What she thought
Jason and I are both from Georgia. Jason was born in Savannah and I was born in a town about 50 miles from there. Prior to moving to Florida we both lived in Savannah. When people hear that we lived there they always want to know where to go and what to do when they visit. On our past two visits we tried to find some recommendations for ya'll ;-)
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency on this visit. It's in a prime location downtown, convenient to everything and right on the river. Check out more information on the Hyatt on our "Hotels we Recommend" page. Within walking distance are River Street, most of Savannah's squares, City Market and Broughton Street. I was particularly interested in thoroughly taking in Broughton Street. Major restoration has been going on there and I wanted to check out the new shopping opportunities. I'll tell you more about that in a bit.
First let me fill you in on some of the history of the Hostess City of the South. Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and one of the most historical and famous in the south. It was established by James Oglethorpe in 1733 and was once the capital of Georgia. General Oglethorpe was responsible for the layout of the city around 22 squares. These famous squares were originally used for military training and exercises. Now, they are probably what Savannah is known best for. There's also the sites where the first settlers came ashore and where Oglethorpe first set up camp. While the civil war was fought all around her, Savannah was famously saved from destruction by General Sherman. He claimed she was too beautiful to burn to the ground as he had done in so many other places and instead gave her and her cotton as a gift to President Lincoln. Some amazing homes were built on the squares and all over downtown. These were home to some pretty noteworthy people. Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, many famous writers including Conrad Aiken and Flannery O'Connor, and musicians including Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to Moon River. An inlet in Savannah has been renamed Moon River in his honor.
One of the best ways to see these houses and the historic sites around downtown is on an Old Town Trolley Tour. I highly recommend the Historic Trolley Tour with on and off privileges. You can hop on and off the trolley all day long. It's the perfect way to see all of downtown at your own pace. I love the idea that you can sit back, relax and hear stories about the places you are seeing At some stops, period appropriate characters board the trolley to give you a little more information about the places you are visiting. Among the stops are the Juliette Gordon Lowe house, The Kehoe House, Forsyth Park, River Street and The Pirates House. Learn more about each of these places on the Old Town Trolley Tour site. Click here to visit the site.
If you are able to walk for a distance then make sure you walk as much of downtown as possible. Take in the squares and architecture. There are some beautiful houses off of the beaten path.
And now for shopping!!! I love shopping. Those three words can't really sum it up though. I mean, I reaaaaaaaaaally love shopping. I love everything about it. The smell of the store when you first enter (If you blindfolded me and took me shopping I could tell you what store we were in by the smell), I love the windows all decorated with the newest loot, I love shoes all displayed perfectly like little pieces of art, I love the jewelry sparkling in the fluorescent lights. I take it seriously. Also, I may have a problem.... hehe. I took on Broughton Street by myself so I could really slow down and check out all of the little stores and every little thing they had to offer. Some of the more popular chains are located here, Gap, Banana Republic, Marc Jacobs, Urban Outfitters. But I found a few really fun stores that offered something different. My favorite place was The Paris Market. So much fun!!! This place is like a Parisian flea market, a little of this and a little of that. You could spend an hour or more just looking at every little jar full of goodies. The best thing about the store for me was the jewelry bar. They have a cabinet full of drawers that are full of pieces of jewelry, all sizes, shapes and colors. The pieces are actually from the molds that jewelry makers use. You pick the pieces you want and you can have them make them into something wearable. You may be lucky enough to find a piece that's already ready to wear. I could spend all day just looking through this cabinet for treasures. But if you need a break from shopping, they have you covered with an in-store cafe. Make sure to try the macarons. If you can't make it to Paris, these will come in a close second!! Check out the website for The Paris Market here.
About 11 miles from downtown Savannah, on Isle of Hope, is Wormsloe Plantation. It is an 822 acre plantation built from 1739 - 1745 by Noble Jones, one of Georgia's founders. The home that was built there was small, definitely not what we think of when we think of a Georgia plantation home. The home was built primarily for defense against potential Spanish invaders who occupied Florida at the time. All that is left of the home are some of the walls, which make up the oldest standing structure in Savannah. The most fascinating and beautiful thing to see at Wormsloe is the 1.5 mile avenue of oak trees. Over 400 oak trees line the road as you enter the plantation.
I love oak trees like these, with their massive branches draped in Spanish moss. There is nothing like a full moon shining through them, creating trails of shadows on the ground. A warm breeze gently blowing the lacy moss sounding like whispers, telling stories of years gone by. Stories of horse drawn carriages, women in fantastic dresses sipping tea on the porch, real gentlemen, magnificent parties that lasted all day inside of grand homes. Stories of a south that is long gone but whose idea remains strong. Don't get me wrong, I remember the not-so-grand things about the old south too. But there are some traditions that remain that I really love..... men that open doors for women, children that say Ma'am and Sir, grandmothers that are matriarchs of huge families, fitting as many people as possible around a table for Sunday dinner..... these things remind me of home and my family.
