A getaway to Savannah, Georgia, just might be what the mind, heart and soul need
Savannah is the South’s sweetheart—from her cobblestone streets underfoot to her thin veils of Spanish moss draped on the live oaks from above. She’s been sweeping folks off their feet since 1733, when General James Oglethorpe and his 120 passengers aboard the “Anne” first anchored along the Savannah River.
Savannah’s history is rich, buried in stories told in any of the many tours available in the city. But the Readers Digest version is that, after Oglethorpe named the 13th and final colony Georgia in tribute of King George II of England, Savannah became the colony’s first city. As America’s first planned city, Savannah was designed to be pedestrian-friendly, laid out in grids with wide streets blended with public squares and parks; 22 of the 24 original squares still exist today.
During the Civil War, Savannah was one of the only towns left standing in wake of Sherman’s “March to the Sea,” and was given as a Christmas present to Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
Today, Savannah is a charming city that combines history, art, architecture, dining, boutiques and more. There’s truly something here for everyone. Here are a few suggestions on where to go and what to see if you choose to get away.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
As you can imagine, historic Savannah has a host of museums to explore. And the Coastal Heritage Society (chsgeorgia.org) offers a handful in the area: We’ve toured through the Savannah History Museum, located in Tricentennial Park, inside what was formerly the historic Central of Georgia Railroad’s passenger station. There are a ton of exhibits on display, highlighting Savannah’s history starting in 1733—even including the famous bench from Forrest Gump, which was filmed in Savannah in 1994.
The kids will get a kick out of being recruited to march and re-enact the second bloodiest battle of the American Revolution (800 troops died or were wounded), sans any violence, of course, on the grounds of Battlefield Memorial Park. (303 MLK Jr. Blvd.) They’ll also love the Savannah Children’s Museum, an outdoor play area laid out on the lower level and upper courtyard of the old Central of Georgia Railway Carpentry Shop. Open since 2012, the museum features more than a dozen exhibits, slides, an exploration maze, a reading nook and a sensory garden. Hop next door to the Georgia State Railroad Museum, site of the most complete antebellum railroad in the world. Take in all of the historic railcars and the fully operational turntable. (Both at 655 Louisville Road.)
And venture outside the city to visit Old Fort Jackson, a 207-year-old landmark and Georgia’s oldest standing brick fort. Wind through the buildings and witness cannon demos. Although closed at press time due to COVID, check back for potential reopening updates. (1 Fort Jackson Road.)
This beautiful 30-acre park is a must-see stop in Savannah. Named after Georgia’s 33rd governor, Forsyth Park features its showpiece fountain, built in 1858 to replicate the fountains of Paris, on the northern end.
There’s a lot of ground to cover here; bring a book and a blanket to relax on the sprawling green lawn, fly a kite or have the kids bring a soccer ball. The park also has a cafe for lunch and coffee, a juice bar, playgrounds, basketball courts, tennis courts and more. Stroll along the park’s paths and you’ll probably also come across local artists and musicians. (The center of Drayton, Gaston and Whitaker streets, and Park Ave.)
Tours go with Savannah like sweet goes with tea. Choose from walking history tours, foodie tours, haunted tours, tours by carriage, by trolley, bus or open-air hearse. We hopped on a haunted pub crawl, which began at the Savannah Taphouse and continued with more rounds of yummy spirits and a taste of Savannah’s historic, haunted stories in pubs, buildings and parks. I was spooked by the ghostly results of a photo I took in a tree that was the site of a past hanging. Choose from happy hour or night ghost tours. (nightlyspirits.com)
Savannah’s River Street
Be sure to carve out a few hours to walk on the cobblestones of River Street that overlooks the majestic Savannah River. Souvenir shops, antique boutiques, art galleries, brew pubs, bars and restaurants line the street that was once home to cotton warehouses. Take a break and sit on one of the benches to watch the ships come in—pleasant, everyday traffic on the river. This time of year, it’s a tried-and-true tradition to flood Savannah’s River Street for St. Patrick’s Day. Due to potential COVID-19 restrictions for 2021, visit this link for updates: savannah.com/st-patricks-day-events-savannah/.
