Secrets of Savannah's Historic District
Join us for an insider's guide to one of our favorite Southern cities.
When people find out that I'm a travel writer, they always ask, "Where's your favorite place?" I often wax poetic about recent trips and new discoveries, but, invariably, all roads lead to Savannah.
I feel more at home in Savannah than anyplace I've ever visited. While the city's popularity has grown in recent years, it still maintains its small-town personality. What's more, few places rival the historic district's physical beauty.
I've spent almost a decade exploring this city, and, each time I visit, I discover something new. Come along as I share some of my favorites, both the new kids on the block and the tried-and-true. I hope you'll end up loving Savannah as much as I do.
Shop Till You Drop
Some of the most exciting shops can be found in the new Downtown Design District, on Whitaker Street between Charlton Lane and Gaston. No matter what else I have to do, I always make time for One Fish Two Fish (447-4600) at the corner of Whitaker and Jones. Here Jennifer Beaufait Grayson offers an eclectic mix of painted furniture, vintage pieces, and collectibles.
Savannah Fine Linens ( 447-5885) dazzles with sumptuous sheets, duvet covers, and pillows, as well as table linens. Be sure to walk down the street to see the amazing finds at Architectural Elements (844-1320).
For a more contemporary viewpoint, head to 24e. ( 233-2274) on Broughton Street. This lush store offers sleek, modern furniture and accessories. Nearby, The Paris Market & Brocante ( 232-1500) features all things French, from antiques to lavender soap.
For a peek at what the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) students are creating, stop at ShopSCAD ( 525-5180) on Bull Street. This unique store swells with cutting-edge paintings and photographs, as well as handmade jewelry and pottery. Book lovers must stop by independently owned E. Shaver, Bookseller ( 234-7257) just around the corner.
I can't leave Savannah without strolling through the fabulous art galleries. One my favorites, Iona's Gallery and Great Finds (236-1576) at the corner of Abercorn and Congress, offers paintings, jewelry, and home furnishings.
Savannah has lodging for any budget and any personality. I love waking up at the Hamilton-Turner Inn ($175-$350). Guests can split their time between the inn and the owners' beach house on nearby Tybee Island. For a romantic getaway, few places rival the elegance and service of The Gastonian ($215-$415).
If you prefer a hotel, The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa ($149-$249) across the river on Hutchinson Island can't be beat. Alternatives include the DoubleTree Hotel Historic Savannah ($109-$189) and the Hampton Inn Savannah Historic District ($130-$210), both on Bay Street. For more information see box at left.
What To See and Do
Savannah's founding father, James Oglethorpe, had the good sense to arrange the houses and public buildings around a series of public squares. Today, 21 of the original 24 remain. A number of companies offer tours, ideal for a first visit. After that, explore the squares at your own pace.
To learn more about local cuisine, attend a demonstration at Chef Joe Randall's Cooking School($45-$65;  303-0409). Visitors garner recipes, history, and helpful hints on how to make local favorites at home. Best of all, guests get "a little South in your mouth" when chef Joe gets through cooking.
Among the cultural treasures in the historic district reside some of the country's most beautiful churches. None is more compelling than the First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square. Built by slaves in 1859, it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Church elders will show you the holes drilled in the floor to funnel fresh air to escaped slaves hiding in the tunnels below. Call (912) 233-6597 to schedule a free tour.
This article is from the June 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.
Best Restaurants in Savannah's Historic District
Even in summer, The Tea Room ( 239-9690) on Broughton Street offers a wonderful respite. Though afternoon tea ($20) requires reservations, this mini-meal features a three-tiered tray of goodies that includes tea sandwiches and sweets, as well as scones, jam, and clotted cream.A visit to Savannah calls for a big Southern breakfast. Firefly Cafe ( 234-1971) serves breakfast Tuesday through Saturday. Come for the fine Sunday brunch, and try the local version of eggs Benedict ($9.95) served with lump crabmeat. The Original Pankake Palace ( 356-5877) serves breakfast 24 hours a day. Start with the light, fluffy pancakes, and go from there.Soho South Cafe ( 233-1633) also offers Sunday brunch, but it's a great place for lunch most any day. Be sure to try the smoked ham, Brie, and apple slices piled on a warm baguette ($8.75) or a cup of tomato-basil bisque ($2.95).Savannah legend Sema Wilkes passed away in 2002, but her great-grandson Ryon Thompson has assumed leadership at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room (232-5997). Though now only open 11 a.m.-2 p.m., people still stand in line for the heaping helpings of fried chicken and all manner of Southern sides served family style ($13).For dinner, I return again and again to The Olde Pink House (232-4286) on Abercorn Street. My absolute favorites here include Caesar salad topped with crispy cornmeal-crusted fried oysters ($9.95) and local shrimp served with country ham and a grits cake ($8.95).Elizabeth on 37th ( 236-5547) was the first to put Savannah on the nation's culinary map, and it remains an ideal place to celebrate a special occasion. For super casual dining, head out to Tybee Island for the popular Low Country Boil ($12.99) at The Crab Shack (786-9857).Savannah residents gave a collective shout when Leopold's Ice Cream ( 234-4442) reopened on Broughton Street. Tutti-Frutti ($2.85 for a scoop) remains the most sought-after flavor, but ask for samples to determine your favorite. For more sweets, stop by Back In The Day Bakery ( 495-9292) for a homemade 'Nana Pudding ($3.25) or a Baby Cake (starts at $6.95) topped with buttercream frosting.