Lastly, if you have time and a car, head out of Savannah. My favorites parts of the south are out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. Places where the only sounds are whippoorwills in the distance and magnolia leaves under your feet. Where old houses still beckon you in and neighbors are family. For me, that's the heart of the south.
So, pack your bags, ya'll. Savannah's waiting.
What he thought
One good thing about Savannah is that even the touristy things are in the center of rich historical activity. You can probably recognize the kitschy bits for yourself if you are a sufficiently experienced traveller, inclined to avoid such things. However, there is one trap that I particularly want to mention because it has tragically been promoted by commercial powers as the brand of Savannah -- a title that is not deserved!
So often, when people think about Savannah, they think of a certain grey-haired lady with a suspiciously thick southern drawl. Her initials are "P.D." and she's been surrounded by a lot of bad publicity lately that I wouldn't have wished on her but I have to admit I would not be disappointed if she lost favor as the key representative of the city. There are more qualified candidates.
Being from Savannah, I worry that visitors too often visit Dean's restaurant and assume that it represents good southern cooking. It doesn't. It's excessively salty, greasy and altogether low quality compared to the extraordinary and authentic southern fare that is available just down the road.
Mrs. Wilkes is where you really should go! It's a fixed menu. They don't take credit cards or reservations. The doors open at eleven and if you were early enough to get a good place in line, you'll sit at a big table with a bunch of "strangers" (that's the word northerners use for people you haven't met before - a concept we southerners don't fully grasp since we figure a nod and a 'how are ya?' makes us fast friends).
Mrs. Wilkes is true southern cooking at its best! I can't recommend it highly enough. It amazes me that these dedicated southern ladies are so loyal to our ideals that they maintain good prices and authenticity over commercial successes they could easily garner. I regret that there is a risk you might not get seated because the demand is high. All I can say is, if you're staying a few days, go early and if you can't get in, try again tomorrow. You won't regret it!
It's particularly difficult for me to strongly encourage people to visit my home-town. I have a love-hate relationship with Savannah for sure. There is a lot of historical discovery that every American should go to the host city to experience. It comes with a price though.
Oglethorpe wanted desperately to establish Savannah without slavery but economics ultimately forced the colonists to abandon their ideals and the region's history took a very sharp turn toward the dark-side, from which, it has yet to recover.
Race relations in the south are worse than in other areas of the country. There are still people living who wanted to maintain segregation during the civil rights era and multitudes of freed slaves' descendants who are affected by it even into recent decades.
There are many poor neighborhoods in Savannah that you won't be exposed to when you visit River Street even though they are only a few blocks away. However, you are likely to encounter homeless people on the river -- an unfortunate, on-going indication that corporate greed has tremendous costs in human lives that can transcend generations -- a lesson our corporate leaders could learn from even today!
I suppose speaking of Savannah is "too close to home" for me in every sense of the expression. The purpose of our travel blog is to speak about great experiences in travel, dining and hotels but I couldn't resist the opportunity to make a political statements because this place contains many emotional triggers for me, being part of my own heritage. Savannah history is still very much in motion for me and the place is a vivid reminder for me that we have a long way to go as a nation .
Savannah is full of excellent travel experiences. Even the ones I criticize can still be fun. I just don't want you to miss experiencing the true spirit of the city by falling into the tourist traps.
There are many carriage/trolley/bus tours of the city that let you get up close and personal with historical figures without wearing out your walking shoes. It's a good idea to go on the tour to find areas you want to visit and spend more time exploring in depth by car. If you stay at the Hyatt like we did, you're within walking distance of almost everything downtown and some of the squares as well. However, if you want to go to the cemeteries, parks or farthest squares, you may need to take your car (and remember that when you're walking around the squares you are far from food and restrooms).
You can't go wrong, when it comes to food, eating at the Pirate House, The Olde Pink House, Elizabeth on 37th St., Vinnie Van Go-Go's (Pizza) -- some of my favorites! There is no shortage of excellent dining experiences in the downtown area near the river.
People really do say "ya'll" in Savannah. Don't assume that southern colloquialisms are an indicator of intelligence. Physicians, lawyers and engineers will use southern-ease as much of the rest of the population. It's just a style of communication. Though it's dying off, you do occasionally here-tell of people saying things like they're "fixin" to "get gussied up", "finer than frog-hair," or that food was so good it'll make you "smack yer granny." Try, if you can, to have fun with it.
Maybe don't try to emulate it though. Very few people can authentically imitate southern-ease. Some people famous for speaking "Savannah southern" do not authentically speak common dialect of Savannah and there are subtle differences between how people speak on the coastal planes, the Appalachians and other regions of the south. If you imitate the wrong one, there is the potential "someone will snatch a knot in your tail" or worse, "stomp a mud-hole in ya."
Our latest stay in Savannah was one of our better trips home. The Hyatt was fantastic for its proximity to everything in the downtown area. We were within walking distance to all the shops on the river, all the restaurants on bay street and a short drive to all the squares, parks and other destinations. There are also restaurants located with the hotel. The rooms and the location were fantastic!
Don't be strangers now!