Savannah's enduring charm is a direct result of the city's respect for its past. Nowhere is this more evident that in the many small neighborhoods, which often seem more like pictures from a storybook than the corners of a 21st century city. With no skyscrapers, few modern-looking structures, and the shopping malls placed mercifully, inconveniently on the periphery of town, this burg of 150,000 souls keeps the soul of the Old South alive for residents and guests alike.
This two-and-half square mile district serves as the functional heart of Savannah, and the historic status is not self-decreed. Bordered by the Savannah River to the north, Montgomery Street to the west, Price Street to the east, and Forsythe Park to the south, this area represents one of the largest National Historic Landmarks in the nation. Here is where you'll find the picturesque civic squares—23 of them—that make Savannah famous as well as street after tree-lined street of ancient churches, monuments and museums, including the Telfair, which now houses the famous “Bird Girl” statue featured on the cover of John Berendt's “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
The historic district includes the festive shops and restaurants of River Street at its northern extremity, as well as the stately businesses and churches that line Bay Street on the palisade above. Here, at the terminus of Bull Street, sits the golden dome of Savannah City Hall, the site where General James Oglethorpe first set foot on Georgia clay. As you wander south, you'll pass the verdant city squares that have played host to such Hollywood notables as Forrest Gump and Kevin Spacey's Jim Williams. As you move farther south through the oldest part of the city, you'll discover more than 2300 historic buildings—about 80 percent of which have been restored—representing architectural influences that range from Federal to Italianate, Regency to Victorian. Among the notable residences are the family estates of singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer, and Girl Scouts founder
The historic district is also home to many of the city's seasonal festivals, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and a good number of Savannah's most revered restaurants and inns. Favorites include the ritzy
As suggested by the name, this area runs along the length of the Savannah River, the city's northern border. Once the nerve center of Savannah's booming cotton trade, the neighborhood began to deteriorate after the yellow fever quarantine and subsequent depression of 1818. Abandoned for over a century, the riverfront was resurrected in 1977, as the sprawling brick warehouses and merchant buildings were transformed into a parade of shops, restaurants and art galleries.
Since then, the area has developed into the most popular destination for visitors, and maintains a festive atmosphere that lasts well into the night. Such popular restaurants as
Once the bustling center of Savannah culture, commerce and gossip, City Market also sits on the river, a bit north of River Street at Jefferson and West Julian. Like River Street, the brick warehouses of this small area languished in disrepair after the death of King Cotton, but have been reclaimed by the city and now host droves of tourists. Shops, restaurants and some of the Savannah's coolest clubs draw daily crowds, with frequent live music and performance artists lending a festive atmosphere to this busy corner of the city.
This 50-block neighborhood is situated just south of the historic district, between Martin Luther King Boulevard and East Broad Street. Also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this area represented the first suburb of Savannah as the city spread out in the late 1800s. Largely residential, the neighborhood features examples of many architectural styles, with an unsurprising abundance of Victorian structures.
Midtown is a large area that incorporates the Victorian District and points south as far as DeRenne Avenue. As the neighborhood progresses southward along Abercorn Street, the residences become more modern, businesses appear, and the charm of old Savannah fades rapidly. One exception, however, is the tiny town of Thunderbolt, a quaint fishing village just to the east on the Wilmington River. Midtown is home to much of Savannah's medical community, as well as Armstrong Atlantic State University and Savannah State University. Sports fans will want to visit Grayson Stadium, home to the city's minor league baseball team, the Savannah Sand Gnats.
It's hard to say where Midtown ends and Southside begins, but DeRenne Avenue is considered a fair mark. This is where the suburban sprawl of the 1950s and 1960s really hit, as evidenced by the uninspiring residential neighborhoods intermingled with countless strip malls, fast food joints, and car dealerships. Hunter Army Airfield, from whose enormous runway the US Army deploys servicemen worldwide, anchors the area.
