So, I have always had a bit of a crush on Savannah, Georgia. But I must confess that last weekend I fell HARD for the historic, artsy, slightly-spooky city. My husband Chris and I took a jaunt to Savannah for a quick 25th anniversary celebration weekend. Our actual anniversary date is later in the month, nicely bookended on either side by our son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony and his high school graduation day, along with my dear mom’s birthday… so we decided to scoot away early to toast our quarter-century milestone before the true craziness begins.
Having been to this oh-so-Southern river city several times in the past, I thought that I’d wrung dry all of its sights, sounds, and tastes, but I was proven wrong again and again this time as we ventured around each cobblestoned corner.
In the past decade, I would say that this Georgia gem has undergone a renaissance: the further restoration of buildings and historic homes, the springing up of new hotels, restaurants and bars, and on top of all that a new energetic, hip vibe that emanates from the entire historic district and beyond.
On this gorgeous spring weekend, there was a palpable air of festivity, and folks of all ages (both visitor and local) were out and about. Too many “hen parties” to count, locals grabbing coffee, couples on get-away weekends, SCAD students rushing past, middle-aged girls’ weekend groups hooting it up, and families enjoying a vacation mixed and mingled on the streets and in the establishments.
Romance was on tap as well, with Saturday’s sights presenting myriad weddings glimpsed in churches and on the gorgeous historic squares with bride-and-groom pairs being squired around in horse-drawn carriages. We even witnessed a sweet marriage proposal in front of the “wedding cake” fountain in bustling Forsyth Park!
To get the lay of the land and an overview of the rich, rich history of Savannah, I do truly recommend grabbing one of the tours (no matter how cheesy you think it!) that are available throughout the historic district. There’s a tour to please every taste: trolley car tours, horse-drawn carriage tours (we were pleased with www.plantationcarriagecompany.com), Segway tours, walking tours, ghost tours, pedi-cab tours, and even the super-fun-looking pedaling beer tours (see https://www.savannahslowride.com/).
A full recap of our weekend adventures would turn a blog post into a Rick Steves-esque book (we love walking, so we walked... and walked… and walked), so I’ve pared down our favorite moments and recommendations.
The Olde Pink House is a must for that traditional, historical-bordering-on-touristy meal. Everyone (and I mean everyone) heads to this venerable location overlooking Reynolds Square, as much as (maybe even more than) for the food as for The Olde Pink House itself. After each time I’ve dined in a cozy front room of the original home, we’ve then asked the maître d’ if we can explore the rest of the mansion. Up the narrow, curved staircase you go to walk through the bedrooms converted for dining. Then keep going… and going… into an elegant ballroom either full of diners or getting set up for a reception. Take the elevator down to the basement, and you pop out into a low-beamed-ceiling pub straight out of Harry Potter. Seriously. With a dine-in wine cave. And a grand piano. After taking that in, escape back into the elevator to the first floor, and out you walk into a modern cocktail bar. (P.S. I won’t mention the ghost stories associated with the place…. You’ll have to Google those for yourself!)
Broughton Street is the main shopping street of Savannah. With SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) buildings scattered throughout here and the whole historic district, this is a real downtown tinged with nostalgia, sporting a mixture of artsy locally-owned stores, chain stores (of course), hotels (like the haunted Marshall House http://www.marshallhouse.com/) and restaurants.
On Broughton we found The Paris Market and Brocante, which transports one to Europe and has its own sidewalk café. The shop is museum-like in its displays (including a taxidermied white hart!), with almost too much to take in in one visit. So make sure you go back. We did.
Also on Broughton is the Savannah Bee Company. I wanted perhaps to purchase a small jar of the sweet stuff. I ended up being persuaded to do a mead tasting. Yes, a mead tasting! Apparently I had no idea what mead is; I’d always thought it was a type of beer; very English beer. No, ma’am – it’s fermented honey, dating back thousands of years before beer. We ponied up $7 each and tasted a flight of mead (varying from light and bubbly to dark and heavy) and went on our merry way, forgetting to buy that jar of honey.
Notwithstanding the hustle and bustle of Broughton, my very favorite thoroughfare in Savannah is Bull Street. It is a North-South Street that begins at City Hall near the river and ends at the entrance of Forsyth Park. Along the length of it, one has the privilege of admiring gorgeous, restored antebellum buildings and of meandering through the historic squares, including Chippewa Square, most famous for the bench scenes in Forrest Gump. From there, look up at the steeple of nearby Independent Presbyterian Church and imagine that white feather floating about.
Tucked into the street’s blocks between the shady squares are some true gems, of both the culinary and the merchant variety. Some tip-top recommendations armed with the reasons why:
· Gryphon Tea Room
Run by SCAD, it’s their most elegant café. We popped in for lunch and found the dining room itself a feast for the eyes. With a 1930s arts and crafts movement aura, and music from the 1970s wafting in the ear (which somehow go together perfectly), the atmosphere and superior table service were like no other. Food is delicious and the flavored lemonades are a dreamy treat, rendering dessert unnecessary!
· The Public Kitchen & Bar
These are two separate establishments: both Daniel Reed “concepts” and both excellent for cocktails and people-watching. Artillery is more 20s-era elegant and quiet (housed in the gorgeous former Georgia Hussars HQ), while The Public has a more bustling, modern vibe. Both are top-notch in their menus and service.
Owned and run by SCAD alumni, this leather goods boutique and workshop is a joy to explore. We spent time chatting with the “Satchelettes” (as they call themselves) as they worked on the custom leather goods on machinery behind the counter, finding out their Savannah recommendations and their thoughts on the renaissance we had observed in the city. Oh, and I bought a pretty cute over-the-shoulder small messenger bag, too!
· The Book Lady Bookstore
Oh, to have a whole day in this rabbit warren of new and gently used books in every genre. The secret-doorway-like entrance beckons and draws one in with 50-cent titles in a basket out front (I found one of my very favorite Rosamunde Pilcher books in said basket and was smitten with the place from the outset). Very cozy in feel and friendly in staff, I highly recommend taking the few steps off of Bull to explore this treasure. Bibliophiles, rejoice!
· The Collins Quarter
Garden and Gun magazine recommends this epicure’s delight, and we concur. Atmosphere, check. Service, check. Décor, check. Interesting people to watch, check. Not a bad seat in the house, check. Our dinner was not rushed as we watched the sun fade outside and the candlelight begin to illuminate inside. And it was downright delicious. We recommend the fish or the paella for dinner.
Coming a close second in my Favorite Street Hall of Fame, Jones Street intersects Bull Street between Madison Square and Monterey Square, and is said to be the prettiest street in Savannah and among the most notable in America (Check out http://gosouthsavannah.com/historic-district-and-city/jones-street.html). Do take the time to veer off of Bull Street and amble down its leafy blocks. The term “keeping up with the Joneses” is said to come from here, and a quick look at Zillow will show you that it’s still the most prestigious address in this beautiful town.
These are but a few of the choicest sights, sounds, and tastes that we are pinning to our mental bulletin board about this excursion to a Southern treasure. I must say that I would jump at the chance to return to Savannah at the drop of a hat, for I am truly in love with the place. Let me know if you would like to go and I’ll pack my bag (and my new Satchel. purse!).