Thank you, James Oglethorpe. It was his genius plan to lay out Savannah with multiple parks and green space that is largely responsible for the city’s enduring charm and ongoing appeal for residents as well as visitors. Savannah is a destination that offers something for every taste and interest. It hasn’t gone un-noticed. Visitors from everywhere enjoy amenities that range from historical, to recreational, to gustatory. You will not be disappointed. Discover more.
Savannah is one jewel of a Southern city. Steeped in sweet tea and fueled by history, tradition and the waterfront, you can visit time and again and never run out of new experiences. For this road trip, we can only get you started. Once there, you’ll find your own hidden treasures and good times.
First, prepare yourself by reading several good books that will introduce you to Savannah. The first is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. Also consider The Last Original Wife, by Dorothea Benton Frank, and Southern Lights by Danielle Steel. You’ll be in the mood in no time at all.
Next, plan your visit. Any time of year works, but spring and fall are particularly pleasant. You’ll want to arrive, reservations in hand. This is one popular destination. We’ve got a few suggestions, but there are many great inns, B&Bs and hotels to be found.
The East Bay Inn is an award-winning boutique hotel located near River Street and great shopping/dining/strolling. It’s received the Trip Advisor award of excellence for the past three years and folks rave about the amenities and personal service. Traveling with Lassie? This hotel is pet friendly!
Kehoe House is another great possibility. Originally the home of a fabulously successful, self-made Irish immigrant, it’s sited on Columbia Square, in the middle of the historic district. Just about everything in this area is walkable, and for excursions farther afield, tour buses are handy.
The Eliza Thompson House is an 1847 property with an exquisite courtyard and lovely historic touches. Also a Trip Advisor triple award-winner, the boutique hotel is an easy walk from major attractions and its ambience invites peaceful retreats when it’s time to relax.
Set on vibrant River Street, Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront presents an authentic hotel with superb dining and entertainment at Rocks on the River and Rocks on the Roof, where visitors enjoy fantastic views of the Savannah River and the historic district. The rooms are beautifully appointed and original works of art are on display throughout the property.
There are others, from large, well-known hotels, to intimate inns and B&Bs. And, there are many beautiful homes and mansions that have been repurposed through the years to showcase their architectural advantages. You’ll have a wonderful time simply deciding which is right for you and your companions.
WHAT TO DO?
Strolling is practically an Olympic Sport here, and to catch the real flavor of Savannah, you’ll want to spend some time simply walking around the historic district, along River Street, through downtown parks, and down tree-shaded streets and past flower-filled yards.
We highly recommend an initial stop at one of the eight Visitor Centers. You’ll get advice, tips and directions to keep you on track.
Here are a few suggestions to put on your radar:
1. River Street. Start here for a great introduction to one of this city’s great assets (and reasons for being). The Savannah River is wide as it nears its rush into the sea. Boat traffic is as constant as the visitors who wander along the waterfront. You’ll find more than 75 boutiques, galleries studios, restaurants and watering holes.
2. City Market. These four blocks in the middle of the historic district demonstrate the character of an old Southern marketplace. Galleries, boutiques, restaurants, pubs – all the usual suspects are found here, guaranteeing good times.
3. Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. If you’ve been a scout, known a scout, or raised a scout, this beautifully preserved home is worthy of your time. As the first National Historic Landmark so designated in Savannah, it’s beautifully restored to its former glory, and is owned and operated by the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. as a memorial to their founder.
4. Readers will want to stop by Flannery O’Connor’s home, for a walk through the family’s restored depression-era house. Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was the three-time winner of the O. Henry Award and posthumous winner of the National Book Award for Fiction. She also wrote acclaimed novels and is widely admired by writers the world over.
5. The Mercer Williams House Museum was made famous by John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. (Remember, this was on your suggested reading list, and for good reason.) The house was started in 1860, but the Civil War interrupted building for the war years. Finished in 1868, it was, and is, a showplace. Most recently purchased and restored by Jim Williams, it is now open to the public. Don’t miss the Carriage House Gift Shop.
6. The Georgia State Railroad Museum is housed in the oldest, most complete antebellum railroad manufacturing and repair facility in the U.S. which is still in existence. There are permanent exhibits that will fascinate, and don’t miss the model railroad layouts. Fun!
7. National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force is full of interesting facts (we promise). You’ll leave with a much greater appreciation of this courageous group of men and women. Here’s how a Trip Advisor reviewer described it: “This very large museum … is packed with touching personal stories, personal items like those bomber jackets marked with drawings indicating individual victories and/or preferences. It offers very well detailed huge murals, a section covering Prisoners of War, the courageous Tuskegee Airmen, the Women Air Force Service pilots and a reconstructed "resistance" house used to hide military personnel from the Nazis.”
There are so many more, but this list comes highly recommended and will get you started.
NEW HOMETOWN? CHARMING.
One of the best ways to discover a city is through the eyes of folks who’ve moved there. We spoke with Kathy and Geof Silbert, who recently moved from Portland Oregon to enjoy retirement at The Landings on Skidaway Island. Near the border between South Carolina and Georgia, The Landings is perfect for this active couple and is across the river from downtown.
“We were born and raised in Chicago, but moved all over for business,” Geof Silbert explained. “When we decided to retire, we knew we wanted warmer weather, but not on the West Coast. We met our sons in Florida for a vacation, then drove up the East Coast, reserving time to return to our favorite areas. After we reached Savannah, we knew we had a winner, although we kept looking until we were sure it was right for us.” The couple wanted a bit of city life and found it here. They wanted to build new friendships and found that at The Landings.
