With all of its natural beauty, history, museums, shops and eateries – not to mention its proximity to the beach – one could easily spend several lazy days in Savannah. However, if you find yourself pressed for time like my mom and I did a few weekends ago, one day would certainly do. Just be sure to bring your walking shoes!
It is hard to describe the essence of Savannah. From the moment you hit the streets, you just feel the history enveloping you, and get the sense that you are really not in Kansas anymore. With historic buildings and monuments abounding, church bells tolling, and horses and carriages continuously clopping by, Savannah looks, feels, sounds and even smells old – but in a magical way. Not to mention that all of the Spanish moss gives the city an eerie aura that only adds to its mystique.
My mom and I were there for 27.5 hours, and could have easily trimmed off a few hours if we had a better game plan. Instead, we arrived with a haphazard list of places to see, and still managed to hit up all of these sites and more.
The best thing about Savannah is that you can walk virtually anywhere. Any hotel you stay in should be able to provide you with a map of the city to get you started, with many of the popular sites marked right on it.
Where to Stay
Savannah is filled with historic bed & breakfasts and guest houses if that suits your fancy. My mom and I were ballin’ on a budget, however, so we stayed at the Country Inn & Suites in the historic district for $119 a night. Not too shabby considering that it was very quiet, the beds and pillows were extremely comfortable, they had a gym and heated indoor pool, a free hot breakfast, and free drinks and cookies in the lobby.
The only downsides to this hotel that I can think of are 1) that you have to pay $12 a day per vehicle to park, but I found that to be the case with most hotels in the city, and 2) there really weren’t many places to eat or even any drugstores right in the immediate area. Nothing is really too far of a walk, though, so this would have been less of an issue in warmer weather.
Of course, if you are there during warmer months and want more of a beach vacation, you could always stay at the nearby Tybee Beach (about a 20 minute drive away) and just go into Savannah for the day.
What to See
There is a plethora of things to see in Savannah, but here are the highlights, starting at the north end of the city and working our way down:
River Street – Definitely stop by River Street to see the scenic river and boats. This area is quite touristy, filled with beachy souvenir shops (think corny t-shirts and shell décor), as well as many eateries and bars. You can also catch a ferry ride from here if you have extra time.
First African Baptist Church – Right around the corner from River Street is the First African Baptist Church, the oldest black church in North America. Tours are given from Tuesday – Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. For just $7, you will hear tons of fascinating history surrounding the church, including the role it played in the Underground Railroad. (If you watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, this is where Porsha Stewart found out that the Underground Railroad was not an actual train, which has now become a talking point on the tour. Ha!)
City Market – This place is really cool. It’s another tourist spot with lots of shops and restaurants, but the best part of this area are the drinks to go. Yes, the city of Savannah has an open container law covering most of the historic district and surrounding area. (Just make sure you ask when you order how far you can go with your beverage.) It happened to be freezing on the day my mom and I stopped through here, so I was elated to see hot alcoholic beverages to go, complete with whipped cream. My mom got a spiked hot apple cider and I got hot peach Moscato. Heaven!
We weren’t really in Savannah to shop, so we didn’t spend too much time in this area, but still loved the picturesque vibe. Be sure to at least take a peek in Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. Since I spent much of my holidays overdosing on candy, I miraculously got out of there without buying anything.
Chippewa Square – A little further south is Chippewa Square, made famous by the bench scenes in the movie, Forrest Gump. If I had thought of it, I would have watched the movie again before going to Savannah, so that this spot would have been more exciting to me. I hardly remember it from watching it years and years ago. Oh well…
Colonial Park Cemetery – I’ll be honest, we simply stumbled upon this one, but it was so awesome. It was definitely the oldest looking cemetery I had ever been in, straight out of a zombie movie. There is tons of historical significance to this place, just read the signs in it if you want to know more, but honestly all I could do was gawk at how old the place was and think about how I’d definitely pee my pants if I went there after dark.
The Mercer Williams House – One thing I did think to do before going to Savannah was download the audio book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” to listen to on the way there. The book is a story of murder and intrigue – based on a true story – that took place in Savannah at the Mercer Williams House in Monterey Square. Listening to the book was the perfect way to kill much of the four hour and 15 minute ride to Savannah from Lawrenceville, GA, and it got me really pumped up for the trip.
Since it is surrounded by gorgeous mansions and anchored by an impressively huge monument, Monterey Square is worth a visit whether you know about the story or not. However, while it was exciting for me to see the actual house from the book, I found the $12.50 Mercer Williams House tour to be lackluster. This is one of the things I could have skipped had I needed to pack this trip into only 24 hours.
