Savannah Georgia is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. There is so much to see and do both in and around the city, you should plan on spending a full week in one of its many bed and breakfasts (formerly large private homes) or hotels/inns.
This city’s design was not accidental; the town’s founder, James Oglethorpe and Governor William Bull of South Carolina–who was a trained surveyor–laid the future city out in a grid. Intersecting the grid at regular intervals were squares–then just open commons. There is a carefully detailed map drawn in 1734 by Peter Gordon which shows the beginning of the settlement about one year after the colonists arrived.
Of the original 24 squares, 22 exist today. Most of them are grassy little parks, with plenty of trees, flowering shrubs and benches on which to relax and take in the city’s charm. Some have statues representing prominent figures in Savannah’s history (including General Oglethorpe) and fountains. The area encompassing the squares is known as the Historic District and the entire area is a designated Historic Landmark District–the largest such area in the country.
The Historic District begins at Forsyth Park, which occupies 30 acres and includes a large, ornate fountain, winding paths, a children’s play area, two war memorials and a “Fragment Garden for the Blind”. Depending on the time of year you visit, there are various events held in the park, including–
The historic district, which stretches from River Street to Forsyth Square, has its streets laid out in a grid, intersected by 22 leafy squares, some with fountains and statues of prominent historic figures. The parks in the center of the Historic District–from St. to St.–are the largest. The westernmost square, Franklin Square, facing City Market, is small and neglected; Ellis Square–a few blocks to the east–had been he site of a parking garage (then a big hole in the ground after it was demolished) and is now restored, though in a manner quite unlike the other squares.
City Market is shops and restaurants separated by a tree-lined courtyard and covers two blocks. One of the city’s trolley services waters their horses here in between pulling tourists round the city in old-fashioned carriages. This is the best way to tour the city for the first-time visitor. There are trolley buses, but they don’t have the maneuverability and slow touring pace of a carriage. The trolleys are a good way to get from point A to point B, however.
A guided tour of a different kind is one of the “ghost” or “haunted Savannah” tours. Savannah is considered–depending on your source of information–the number one or number two most haunted city in the U.S. You have a choice of walking, trolley–even hearse tours. The latter takes you through cemeteries as well as the Historic District (all of them go through there). With all of them, you will stop at various locations and your host will tell you about the ghostly goings-on. Since they keep the groups small, reservations are required.
Wandering around the streets, you’ll come across so many little cafs and restaurants, deciding which one at which to dine can be a tough decision. One pleasant lunchtime solution is to buy a sandwich & drink at one of the take-outs and sit down in the nearest square to enjoy both food and scenery. If you’re interested in some after-lunch shopping, you’ll find many boutique and speciality shops scattered about the Historic District, especially along River Street. For the chain-store shopper, Broughton Street has the Gap, Banana Republic, etc., as well as a number of restaurants. One of Savannah’s most famous establishments, Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons, is on the corner of Whitaker and Congress Streets.
Another, less well-known restaurant is Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a unique place where you sit at communal tables, helping yourself to the menu of the day which features fried chicken, one or two other main dishes and a multitude of side dishes. It’s worth the wait in line, and dining at a table with strangers is not the daunting experience it sounds; in fact, it’s more like a big family gathering at grandma’s house.
Not to be missed is River Street, which–as its name suggests–runs along the Savannah River, from the Talmage Memorial Bridge to the west and East Broad Street to the east. Trolley tracks set in cobblestones follow the river, with tall warehouses on the opposite side. Once housing tobacco and cotton, they are now home to a variety of shops, restaurants and inns. Care has been taken to preserve the original character of the buildings.
Steep stone staircases lead from River Street up to Bay Street, with Factor’s Walk hunkered in between the two. On the upper level, a series of walkways connect Bay Street to the shops and restaurants on the upper levels of the warehouses.Wear good walking shoes–these cobblestones are the real thing and the stone stairways up to Bay street are worn slippery with age.
For those not up to the climb, there is an elevator behind the Hospitality Center at the base of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It’s important to note that the Hospitality Center has the area’s only public restroom. If you find yourself looking for a place to relieve yourself while walking around the District and don’t feel like or aren’t able to hike down to River Street, you might get away with sneaking into the lobby of one the big hotels to use their public restrooms. The only other choice is at a restaurant, which usually refuse entrance to non-customers.
There are numerous benches and trees along the river and, at twilight, it’s a lovely place to sit and digest. You can also catch a riverboat cruise from here and you might catch sight of one of the huge container ships that deliver their cargo to one of the ports up the river. Don’t be surprised to see people walking around with drinks in their hands; it’s perfectly legal to pop into a bar, order a beer or a Hurricane and stroll down the cobblestones, sipping as you go.
Outside the Historic District, the best places worth visiting are beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery, running along an estuary, dotted with old oak trees dripping Spanish moss and housing the remains of many famous Savannahians, such as writer Conrad Aiken, composer Johnny Mercer and governor Edward Telfair. It’s so large, the best way to see it is to drive your car down its roads, pull over now & then, and stroll through the grounds.
Continuing east along Route 80 from the cemetery, you’ll find Fort Pulaski National Monument, a brick Civil War fort at the mouth of the Savannah River and Tybee Island, whose chief attraction is its 3-mile-long white sandy beach. On the way there look for a sign pointing to The Crab Shack. This picturesque eating spot sits beside another estuary and has both an indoor dining room and a large outdoor deck strung with lights. The atmosphere is very casual and the fare is low-country boiled dinner and seafood.
Savannah tends to be overlooked as a vacation spot and it is the tourist’s loss as the beautiful city has so much to offer. The best time to visit is in the spring, when all the flowers are in bloom and the heat of summer has not yet arrived. The local airport, Savannah-Hilton Head International, is small and has few direct flights, but it’s a short trip from Atlanta where there are many connecting flights.