WHAT TO DO
Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia, located along the Savannah River. Founded on February 12, 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, it became the British colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Savannah was a strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the American Civil War - it was one of the Confederacy's most populous cities and the prime objective of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864. The Savannah Historic District was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1966 and is one of the largest urban, community wide historic preservation districts in the United States. Today, with its antebellum mansions, parklike squares, massive oak trees covered with Spanish moss, spooky cemeteries, superb cuisine, excellent museums and Southern hospitality, Savannah is a traveler's dream.
Begin your adventure in the Historic District at the Telfair Academy, located at 121 Barnard Street on Telfair Square. Considered Savannah's top art museum, the historic Telfair family mansion is filled with 19th century American art and a touch of European pieces. It is also home to the city's iconic Bird Girl statue, which achieved fame when it was featured on the cover of the non fiction novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - a story set in Savannah (more on this to come). Originally placed in Bonaventure Cemetery, the Bird Girl was moved to Telfair Academy for safekeeping. In front of the beautiful building are statues of Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael and Michelangelo. Note: the museum is open daily from 10a-5p. Around the corner at 207 W York Street is the Jepson Center. This modern building, designed by Moshe Safdie, opened in 2006. It is filled with contemporary art, activities and educational opportunities. Be on the lookout for wandering scads of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students and temporary exhibitions covering topics from race to art in virtual reality video games. Note: the museum is open daily from 10a-5p.
From there, head to the First African Baptist Church at 23 Montgomery Street on Franklin Square. Considered the oldest African American church in the country, this National Historic Landmark played a pivotal role on the Underground Railroad. Note: tours are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 3p, where you can see the holes in the floorboards that enabled slaves to breathe. Nearby at 41 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard is the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. If you're into boats or naval history, this little museum will hold a lot of interest. Situated in an old mansion (Scarbrough House), there are several floors of maritime paintings, artifacts and, most impressive, a large collection of ships painstakingly reproduced in miniature models - several feet long. Note: the museum is open from 10a-5p and is closed on Monday. Not far away at 601 Turner Boulevard is the SCAD Museum of Art. Architecturally striking, this brick, steel, concrete and glass longhouse delivers your contemporary art fix. There are groovy, creative sitting areas inside and out, and a number of rotating and visiting exhibitions that showcase some of the most impressive talents within the contemporary art world.
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist is located at 222 E Harris Street on Lafayette Square. Completed in 1896 but destroyed by fire two years later, this impressive basilica, reopened in 1912, features stunning stained glass transept windows from Austria depicting Christ's ascension into heaven, as well as ornate Stations of the Cross woodcarvings from Germany. On the other side of the square at 329 Abercorn Street is the Andrew Low House Museum. An 1849 mansion built for cotton merchant Andrew Low, this home features beautifully preserved interiors with period antiques. Note: tours are offered daily from 10a-4p. Close by at 429 Bull Street on Monterey Square is the Mercer-Williams House Museum. This is one of the city's most visited homes. Although Jim Williams, the Savannah antiques dealer portrayed by Kevin Spacey in the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, died back in 1990, his infamous mansion did not become a museum until 2004. Note: tours are offered daily from 10a-4p.
A short distance away, the 30 acre Forsyth Park, Savannah's largest, was named after Georgia’s 33rd governor John Forsyth and is home to the most famous fountain in the city. Inspired by the Parisian Place de la Concorde, the Forsyth Fountain was installed in 1858 and today it’s the focal point of every picture perfect image. On St Patrick’s Day, the water is ceremoniously dyed green in celebration of the city's Irish heritage. Besides this prominent landmark, the park also hosts live music events and a weekly Farmers Market. The Forsyth Park Fragrant Garden, created in 1959, is a sensory experience for the visually impaired. You will find quite a few monuments for fallen soldiers - the most well known of which is called The Hiker. Officially named The Georgia Volunteer, it was dedicated in 1931 to Georgia volunteers who fought in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Another widely known monument in the park, the Marine Monument, honors local Marines who died in the Second World War. It was established in 1947 and has been updated to commemorate all fallen Marines.
There are 3 more historic homes in town that are worth a visit. The Sorrel-Weed House Museum is located at 6 W Harris Street on Madison Square. It represents one of the finest examples of Greek Revival and English Regency architecture in Savannah and was one of the first two homes in Georgia to be designated a historic landmark in 1954. This spooky house has a reputation for being one of the most haunted buildings in town. Note: tours are offered daily from 10a-4p and nightly for paranormal investigations. The Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters Museum can be found at 124 Abercorn Street on Oglethorpe Square. Completed in 1819 by British architect William Jay, this gorgeous mansion exemplifies English Regency architecture, known for its symmetry. The home, along with its adjacent gardens, carriage house and slave quarters, allows visitors to explore the complicated relationships between the most and least powerful people in the city of Savannah in the early 19th century. Note: tours are offered daily from 10a-5p. The Davenport House Museum is up the road at 324 E State Street on Columbia Square. Built in 1820, this lovely Federal style home was the house that launched the city's historic preservation movement in the 1950s. Note: tours are offered daily from 10a-4p.