The tour doesn’t speak about the murder at all, but more about all of the tacky – yet very expensive – pieces of décor in the house, mostly put there by the acquitted murderer, Jim Williams, who was an international antiques dealer. If you do decide to do a tour, definitely call ahead to find out what time they start, as we had to wait about a half hour for ours after we arrived (killing some of our precious time!).
“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was also made into a movie that was shot in the house, so had I seen the movie the tour might have been more of a thrill. I still plan to see the movie while the house is fresh in my mind, though the other way around would have been better.
Forsyth Park – Last but not least, be sure to stop by Forsyth Park to see its famous fountain, which is the most photographed tourist attraction in the city of Savannah. It also makes an appearance in Forrest Gump and several other movies.
This might sound like a lot of places, but they are all so close you can easily see them all in a day if you don’t lollygag too much. We didn’t get started until around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m. once we checked into the hotel and grabbed a quick bite for lunch, and were done around 5:00 p.m. We ventured back out the next day before heading home primarily for the Mercer Williams House tour (only because the tours stop at 4:00 p.m. and we didn’t get there until a little bit after that the day before).
Where to Eat
Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House – Unfortunately, the best place to eat in Savannah is not open on the weekend, so I was not able to go this time. I did, however, go there about six or seven years ago and loved every second of it. Mrs. Wilkes is a family-style eatery where you are seated at a large table with strangers and presented with large bowls of fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, collard greens and many other comforting Southern delights. Only open for lunch Monday – Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., it is wise to get in line early to make sure you get your place at the table. The cost is $18 per person, and it’s cash only. Despite all of this fuss, I can assure you that a visit is well worth it.
Some have compared Paula Deen’s The Lady & Sons to Mrs. Wilkes, but from what I have read, it isn’t really comparable. Though her place also serves Southern food, it’s more of a modern, commercialized restaurant (complete with a gift shop) versus a historic Mecca of home-style cookin’ like Mrs. Wilkes. I have also heard that the food is not that great. If it weren’t for Paula’s recent scandal, though, I still would have gone to check it out for myself, as I love a good celebrity haunt. But I can no longer be on board with her, so alas, I went without my gluttonous Southern feast.
Crystal Beer Parlor – The one and only restaurant in the immediate vicinity of our hotel was Crystal Beer Parlor. After walking our asses off in the frigid cold all day, this was as far as my mom and I could go for dinner. We were initially discouraged by the hoards of people in line, but were able to snag a table in the bar area without any wait or hassle. In addition to having tons of great beers, this place also has an interesting and delicious menu. Mom and I got an embarrassing amount of food, but all of the appetizers looked so good we could not decide on just one.
We got the avocado hummus, Greek wings, and two ginormous salads. Everything was spot on, especially my Southern Fried Chicken Salad. (I had to get my fried chicken in somehow!) The other plus about this place is that if you eat too much and can’t finish your beer, you can take the rest of it with you in a to-go cup. Score!
Clary’s Café – As luck would have it, there also weren’t many restaurants by the Mercer Williams House, except for Mrs. Wilkes. Since we were planning to grab lunch after our tour and before we hit the road, we ended up at Clary’s Café (aka the only place around) and we were not disappointed. It is your fairly typical “greasy spoon,” with old, sassy waitresses and a wide array of crowd-pleasing diner dishes. I could not resist ordering a chocolate shake here, along with the gyro platter. This platter came with so much food – the actual gyro, a Greek salad and fries – and definitely hit the spot before my long ride back to Atlanta.
If you have extra time…
Tybee Beach – Despite covering serious ground in the city, we did not have time to make it to Tybee Beach. Since it was only around 40 degrees outside, I was not too disappointed. If you go during warm weather and have time, though, you might as well check it out. I have been in the past. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s a beach, and who doesn’t like the beach???
Club One – I have always wanted to go to a drag show, and the one at Club One is famous. We did not have the energy to go after walking around all day, though, and also didn’t feel like venturing too far in the cold after dark. But I will definitely check it out next time I am in town! Coincidentally, one of the characters from “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Lady Chablis, performs there sometimes.
There are countless things to see and do in and around Savannah, but this list should hopefully give you a good place to start. After seeing all of these sites, we definitely felt like we had gotten a good feel for the city. (Neither of us had been there in years so we didn’t remember that much from previous trips.)
By the way, there are apparently free shuttles around town if you’re not up for marathon walking, but we didn’t have time to figure all that out, and frankly needed the exercise after the holidays. Let me know if I’ve missed something critical that I should see next time I am in town!