Savannah is such a best-kept secret that it took me until my mid-20s to discover it. And OK, while it’s not exactly secret, it is a beloved gem among Southerners that those hailing from other regions around the United States don’t often think to explore, many making their maiden voyage to the South centered around bigger cities like Nashville, New Orleans, Charleston and even Atlanta.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you should rethink that plan. Because Savannah is my favorite city in the South—if not, the entire country—and should be the first stop you make on any Southern road trip (particularly as so much of the region’s history is steeped in the weeping oaks of this romantic Georgia city).
It also tends to be one of those places that once you discover, there’s no going back. BAM! Suddenly, you’re in a long-term relationship that will likely span a lifetime, and you didn’t even realize it was happening.
“Loved Savannah! Probably a hair more than Charleston even,” came a text from Seattle friends recently as they arrived in the Southern city for the first time. “So friendly! Great food! It’s all so manageable on foot. And there’s a bit of a gritty edge that keeps it interesting. Why didn’t we visit here before now?”
My thoughts exactly, boys.
SVV’s aunt, a Californian born and raised, inquired about Savannah’s appeal recently, as well, after my Facebook post soliciting recommendations returned more than 50 overly excited responses.
“So from a Westerner, why is Savannah attracting such warm reactions?” she posed.
Well, Aunt Kathy, pull up a chair and stay awhile. Once you see what all Savannah has to offer, you’ll be on the next flight out…
Savannah is lively any day of the week, but going into the weekend, the energy is palpable. Once you arrive, you’ll want to drop your bags at the hotel before you hit the town by foot. It’s not uncommon that you’ll leave your car parked in the garage for a full day (maybe even longer), no need to move it as Savannah is just so darn walkable (and you’ll want to stop every 10 feet for photos anyway).
You’ve got two options by way of lodging: one, the more hotel/inn route, as we opted for this time. We stayed in the Marshall House, which has a lot going for it. Housed in an 1851 building, it’s got all the old World charm you come to expect out of Savannah and it occupies a prime location right on Broughton Street, meaning you’re within walking distance to all the shops and many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants.
Staying at the Marshall House comes with a lot of perks, like the daily complimentary wine hour and history talks, but I adored it for its hospitable staff and sheer convenience.
But Savannah’s also known for its adorably charming B&Bs, and if that’s your preference, you’ll want to track down Teresa Jacobson and force her to rent you one of her rooms at Azalea Inn. It’s where I stayed on my first overnight visit to Savannah, and it’s still one of the best B&B experiences I’ve had ever, anywhere, period.
Furthermore, Teresa has expanded the B&B in recent years to include a total of 13 luxury rooms, suites and villas. You can’t go wrong with any of them! And while the Forsyth Park area in which the B&B is located is another great base for exploring Savannah, you’ll likely want to carve out some time to have a glass of sherry with Teresa in the living room and learn all about the area, the inn and the history.
No matter where you stay, though, the Artillery is the perfect first evening stop to make to acquaint yourself with the city’s cocktail movement and classic southern tradition. Punch in a pineapple goblet? Why not! You’ll need days to sip your way through the tome of the menu at this 19th century-inspired, military-themed bar, but you should give it your best shot nevertheless.
We were told in advance that nice clothing (no flip-flops!) was required, so I expected the bar to err on the snobby side, but not at all—we couldn’t have had a more pleasant experience with attentive servers who really know their stuff.
The problem with dining out in Savannah is that there are just too many restaurants to try—ones we wanted to make it to this visit but didn’t get to include Atlantic, Green Truck Pub and Circa 1875—but alas, we had to be choosy with just three dinners on the docket. Fellow foodies friends had all told us to make one a priority, so we did just that: Cotton & Rye.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations online, but we arrived and found a table right away and were instantly wowed by the level of service we received and the sleek interior of this remodeled, mid-century modern bank. The menu left us delirious with options but SVV opted for the market fish, which was a black cod affair on top of fresh ingredients that only made him look once at my house-ground cheeseburger and fries (we share .. usually).