WHERE TO EAT
There are hundreds of eateries to choose from in this city. Here are a few out of the many I recommend.
The Pirates’ House
This charming restaurant—once an inn for visiting sailors and raucous pirates—is located a block from the Savannah River. The building was salvaged from demolition in 1945 and has since become a beloved, family-friendly restaurant to dine and gather. Expect a bounty of seafood dishes, their award-winning honey pecan fried chicken, and Southern specialties. The kids will like wearing the free paper pirate hats. (20 E. Broad St., thepirateshouse.com)
The Olde Pink House
You can’t miss the landmark Olde Pink House facing Reynolds Square. The lovely Colonial mansion, once the Habersham House, is a sight to behold in Jamaican pink plaster. Inside, the dining rooms ooze elegance; downstairs, the cellar tavern gives speakeasy vibes, complete with nightly live piano accompaniment. Don’t worry, you can still show up in jeans and flip flops. The Pink House’s menu offers phenomenal Southern cuisine for lunch and dinner and shakes up a mean Pink Lady cocktail (fresh-squeezed lemonade and raspberry vodka). (23 Abercorn St., theoldepinkhouserestaurant.com)
Crystal Beer Parlor
Established in 1933 during the Great Depression, Crystal Beer Parlor claims the rights as Savannah’s oldest restaurant. Enter from West Jones St. and take a seat at the beautiful, old bar; diners enter from the back in a nearly secret entrance and sit at any of the leather booths. You’ll enjoy the experience in this historic building converted from a grocery store and its walls covered with photos from Savannah’s history. Must-orders are Crystal’s classic crab stew that’s thick and creamy, the classic Crystal burger, and, for dessert, a homemade Savannah Mudd Pie. (301 West Jones St., crystalbeerparlor.com)
Little Duck Diner
Tucked into a corner of Savannah’s City Square (another hub for galleries, boutiques and nightlife), Little Duck Diner is designed with a take on the “vintage chic diner,” reminiscent of the dining cars of the 1920s and ’30s. The retro decor is complete with vintage black-and-white floor tile, subway tile and bar stools at the kitchen counter. Little Duck’s offers a wide assortment of creative plates in all cuisines, such as breakfast classics all day, burgers and sandwiches, Asian bowls, a variety of to-die-for grilled cheese combinations (add a cup of their Summer Thai Tomato Soup), tacos, milkshakes and a full bar. (150 W. Saint Julian St., littleduckdiner.com)
The new Top Deck venue above the Cotton Sail Hotel offers breathtaking views of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge that crosses the Savannah River. Choose to sit at the open-air wrap-around bar or sit in any of the rocking chairs or couches placed amidst a pretty garden setting on the roof patio. Craft cocktails mix and mingle with small plates and charcuterie boards. (125 W. River St., topdeckbar.com)
WHERE TO STAY
Savannah is stocked with a plethora of hotels, inns and B&Bs ready to serve up some Southern hospitality; these are a few hotels I’ve checked into on past visits with rave reviews.
This exquisite boutique hotel in the Savannah Historic District, right next door to the City Market, is the perfect fusion of both old and new. Known as the “Grand Lady on the Bay,” the hotel was once the dry goods storage house and shop for 19th century merchant Simon Guckenheimer and now boasts sweeping rooms decked in modern, mid-century style. Service is impeccable. (201 W. Bay St., ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/us/en/savannah/savid/hoteldetail)
This is yet another great option to book in the Savannah Historic District. Extra room bonuses are fridges, desks and separate sitting areas. After a long day of fun, relax in the hotel’s indoor pool. (630 W. Bay St., guestreservations.com/comfort-suites-historic-district/booking)
Holiday Inn Savannah Historic District
The location is perfect, and the rooms are picture-perfect, with family-friendly size and design. You’ll also love soaking up the sun on the hotel’s rooftop pool. (520 W. Bryan St., ihg.com/holidayinn/hotels/us/en/savannah)
Photographs courtesy of Sean Pavone; Casey Jones for Visit Savannah; savannah.gov & The Pirates' House Group Sale Department