The capital of Georgia’s Lowcountry.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Savannah, Georgia is a place like no other.
Magnificent live oak trees draped in Spanish moss bow and curtsey over streets to greet visitors. Historic architecture shoulders up to trendy boutiques, celebrated restaurants and contemporary hotels. Ornate ironwork, elaborate fountains and cobblestone streets lend distinctive charm. And a festive vibe lingers in the humid air like applause.
Boasting 22 green squares and more than 1,600 historic and architecturally significant structures within a 2.5 square-mile area, Savannah houses the nation’s largest registered Urban Historic Landmark District. Founded by General James Oglethorpe in 1733 to help protect the English-held South Carolina from Spanish settlers in Florida, America’s first planned city is today home to tasty coastal culinary creations like low country boil, shrimp and grits, Brunswick stew and sweet pecan pralines, as well as memorable adventures, seasonal festivals and world-class entertainment options.
Georgia’s oldest city may look familiar even if you’ve never visited Savannah before: It has set the stage for 87 movies, including the hits Forrest Gump, Something to Talk About, Glory, The Legend of Bagger Vance and Midnight of the Garden of Good and Evil.
To best get acquainted with the lowcountry charmer, take a guided tour: Whatever the tour’s theme, you’re bound to learn historic facts, funny legends and oddball trivia. Then explore the city on your own to savor its unique charms.
What To Do…
Located a moderate drive outside the city, Bonaventure is considered Savannah’s most famous and hauntingly beautiful cemetery. Quintessentially Southern Gothic, it’s loaded with interesting statues and compelling stories. This is the cemetery that originally housed the “Bird Girl” statue made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil—which is now on display at the Telfair Academy, to protect it from vandals. Bonaventure is the final resting place of prolific Oscar-winning songwriter Johnny Mercer; Pulitzer prize-winner Conrad Aiken; Marie Scudder Myrick, the first woman in the South to own and edit a daily newspaper; Josiah Tattnall III, credited with coining the phrase “blood is thicker than water”; and many other distinguished people.
Mercer Williams House Museum
The former home of Jim Williams, whose murder trials form the basis of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Mercer House was designed by architect John S. Norris. It was restored by Williams, and is filled with furniture and art from his private collection including 18th and 19th Century furniture, 18th Century English and American portraits, 17th Century drawings and a collection of Chinese porcelain. This is one of the more than 50 houses that Williams saved during his 30-year career in historic restoration in Savannah and the Lowcountry; he’d purchased it in 1969 and spent two years on its restoration. The home was originally built for General Hugh Weedon Mercer, great-grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer. Tours offer a compelling mix of insights into history, celebrity, movie-making, antique-dealing, art, family ties and curiosities.
Old Town Trolley Tours
Ride through Savannah’s streets with the option to jump off at any of the 14 stops to explore a site or neighborhood in greater depth at your own pace. When you’re finished just board the next trolley that rolls by and continue the tour. A free map helps you keep track of where you are along the route and review the tourist options available at each stop. *Odds are that you’ll definitely see children on the bus, but you’ve got the option to hop off and board a different bus if necessary.
This art museum is now home to “Bird Girl,” the statue made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It also contains two 19th Century period rooms, and 19th and 20th Century European and American works of art including paintings, works on paper, sculpture and decorative arts. Telfair Museum is the oldest public art museum in the South and is comprised of three buildings; this former mansion (circa 1818-1819) first opened to the public in 1886.
Where To Eat…
Helmed by Georgia Grown Executive Chef and Golden Onion competitor Chef Roberto Leoci, the menu features authentic Italian cuisine, from homemade pastas to brick-oven pizzas, risotto to cannoli, roasted meats to olives, all so delicious this place has ardent fans. Dishes are crafted from fresh ingredients–local, as much as possible–and “mingled with a savory simplicity,” he says.
Leopold’s Ice Cream
Feel nostalgic for the good old days at this original soda fountain (circa 1935), consistently named “Best Ice Cream” in Savannah by several local publications. The award-winning, homemade ice cream is so yummy you’ll wish it was nationally distributed—plus there are grownup flavors like Guinness, rum bisque, rum raisin and more. Save room for dessert or even start with it, but frozen treats aren’t the only thing on the menu worth savoring. Like the ice cream, all the salads, sandwiches and soups are made from scratch and it’s a fresh difference you can taste.
@21plusTravel Tip: If you’re in Savannah on August 16, 2014, be sure to stop by for Leopold’s 95th birthday celebration. Single scoops will cost 95 cents!
Moon River Brewing Company
The food menu is American bar food, which may or may not strike your fancy. We didn’t try it, but we really enjoyed the beer. Sitting outside, sipping a brew and watching people stroll by makes for a fun afternoon. Dark or light, the beers impress. And on a hot day, there’s nothing quite a quenching as a cold beer.
@21plusTravel Trivia: The “Moon River” song lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer. The song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It also won Mercer a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
The Olde Pink House
One of Savannah’s most popular restaurants, The Olde Pink House serves classic Southern fare with a contemporary twist in sophisticated style. Housed in an 18th Century mansion that turned from white to pink when the Georgia clay brick bled through the plaster, the restaurant boasts indoor and outdoor seating plus live entertainment nightly. For an elegant three-course meal, start with fried green tomatoes, blackened oysters, or she crab soup, then feast on sea scallops with herb butter and grits, crab stuffed grouper, grilled pork tenderloin with bourbon molasses, or caramelized Vidalia onion and sweet potato ravioli, and finish with whatever sweet treat strikes your fancy.
The Public Kitchen & Bar
We stumbled upon this place and are grateful: It’s now on the return-to list for future trips to Savannah along with the other restaurants listed here. This is casual, contemporary Southern dining where the dishes are “approachable” (as in, you’ll recognize everything on the menu) but “upscale” (as in, better than average recipes). Everything on the menu is under $25 and most is under $15. The scrumptious vegetarian burger ($11) is a lentil cake with roasted red pepper, goat cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber dill yogurt. Other options include seasonal risotto, shrimp & grits, lasagna, blackened mahi, pork loin and more.
Where To Stay…
Inn at Ellis Square
201 West Bay Street
Savannah, GA 31401
This historic hotel in the recently renovated Guckenheimer Building (circa 1851) is steps away from City Market, the Savannah Riverfront and other local attractions. It seamlessly blends historic design with modern conveniences for a comfortable stay.
- Free Wi-Fi Internet access
- Complimentary parking for overnight guests
- Conveniently located in heart of Savannah’s Historic Riverfront District
- Fitness Center
- Complimentary continental breakfast
- Free daily newspaper
- Cable TV
- Coffeemaker in room with basic supplies
- In-room safe
- In-room phone with voicemail and free local calls
- Standard rooms offer two double beds or one king-sized bed
- Suites offer a living area and separate bedroom with a king-sized bed
- Suites boast an in-room refrigerator and microwave
- Rates from $110
- Odds of Encountering Children: Moderate and variable based on time of year and day of week. During our spring weekday stay we saw few kids and lots of airline personnel, business travelers and other grownups.
Savannah, Georgia was among the stops of the #DSGetaway shared by Deep South Magazine and Getaways for Grownups. To read more related features, click on the DSGetaway tag on this site or on DeepSouthMag.com. On Facebook and Twitter, search #DSGetaway.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC