Savannah, Georgia is one of the oldest cities in the United States, founded in 1733 by British General James Oglethorpe. The marshlands had been settled by Native American tribes before it became a major trading hub for the colonies.
The country’s original planned city was even spared during Sherman’s March to the Sea. But the city fell into disrepair between the 1950s and 1980s when much of the population fled to the suburbs and historic homes and buildings were slated for demolition.
Thankfully the historic preservation movement took hold, saving many of the properties. Savannah is now known for being the filming location for Forrest Gump, home to Paula Deen and setting for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, referred to here as “The Book.”
High season in Savannah offers festivals and events for essentially every month but the hottest summer days. The most famous happening is the St. Patrick’s Day festival, which runs for a week and includes a parade, dying fountains green and, of course, lots of beer on River Street. The Savannah Stopover Music Festival, Savannah Food and Wine Festival and Savannah Craft Brew Fest are also popular.
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What to Do in Savannah
American Prohibition Museum– This interactive museum covers America’s failed experiment with exhibits on Savannah’s boozy past and even its own speakeasy. Get your admission ticket before you go. 209 W. St. Julian Street
Bonaventure Cemetery– One of the South’s spookiest cemeteries is Bonaventure, located on the marsh outside of town. It’s where the most famous residents are buried, including Conrad Aiken and Johnny Mercer. While the famous Bird Girl statue is no longer here, it’s still known for its reference in “the book.” Book a spot on a Bonaventure Cemetery tour. 330 Bonaventure Road
Davenport House Museum– As the first property saved by the Historic Savannah Foundation, the Davenport House is one of the finest examples of Federal Style architecture in the city. It’s been painstakingly renovated to return it to its original style in floor coverings, wallpaper and paint colors. 324 East State Street
Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home– The writer of stories “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” was born in Savannah through primary school, at which point she moved to Atlanta and later Milledgeville. The home has been returned to the time when the O’Connors lived there, including much of the original furnishings. 207 East Charlton Street
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace– Home to the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low lived here for most of her life growing up and later in life when her husband died. Troops from all over the world visit the home, which includes much of the house’s original furnishings. 10 East Oglethorpe Avenue
Mercer House– Don’t expect to take any pictures inside or even mention “the book,” as the scandalous life of late owner Jim Williams and the murder of Danny Hansford inside the home are off limits. Originally owned by a relative of musician Johnny Mercer, the home was built in the 1860s and retains its original charm. 429 Bull Street
Owens-Thomas House– This historic home had the first indoor plumbing in the country, created by a young visionary architect who went on to create homes in Charleston and his native England. It’s most well known for being where the Marquis de Lafayette gave a speech to the locals during his stay. The gardens and slave quarters are also well preserved. 124 Abercorn Street
Pin Point Heritage Museum– This museum discusses the Gullah and Geechee culture of the Sea Islands and the freedmen that lived in the area. It’s one of the Coastal Heritage Society’s five museums. 9924 Pin Point Avenue
SCAD Museum of Art– Learn about the contemporary art scene’s up and coming artists as well as those from Savannah College of Art and Design, who manages the small museum. There is also a rooftop patio and cafe inside the museum. 601 Turner Boulevard
Telfair Academy– This Neoclassical mansion turned art museum houses a collection of American and European works collected over the years from the Telfair family and the curatorial staff, but the most well-known piece is the Bird Girl, which graced the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. For modern works, check out the neighboring Jepson Center for the Arts. Get your admission to both museums. 121 Barnard Street
Savannah Riverboat Sightseeing Cruise– See the city on the Savannah River in the old-fashioned paddleboat. The cruise includes a narrated tour and food and drink are available for purchase.
Tours- We recommend food tours from Savannah Taste Experience (book here) and the free walking tours of Savannah. The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Walking Tour of Savannah is also popular. Ditch the ghost tours, as they’re a bit hokey and inaccurate, as well as the trolley and horse tours. The city is best explored by foot.
