's Mama said, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get". My first trip to this part of South Carolina was exactly that. Members of my family had been visiting Hilton Head Island for years. In particular Disney's Hilton head Island Resort (DHHIR). We have been Disney Vacation Club members for over two decades with a base of Old Key West at Walt Disney World and several trips to Disney's Vero Beach Resort. Last year when the annual trip to Hilton head was in the planning stage I decided that this would be the year I finally checked this place out. I had been to Myrtle Beach dozens of times as both a kid and a golfing adult. A day trip to the beautiful city of Charleston, but never Hilton Head or Savannah.
March is a tricky time to go anywhere in South Carolina. As far as the weather goes, again, you never know what you're gonna get. On those March Myrtle Beach trips we saw everything from 6 inches of snow to sunny and 80 degrees. For 2017 Mother nature decided to play a cruel trick on us and bring in some of the coldest days in years. High's struggling to reach 50 and lows close to freezing. I don't feel the cold as much as others. And when I can't stroll down the beach on a sunny windy day then it must be pretty darn cold! The good news is that the rain stayed away and we were able to make the best of it. Being with family is always the most important thing.
Hilton Head island was very busy. But it was expected with March Break. At the resort and in the shopping areas you almost felt like you were back home in Ontario with all the license plates. My favorite line all week was 'Get out of my way you stupid Canadians', as if I were the only Canadian worthy of clogging Hilton head's roads. It's a beautiful island. Mostly touristy but everything is very well masked. Despite recent hurricane damage there are plenty of trees hiding the buildings. Aesthetically pleasing but it does make it difficult to find things sometimes. The island is big but small. Once you know your way around it's pretty easy to navigate. Just don't try to venture on or off it during rush hour. Obviously most workers don't live on the island and it makes for long lines in the morning and evening commute. But once you are on the island there really isn't any reason to leave it. Unless of course you are an adventurer like me. I left almost every day.
The first part of the week was the coldest. So cold that Disney actually closed the pool. Something I had never seen before. Apparently resort rules dictate that any temperature feel under 45 degrees is deemed too dangerous for swimmers as they could develop hypothermia upon exiting the heated water. Really? Do they know how many Canadians are here? Some of us swim in 45 degree water!
Aside from the pool closing I give top marks to the Disney resort here. A great location and the traditional Disney smiles and service you would expect. My brief Tripadvisor review with photos can be found here “Another Fabulous Disney Resort”
The first day on the island was very busy, so I needed a quick getaway. That was provided by a short trip to Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is just off the bridge to Hilton Head and doesn't require much effort to get to. Most of the island is accessible by walking or biking. We saw a few small gators and several varieties of shore birds but I suspect much of the wildlife was trying to keep warm. We were there for a couple of hours but this island requires more of an investment in time. If I return it will be with a bike to cover more ground. The refuge is a very pretty and very peaceful place.
My next day trip was another location longstanding on the bucket list. Savannah Georgia. less than an hour away from Hilton Head. Everyone who visits Savannah comes back with glowing reviews and return trips. Lately I have seen Savannah appear not only on top U.S. destination lists but 'Top 50 places in the world'. A friend and recent retiree had highly recommended a walking tour with a gent named Savannah Dan.
This walking tour was a great introduction. This Southern Gentlemen takes you on a trip through time and had me feeling like he had been there since 1733. In two hours you get a very informative introduction to the city. You job after that is to explore the rest.
Savannah is extremely rich in southern history. Trying to take it all in on a day trip proved to be impossible. I had already scheduled a couple of other stops outside of the city which filled the day. I would call Savannah 'Historically overwhelming'. It will require a return visit for me and at least two full days. And warmer days! Click on the photos in the gallery below to expand them.
After Savannah we headed east out to Tybee Island. The main attraction here is the Tybee Island Lighthouse. We stopped for lunch at a really cool restaurant called 'The Crab Shack'. You enter through a giant crab, eat crab and can even feed the local alligators for $3. Would have been nice if we could eat outside but again mother nature didn't cooperate.
After lunch we made our way to the lighthouse. Unfortunately we were not able to climb it due to some renovations so we didn't pay the fee and tour it. The lighthouse is 154 feet tall and one of the most iconic on the eastern Seaboard. Another return visit in the making.
Between Tybee island and the mainland is Fort Pulaski National Monument. This massive brick fort was completed in 1847 to protect the Port of Savannah. It was occupied by Confederate forces through the early parts of the Civil War until taken by the Union in April of 1862. The fort is on a beautiful island with sweeping views all the way back to Hilton Head. We enjoyed walking around and reading about its interesting history. Outside of the fort area are some hiking trails that we did not make it to. I would suggest taking at least 2 hours and joining one of the guided ranger tours. Kids will love it. We loved it. Click on the images in the gallery below to expand them.