Next, venture outside the Historic District to the must visit Bonaventure Cemetery. Located at 330 Bonaventure Road (a ten minute drive east of town), you will find one of the most peaceful, quiet, green escapes tucked away next to the Wilmington River. No visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll through this serene and beautiful outdoor setting - full of larger than life oak trees decked out in Spanish moss. What started as a colonial plantation owned by English Colonel John Mullryne is now a public cemetery. In 1846, Bonaventure was opened as Evergreen Cemetery on 70 acres of the original Bonaventure Plantation, at a time when the city’s other cemeteries were quickly filling up. Designed as a traditional Victorian cemetery, Evergreen was bought by the City of Savannah in the early 1900s, expanded on, and later renamed. When it comes to famous tombs, there are a few scattered throughout Bonaventure. Namely, Johnny Mercer - a lyricist known for the song Moon River and a cofounder of Capitol Records. Although he died in Hollywood, Mercer was born in Savannah and so he was buried at Bonaventure in 1976. The cemetery was also featured in John Berendt’s famed 1994 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and then again in the namesake film directed by Clint Eastwood. Note: the cemetery gates are open daily from 8a-5p.
A short drive from Bonaventure, on the beautiful Isle of Hope, is one of the most photographed places in town - Wormsloe Historic Site. As soon as you enter (7601 Skidaway Road), you see a corridor of mossy, ancient oaks that runs for over a mile, known as the Avenue of the Oaks. From Wormsloe, drive east until you reach Fort Pulaski National Monument. Located on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, Fort Pulaski was constructed after President James Madison ordered coastal fortifications following the War of 1812. For history buffs, it's worth a stop on the way to Tybee. From there, make your way to the Tybee Island Light Station & Museum at 30 Meddin Drive on Tybee Island. Take a self guided tour of Tybee's iconic lighthouse and see panoramic views of the island from its observation deck. Tickets include admission to the nearby cottage and museum. Note: the light station is Georgia's oldest (originally constructed in 1736) and tallest (145 feet) lighthouse.
Conclude your tour of Savannah back in the Historic District. Take a stroll along River Street, the city's cobblestone riverfront. Seek out The Waving Girl statue at the east end of the street. Greeting every ship that comes into port is this monument saluting Florence Martus, the waving girl. Between 1887 and 1931, she took it upon herself to be the greeter of all the ships in the harbor, waving them down with a handkerchief or lantern. The squares and parks of Savannah are the community's most beloved icons. Originally designed with 24 squares, 22 remain today to be enjoyed by the millions who grace their grassy utopias every year. I previously mentioned several of the city's historic squares and would like to add a few more of my favorites. Do not miss Johnson Square, Reynolds Square, Greene Square, Orleans Square and Chippewa Square - this is where Forrest Gump's bench was placed during the filming of the movie by the same name. Also, be sure to walk on Jones Street, located deep within the heart of the Historic District, just a few blocks north of Forsyth Park. It is probably the prettiest street in town.
For shopping, head to City Market - a four block open air market doing business since the 1700s with shops, restaurants and galleries in restored warehouses. Nearby at 36 W Broughton Street is the charming Paris Market. This whimsical boutique shop and European style cafe offers a mix of old and new treasures from around the world. A few doors up the street at 104 W Broughton Street is Savannah Bee Company. It features local and international award winning specialty honey, along with nourishing all natural self care products. My favorite shop for sweets is Chocolat by Adam Turoni, located at 236 Bull Street. This artisan chocolatier displays handcrafted confections as beautiful as they are delicious, presented in a library setting. Up the road at 326 Bull Street is E Shaver Bookseller. This much loved landmark bookstore offers seven cozy rooms of fiction and non fiction. It specializes in topics including history, architecture, travel, decorating, arts, cooking and gardening. Alex Raskin Antiques can be found at 441 Bull Street. Set in a sprawling four story mansion, 'Savannah's most interesting shop' overflows with furniture, art, antiques and books.