The low country surrounding the city harbors many small islands, including the residential boom areas of Wilmington and Whitemarsh, and the touchingly quaint Isle of Hope, whose antebellum homes and verdant lawns are the stuff of Dixie dreams. Nearby, Skidaway Island is the site of golfing communities, marinas, and miles of biking and nature trails. Skidaway is also home to the
Savannah's seaside playground, however, is Tybee. Just 15 miles east of downtown past
If you are going to visit Savannah and want to be able to take full advantage of what the city has to offer, stay in the downtown/historic district area where you will be within walking distance of nearly everything—especially convenient if you will be taking part in Savannah's nightlife. From the historic district, attractions in surrounding areas will be only a short drive away. Typically, hotels in the historic district are more expensive than those located in the Southside area. However, the price is worth the chance to stay in the heart of town. Visitors on a tight budget can stay on the outskirts of town and drive in to the historic district. There are also many hotels and condominiums on Tybee Island, Savannah's nearest beach, which is a 15-mile drive from the downtown area.
River Street and Bay Street often are considered to be in the center of the action in Savannah, and accommodations on these parallel streets are varied. The Hyatt Regency Savannah is a large, luxury hotel situated on the Savannah River between River and Bay streets. Just down the street from the excitement of River Street is the Marriott Savannah Riverfront, another large hotel also situated directly on the Savannah River. Across the river sits the new Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, next door to the Savannah Convention Center. The Westin is a luxury hotel and spa, with ferry service to River Street.
The Mulberry Inn, an historic hotel operated by Holiday Inn, is located on Bay Street. Bay Street is also home to a Hampton Inn. Consider the Days Inn Suites if you plan an extended stay in Savannah.
Boasting one of the largest historic districts in the U.S., Savannah has many historic inns, reminiscent of days gone by, scattered among its streets and squares. Many of Savannah's Inns have websites containing images of the homes' exteriors and guest rooms, and researching the inns prior to your visit may help you choose which inn is best for you. All inns within the historic district are conveniently located. The Gastonian Inn, one of Savannah's most elegant historic inns, consists of two 1800s mansions connected by a walkway with a beautiful garden view. The Ballastone Inn, circa 1838, claims a handful of historically prominent owners, and offers 16 guest rooms, each uniquely decorated. Guests of the Forsyth Park Inn may sit on its large, wrap-around porch that overlooks one of Savannah's most popular parks. The Marshall House first opened its doors in 1851 and has been painstakingly restored and updated to maintain its historic atmosphere while operating like a more modern hotel.
Tybee Island, also called Savannah Beach, is the place to stay if your trip to the Georgia coast will involve many trips to the seashore. And since Tybee Island is only about 15 miles from downtown Savannah, it is still convenient to area attractions. In addition, Tybee Island has its own attractions like the Tybee Island Lighthouse and Fort Pulaski National Monument. A variety of real estate companies manage condominiums and houses that visitors may rent. For extended visits or for large groups or families, renting is a good option. However, there are plenty of hotels available on the island, most located on or right across the street from the beach.
Located directly on the beach and offering oceanfront guest rooms are the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and the DeSoto Beach Hotel. Visitors who want to be close to the beach, but do not require a room with a view of the beach should try the Howard Johnson, Admiral's Inn and Best Western Dunes Inn, which are a short walk from the beach.
For something a little different on Tybee Island, try the Hunter House Inn, an old beach house that became a bed and breakfast and also houses a full restaurant and lounge open to the public. Other bed and breakfasts in the area include the Lighthouse Inn and the 17th Street Inn, both decorated with period furniture.
The Southside area covers just about everything not in downtown or on surrounding barrier islands. Room rates in the Southside area will be lower, but hotels here remove visitors from the charm of Savannah's historic district. Southside hotels include major hotel chains, most of which are located on Abercorn and Eisenhower Streets, or on Gateway Boulevard, at the intersection of I-95 and Highway 204.
Due to Savannah's relatively small size, few hotels are far from the Savannah International Airport. For visitors who prefer to stay as close to the airport as possible, there are plenty of choices, including the Days Inn Airport, Quality Inn Airport, and Savannah Airport Inn and Conference Center.
For visitors interested in camping for all or part of their stay, several campgrounds and RV parks are located in areas convenient to downtown Savannah. Skidaway Island State Park, a barrier island, offers 88 tent, trailer and RV sites within the park. Visitors to the park may also enjoy a museum, nature trails, and observation towers. Claiming to be the closest RV park to historic Savannah, River's End Campground and RV Park has more than 150 RV and tent sites on Tybee Island within walking distance of the beach.
Wherever you chose to lay your head at night, rest assured that accommodations in Savannah are designed to keep you close to attractions and to help you fully experience what Savannah has to offer.
