Before I start, I have to get something off my chest.
Charlestonians call Savannah the slutty younger sister of Charleston.
To some degree, the connotation sticks:
- Open container laws
- Bachelorette parties galore
- Heavy drinking on River Street
- Saint Patrick’s Day in general
But don’t judge a book by it’s cover!
Savannah, Georgia, is worth exploring in its own right. The two sister cities, as Charleston and Savannah are called, are more different than people give them credit.
Charleston is more European in feel. While it’s larger, it’s scattered across islands and peninsulas.
Savannah, meanwhile, is more concentrated in its downtown. It also has taller buildings, which give it more of a city feel, despite being smaller.
Savannah’s farther from the ocean, so beaches are more of a drive. And the Spanish moss drapes more densely on the trees, which certainly contributes to the classic Southern feel.
Most still associate Savannah with “the Book”, or the 1995 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. John Berendt’s novel about the city from the perspective of a scandalous murder trial is still worth a read before you step foot here, if you have the time.
A weekend is all you need to get a good grasp on Savannah. That said, more time will allow you to explore farther afield or check-off the things I skipped on my recent visit.
Best Time to Visit Savannah
The best time to visit Savannah is whenever you have the time off.
If you’re looking for a less smart-ass answer, you have a couple times to pick:
Springtime in Savannah
March to July is the best time to visit Savannah. The warm weather helps make the air heavy with the scents of flowers, though not yet heavy with heat and intense humidity of later summer. Because it’s prime time to be here, hotel rates are typically at their highest.
Autumn in Savannah
The best time if you’re looking to save a buck or two is mid-September through mid-November. The weather’s cooling off again, yet hotel rates are likely not as high as in the spring.
How to Get to Savannah
Many people lump Charleston and Savannah together when they visit the Lowcountry. I drove the 2 hours from Charleston to Savannah. It may be cheaper depending on where you’re coming from to fly to Charleston and then drive to the Empire State of the South.
That said, the Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport is 8 miles away from downtown. The airport has regular flights to all the major cities of the Northeast, plus Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Chicago. You can even skip the drive from Atlanta and Charlotte, if you’re so inclined.
Savannah’s easily accessible from I-95. If you’re coming from the north, I recommend getting off on Route 17 close to the Georgia / South Carolina border. That way, you can cross the Savannah River via the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, rather than the uglier bridge that I-95 travels, further west. You can also take Interstate 16 to enter the city from the west.
If you prefer to be a little eco-friendly and travel by rail, Amtrak passes through Savannah on its Silver Service / Palmetto line.
Where to Stay
The best area to stay in Savannah is without question the historic downtown area. Seriously, things go downhill the minute you move past the most heavily-trafficked areas of Savannah. But downtown is safe, as the police are busy making sure nothing happens to the goose that laid the golden egg that is tourism. Anywhere between the river and Forsyth park will be perfectly safe, and easily walkable to anything you’re looking to experience downtown.
As far as safety goes, don’t be stupid.
If you’re walking long distances at night, take an Uber or cab. And definitely don’t wander around alone after dark.
But that said, some of the midtown sections of Savannah are quite cute. And unlike Charleston, they’re an easy walk from the historic district.
Within the historic district, there are plenty of options for both Airbnbs as well as hotels. Having been brought-up in the bed and breakfast industry, I’m regularly obliged to support a local innkeeper’s business.
Presidents Quarters Inn
Sitting in two Federal-style mansions from the 1850s on Oglethorpe Square, Presidents Quarters Inn is an elegant B&B within easy walking distance of everything downtown.
Where to Eat and Drink
Like every other city in the South, Savannah’s food culture is becoming a destination in and of itself.
I was visiting a friend who lives in Savannah, so I got to take advantage of his knowledge of his hometown.
The Public Kitchen and Bar
Located on East Liberty and close to Chippewa and Madison Squares, the Public Kitchen and Bar has mid-century modern decor. But I wasn’t there for the decor: their cocktails and eclectic menu were fantastic. I had a Rhubarb & Tonic, and the Stuffed Chicken Breast; both of which were amazing.
Congress Street Up
Congress Street Up is a unique experience to Savannah. This bar is decorated like a 1920s speakeasy. Visitors are expected to dress to impress as they drink Prohibition-era classics, including big punch bowls that are way stronger than you realize while drinking them.
You’ve been warned.
Foxy Loxy Cafe
Equal parts coffee shop, bakery, and Tex-Mex cantina; Foxy Loxy Cafe on Bull Street between 35th and 36th streets is perfect for breakfast. Especially if you’re close to a sour mood due to caffeine withdrawal. This place will be packed, though, so feel free to wander around looking throughout the house and the outdoor area in back for seating. The walls are covered in local art, as well.