WHERE TO EAT
Savannah has several great places to eat and enjoy a drink or two. Start your day at The Collins Quarter, located at 151 Bull Street in the Historic District. This wildly popular newcomer opened its doors in 2014 with a focus on coffee and food pairings. With exposed brick and posh leather banquets, this Aussie styled eatery focuses on favorites like the smashed peas, buttermilk biscuits and shashouka style grits. Note: there is a second location at 621 Drayton Street in Forsyth Park. Another solid spot is the Little Duck Diner, found at 150 W Saint Julian Street. Classic diner fare gets reimagined in this art deco inspired space. My favorite feature is its dedicated gourmet grilled cheese menu, where you can scale up the classic variety with gruyere and havarti cheeses, or go all out with indulgent ingredients such as duck or smoked salmon - plus a bowl of tomato soup. Mirabelle is located at 313 Abercorn Street. Housed in a vintage 1800's era building, across from the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, this lovely cafe is known for its superb waffles, pastries and specialty coffee drinks. Big Bon Bodega is at 2011 Bull Street. This corner shop is celebrated for its bagels which are hand rolled, boiled and wood fired. Daily specials and regular bagel options like The 912 (Savannah's area code) containing bacon, fried egg, cheddar and herb butter belong with a morning coffee. Note: bagels are available from 8a-1p, Wednesday through Saturday.
The Wyld can be found at 2740 Livingston Avenue, a few miles south of the Historic District. Hidden along an estuary of the Savannah marshlands, this laid back local favorite features a seasonal New American menu with a heavy seafood emphasis. It's also an ace spot to catch live music, chill in a hammock or drop a fishing line off the dock. Note: the restaurant opens at 12p and is closed on Monday. Sisters of the New South is at 2605 Skidaway Road. This casual cafe beloved of locals serves up Southern soul food favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Do try the pork chops smothered in gravy with green beans, okra and mashed potatoes. Be sure to save room for the heavenly red velvet cake, covered with cream cheese icing and topped with pecans. Note: the restaurant is open daily starting at 11a. If you are in the mood for oysters, head to Sorry Charlie's at 116 W Congress Street, close to City Market. Housed in one of the oldest commercial buildings in Georgia, overlooking Ellis Square, this place does the freshest oysters - served raw on the half shell or roasted. Note: oysters are $1 during happy hour, Monday through Friday from 4p-6p. Nearby at 26 E Bay Street, between city hall and the old cotton exchange building, is Vic's on the River. Overlooking the Savannah River and historic River Street, this spot in a 19th century warehouse features classic Southern cooking. I enjoyed the creamy crab soup along with the shrimp and smoked cheddar grits. Note: the restaurant is open daily starting at 11a.
Treylor Park is located at 115 E Bay Street. The food here is Southern classics simply done well: fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit with country sausage gravy and collard greens or pecan butter and peach jelly fried chicken wings. Take your pick and wash it down with an excellent cocktail in the warmly lit courtyard. The Recliner (sweet tea bourbon, sweet tea, muddled raspberries and lemon) was so choice. Note: the restaurant is open daily starting at 11a. One place in town that is not to be missed is Mrs Wilkes Dining Room. Found at 107 W Jones Street, it is a Savannah institution. Opened in 1946, this first come, first served Southern comfort food restaurant embraces the idea that no one will leave hungry. Once the lunch bell rings and you are seated family style, the kitchen unloads on you: fried chicken, beef stew, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, sweet potato souffle, collard greens, black eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits - all chased with sweet tea. Note: the restaurant is cash only and it opens at 11a, Monday through Friday. Be sure to get in line early. If you are not in a food coma, head to Leopold's Ice Cream at 212 E Broughton Street. This classic American ice cream parlor has been scooping up its yummy stuff since 1919. Tutti Frutti was invented here, but I fancy coconut, coffee chocolate chip and lemon custard. Note: the shop is open daily starting at 11a. The line is usually always long.
For dinner, make your way to Local 11ten at 1110 Bull Street. Upscale, sustainable, local and fresh: these elements help create an elegant, well run restaurant that is one of Savannah's best. Start with a blue crab souffle, then move on to the seared sea scallops in chive lemon beurre blanc or the honey and brown sugar rubbed pork chop and a salted caramel pot de creme to finish. After dinner, head up to the rooftop bar for a digestif among the oak trees. Note: the restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5p and reservations are recommended. Husk can be found at 12 W Oglethorpe Avenue. Known as one of the most haunted buildings in Savannah, this restaurant and bar has two types of spirits. Recognized for its bourbon focused bar menu, it also has an extensive wine list, raw seafood bar and local rotating menu focused on agriculturally driven Southern food like the Grassroots pork, paired with seasonal ingredients such as Bradford corn and summer vegetables. Great food, excellent service and ghosts - a true Savannah combo. The Olde Pink House is at 23 Abercorn Street. Set in a landmark building from 1771, it is classic Southern fare done upscale in one of the city's consistently great restaurants. Dine in the digs upstairs or go underground to the fabulous tavern where the piano player rumbles and the room is nice and cozy. Note: the restaurant is a tourist favorite so be sure to book in advance.
