Like many young women around the Southeast, I traveled to Savannah for the first time when I was a Junior Scout. I was just 10 years old at the time, and my Girl Scout troop made a pilgrimage to the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace. It was somewhat of a rite of passage for me, and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with a cobblestoned city. Not only did I fall even more in love with the woman who proved that girls could enjoy the wilderness too, but I also fell in love with Savannah’s neat squares, blooming azaleas, steepled cathedrals, manicured gardens and stately homes. Ever since that first trip, I have been completely enamored by the town.
As things often go, the older I became, the fewer opportunities I had to visit Savannah, or at least, the fewer I created. Like many Southerners, I let the convenience of Highlands, the charm of Seaside and the trendiness of Charleston commandeer my vacation time. However, in recent years, I’ve rediscovered Savannah as the prime place for a weekend escape. In many ways, it offers the same convenience, charm and trendiness of the three above cities but with its own flair. Gone are the days where River Street ruled and ghost tours dominated. In fact, for your next trip, as you’ll see today, I’m going to challenge you to spend an entire weekend exploring the Hostess City without ever setting foot on bustling River Street or (gasp!) without embarking on a ghost tour. Take the challenge. You won’t regret a new look at old Savannah.
Drop your bags at The DeSoto, a hotel in the thick of it all with a history of being the center of attention. In fact, during its prime, the hotel was known as one of the places to see and be seen in the city. While the original 1890 hotel was demolished in the 1960s, many of the original details remain. Visitors will find original chandeliers nicknamed “sparkling clusters,” terracotta tiles and other historic accents. As one of Savannah’s tallest buildings, the hotel offers amazing views of many of the charming streets below. From your balcony you can take in anything from Madison Square to the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, and every corner will leave you ready to explore. When you book your trip, be sure to reserve the Park, Sip, and Stroll Package. You’ll be treated to a guided walking tour with Sotherly Host Kolin Podell through Savannah’s Historic District — complete with cocktails in hand. SB TIP: Savannah permits visitors to take cocktails throughout the Historic District in a plastic cup, so feel free to order your weekend libations to go!
Once back at the hotel from your walking tour, enjoy dinner at 1540 Room. Healmed by Chef Kyle Jacovino, you’re in for a Savannah dining experience unlike any other. Chef Kyle was most recently Executive Chef at Hugh Acheson’s shuttered Savannah restaurant, The Florence, but Atlanta residents will appreciate his stints at Restaurant Eugene and Empire State South. His extensive experience in Italian cuisine shines at 1540 Room. Ask for a table near the kitchen so you can watch a master at work. Chef Kyle positions himself on one side of the waterfall quartz line while his talented team prepares delectable dishes from the other. Push your diets aside and opt for house-made pasta, and if it’s still gracing the menu when you sit down, order the Beet Scarpinocc.
End your evening with a nightcap at neighboring Artillery. Just on the next block over from The DeSoto, you’ll find a menu filled with both classic and contemporary cocktails served in the most unsuspecting, unpretentious ways. The building is where Georgia’s Hussars’ armory once housed the calvary’s artillery, giving the bar its name. Marble bistro tables paired with call buttons for service make this stop unique and memorable. When ordering, challenge yourself to use an oldie but goodie classic to drive your choice for a new-to-you contemporary drink. I wouldn’t blame you if you go back tomorrow night, too.
Put some pep in your step at Mirabelle Cafe for coffee and liege waffles. Just a quick walk from The DeSoto, you’ll know you’ve arrived when you find yourself directly across the street from the beloved Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Located on the main level of a boutique hotel, Mirabelle Cafe is the quaint home to warm beverages, sugary waffles and the most darling bird wallpaper you ever laid eyes on. In essence, you might feel as though you’ve walked off the streets of Paris. Try one of the specials for something seasonal and surprising.
From Mirabelle Cafe, head a towards the Savannah River to take a tour of the Davenport House. Built in 1820 and saved in 1955, the Davenport House is a remarkable example of a Federalist-style home married with Greek Revival interior accents. It was built by master builder Isaiah Davenport and served as a portfolio of sorts for his own skillset. The home hosts more than 35,000 visitors each year and holds tours daily. Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children.
