Every few years, my cousin Molly Carpenter and I plan a trip together to somewhere we’ve never been. Our priorities: sightseeing, shopping, good food and wine. This year, Savannah checked all those boxes for us.
Savannah is on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, just south of the South Carolina state line. Hilton Head, South Carolina, is less than an hour away, and Tybee Island, Georgia, is a half-hour drive.
Molly and I were focused on Savannah’s historic district, though, and we needed to have a conversation about our feet. The district is only 2 square miles (5 square km), but hours of walking would surely take a toll on our north-of-age-60 legs. Could we get by without renting a car?
As it turned out, a car would have been superfluous. We discovered the free shuttle called “the dot,” which makes 12 stops on its purple line around the historic district, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. A shuttle stop was just a few blocks from our rented two-bedroom cottage on the eastern edge of the historic district. After hours, an Uber was minutes away. In fact, after spending more than $30 (with tip) on a taxi ride from the airport, we took an Uber back for less than $18.
Our first full day in Savannah, we got our bearings with the Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour, a three-hour walking tour that combined history lessons with stops for a tasty bite at six off-the-beaten-path restaurants. Highlights included pulled pork at Wall’s BBQ, blueberry sausage at Smith Brothers Butcher Shop and pimento cheese croissants at Our Daily Bread Cafe.
Unlike some Southern cities ravaged by the Civil War, Savannah retains abundant antebellum charm. Historical sites are numerous, including Fort Jackson, the oldest standing brick fortification in Georgia. Savannah’s Green-Meldrim House, a National Historic Landmark, was used by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman as the Union Army’s headquarters in December 1864, when Sherman famously sent President Abraham Lincoln a telegram offering up the city as a Christmas gift.
In the historic district, 22 squares offer monuments to famous locals. It was actually quite pleasant walking through the shady squares every few blocks. We could take a break and sit on a bench by a fountain beneath the live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
The Savannah College of Art and Design’s influence can be felt beyond the campus, from the SCAD Museum of Art and the ShopSCAD store to the whimsical murals of former student Allyson Burke at the Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant.
We didn’t partake in a tour inspired by the 1994 best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” But the book by John Berendt, about a local murder, and the movie that followed, helped put Savannah on the tourism map and has drawn untold numbers of visitors for more than two decades.
The Savannah River borders the north side of the historic district, dividing Georgia from South Carolina. Riverboats cruise up and down the river, past Old Fort Jackson, where cannon fire greets cruisers, and the Port of Savannah, a major U.S. seaport. One of the best views of the river is from the restaurant Rocks on the Roof, atop the Bohemian Hotel. Another is from the Top Deck bar on the roof of the Cotton Sail hotel.
Savannah’s seafood is fresh and delicious. We dined on she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, huge sea scallops. We had lunch at The Olde Pink House, an institution in an 18th-century mansion. We also were impressed by Cha Bella, a farm-to-table restaurant on the northeastern fringe of the historic district.
We found some shopping gems, too. The Village Craftsmen, a co-op of local artisans, is on the west end of River Street, away from the kitschy tourist shops. City Market comprises four blocks of former warehouses with galleries, shopping and al fresco dining. And we were crazy for the Liquid Sands Glass Gallery, which custom-made a pair of earrings for Molly.
I tormented my husband daily by texting photos of the fabulous food we ate. Next time, I might have to take him with me.
If You Go…
VISIT SAVANNAH: Tourism information, https://www.visitsavannah.com/
FAMOUS & SECRET EAST SIDE FOOD TOUR: $57, https://savannahtasteexperience.com/famous-secret-east-side-food-tour/
VILLAGE CRAFTSMEN: http://www.villagecraftsmensavannah.com/
SCAD MUSEUM OF ART: https://www.scadmoa.org/