Savannah lures travelers with its signature Southern hospitality and charm. But look deeper, and packed into this charming coastal city approximately 2 hours south of Charleston, South Carolina, you will find a host of gems to uncover: rich history, stately and majestic scenery, a multitude of activities, a thriving dining scene, and an offbeat touch that makes it a desired and attractive destination for all ages.
I found Savannah to be the ideal side trip to explore for a day while visiting Charleston. There is much to do, so there’s much to choose from: sightseeing via trolley, touring historic churches, a visit to a famous museum, or sampling one of many restaurants that span the gamut of menus. You can even enjoy an island getaway within Savannah’s reach.
I highly recommend hopping aboard an open-air trolley with Savannah’s Old Town Trolley Tours for a thorough and fun introduction to key sights in the city. Visitors can choose between the 1- or 2-day tours, both of which offer free unlimited boarding at designated stops with ticket purchase. (We opted for the one-day tour.) Both 90-minute rides offer an amiable, in-person guide who details over 100 key Savannah attractions, such as historic Forsyth Park, graced by its trademark fountain, Victorian homes, and towering oak trees with hanging Spanish moss. I am a photography buff (albeit amateur!), and my camera snapped away as I took pictures of the park’s iconic scenery. I also was intrigued by the tour’s stop at the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, among other noteworthy places.
Old Town Trolley Tours also offers other interesting Savannah excursions, two of which are the Ghosts and Gravestones Sightseeing Tour and the American Prohibition Museum. The former attraction immerses visitors in Savannah’s haunted lore, stopping by the city’s allegedly spooky sites. The latter brings travelers back in time with displays from the Prohibition era. Cap off this tour with a visit to Congress Street Up, the museum’s authentic period speakeasy where one can enjoy a (legal) drink. All of the Old Town Trolley Tours have COVID-19 safety precautions in place, and they also offer wheelchair lifts if needed. Visitors may call the morning of the tour to ensure that such access is available. Those outings are 90-minute express tours, without the “hop on, hop off” option.
Savannah Visitors Center
The Savannah Visitors Center is a great place to pick up the Trolley Tour (it’s also the first stop from where it leaves). It’s a one-stop shop for information on the city and gift shops to pick up some Savannah mementos. I am a tee shirt and magnet collector from the places I visit, and this place definitely took care of those travel needs quite nicely.
The Prohibition Museum is located in Savannah’s famous City Market, a key site to visit that is a hub for everything from shopping to restaurants. The original market dates back to the 1700s and has undergone many changes in the ensuing years. However, true to its beginnings, it remains a central spot for gathering and commerce. City Market (and other popular Savannah sites) is accessible for those needing assistance.
SCAD Museum Of Art
The SCAD Museum of Art, affiliated with its namesake, the noted Savannah College of Art and Design, showcases exhibitions of modern art in many forms. The museum sits in a historic location: the circa 1853 building was formerly a railway depot and is now a National Historic Landmark. The museum offers mobility access for those in need.
First African Baptist Church
Savannah has many houses of worship, and the historic First African Baptist Church, located in downtown Savannah, is considered the oldest African American congregation in the United States. The church, a National Historic Landmark, offers tours Wednesday through Saturday, with a senior discount.
A coastal escape just a 20-minute drive east of Savannah, Tybee Island offers pristine, sun-dappled beaches, shops that feature locally produced goods, dining spots that are sure to appeal to many a palate, historic Civil War sites, and even an 18th-century lighthouse, Georgia’s oldest and tallest. Tybee Island offers amenities for accessibility for beach and attraction excursions.
Have A Bite
Savannah is home to everything from traditional Southern dishes to Continental offerings, and a wide variety of menus in between. Here are several establishments worth a visit, each with a distinct appeal of its own.