By now it’s mid-morning, and in the city that has quite the history with prohibition, that means sliding over to Ghost Coast Distillery for libations and learning. Ghost Coast Distillery capitalizes on Savannah’s spirited history with a few spirits of their own: two types of vodka, one of which is orange-flavored. Daily tours include a brief history of Savannah’s liquor past along with a tour of the facility. Don’t miss a trip to the Cocktail Room, where skilled mixologists prepare hand-crafted cocktails using Ghost Coast Distillery vodkas.
Make your way back towards the Historic District for lunch and an afternoon of shopping. There are so many fantastic restaurants within the parameters of the Historic District that the hardest part will be nailing down your choice. If you have a ladies group, opt for Gryphon Tea Room, a restaurant almost exclusively operated by current and former SCAD students. For a burger and brew, grab a table at The Public Kitchen, which happens to be right next door to Artillery. Looking for great food with an unforgettable atmosphere? Try Collins Quarter. No matter your choice, you’ll be left ready to tackle all that the neighborhood shops have to offer.
After lunch, it’s time to hit the streets to experience Savannah’s fabulous local shopping scene. While you’ll find some amazing common retailers and local shops alike on Broughton Street, including my favorites The Paris Market and Nourish, the real gems are found just steps from your hotel in the Historic District. Start by dipping into Satchel. Located directly across from The DeSoto at the corners of Liberty and Bull Streets, you’ll find small-batch leather goods and accessories in a variety of textures, sizes, shapes and colors.
From here, make your way back down Bull Street, past The DeSoto, and deeper into the Historic District. While you’ll intercept several of Savannah’s 22 squares, you’ll enjoy being surrounded by amazing architecture and towering monuments. When you reach the corner of Bull Street and Jones Street, turn right and walk towards Whitaker Street for two of the most charming shops in the area, One Fish, Two Fish and Number Four Eleven. As a local gift, accessories and home decor shop, One Fish, Two Fish is a dream.
Just down Whitaker is Number Four Eleven, the quintessential hostess shop in the hostess city. Marked with a navy and white striped awning and filled with luxurious linens for all of your heart’s desires, you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir here. Before you return to the hotel to freshen-up for dinner, make a final stop into Alex Raskin Antiques. The overflowing antique store where time stood still is located in a grandiose historic home. Spend a few minutes speaking with Alex himself before pursuing as many rooms as you can and possibly even securing the deal of a lifetime.
For dinner, grab an Uber and head outside the Historic District to Cotton & Rye, a laid back yet sophisticated restaurant brimming with locals. Housed in a former bank built in the ’50s, the eatery exudes a casual elegance that’s juxtaposed with Savannah’s charm. Order a Garden Party to get the night started. The gin cocktail, created by one of the bartenders as “a drink for the person who hates gin,” is a sweet sip completed with rosemary and sage. You’ll find house specialties like roasted acorn squash hummus and crispy chicken wings alongside local catch and comfort food favorites. SB TIP: Don’t skip dessert. Opt for the Candy Bar, an iconic staple that’s a riff on a Twix bar.
From the DeSoto, take the Islands Expressway to one of Georgia’s quaint coastal communities, Tybee Island. Depending on the time of year of your visit, you might hit North Beach for a few hours or enjoy the pier near South Beach. Whatever you do, make sure the Tybee Lighthouse is a part of your visit. The black and white beauty was first erected in 1736 and has been guiding mariners into the Savannah River ever since. Be sure to climb 178 steps to the top to see the stellar views of Tybee, beaches and surrounding areas! While on the island, grab a bite to eat at The Breakfast Club, an iconic family-owned and -operated breakfast joint. The diner’s chef is a Culinary Institute of America alumni, who serves classic breakfast dishes with a few inventive additions. Enjoy a leisurely brunch with island locals before turning your car towards home.
Intrigued? Learn more about this amazing Southern city and then start planning your visit! Start at visitsavannah.com.
All photography by Nicole Letts
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