Just stay within earshot of the counter for when they call your order.
Part of the Treylor Park consortium of restaurants, Hitch offers some unique variations of American standard bar fare. My favorite thing we ordered was Avocado Fries, though the PB&J chicken wings (tossed in a butter/pecan butter sauce and served with peach jam dipping sauce) were delicious as well.
This is a bit of a drive away from downtown Savannah, but it’s worth the trip, especially at sunset. The Wyld offers casual waterside dining with a focus on seafood. The fish tacos were the perfect amount of food, and we weren’t even disturbed by bugs at prime biting time of the evening.
The Painkiller Slushie was yet another mixed drink that didn’t taste anywhere near as strong as it was.
Loc’s Chicken and Waffles
A local Savannah restaurant, this place knows what it’s famous for, and knows how to serve them well. Be careful about coming on Sundays, as this place can get pretty packed with church-goers. Be sure to have Loc’s chicken and waffles, obviously.
Where to Explore in Savannah
I’ve visited Savannah more than a few times. This most recent visit, however, I got to see the city from a local friend’s eyes.
Savannah’s Historic District
I stayed on the edge of downtown and walked in during the day, so I listed attractions by how I found them. Mostly, we just wandered around the live oak-lined streets of Savannah’s historic downtown.
This 30-acre park is massive. Its huge, central fountain is one of the most photographed sites in Savannah. Plus, it’s where the farmers market meets on Saturdays, on the southern end. Originally a 10-acre park designed by William Hodgson, the park has expanded to its current size to include tennis and basketball courts to match the expansive lawns and plantings.
Juliette Gordon Low House
The birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts, this house is always covered with Girl Scouts. You can usually catch a troop taking a line picture up the front stairs as you walk by the building.
Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
The facade of this 19th-century Roman Catholic cathedral is impressive, but be sure to get inside and enjoy a few moments of peace. While you’re meditating in a pew, look around and observe the neo-gothic architecture and stained glass windows.
Colonial Park Cemetery
I did not make it to the Bonaventure Cemetery this trip, the famous one from “the Book”. Instead, we poked around the historic city-center burial grounds, first consecrated in 1789. Some founders of the city and the country are laid to rest here. This cemetery is supposedly one of the most haunted places in what is already a haunted city. They close the cemetery at night because of so many strange occurrences that freaked-out tourists.
Waving Girl Statue
Walk down River Street to a park on the eastern side, and you’ll find the Waving Girl Statue. This honors a woman who lived with her brother, the lighthouse keeper, at the entrance to the Savannah River. Night and day, she made a point of greeting ships with a sheet during the day and a lantern at night.
Sailors throughout the world spread the story of the Waving Girl in the port of Savannah.
When she “retired” from her profession, the city installed this statue to honor her.
Farther Afield from Downtown Savannah
If you’ve got a car, a friend with a boat, or preferably both, you can head farther away from Savannah and explore the natural beauty of the Lowcountry.
Wormsloe Historic Site
The Wormsloe Historic Site features an original fort to defend colonial Savannah from potential Spanish invasions from Florida. The architecture is a style largely lost in Savannah, though it was common at its founding: tabby. Tabby is a crude form of concrete made from oyster shells and lime.
While the views of the marshes are beautiful, the main draw to the site is the long allee of oaks leading to the old fort ruins.
Ossabaw Island and Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge
If you’ve got a friend in the area with a boat, or feel like renting one yourself, you can cruise through the marshes out to Ossabaw Island. One of the largest barrier islands near Savannah, it’s inaccessible by any bridge or causeway.
But that makes it a perfect place for wildlife. While the beach closest to the Savannah River fills-up with other boaters looking for a more secluded beach than Tybee Island, there are long stretches on the ocean side where you won’t see a soul.
Be sure to walk over to the boneyard on the ocean side. There, trees that have been slowly exposed and left to die by the erosive waves still stand, bleaching in the sun.
Like the dead trees, you will experience a lot of exposure to the sun. Plan accordingly.
Everything You Need to Plan a Short Weekend in Savannah
The good thing is Savannah is relatively compact. While the city sprawls like any typical American metropolis, the major attractions are largely central to downtown.
I drove down after work on a Friday, wandered around downtown all Saturday, then explored further parts of the Savannah area on Sunday before driving home that evening.
While I could have done more (like the museums), I can’t say I was bored.