Savannah is an old, coastal Southern town, and its restaurants reflect this in the traditional southern cuisine and numerous seafood dishes. Local seafood specialties include crab cakes and crab stew, shrimp, and oysters. A traditional low country boil, found on many menus, consists of boiled shrimp or crawfish with smoked sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes.
Pecans, grown in Georgia, find themselves in a variety of main dishes, especially in desserts. If you have room, try a slice of pecan pie, or drop by one of the candy shops on River Street for some sugared or glazed pecans.
In the south, the phrase “iced tea” means “sweet tea” pre-sweetened with sugar. Restaurants take pride in the quality of their sweet tea; however, for a person unaccustomed to the taste, sweet tea may seem at first, too sweet. While in Savannah, try a glass. Most restaurants offer both and will clarify whether you prefer sweet or un-sweet tea.
A Taste of the South
Most Savannah restaurants express at least some southern influence in the dishes offered. A few establishments commit to providing patrons with a true southern dining experience. The Lady and Sons offers southern food for lunch or dinner on a full buffet or from a menu. People line up daily for the home-style southern food and family style dining at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room.
Places with a Past
While many of Savannah's establishments operate in historic buildings, some have particularly interesting pastas, which makes the experience all the more memorable. The famous Pirates' House was once an Inn that hosted seamen from ships docked at the nearby River Street port. Fifteen unique dining rooms preserve the old port tavern atmosphere. The Boar's Head Tavern & Grill, is the oldest restaurant on River Street, established in 1962 when the city began giving a facelift to the old cotton warehouses along the river. The Moon River Brewing Company, Savannah's only microbrewery, operates in what was once the City Hotel, which operated until the end of the Civil War. The Olde Pink House Restaurant, a romantic Savannah favorite on Reynolds Square, is located in a mansion, circa 1796, which served as the headquarters for General York, after General Sherman and Union troops took the city.
Any coastal town guarantees restaurants offering pleasant views, and Savannah is no different. The variety of waterfront views makes Savannah special. Establishments along River Street provide views of the Savannah River. Here you can watch the huge ships and barges pass by on their way to Savannah's international port. Savannah allows restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks in plastic cups that patrons may take with them. River Street is a perfect place to grab a drink or an ice cream cone and sit to watch the activity on the water. If you want to get even closer to the river while you dine, the Savannah River Queen offers lunch and dinner cruises in addition to tours.
The Tybee Island area offers restaurants with views of the expansive salt marshes and rivers that wind through them. The Crab Shack, a dockside restaurant and bar, sits on Chimney Creek. Every table on the deck or the screened porch gets a great view of the marsh. On Tybee Island beach, The Dolphin Reef Oceanfront Restaurant at the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort and the North Beach Grill, near the Tybee Island Lighthouse, provide excellent beach and ocean views.
Dining in Savannah is not limited to southern cooking and seafood dishes, though you may find that most restaurants offer fresh seafood. For something a little different, browse the restaurants on Broughton Street. The area is home to traditional Italian fare at II Pasticcio, and Japanese food and sushi at Sakura. Also on Broughton Street is the Casbah Morroccan Restaurant, offering authentic Mediterranean food and belly dancing entertainment nightly.
Olympia on River Street serves Greek cuisine. A local favorite Italian restaurant, Garibaldi's, offers nightly specials in a Victorian-style dining room. Jalapeno's Mexican Restaurant in the Southside area is only a short drive from the historic district, and well worth it for those in the mood for Mexican food.
Relatively new to Savannah, the Sapphire Grill developed quickly into a local favorite. For an interesting, casual atmosphere and superb pizza, drop by Vinnie Van Go Go's in City Market. Sit outside on the patio and watch the passers by as they roam through City Market, once the heart of commerce in Savannah. The Café at City Market offers a more upscale dining experience, and has patio seating as well.
Bars, Pubs, and Taverns
Most bars in Savannah serve meals as well, and many serve food well into the evening hours for revelers with an appetite. Bernie's on River Street offers, among other things, seafood, and serves its signature Blood Mary drinks in mason jars topped with pickled okra. Kevin Barry's, a large Irish pub on River Street, has a full menu and serves food into the wee hours. Live Irish music plays downstairs, and upstairs is a cigar bar. A sign at the Warehouse Bar and Grill boasts the coldest, cheapest beer in town. The Warehouse has a large bar and pool tables and opens up onto River Street.
Truly, the only way to get a taste of all that Savannah has to offer, you must either stay for a few days, or be sure to return soon for more.