I had to keep batting his hand away from my plate as he nibbled away at it but the real battle came when the server brought out the house-made candy bars, which was like a super-sized Twix but actually good and dusted with gold. OMG. That is all.
On Friday, we got up early to knock out some work, then grabbed coffee and a pastry to go from the Coffee Fox (their iced horchata latte is the stuff of dreams). Today, we were checking out Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), which has some 40 buildings scattered around town.
I’d been in shopSCAD before but never inside any of the academic buildings. In need of a bathroom break, I wandered into the admissions building, then stayed awhile. Can you believe this art? It’s open to the public, so anyone can mosey on in and take a look.
Though we were right next to Gryphon House—I’m forever temped by the offer of afternoon tea—we’d heard the brunch at The Collins Quarter is out of this world, and no fewer than 10 people told me to order the spiced lavender mocha. They weren’t wrong. I’ll have dreams about this drink (and that French toast) for years to come.
The design of this three-year-old restaurant combined all my interests: natural light, white subway tile and a bold color palette. I also loved that there was a walk-up take-out window for those who don’t have time to wait.
We devoted the rest of the afternoon to shopping along Broughton Street and wandering aimlessly among Bay and River. Pre-dinner drinks that night were at Savannah Cocktail Co., which is a two-year-old spot above CO (the entrance to the bar is up a side staircase).
Like everywhere else in Savannah, the historical integrity of this building had been maintained, and the owners sought to infuse the space with equal parts whiskey, speakeasy vibe and Art Deco character.
That night, we walked to dinner at The Grey, which has garnered all sorts of national acclaim in the three years since I’ve been back to Savannah (it opened in 2015). If you know anything about SVV and me, you’ll know we’re lovers of Art Deco, so the Grey appealed to both our taste buds and our design preferences. Located in the former Greyhound station (hence the name), the Grey has been custom-designed to reflect that era and the building the restaurant inhabits.
The food is contemporary American, and while the menu changes frequently, the server told us the Yardbird is “as close to a signature dish as we have,” so we couldn’t help but order that and the filet with a strawberry hand pie as the cherry on top.
Late night, if after the Grey you still have energy to expend, you can head on over to Rocks on the Roof in the Bohemian Hotel for live music. This was a popular activity among the bachelorettes I took to Savannah several years ago and—bonus: You’ll get some nice nighttime views of the river.
Up and at ’em! If you’re staying at the Marshall House, there’s the option to eat breakfast there for an added cost. We didn’t do this on this occasion, though, as my dining list for Savannah was a mile long—and I only had three days. Eat, eat and eat some more (as we do)!
So down the street to Goose Feathers Café we went, where we loaded up on bagels, pastries and coffee to get us through our morning walk.
Our day officially started with Jonathan Stalcup, SCAD grad who has been giving architectural tours of Savannah since 2004. We have a lot more to say about this awesome activity, so I’ll save that for its own dedicated post, but our guided walk ran from 10 to nearly noon and covered 300 years worth of Savannah history, as well as a handful of the city’s 24 squares. Jonathan’s tours run most days of the week at 10am for just $30 a person.
Jazzed about all we learned, we continued our stroll south to Forsyth Park, which is one of my favorite shady spots in town. I also had an ulterior motive: to break for a little AcroYoga play!
A couple flows and some static poses later, we were both starving, and we’d passed a very interesting looking spot the previous day that intrigued us. Have you ever heard of Twelve Tribes? This was completely new to me, but it’s a religious movement started just down the road from my home, actually, in Chattanooga. The local chapter has a cafe, Mate Factor, that looked a bit granola on the outside, but on the inside was full of delicious and healthy food. This might have been the most pleasantly surprised I’ve been by a lunch in a long time!
