Secrets of Savannah's Historic District

Join us for an insider's guide to one of our favorite Southern cities.
Cassandra M. Vanhooser

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 ([912]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 ([912] 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 ([912]844-1320).

For a more contemporary viewpoint, head to 24e. ([912] 233-2274) on Broughton Street. This lush store offers sleek, modern furniture and accessories. Nearby, The Paris Market & Brocante ([912] 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 ([912] 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 ([912] 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 ([912]236-1576) at the corner of Abercorn and Congress, offers paintings, jewelry, and home furnishings.

Sweet Slumber

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; [912] 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.