Travel Guide: Savannah
I haven't explored as much of the South as I would have liked to by now, but I've been to Savannah, Georgia several times and each time I'm charmed more than the last. My last visit was in September of 2015, when we took advantage of cheap-ish airfare and a long weekend thanks to Jewish holidays (oh how I'll miss having those days off this September). Savannah is full of history and beautiful neighborhoods, but it's relatively small and walkable, making it the perfect place to go if you only have a few days to spare.
I see airfare deals to Savannah quite often, sometimes as low as under $100 roundtrip (from New York). The best part about visiting Savannah for us was how walkable the city is—we didn't ever feel the need to rent a car or even use public transit, although that is an option. We did use Uber once, to get to and from Bonaventure Cemetery, but if you're more of a tour person transportation to the cemetery (located a few miles outside of the city center) is usually included.
WHAT TO DO:
I've read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil several times, and it's a must-read if you're thinking of visiting Savannah (or even if you're not). So many places in the book are still around and Brendt does such an excellent job of capturing the vibe of Savannah and its eccentric residents. The Mercer Williams House would be a great place to visit just for its history and architecture, but of course it was also the scene of a notorious murder. Just don't ask too many questions about its sordid history on the tour—my uncle was once admonished by a tour guide and instructed that we were on a strictly "architectural tour" (yeah, ok).
Danny Hansford (shot by the owner of the house, Jim Williams) and Williams (who died of heart failure in the study) are not the only people to die tragically in the house. In 1969, before Williams bought the house, 11-year-old Tommy Downs entered the then-abandoned house on a hunt for pigeons. Downs fell from either the roof or second-story balcony and landed on the wrought-iron fence. The spiked top lodged in his head and has never been replaced.
Bonaventure Cemetery isn't easily accessible from the historical downtown unless you have a car, take a tour or use a car service like Uber. We chose to do the latter since we wanted to be able to explore at our leisure and it was most definitely worth it (and very cheap). Bonaventure still ranks at the top of the most beautiful cemeteries I've visited, and is a quintessential Southern burial ground, with Spanish-moss draped trees and elaborate monuments covering the grounds.
If you don't have time to go out to Bonaventure, you can get your historic cemetery fix without leaving the city. Colonial Park is the oldest intact municipal cemetery in Savannah—it opened around 1750 and closed to burials in 1853, before the start of the Civil War. The cemetery grounds are open until 8pm on most days, and it's full of historical markers telling the stories of some of its more notable residents.
The 30-acre Forsyth Park is the largest park located in the historic district, Savannah's version of Central Park. A large fountain, built in 1858, sits at the north end of the park and on St. Patrick’s Day, the water in the fountain is dyed green during a popular ceremony.
Alex Raskin has been filling the tastefully crumbling Noble Hardee Mansion (located across the square from the Mercer Williams House) with antiques for more than 25 years. It's both a shop and free house tour in one, and if I could I would purchase not only the house, but everything in it (especially the mannequins and framed photographs) I wouldn't change a thing.
There are many ghost tours to choose from in Savannah, consistently named one of America's most haunted cities. Do I believe most of the stories that they tell you on these tours? Not really. But I'm always looking for things to do after dark, and ghost tours are a great way to see parts of the city (within the safety of a group)—if you extract the history from the legends they can be both entertaining and informative.
The Isaiah Davenport house, built in 1820, is one of the oldest brick structures in the city. The American Federal-style house is also a museum, containing artifacts mainly from 1820-1827. When the house was threatened with demolition in 1955, a group joined forces to purchase the Davenport House. This would come to be known as the first act of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which has since gone on to save hundreds buildings in the city. The first floor of the house was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1963.
Along the Savannah River you'll find century-old warehouses that have been converted to antique shops, souvenir stores, art galleries, restaurants, bars and hotels. You can get your fortune read by a pirate, squish a souvenir penny and try a praline sample (or two). I did get pooped on by a bird while standing outside of a shop on River Street, so be vigilant—and always use historic steps at your own risk.
This charming bookstore opened in 1978 and is Savannah's only full-service, independently-owned new and used books bookstore. They have more than 50,000 books spanning 40 genres and they're packed onto shelves, tables and staircases. I couldn't resist taking home a copy of Savannah Spectres and Other Strange Tales.
WHERE TO EAT:
I'm going to recommend that you eat at the Olde Pink House, located inside of a Georgian mansion built in 1771, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure I got food poisoning from my burger. The building, one of the few to survive the fire of 1796, is said to be haunted (like most other buildings in Savannah) and I also had a strange experience on the way to the bathroom when I felt as if I had been briefly pushed down the stairs. But, poisoning and pushing aside, the Olde Pink House is classic Savannah—make reservations and maybe (definitely) pass on the burger.
You know I can't travel to a new place without at least one diner breakfast. Clary's Cafe, established in 1903, has everything I look for in a classic diner—local clientele, good signage and breakfast menu staples served all day. It's also featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and was a filming location for the movie.
We had a delicious introductory meal at The Pirates' House, a tavern and restaurant established in 1753. A portion of the structure was built in 1734, making it the oldest building still standing in the state of Georgia. We had the buffet and it was full of perfect Southern dishes—mac n' cheese, collard greens, fried chicken, fried okra, cornbread, peach cobbler. After our meal were asked if we wanted a tour of the property by a pirate—a former New Yorker and SVA grad named Chris—who told us tales of underground tunnels, drunken sailors and haint blue paint.
Want to know even more about Savannah? You can see all of my individual Savannah posts here.