Lacy Spanish moss curls down ancient oak trees and forms a mosaic of shadows on the streets of Savannah, Georgia.  Adobe Stock
Lacy Spanish moss curls down ancient oak trees and forms a mosaic of shadows on the streets of Savannah, Georgia. Adobe Stock

Savannah, Georgia

One of the world’s most beautiful small cities offers historic sites, unusual museums, and a foodie paradise—all within walking distance of fine hotels.

Lacy Spanish moss curls down ancient oak trees and forms a mosaic of shadows on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, one of the world’s most beautiful small cities. Called the Hostess City of the South, it is also known as “Slowvannah” because it’s so suited to walking and meandering, with many attractions within a three-mile radius.

As you stroll through its historic district, you’ll want to pause at some of its 22 squares, which are surrounded by museums and old homes and churches. The first of these squares—ordered in 1733 by James Oglethorpe, founder of the British colony of Georgia—were intended to provide colonists with space for militia training. Today, they are shady green oases where the only sounds you’ll hear are birdsong and distant church bells. 

The 30-acre Forsyth Park, the best-known square, features an iconic fountain and is a haven for dog walkers, picnickers, Frisbee throwers, runners, tennis players, and children. Sit on a bench or the velvety grass, breathe in the fragrant air, and take it all in.

Chippewa Square, which includes a statue of Oglethorpe. Adobe Stock
Chippewa Square, which includes a statue of Oglethorpe. Adobe Stock

Chippewa Square, which includes a statue of Oglethorpe, is where “Forrest Gump” (portrayed by Tom Hanks) pondered his past in the eponymous movie. The bench where “Gump” sat in the square now resides in the Savannah History Museum. The feather featured in Forrest Gump floated down from the city independent Presbyterian Church

Savannah has an even stronger connection to another film: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was based on John Berendt’s 1997 bestselling nonfiction book. It concerns Jim Williams, a house restorer and antiques dealer, who bought Savannah’s historic 1860s Mercer-Williams House in 1969 and hired an assistant who soon became his lover. One evening, the two fought and Williams killed his companion. 

Williams was convicted three times for murder and went to prison before a fourth jury deemed the killing self-defense and found him not guilty. Today, the Mercer-Williams House Museum offers guided tours of its contents, which include important 18th- and 19th-century English and American portraits, among them some by Gilbert Stuart, who painted George Washington 73 times. (The dollar bill features one of those paintings.)

Tour the Town

To learn about Savannah without burying your nose in a guidebook, take Genteel & Bard’s Savannah History Walking Tour, which covers the area’s history, stories, and esoteric facts. You’ll learn, for example, that Georgians add syllables to everything (can becomes kay-an), that Bull Street takes you straight through the middle of Savannah, and that the  city allows no structures to be taller than its Independent Presbyterian Church.

If you’d prefer not to walk, consider a trolley tour that allows you to jump off to explore any attraction and later, board another trolley to continue the excursion. Savannah has carriage tours, Segway and bicycle tours, and cemetery and ghost tours. Business jet manufacturer Gulfstream, which has been headquartered in Savannah since 1967, is the city's largest employer. Potential customers can arrange to visit its showroom, which was expanded in late 2021 to feature a full-size mockup of the new G400, multimedia content, and an interior design display. Also available for touring are design centers, labs, and a production floor. (Contact the appropriate division or regional vice president to schedule a tour.) 

All About Gulfstream's G400 And G800

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In October, the manufacturer unveiled these models, which will bookend its large-cabin jet family and expand that line to six aircraft.

One ticket covers admission to three museums at tranquil Telfair Square. The sleek, glass-walled Jepson Center, designed by Moshe Safdie, offers changing exhibits of contemporary art. On the other side of the square is Telfair Academy, an 18th-century mansion that houses 19th- and 20th-century American and European art as well as the “Bird Girl” statue that’s featured on the book cover of the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Also at Telfair Square is the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, an 1819 Regency-style mansion offering tours of period rooms with decorative arts.

You’ll find another window to the past at America’s only Prohibition Museum. Here, you’ll learn that Savannah was called the “Bootleg Spigot of the South” while wandering through exhibitions, viewing vintage newsreels, and eyeing wax models of whiskey runners, prohibitionists, and gangsters such as Bugs Moran and Al Capone. The building includes a speakeasy “to raise your spirits” with 1920s cocktails.