“When we drove through the gates, I remember thinking that I hoped we would like the community, because it was so attractive,” Mrs. Silbert shared. They liked everything about the property, and bought pretty quickly. After moving in, the couple met more new friends in a few weeks than they had gotten to know in three years in Portland. They love the fact that all ages live here and there are so many recreational activities.
“Six championship golf courses, 34 tennis courts, a great fitness facility and two deep water marinas offer lots of variety,” Mr. Silbert explained. "And there are many community events to enjoy at The Landings, such as the annual Concert on the Green, LandingsFest, the annual Chili Cook-Off, the Spring & Fall Festivals, the July 4th Celebration with fireworks, as well as the prestigious golf and tennis tournaments which are held at The Landings' facilities!"
They talk about the special holiday events, the new neighbors group, the Trivia Nights and more. And when they want a bit of city life, Savannah’s got it all.
“My favorite thing is the Savannah Book festival, held each year in February,” Mrs. Silbert said. “Authors come from everywhere and they talk about their inspiration. They give presentations on the squares and it’s just a whole lot of fun.” The couple enjoys the festivals in the area celebrating food, movies and various types of music. They also take advantage of the museums, theaters and the many special events that Savannah offers such as the St. Patrick's Day Celebration, Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, and unique programs at various churches including "The Journey" which walks visitors through living vignettes that retell the story of the first Christmas.
One reason they wanted to be near a larger city was the choice of restaurants available. Their favorites include Chef Joe Randall’s Cooking School, where up to 20 people meet, learn about the night’s preparation, and enjoy a feast.
For lunch, they enjoy the Cotton Exchange, right on the river. The food is good, and watching the big ships pass by is always a marvel. Another favorite is Zunzi’s take out, 912.443.9555. The Silberts recommend the Conquistador sandwich, which they take away and enjoy at the small park nearby. (There is a second eatery, Zunzi’s 2, which has inside seating.)
For her birthday, Mrs. Silbert is going to Cohen’s Retreat, on Skidaway Road. A relatively new restaurant, the site also houses a number of small galleries by a variety of artists. “It’s so much fun,” she says.
With all kinds of pubs and bars in the area, enjoying a drink is so very easy. Take it from these insiders, and enjoy rooftop cocktails at the Top Deck above the Cotton Sail Hotel on River Street. Rocks on the Roof, above the Bohemiam Hotel Savannah Riverfront is a current favorite, although there are many options.
Our advice? Alternate between the best known establishments and cutting edge eateries. Here are the standard favorites:
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room Prepare to wait in line (no reservations) and bring cash (no credit cards). You’ll be seated at tables for ten, where you’ll enjoy an ever-changing menu that may include platters of fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits.
The Lady & Sons Restaurant Unless you’ve been living a hermit’s existence, you know all about Paula Deen’s meteoric rise to stardom and recent challenges. Today, her newest venture, The Paula Deen Network is introducing more foodies to her enthusiastic spirit and Southern cooking. Plan on enjoying great Southern food, infused with Paula’s inimitable flair for food and life.
Elizabeth on Thirty-Seventh Street Guests are offered a seasonal menu and nightly specials at this lovely home. Each dinner is complete with appropriate sides and vegetables. Their salad with house-grown herbs is served beforehand.
The Olde Pink House Adjacent to The Planters Inn, The Olde Pink House is one of Savannah’s most popular restaurants, offering new southern cuisine in a sophisticated, yet casual setting – Savannah’s only 18th Century Mansion. Try the lump crab fritters with spicy peach remoulade.
Leopold’s Ice Cream is a Savannah institution and it’s been that way for 95 years. Try the lemon custard, or huckleberry cheesecake if it’s in season. Delicious!
Don’t be afraid to branch out.
Ele FINE Fusion Trip Advisor reviewers love this cuisine, whether it’s fine Kobe steak or sushi. We suggest the Crispy Duck, served with organic vegetables on a sizzling skillet and your choice of red curry or basil sauce.
Joe’s Homemade Café, Catering & Bakery is a salad/sandwich kind of eatery with an emphasis on fresh. Currently #1 on Trip Advisor, the reviews wax eloquent, especially in favor of their chicken salad on croissants. A bit hard to find and small, but as one reviewer said, “oh-so-worth-it.” Goosefeathers Cafewas featured in the “South’s Best Bread Pudding” article by Taste of the Southmagazine. The café offers salads, sandwiches, soups and some mighty fine breakfast yummies.
A.lure With a contemporary approach to Lowcountry seafood and traditional Southern home cooking, this downtown restaurant is creating quite a buzz among Savannah foodies. Try their housemade potato chips with blue cheese fondue and red pepper and scallion confetti.
You’re close to the Atlantic Ocean and for great swimming, sunbathing and shore walking, consider Tybee Island (also known as Savannah Beach). It’s just 18 miles from downtown, and has its own favorite restaurants, pubs and shopping.
Mrs. Silbert recommends the Antique Mall on Victory Drive. It’s not your ordinary flea market, she hastens to explain, but rather an old home filled with artists and vendors.
Shop SCAD offers goods from students and professors at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Also known as the college for creative careers, their gift shop provides great gift items at reasonable prices.
Choose from several great tour companies, including Old Savannah Tourswhere the talented professionals entertain while they educate.
For those who love the stories found in old cemeteries, Savannah has a number of them, including Bonaventure Cemetery. Many offer tours and all of them provide fascinating details about Savannah’s past.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
The Silberts and many others from all regions of the U.S. and beyond have discovered that Savannah has the perfect blend of hospitality, quirkiness, history and entertainment to make living here an ongoing delight. Visit once, and you may find yourself dreaming about seafood, sweet tea, big boats and balmy days.