SAVANNAH, Ga. — Magic fills the air in the city of Savannah.
It drifts through the public squares that mark intersections downtown, and the old churches and bell towers that surround them. It hangs along the waterfront, embedded in the historic cobblestone streets and even the new shops and hotel that have revitalized the area. It buoys the people who come here for a good time, the artsy college students and curious tourists and rowdy bachelorette parties alike.
And lucky for us in Tampa Bay, Georgia’s coastal city is a manageable road trip away, pretty much the shortest amount of time you can drive in a car and end up in another state.
There’s rarely a bad time to visit this town dripping with Southern charm. Home to the Savannah School of Art and Design, the city is a creative enclave brimming with music and art. The weather is mild, like Tampa Bay, and the downtown Historic District is walkable and affordable. Savannah is perfect for a long weekend, small enough that you can see most of it in three or four days, but with plenty to do to keep it interesting.
And there are lots of different trips you can have here. Traveling with kids? Historic squares and a big playground in the middle of the city, not to mention the new Plant Riverside District, offer plenty of ways to entertain little ones. Coming here with friends who want to let loose? Savannah’s open container policy in its Historic District means you can get cocktails to-go, and the city offers raucous nightlife and daytime window shopping in equal measure.
Here are some suggestions for how to plan a trip to Savannah.
What to do
Take a stroll through the Historic District: Making your way through the Historic District on foot is a really nice way to spend a day. Start at River Street, and walk the cobblestone streets that run parallel to the Savannah River. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a giant cargo ship cruising down the water. From there, head up one of the old sets of stairs to Bay Street, and make your way into the downtown core. Peruse Broughton Street, a main shopping thoroughfare that’s home to Savannah icons like the Savannah Bee Company (try the mead tasting in the back!) and Leopold’s Ice Cream. From there, find the perpendicular Bull Street and head west away from the water. This is one of my favorite paths because it takes you through many of Savannah’s 22 historic squares, most of which date back to the 1800s. You’ll pass tons of shops, cafes, historic mansions and probably an Old Town Trolley, which offers lovely leisurely tours if your feet get tired.
Visit the Plant Riverside District: This 4 ½-acre entertainment district opened in 2020 after years of development that sought to revitalize Savannah’s historic waterfront. It’s a whole new look for River Street, whose uneven cobblestone paths and kitschy shops are preserved farther down the river. This new area has a Disney Springs feel, with more than a dozen restaurants, three rooftop bars and the JW Marriott hotel, a sprawling three-building complex that once housed a power plant dating back to the 1880s. Grab dinner at Graffito, a family-friendly Italian restaurant with solid pizza, or head to the 21-and-up Myrtle and Rose rooftop bar for small plates, cocktails and crazy cool views of the Savannah River.
Play at Forsyth Park: If you’ve got kids in tow, this is an ideal place to let them expend lots of energy. The 30-acre park in the middle of the city is shaded by large trees covered in Spanish moss and home to recreational activities like tennis and basketball courts, grassy fields and an amphitheater. The centerpiece of the park is the multi-tiered fountain, which was built in 1858. There’s a large playground here too, and don’t miss the cafe just off the park (more on that below) for breakfast, lunch and to-go cocktails.
Where to eat and drink
The Grey: Chef Mashama Bailey’s restaurant, set in a restored 1938 Greyhound Bus Terminal, opened nearly 10 years ago to much acclaim — and still draws a line of tourists and locals waiting to get inside at 5 p.m. I’ve been twice over the years, one time with reservations and a full, exquisite dinner, and the other on a recent trip as part of the nonreservation diners waiting to get in. This time, I sat at the bar, an uber cool space in the front of the restaurant that faces out onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Bailey’s food is familiar but innovative, Southern classics with African influences that are often like nothing else you’ve ever tasted. They only offer a few food items at the bar, but they’re perfect: a cheese plate with signature benne crackers and homemade jam, oysters that change daily and dessert, in my case a butterscotch pudding that reminded me of the Werther’s Originals my grandma used to pull out of her purse. This is the kind of dining experience you plan your entire trip around. 109 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 912-662-5999. thegreyrestaurant.com.
Vinnie Van GoGo’s: An iconic Savannah joint, this cash-only pizza spot is located in City Market, a historic marketplace that has served as a central gathering place for hundreds of years. These days, it’s home to restaurants and shops and bars teeming with nightlife revelers grabbing cocktails to-go. Vinnie’s is a perfect casual stop after a night (or day) of drinking, but also a family-friendly place that draws its fair share of local college students. It’s New York-style pizza all the way here, large slices or whole pies with a thin but hearty crust that you can load with toppings. 317 W. Bryan St. 912-233-6394.
Collins Quarter: The original location in the heart of downtown (51 Bull St.) is worth a visit, a prime breakfast and brunch spot with a full bar that’s also open for dinner. But the newer location near Savannah’s Forsyth Park (621 Drayton St.) is all the rage. Nestled in the park right next to a large playground, it’s open for breakfast and lunch, with a takeout window that serves coffee and pastries and a cart out front that offers cocktails, beer and wine. It’s an ideal scenario on a busy weekend when there’s a long wait for a table: Order a mimosa, take a stroll around the park, and loop back just in time to get your fill of crab cake Benedicts, Turkish eggs, and chicken and waffles. thecollinsquarter.com.
Little Duck Diner: A sweet spot in the heart of downtown, this place is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner but shines at breakfast, when the Flap Crab omelet and the Risotto Stacker (fried cheesy risotto, sausage and a sunny-side up egg) offer fun spins on classic fare. It opened in 2017 with a “vintage chic” aesthetic, complete with a black-and-white tile floor, bar stools and a marquee board listing the day’s milkshake flavors. 150 W. Saint Julian St. 912-235-6773. littleduckdiner.com.
Other suggestions: Treylor Park for Southern comfort fare; The Olde Pink House for cocktails and live music; Flying Monk Noodle Bar for steaming bowls of ramen; Gryphon for afternoon tea.
Where to stay
JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District: This 419-room hotel anchors the new Plant Riverside District right along Savannah’s waterfront. It’s housed in three different buildings, all with distinct vibes: the Power Plant, which pays homage to the historic plant that used to reside here; the romantic and dramatic Three Muses; and the maritime-themed Atlantic. The towering main lobby is a stunner, bursting with colorful glass art, shops and art galleries, and historic touches like the original power plant’s switchboard. There are also dozens of hundreds-year-old geodes scattered throughout that imbue a real sense of drama. But nothing’s more dramatic than the chrome-dipped dinosaur hanging above, a replica of one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered. 400 W. River St. 912-373-9100.
Hampton Inn & Suites Savannah Historic District: For something more affordable but still in the thick of it, try the Hampton Inn located on the busy Oglethorpe Avenue. It’s just a couple of blocks from City Market, and still very much centrally located. It’s a totally serviceable spot to spend a weekend. 603 W. Oglethorpe Ave. 912-721-1600.
Kimpton Brice Hotel: This stylish spot is located on Bay Street, quite close to the waterfront. Despite the prime location, it feels calm, with its outdoor pool and surrounding courtyard offering a charming refuge from the city when you need a minute to rest. After a recent renovation, rooms have a hip, modern feel, and its Italian restaurant Pacci provides solid on-site dining. 601 E. Bay St. 912-238-1200.