On our way back through Savannah we were determined to sample what Savannah Dan called 'The best Milkshake in America' at a place named Leopold's. Sadly the line was well down the sidewalk so we bailed. Leopold's is owned by a movie producer so you get Hollywood memorabilia and great ice cream at the same time. I highly recommend getting there early in the day. Dan said to ask for your shake' Savannah Dan Style' and Malted. Tell me how it was.
I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it's both. – Forrest Gump.
When first researching this trip I realized that much of Forrest Gump was filmed in this area. It is one of my top 10 favorite films so I added some filming locations to my itinerary. I know that many people think its Best Picture win at the Oscar's was a mistake. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption are better films they say. And I would tend to agree. What separates Gump from the other two is the magic about it. The feel good aspect. When you watch a film you do one of two things. Sit back and stay out of it or move yourself inside it. Imagine yourself inside Shawshank Prison. Or the messed up gangster world of Pulp Fiction. Pleasant? Not at all. Now imagine yourself riding along through history with Forrest. Which would be more fun?
So why do people visit filming sites? If you love a film then being where it was shot is an added connection that you couldn't experience by watching it. This is your opportunity to truly feel like you are part of the film. As i said earlier, to be inside it. Trust me, standing in The Gump driveway with its Majestic Live Oaks accomplishes exactly that.
I had a vision of the filming site tour that I planned for months. But the weather did not cooperate. There is no such place as Greenbow, Alabama. The town scenes were filmed in Varnville, South Carolina. Varnville was my first scheduled stop on the way down from Columbia to Hilton Head. But it rained, it poured, it even snowed. I also lost the opportunity to stop at a church used in the film.
Forrest Gump begins on a bench in Savannah. The bench was a movie prop and doesn't really exist except for a replica in the Savannah History Museum. But many people stand at the spot in Chippewa Square. I did it armed with Curious George and a white feather. What a geek.
A few days later I set out for what I felt is the mother load of Forrest filming locations. The Gump driveway featured in many scenes including the iconic 'Run Forrest' and the final scene in the film. It was at this spot where I really felt the magic of the film. The Gump house was built for the film and torn down shortly after as it wasn't to code. But being at the gates was close enough.
After the Gump Driveway we stopped by the historic ruins of The Old Sheldon Church. Not part of Gump world but pretty cool.
The next stop was Beaufort. I had read many great things about Beaufort over the years. I first learned about it while reading about the filming of an 80's favorite of mine, 'The Big Chill'. With the Gump sites I also wanted to see the house from 'The Big Chill'. As expected the gates were closed so I could only get a peek of the house from the street. I shot this short video below.
What I didn't expect was just how amazing a place the neighborhood around the house was. Full of beautiful old houses and streets to explore. I saw many organized groups on foot or horse drawn carriage touring Beaufort. I suspect this town requires at least a full day to explore. I will be back.
Want a sneak peek of these beautiful antebellum homes dating back to the pre civil war period? Click here for a video
Beaufort was the site of a few other Gump filming sites. Mainly the shrimping boat scenes. We were able to view them from the street or a bridge but really couldn't get close enough to shoot any photos or video. Losing this and Varnville left me with a Video that falls far short of what I had envisioned. But it isn't a disaster so I'll share it anyway.
Not far from Beaufort and sharing the same island is the town of Port Royal. Port Royal boasts an interesting history and claims to be the oldest settlement in the New World predating Jamestown by 45 years. The Shrimp boat in a Hurricane scene from Gump was filmed there. I didn't have time to visit Port Royal but will include it next time.
Not far from Port Royal is Parris Island. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is used for the training of enlisted Marines. Male recruits living east of the Mississippi River and female recruits from all over the United States report here to receive their initial training. There is also a Marine Corp Air Station at Beaufort so you get to see the occasional fighter jet buzzing around the Hilton Head area. I like Fighter jets.
I was very impressed with this part of South Carolina. Beautiful scenery, rich history, great food and friendly people. As with most of my adventures I never seem to have enough time to explore it all. So I have to go back!
I almost forgot to mention the HUGE beach on Hilton Head. As wide a sandy beach as i have ever scene. No High rise Condos or Hotels here.
Hilton Head Island is a great place to visit. Even greater when you get to do it with Family and friends.
And did I mention the Root Beer? I love Root Beer and found the coolest store with the most candy and soda I have ever seen.
Thank You Rocket Fizz!