Cotton & Rye is located at 1801 Habersham Street. Taking a modern twist on both the decor and Southern food, this rock and roll spot rotates menu items and nightly specials for starters, main courses and desserts. It focuses on traditional favorites like fried chicken thighs, but also throws in unique options such as beef tenderloin tagliatelle. Desserts are just as popular and ordering the sweet stuff before dinner is encouraged - do try the peanut butter pie. Note: the restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday starting at 5p. The Grey can be found at 109 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. With James Beard Award winning chef Mashama Bailey at the helm, this hip joint continues to be in high demand by both locals and tourists alike. Go with the tremendous multi course chef's tasting menu that changes often based on local seasonality of the Savannah region. If unable to obtain a reservation or unwilling to sit down for a longer meal, the Diner Bar offers small plates to be enjoyed in the renovated retro Greyhound bus terminal. Side note - The Grey Market, a secondary concept from owner John O Morisano, sits around the corner (109 Jefferson Street) ready to serve double burgers and drinks during the lunch hour if day drinking is your thing. Note: the restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday starting at 5p and reservations are vital. Found at 122 E 37th Street is the newly opened Common Thread. Housed within a beautiful Victorian home, this long awaited culinary haven brings exemplary farm focused food to Savannah's growing epicurean array. Chefs Brandon Carter and John Benhase together create extraordinary and locally sourced dishes with worldly flair. The menu changes as the seasons and availability of ingredients change. I enjoyed the oysters number two with apple, sake and szechuan peppercorn, the crispy eggplant with tahini, spiced honey and banana peppers, and the shawarma chicken with farro, sea island red peas and tiger salad. I washed it all down with a number of Starter Pistols (bourbon, raspberry, pomegranate, grapefruit and lemon). Note: the restaurant is open daily starting at 5p and reservations are essential.
End your evening in Savannah with a drink or two. Six Pence Pub can be found at 245 Bull Street in the heart of the Historic District. This classic public house has more than twenty craft and local beers on tap. Note: Savannah puts on the second largest St Patrick’s Day parade in the United States - behind only New York City. Abe's on Lincoln is at 17 Lincoln Street. Throw back a beer or ten with SCAD students and locals at this dark, dank, all wood bar. It attracts an eclectic crowd that stares through boozy goggles at whatever weird behavior the bartenders are inevitably tolerating that night. Note: the bar is open from 4p-3a and is closed on Sunday. Another awesome dive is The Original Pinkie Masters, located at 318 Drayton Street. Cheap, cash only drinks and great people watching make this hometown hole in the wall the best in town. You can't go wrong with several cans of PBR and some stories with the locals. Note: Savannah has an open container policy meaning patrons 21 years of age and older can carry one alcoholic beverage as long as those concoctions are held in a transparent plastic, 16 ounce cup and must remain in the parameters of the Historic District. For some serious cocktails, head to the Alley Cat at 207 W Broughton Street - entrance in alley. This lively basement lounge serves over 150 classic and original cocktails made from fresh ingredients, house infusions and over 500 spirits. I went with the Mexican Firing Squad (blanco tequila, chile,
pomegranate, lime and bitters) and La Noche Loca (blanco tequila, mango,
mint, lime and sparkling wine). Note: the bar is open from 5p-2a and is closed on Sunday. Finish up at my favorite place in town. Artillery is at 307 Bull Street in the Historic District. This sophisticated speakeasy in a restored armory does imaginative cocktails and has an extensive bourbon list. Talented mixologists craft novel, quality cocktails in this opulent space where elements of 19th century eclecticism and romanticism meld with modern design touches. Might I suggest The Doc (high west double rye, china china, scrappy’s aromatic bitters, spearmint and smoked pipe tobacco). Note: the bar is open Wednesday through Saturday starting at 4p. Conclude your festivities by joining a nighttime ghost tour. As one of the nation's most haunted cities, there are plenty of tales of tortured spirits and ghostly sightings, and along the way you may be visited by some of Savannah's more notable ghosts.
WHERE TO STAY
Savannah offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is Perry Lane Hotel, located at 256 E Perry Street. Situated in the Historic District, this upscale hotel is a short walk from the Cathedral of St John the Baptist and Andrew Low House Museum. The art filled, vintage chic rooms come with free WiFi, flat screen TVs and minibars. Upgraded quarters add sofa beds and separate living rooms. Amenities include a contemporary restaurant, a stylish bar, and a rooftop pool and bar - as well as elegant guest lounges and a hotel car at your service.
A second option is the Mansion on Forsyth Park, located at 700 Drayton Street. Set in a Victorian Romanesque mansion overlooking Forsyth Park, this opulent hotel is close to the Forsyth Fountain and Mercer-Williams House Museum. The plush rooms feature minibars, flat screen TVs and complimentary WiFi. Upgrades add soaking tubs and additional sitting areas. Other perks include a restaurant and lounge, a spa, an art gallery and a cooking school.
Savannah is full of spectacular architecture, charming squares, excellent museums and superb cuisine. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.