Where to Eat in Savannah
Back in the Day Bakery– This Starland District bakery has been nominated for a James Beard award for its incredible baked goods, sandwiches, and pastries. Expect to wait in line! 2403 Bull Street, (912) 495-9292
Boar’s Head Grill & Tavern– The historic tavern is actually a good restaurant with what’s been named as the “best she crab soup in the city.” It’s more upscale than the name implies and boasts an extensive wine and beer menu. 1 Lincoln Street, (912) 651-9660
The Collins Quarter– This Australian-style cafe is open all day, serving Toby’s Estate coffee, hip lattes, avocado toast, as well as heartier dishes. Weekend brunch brings out locals for over-the-top Bloody Marys and well-plated egg dishes. There’s a second location in Forsyth Park. 151 Bull Street, (912) 777-4147
Flying Monk Noodle Bar– After visiting sister restaurant Fire Street Food, I was interested in trying this noodle bar, which has every variety from ramen to curry to a family recipe from Laos. Expect to wait at peak times, although food comes out quickly and in massive portions. 5 West Broughton Street, (912) 232-8888
The Grey– Set in a restored Greyhound bus station, The Grey is one of the nation’s top restaurants. Stop by for lunch or dinner as well as cocktails in the mid-century setting. Seasonal favorites include dirty duck rice, roasted yardbird, and fisherman’s stew. The Grey Market is also owned by them and has quick service options. 109 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, (912) 662-5999
The Pirates House– While this restaurant is certainly frequented plenty by tourists, the historic watering hole and former boarding house has some of the best fried chicken anywhere, not to mention a stellar Southern food buffet. Robert Louis Stevenson stayed here while working on Treasure Island. 20 East Broad Street, (912) 233-5757
Vinnie Van GoGo’s– Students at Savannah College of Art & Design flock to the pizzeria for its reasonable prices and delicious pies. The Neapolitan style pizzas use fresh dough and mozzarella cheese sold by the slice or in full pies. They also have salads and calzones but come prepared as it’s cash only. 317 West Bryan Street, (912) 233-6394
Wall’s Bar-B-Que– Set on a quiet laneway, once you find Wall’s it will be hard to leave. The restaurant that time hasn’t changed keeps irregular hours, mostly Wednesdays to Saturdays, but the barbecue, macaroni and cheese, and devil crab are all local favorites. 515 East York Lane, (912) 232-9754
Where to Stay in Savannah
Andaz Savannah– Located on Ellis Square, the stylish hotel offers welcome drinks, an outdoor pool, artsy rooms, a fitness center, and an in-house restaurant. 14 Barnard Street
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa– Located across the Savannah River, this hotel is the largest in the city and is popular with conferences. It has access to downtown via ferry. 1 Resort Drive
JW Marriott Plant District Savannah Riverfront– Set in the former power plant on the river, this luxury hotel is spread across three buildings. It hosts a museum-quality collection of fossils and minerals, along with rooftop bars and multiple restaurants. 400 West River Street
The Kimpton Brice Hotel has an Italian restaurant, bike rentals, and an outdoor pool. It’s also pet-friendly with Kimpton favorite amenities like beverage receptions and coffee. 601 East Bay Street
Mansion on Forsyth Park– This luxurious property is an icon within Savannah known for its restaurant and lounges, art collection, and an award-winning spa. 700 Drayton Street
Perry Lane Hotel– The boutique hotel has over 100 rooms and 12 suites along with three restaurants, a rooftop bar, an impressive art collection, and a curated boutique. 256 East Perry Street
The Alida Hotel– This chic hotel has trendy rooms overlooking River Street as well as a restaurant and three bars. It is named for one of the founders of the historic preservation organization. 412 Williamson Street
The Thunderbird Inn– This place is kitschy and budget-friendly with retro toiletries and daily Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The hotel is also “green” with solar power panels. 611 West Oglethorpe Avenue
Rental properties– Lucky Rentals offer rental properties in Savannah, as does Airbnb. This is the best plan if you have a big group. It provides you with a more local experience and allows you to stay in the city’s unique neighborhoods.