Plenty of folks who come to Savannah never leave. And for good reason. Here's how to plan a perfect trip to the charming Southern city.
SAVANNAH, Georgia – I’d move to Savannah, if only it wasn’t haunted. Hell, I still might. The storybook Southern town is just that pretty. I went for the opening of The Alida, the newest boutique hotel in town, and fell for Savannah’s historic houses, leafy squares (all 22 of them), and compact but excellent food scene. That I could take my cocktail to go — this is an open container town, woo-hoo! — was the brandy-soaked, Moschino cherry on top of a memorable trip. Here’s the recipe for yours.
What to Do
Get Tipsy on a History Tour
The first thing I did in Savannah, appropriately enough, was grab to-go cocktails and jump on an old trolley for a tour of the city. This I recommend, even if you’re staying sober, to get a lay of the land and a history lesson. The highlight of my ride with Old Savannah Tours: A stop at the Harper Fowlkes House, where an actress playing Alida Harper, the early 20th century restorationist, antiques dealer, and self-made woman who called this place home, took us on a tour of the elaborately decorated mansion. It sounds cheesy. It wasn’t.
Get Spooked on a Ghost Tour
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was set in Savannah, in no small part because the city has a long and spooky history — one that will undoubtedly be marketed to you through ghosts tours at every turn. Friends, I went on one, and I was spooked … for about five minutes. Don’t get me wrong: Walking around old houses at night listening to ghost stories with cocktails in hand is fun, and even fascinating at times, but the moment you realize an actor with a theater background is your guide, the illusion is broken. If you’re good at suspending your disbelief, book one (mine was through Genteel & Bard Walking Ghost Tour). Otherwise, skip.
Go for a Walk Through the Squares
Sure, you could do this through some kind of organized walking tour, but why overcomplicate things? Savannah’s squares are best enjoyed when you take things slow. Grab a coffee, sit on a bench, and watch life unfold. If you’re in Chippewa Square, say hello to the actor playing Forrest Gump. He’s sitting on a bench doing the same.
Take an Uber to the Beach
Tybee Island (read: the beach) is a 25-minute taxi from downtown Savannah. Though not the chicest of beach towns — its seaside strip consists of a smattering of modest seafood shacks, a wide, beautiful beach, and a charming fisherman’s pier — it is a nice place to get away for a day, especially during the summer heat. Go early for sunrise if you don’t have a lot of time.
Where to Eat and Drink
The Collins Quarter
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the most popular brunch spot in town is run by Australians. It’s styled after Melbourne’s Collins Street and has a charming pickup window for locals in need of a quality espresso fix. They serve food around the clock, but brunch specialities (like short rib served over a crispy hash brown doused in chimichurri) are standouts, especially when enjoyed street-side.
The Grey Market
Savannah rock star chef Mashama Bailey opened a casual eatery and food shop a few blocks away from her nationally acclaimed restaurant The Grey, and it’s fantastic. If you can’t score a reservation at The Grey or just want an easy but delicious breakfast or lunch, come here. The eatery is something of a cross between a bodega from New York (where the chef hails from) and a Southern lunch counter, which means there’s everything from lox bagels and egg creams to chicken biscuits and shrimp and grits on the menu. Don’t skip a slice of pie if you see it in the window on weekends.
Back in the Day Bakery
Don’t come here if you’re not going to order at least one biscuit. Have it plain. Have it with butter and honey. Have it with bacon, egg, and pimento cheese. Just make sure you have it. The quirky, vintage-filled bakery and cafe on the southern edge of town also does sandwiches, salads, and other baked goods like pies, cupcakes, and cookies, but that’s not why you cabbed down here from Old Town. Side note: There's a really weird but cool vinyl shop next door. Pop in while you wait for your order.
The all-day eatery on the bottom floor of The Alida hotel looks like something out of a design guide to Brooklyn or Portland. See: loads of dark wood, copper fixtures, leather banquettes, and Scandinavian-inspired seating. The menu of updated Southern classic is heart-warming and not too artery clogging — don’t miss the house-made ricotta and celery root dumpling starters or roasted pork served with boiled peanuts, potatoes, and collards fermented with the whey left over from making the ricotta. Bonus: Because of the construction going on across from the hotel, this place is still a bit off the tourist radar.
This very ornate (even for Savannah) cocktail bar is the place to go for pre-dinner drinks. The history — the eclectic 1896 building once housed artillery for the Georgia Hussars calvary unit — and the extensive bourbon list both make for excellent start-of-the-evening conversation.
Ghost Coast Distillery
The first distillery in Savannah since Prohibition makes a nice selection of spirits — most notable whiskey and a very tasty fernet — and has a big tasting room where one can sip a cocktail, drink through a spirits flight, and play shuffleboard. Also in the area north of downtown, which can best described as a riverside industrial sector where things appear to be in the works, is Service Brewing Co., a brewery owned by armed service veterans with a tasting room and a wide selection of small-batch beers. Make an afternoon out of them both.
Where to Stay
Savannah’s newest boutique is an excellent home base if you’re young, traveling in groups (rooms and common areas are spacious, and the penthouse is a great place to throw a party), or just love new, cool, millennial-friendly hotels. The designers at Parts and Labor (who are also behind Thompson Nashville, Eaton Workshop, The Grey) consulted on the public spaces and restaurants, which explain the handsome, very current interiors — exposed brick, beautiful tiles, brass light fixtures, and all. FODA Design did the rooms, which have oversized windows with views of the river, leisurely reading benches, and steamers in each closet (big plus). No two are alike, thanks to artful additions from students at SCAD. Also cool: Stations on each floor offer snacks, newspapers, and still and sparkling water on tap. In addition to Rhett (mentioned above), the hotel has a bar by the pool that serves cocktails and small bites from Rhett; a rooftop bar, The Lost Square, with panoramic views, a fireplace, and a delicious drinks menu, and a lobby bar, Trade Room, which is hopping during happy hour. Also in the lobby: a gift shop that sells cute, local products, including the bespoke scent wafting around the hotel.
Perry Lane Hotel
The other noteworthy place to stay in Savannah has a swanky rooftop pool, an impressive local art collection, and luxurious rooms that feel like they were pulled from a friend’s expertly designed Southern home. The hotel is home to three excellent bars and restaurants: The Emporium Kitchen & Wine Market, which does quality coffee, grab-and-go meals, and brasserie classics; Wayward, a hip, offbeat cocktail bar next to the hotel’s screening room and arcade; and Peregrin, the lush, sophisticated cocktail bar on the roof. If you’re in Savannah for romance (or you just travel in style), this is the place to stay.