Savannah is a foodie paradise with about a hundred restaurants offering so much more than the expected shrimp, grits, and fried green tomatoes. You’ll find everything from international fast food to gourmet Southern fare. The chefs are not household names, yet their dishes are unique, mouthwatering, and made with local ingredients. (See Traveler Report Card below.) “Eat, walk, and repeat,” as the folks here say.

Don’t miss a tour of the childhood home of Savannah-born and -raised Flannery O’Connor, one of the most important novelists and short-story writers of the 20th century. Also worth a stop if you have kids is the Savannah Children’s Museum, which features events and over a dozen exhibits.

Prefer the outdoors? Visit one of the world’s most beautiful resting places, the Bonaventure Cemetery. This 100-acre Victorian cemetery has winding pathways, centuries-old tombstones, and monuments. In spring, you’ll see an array of magnificent blooming azaleas. Wander under grand old oaks and enjoy views over the Intercoastal Highway. Bonaventure is too far to walk to from town, but the Bonaventure Cemetery Walking Tour includes transportation from your hotel.

Historic Religious Sites

Savannah has some of the most historic religious sites in the South. The First African Baptist Church has the oldest Black congregation in North America, and during the Civil War, a deacon here helped captive Africans escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad network. The Second African Baptist Church is where General Rufus Saxton in 1865 made what has come to be known as the “40 acres and a mule” proclamation. Here, too, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a sermon that included elements of what would become the “I Have a Dream” speech that he gave during the 1963 March on Washington. 

Congregation Mickve Israel, founded in 1735, was the first synagogue in Georgia and is America’s third-oldest Jewish congregation. The only Gothic-style synagogue in North America, it houses a trove of historical documents including a 15th-century Torah, the oldest on the continent. The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, home to a congregation founded in 1800 by the first French colonists, is known as the Sistine of the South. The cathedral, which was dedicated in 1839, is one of Savannah’s most photographed landmarks. 

City Market, where seafood was once sold and horses were shod, is now a two-block pedestrian courtyard with restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. Thanks to Savannah’s open-container law, you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside while watching the passing parade of tourists. 

Since the day it was founded, Savannah has been tied to the sea. Steps away from River Street is a hidden gem most visitors miss: Factors Walk. Here, cotton producers standing on arched bridges (which are still there) sold their crops to buyers on the cobblestone streets below. If you visit, be careful: steep, uneven steps lead down to Factors Walk. Take the elevator instead. The former warehouses and shipping terminals now house cafes, a few hotels, eateries, and souvenir shops.

If you want to be on the river, book seats on the Georgia Queen riverboat, which offers meal cruises and narrated sightseeing rides during which you can learn about Savannah’s port and visiting ships from around the world. And don’t miss the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, which has paintings, antiques, and scores of exquisite models of old sailing vessels.

Want still more? Head for Tybee Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, where you’ll find three miles of beaches, additional historic sites, and locally caught seafood. 

TRAVELER FAST FACTS

TransportationSavannah/Hilton Head International Airport has two runways (9,351 and 7,002 feet long, respectively). Signature Flight Support and Sheltair operate FBOs.

Climate: Savannah has long, humid subtropical summers with frequent thunderstorms and short, mild, sunny winters. Best times to go are spring and autumn. November and December are the driest months.

What to Know Before You Go. Be sure to pack comfortable shoes, a rain jacket, and an umbrella. Make reservations early if you want to eat in one of the top spots.

TRAVELER REPORT CARD

Accommodations: JW Marriott Plant Riverside (A) is a new $300 million luxury hotel at the river’s edge with a dozen eateries on site.…Perry Lane Hotel (A) is a small, upscale boutique property with a fitness center, a guitar-lending program, and a VIP butler….Mansion on Forsyth Park (B+) is a restored Victorian-Romanesque mansion with a pool, bike rentals, and a cooking class available. 

DiningAlligator Soul (A+) is an elegant eatery with a funky soul that offers what the chef calls “Cajun Creole with world influence” via dishes that feature melt-in-your-mouth alligator tempura, antelope, lamb, and perfect crab cakes….At the new Common Thread (A+), two chefs redefine Southern cuisine with dishes such as flounder crudo, tempura sweet potato, and black pork collar and garlic sausage….The Crystal Beer Parlor (B+), a former speakeasy, serves up burgers, homemade fries, fried green tomatoes, and what may be the best peach cobbler in America….Zunzi’s (B+), a South African-cuisine-inspired mom-and-pop spot, serves delicious sandwiches on freshly made bread with special Zunzi sauces and rooibos iced tea.

 

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