Of course there’s all that great food and the stately buildings, but it’s the open-air spaces that make me love Savannah, Georgia. “This city has a texture like a beautiful quilt,” my wife says. A visit isn’t enough for her. Now she wants to live here.
But for now, we’re content to relish it for a weekend. I bet you will be too. On balmy days that roll softly into evening, you’ll want to be outdoors as much as you can. Stroll the waterfront. Explore the cozy neighborhoods of a city filled with manicured garden squares. Take a carriage ride.
Here’s a plan for a busy, fun-filled weekend that includes old favorites and some new surprises.
Ditch the Car
You won’t need wheels. Book a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in the historic district. Ask for one with a balcony facing City Market. Traffic noise is louder on the Bay Street side. It’s an easy walk to some of the best restaurants and trolley stops. www.savannahhistoricdistrict.stayhgi.com or (912) 721-5000. Rates start around $189 for two.
For a budget stay in a downtown location, the Thunderbird Inn offers weekend rates from $99 to $139. www.thethunderbirdinn.com or (912) 232-2661.
After you’ve settled in, slip over to Belford’s Savannah in City Market for a romantic, welcoming dinner. With bare brick walls and a display kitchen, the atmosphere feels a little like New Orleans, but quieter. The crab stew ($5.50) seems a little salty but very flavorful. It’s just the thing for a cool autumn night. www.belfordssavannah.com or (912) 233-2626.
Catch a Trolley
Start the morning with a 90-minute, narrated tour on an Old Town Trolley ($22 adults, $10 ages 4-12). Or buy a ticket with unlimited on-and-off privileges ($25 adults, $10 ages 4-12). You can begin at the Savannah Visitor Information Center at Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard and West Liberty Street. It’s the best way to get oriented. www.trolleytours.com/savannah or (912) 233-0083.
You can’t help but notice what a major impact Savannah College of Art and Design has had on preservation. The college occupies more than 60 buildings. Creative work from students, staff, and alumni fills shopSCAD, one of the most interesting galleries in the city. Inside you’ll find embossed letterpress stationery, handmade jewelry, children’s books, limited edition T-shirts, pillows, and purses, all at reasonable prices. The trolley makes one of its stops at the shop. www.shopscadonline.com or (912) 525-5180.
“The Book” Gift Shop, another store popular with visitors, sells reproductions of the Bird Girl statue and other mementos from the book and film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. www.midnightinsavannah.com or (912) 233-3867.
Lunch at the Mansion
We pass Forsyth Park with its famous fountain and stop at one of Savannah’s most luxurious hotels. Even if you aren’t splurging on a stay, come for lunch at the elegant 700 Drayton at the Mansion on Forsyth Park Hotel & Spa. Servers make you feel like royalty, but the luncheon menu includes such down-to-earth offerings as a Fried Green Tomato BLT ($11). I enjoy a fresh Low Country Salad with baby hearts of romaine, goat cheese, and Georgia shrimp ($13). If you can fit it into your trip, stay over for one of 700 Kitchen Cooking School’s popular classes. (Call ahead for times and prices.) www.mansionon forsythpark.com or 1-888-711-5114. Rates at the hotel start at $309 for two.
Late in the afternoon we stroll along the riverfront to buy pralines and watch the candy-makers at work at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. Beside the water, someone plays “Moon River” on a saxophone. At a nearby kiosk, we sign up for a ghost tour starting at the Pirates’ House restaurant that evening.
We head off to an early dinner at Garibaldi near City Market. The restaurant doesn’t get trendy crowds, but some locals say it’s one of the best in the city. We dine upstairs in the mirrored Grand Ballroom. I order the Poached Pear salad ($9) and the Crispy Flounder in apricot-shallot sauce ($25). It’s a wonderful fusion of flavors. www.garibaldisavannah.com or (912) 232-7118.
Watch Out for Orbs
“Does anyone know what orbs are?” ghost tour guide Mark Stephens asks when we arrive at the Pirates’ House restaurant. A waitress dressed as a pirate shows us a photo of tourists standing in the rum cellar. Hazy lights surround them. Each one, Mark says, is a ghost. We also learn about what Mark calls “residual hauntings--ghosts going about their lives as if they don’t know they’re dead.”
We head into the historic district to hunt for more orbs. Mark says the American Institute of Parapsychology ranks this as the most haunted city in America. I believe it. There’s even a ghost cat that roams one of the homes. Ghost tours practically bump into each other (the city offers at least 10). We liked our walk with Old Savannah Tours. www.oldsavannahtours.com or 1-800-517-9007.
I don’t really believe in ghosts--except for a close encounter I had once in Virginia--but a Savannah ghost tour is the spookiest fun I’ve had since I got too old for trick-or-treating.
Join the Breakfast Club
On our last morning we drive out the Islands Expressway to Tybee Island. The scenic road crosses over the marshes past Fort Pulaski National Monument. We sip coffee during a morning meal with locals at The Breakfast Club. (912) 786-5984.
Then we take time for a stroll on the beach. We inhale the delicious salty air and enjoy our last glimpse of a lovely season in Georgia.
For more information: Contact the Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.savannahvisit.com or 1-877-728-2662.
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.