You know us, though, we’re always on the lookout for an afternoon beer, particularly after we’ve been fed. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back up to either Service Brewing or the beer garden at Moon River Brewing Company (next visit!), but we did find Crystal Beer Parlor, nabbed a couple of bar stools and sampled some brews from the region.
Savannah, again with its walkability and after two beers each, we didn’t even need to call a Lyft as we just strolled the 20 minutes back to our hotel, soaking up the diverse brownstone style architecture and gorgeous little gardens along the way. Of course, if you didn’t feel like walking, you could always hop one of the dozens of trolleys that are always rattling through the streets.
Once we got to Broughton Street, I was hungry again (always) and saw that Leopold’s marquee sign beckoning. You guys, I consider myself an ice cream connoisseur, and Leopold’s is some of the best I’ve ever encountered.
While I didn’t get to mingle with Hollywood legend Stratton Leopold on this visit, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him in the past, and I was thrilled to find that we’d shown up on the last day the ice creamery was selling their drool-worthy Thin Mint ice cream! (Girls Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low hailed from Savannah, in case you didn’t know.)
On night three, we stuck close to home for dinner and went back to an oldie, but goodie: the Olde Pink House. For those who want that very Savannah experience, you’ll get it here. The menu doesn’t often change, though, for those who have been here before, but you’ll find all the token Southern dishes—from shrimp and grits to fried green tomatoes, to blue crab beignets and fried chicken.
Before you say good-night to Savannah for the evening, you must stop into AlleyCat Lounge, which our traveling friends have described as “having the best cocktails, ever, of anywhere.” High endorsement right there (and something we unfortunately weren’t told until after we were gone…again, next time!).
Today is your beach day, so rise early and head west. En route, you can stop by the Moon River District south of downtown—which includes Wormsloe State Historic Site, Bethesda Academy and Pin Point—to take advantage of that early morning light before it’s directly overhead.
Then, you’re making your way to Isle of Hope as we did, with our local pal Susan as our guide. She took us to brunch at the Wyld Dock Bar, which turned out to be wildly popular and had been featured in Garden & Gun that very week.
With bocce ball, a massive patio and a waterfront perch, it was easy to see why the Wyld is beloved by locals (and also prying tourists like myself).
From Isle of Hope, Tybee Island is a half hour’s drive—and about the same distance if you’re coming directly from downtown. Seriously, though, it was my fourth visit to this fair city—why am I just now finding out that Tybee is so close?
Once we arrived at the mouth of the Savannah River right on the Georgia-South Carolina border, SVV and I oriented ourselves with a 90-minute dolphin tour with Captain Mike.
We saw so many dolphins but also got to glimpse the coastline, a pair of lighthouses and North Beach, from the water.
Afterward, we headed to North Beach Bar & Grill for a drink before exploring the rest of the small island. Just three square miles in size, Tybee can easily be seen in an afternoon by bike (which you can rent from Tim’s Beach Gear), by foot, by car or even by kayak.
There are a few hotels and dozens of vacation rentals down near Mid Beach and South Beach, where the pier is located, but personally, I loved the dichotomy of staying in a mid-sized city like Savannah then spending the afternoon in the small beach town. It was the best of both worlds!
As the sun sets and you head to the airport (or interstate, as was our case), you’ll likely be overwhelmed by how much you saw, did, ate and drank during your long weekend in Savannah. And the best part? There’s even more where that came from, as Savannah’s star will only continue to shine the more it grows. My advice? Plan a return trip sooner rather than later.
Need even more Savannah inspiration? Try here:
- Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Savannah
- Shop Till You Drop in Savannah
- The Inside Scoop on Savannah
- The Azalea Inn: A Sassy Stay in Savannah
- Tea and Honey: Sweet & Savory in Savannah
- Girl Power in Savannah: The Girl Scouts Legacy
This post was sponsored by Visit Savannah—though all opinions and an unabashed love that’s run deep for this city for more than a decade—are most certainly my own.
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