The Ordinary Pub, a quaint, rustic, and funky bar/restaurant was a spontaneous dining choice for a late lunch after working up an appetite while sightseeing. What a pleasant and welcome surprise it was. Located in a cellar-like setting (there is a freight elevator to take guests down who have difficulty navigating the stairs, and the restrooms have wheelchair access), the pub’s brick walls and wooden tables emanate an intimate and casual atmosphere. My meal was hearty and tasty. The Loaded Pub Fries to start (best shared, it’s a generous portion and loaded it is with tasty toppings) and the Savannah Burger as a main course happily danced on my taste buds as I munched away. There are also dinner and happy hour menus. Next time, I vow to try the Bananas Foster French toast. The pub’s name may say “ordinary”; however, the food was extraordinarily delicious.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is located in the Historic District and offers traditional Southern cuisine as its specialty. (The restaurant only offers outdoor dining at present.) The restaurant has an interesting backstory, dating back to 1943 when Sema Wilkes assumed ownership of the property’s boardinghouse and thus established this Savannah culinary staple. Savor everything including fried chicken, meatloaf, mac and cheese, and delectable desserts. Stop by the restaurant’s store to have a look at various merchandise, including Mrs. Wilkes’s cookbook featuring her famous recipes.
Spanky’s Pizza Galley and Saloon is where you’ll find everything from the restaurant’s signature chicken fingers and salads to pizza and lots of mouth-watering items in between. The family-owned restaurant has been voted Best Bar Food in Savannah and is sure to please with its many menu choices.
For authentic Southern barbecue, look no further than downtown’s Savannah Smokehouse. The meat is smoked on-site daily, and appetizers range from fried pork rinds and fried green tomatoes to sandwiches, such as beef brisket and pulled pork. Don’t forget dessert, such as that Southern staple, pecan pie. There are a host of beers and wines to choose from. They offer casual dining with an accent on flavor.
Savannah offers a wealth of lodging options should your trip be extended. These range from bed and breakfasts and historic inns to motels and luxury hotels. I should not neglect to mention, for the brave souls willing to dare spend a night, even haunted hotels! (Note that many of the B&Bs and inns, while very charming, are located in historic homes and thus are not equipped with mobility access.) The following properties each offer an ideal blend of modern comforts and touches of historic Savannah.
The Drayton Hotel, formerly the American Trust and Bank Building, is located in the heart of the Historic District and offers 50 rooms that all have City Hall and river views. The hotel has a restaurant, downstairs cocktail lounge, and rooftop bar, and has three rooms with full wheelchair access.
The Jules Savannah, located in an 1870 restored and renovated mansion in the Historic District, offers six comfortable suites on four floors, each room with an intimate ambience of its own. The hotel has an elevator on the side of the building for access to rooms.
SpringHill Suites, located in the Historic District, is conveniently located for walking to many of the district’s attractions. The hotel offers 10 to 15 rooms that are ADA compliant, including the pool. Rooms can be blocked off in advance of check-in.
Recommendations From An Expert
Jonathan Stalcup, owner of Architectural Tours of Savannah, had some insider tips to offer for visitors to this many-faceted city. Enjoy them all, or just a few and save the rest for your return trip!
Look Up As You Explore
Savannah has excellent architecture throughout the city. For the insight of an expert, check out Architectural Tours of Savannah. You are sure to be surprised and delighted at the variety of small details that Stalcup will point out to you. Whether or not you opt to take the tour, be sure to pause every now and then to fully appreciate the buildings around you.
See Modern And Historic Art
To add some more art, culture, and history to your visit to Savannah, Stalcup also suggests being sure to check out Telfair Museum‘s three locations: the Jepson Center, home to modern works; the Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters, where you can see art and furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries; and the Telfair Academy, which houses American and European art from the 19th and 20th centuries. These museums are all excellent additions to any itinerary for a trip to Savannah. (Note: accessibility options for all three can be found here.)
Treat Your Taste Buds
Diners can choose between two Savannah locations of Kayak Kafe. This spot is a great choice for those who are seeking vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Kayak Kafe features natural food in a stylish setting. “Kayak Kafé’s flavors are light and natural just like its decor,” said Stalcup.
The Collins Quarter is a new addition to the area that offers Australian coffee, wine, and food. “Order an espresso with a pastry or a local farm-to-table plate and you won’t be disappointed,” said Stalcup. The Collins Quarter has plenty to offer for the discerning diner. You can find locations on Bull Street and at Forsyth Park.
Savannah, with its many sides from the historic to modern, effortlessly strikes that delicate balance between traditional laid-back Southern style to the happening and hip, which mix effortlessly to define its enduring appeal.