Looking for a quaint southern town filled with architecture, history, gastronomy and ghosts – yes ghosts? Look no further than today’s domestic spotlight on Savannah, Georgia! It’s got all of these plus beautiful beaches within 18 miles of the city.
I recently welcomed Anjuli Derien, Group Tour & Entertainment Sales Manager from Visit Savannah who shared the highlights of this beautiful town with us. And I bet that after discovering all there is to see and do – you just may be making more than one trip down south to take it all in.
So, grab your sneakers – yes sneakers – this is absolutely a walking city! – and let’s delve into the oldest city in the state of Georgia!
What’s The Recommended Length Of Stay? Savannah is the perfect four day / three-night stay and Anjuli explained that’s mainly because, like anything, you want to go and have a great time, but you also want to be enticed and tickled for more. Doing it this way makes you want to come back and each time that you visit you can tap into a different side of the city – and there are many different sides to explore!
And It’s A Walking City? Savannah is a true walking city that features over 22 squares – kind of like a 22 square checkerboard. Be sure to pack your most comfy walking shoes and make sure you are visiting during a time of year that you will be most comfortable walking around outside. For example – if you are not a fan of heat – July and August in the south can get quite steamy so plan for a visit in a cooler month. On the plus side if the heat doesn’t bother you then you can take advantage of lower rates during those months. In addition to walking, it is also a great biking city – as is the beach area of Tybee Island. You just can’t bike from the city to the beach – yet. Anjuli did let us in on future plans for a biking lane from downtown to the beach – but it’s not an option as of this writing.
Tell Me About The Architecture. One of the things that I love about Savannah in general is the architecture thanks to the many different time periods represented. You have downtown Savannah itself which is right on the river and the history down there dates back to the early 1700s. This is where people would come in off the ships and where James Oglethorpe landed and met with Chief Tomochichi whom he got permission from to settle the land now called Savanah. Then as you start working your way back from the historic district you start growing with the time period and you will find architecturally unique and beautiful homes like the Keough House. The interesting thing about the Keough House is when you look at the outside of it most people are not aware that it is made of iron. He constructed it that way because he wanted to basically show that he had money. But he painted it white which would lead you to think it was wood. So, it’s interesting things like that that you learn as you tour the city. Savannah is also home to The Basilica of Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist which the Pope recently designated as a minor basilica – which is a wonderful honor. It’s a beautiful treasure and a must see while you are visiting as it would remind you of a cathedral that you would find in London or Paris. Also, architecturally – besides the mansions, houses and churches –are details like the cobblestones on the streets and so much more. There are so many nooks and crannies to discover which is why you don’t want to drive around – you want to walk it – that way you don’t miss anything.
And Some History? There’s a lot of African American history in Savannah and thus there are several underground tour options where you really learn a lot about that history and more. According to Anjuli two tour companies come to mind – one of them is The Footprints of Savannah and the other one is Oh So Social Tours. Both of them are African American history tours of Savannah that start literally from when the slaves departed the ship on River Street where they will talk about the African American family statue there that tells about the chains and how they’re broken right there. You will also see things like the holding cells where they were held until bought or traded into slavery, you’ll hear about the Underground Railroad where there is actually a tunnel – even though you physically cannot go through the tunnel – but you will learn how this tunnel runs from River Street for blocks and blocks. In fact, in the First African Baptist Church – which is the oldest black Baptist in the US – you’ll see holes in the floor that were breathing holes so that the slaves could be held there, underground, while there were meetings and such going on at the church. The Laurel Grove Cemetery is also rich with history as here you’ll see where whippings took place as well as slave burials.
Arts and Culture? There are a lot of art galleries and a lot of local artists as well. In fact, Savannah is the home to the Savannah College of Art and Design or SCAD which per Anjuli they give credit to for a lot of their success as a city because they have preserved so much of the history in Savannah. For example – a lot of the old buildings that they thought were just gone by the wayside – SCAD came in and turned them into classrooms or museums. And on the museum side of it you have the Jepson Center, the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters – which altogether encompass the Telfair Museums. The Owens-Thomas House is slave quarters which again go into the African American history and is one of the oldest still intact slave quarters in the United States. All three of them showcase famous artists from Monet to Matisse but they also have local artists on display as well.
Then there is the Andrew Low House which is the marital home of Juliette Gordon Low who was the founder of the Girl Scouts. You can also find her birthplace here in Savannah which is funny because when you look at where they are, she’s pretty much moved one block over from her birthplace so it like she left her parents’ house to go just one block over. Nonetheless the Andrew Low Home is beautiful but what most people don’t realize is right behind it is the original headquarters of the Girl Scouts – the spot where the first Girl Scout troop was actually started right there in the garden of that home.
How About Some Other Tidbits? Founded in 1733 Savannah is literally a city built on the dead – atop forgotten grave – and is one of the top 10 most haunted cities in the United States! Included among its famous citizens is Johnny Mercer – cofounder of Capital Records – who grew up in Savannah and wrote some of the most popular love songs of the 20th century and is whom the Johnny Mercer Theater is named after. Then there is the Mercer Williams House Museum which is the setting of the book and subsequent film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And speaking of movies the infamous bench scenes in Forrest Gump were shot at Chippewa Square in Savannah. As for more recent movies The Peanut Butter Falcon shot many of its scenes in the city and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson filmed Baywatch scenes on Tybee Island.
What Can I Expect As Far As Gastronomy? Anjuli shared that some of her personal favorite walking tours – due to the fact that she’s a huge foodie – are the walking food tours. They offer a variety of different types of tours that will guide you around different areas such as off the beaten path restaurants. Which of course are my favorites too because really – don’t we all want to dine where the locals dine when we are in a new destination? No chains for this gal!
In addition to the ghosts of the city there are also plenty of the other kinds of spirits – like bottomless mimosa venues for breakfast and Chatham Artillery Punch – Savannah’s signature drink for dinner. Along with signature drinks there’s also signature food – so what are some of the signature Savannah dishes? As Anjuli relayed – they are well known for their shrimp and grits – and she jokingly added – “similar to our snooty sister over there in Charlietown – which what we call Charleston” – but if anything, theirs have a better twist on it she insists. And actually, you can’t go wrong with anything that includes Georgia shrimp thanks to the fact that in Savannah those shrimp are coming right off right off the boat. Another thing you can’t go wrong with are the crab cakes, crab Benedict or any crab dish thanks to the blue crab there that also come fresh off the boat as well. And since they do give everything their own flair you can’t go wrong with any seafood or barbecue dish. And of course, they have plenty of good old fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, sweet potatoes and other southern comfort foods.
Anjuli also let us in on one of her personal favorites to eat – Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. It’s a place to just enjoy a meal with strangers in a family style environment. She does forewarn us though that you will have to stand in line as they do not take reservations. Plus, she has some very interesting hours, so she strongly recommends that you go online and check them out. Just to give you an idea she is closed the entire month of January and she’s only open Monday through Friday from 11:00am to 2:00pm. Oh and it is cash only. But even with all those caveats she assures us it’s so worth it! Another popular restaurant is The Grey which was featured on the Food Network. It’s a fabulous restaurant that is housed in an old Greyhound bus station – hence the name Grey – and is truly a culinary masterpiece. And one of their best kept secrets is Husk Savannah which is located inside one of the most famously haunted houses in Savannah and serves up fabulous southern fare.
I Heard You Have An Open Container Law? Yes! Savannah is an open container city – literally from River Street all the way to Forsyth Park which means you have three and a half square miles of where open containers are allowed. And they are one of just six cities in the United States that allow open containers making that a pretty big deal!
How About Holiday Season In Savannah? Holidays are a fabulous time in Savannah – starting with the weather which is still mild as their winters are not as harsh as some parts of the US. In fact, per Anjuli, last year for Thanksgiving, it was a mild 75 degrees on Thanksgiving Day. She then jokingly added that granted their weather is bipolar like in many other places but if anything, it’s pretty mild and temperate. Things usually start right after Thanksgiving with that Saturday always hosting the boat parade that kicks off the holiday season. Here people gather along the river with their cocktails and watch the boats parade by. As she said it’s kind of like the old school traditional where you go around and look at the houses all lit up, but instead its decorated boats. And it’s a big deal because basically they pause the city and the cargo ships on the Savannah River – Savannah is one of the largest ports in the US – all for the boat parade. And she assured us that we don’t want to miss out on her personal favorite treat for the holiday season – A Christmas Tradition – which is a Broadway musical style show. It is held at Savannah Theater which is one the oldest continually operating theaters in the United States. Every year they put on this beautiful show that can be a festive start to your holiday season or the end to a perfect trip.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Savannah is open for visitors!
And that my friends is just a sliver of what Savannah has to offer. For more details on things to see and do in Savannah, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!