Travel Itinerary: Savannah, Georgia
Ask locals what to do in Savannah, Georgia, and most will say the same thing: Take a walk. Based on founder James Oglethorpe’s plan from the 1730s, the city’s tree-lined streets wrap around 22 historic squares, each with its own eventful past. A slavery market once bordered Ellis Square; Johnson Square, the largest and oldest, contains the interred remains of Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathanael Greene; and Wright Square serves as the burial site for Yamacraw leader and Oglethorpe ally Tomochichi.
Downtown Savannah’s orderly grid makes it almost impossible to get lost, and the hypnotic sway of ubiquitous Spanish moss instills a leisurely pedestrian pace, even in the most impatient sightseers. Not that there isn’t a lot to see—in addition to its lush squares, Savannah has some of the nation’s most well-preserved architecture. The French Gothic–style Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, dedicated in 1876, is a showstopper. A few blocks away is the Green-Meldrim House, which Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman used as his headquarters after taking the city during the Civil War. (Like much of Savannah, Green-Meldrim is rumored to be haunted.) Lodging options such as the River Street Inn, a Historic Hotel of America in a 19th-century warehouse, and The Gastonian, in a pair of 1868 mansions, continue the emphasis on historic places.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has rehabilitated dozens of downtown buildings for its own use, helping to re-weave the urban fabric. And one of the city’s best restaurants, The Grey, occupies a beautifully renovated Greyhound bus station from 1938.
Preservation spoke with three local residents— architect Christian Sottile, dean of the School of Building Arts at SCAD; Laura García-Culler, executive vice president of the Georgia Historical Society; and Sam Carroll, owner of Carroll Construction—about their favorite restaurants, activities, and places to stay in Savannah.
Dean, School of Building Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
EAT: Circa 1875 is a great gastropub and French bistro. On Madison Square, a good place to get lunch is Gryphon Tea Room.
STAY: The Mansion on Forsyth Park, part of a revitalized 19th-century landmark mansion, shows how preservation can revitalize not just a building but a whole civic space.
DO: Madison Square, where SCAD was founded, is one of my favorite squares in the city. It represents the best of what the square can accomplish; the architecture is outstanding. It spans about 200 years but all holds together well. SCAD’s first building, Poetter Hall, is there, in an 1890s National Guard Armory designed by William Gibson Preston. It kind of set the tone that the university was going to be connected to the city. The SCAD Museum of Art [designed by my firm and others] is a mix of up-and-coming and well-established artists. It was a freight warehouse from the 1850s and was simply a ruin. We took the opportunity to point to new [preservation] strategies.
Executive Vice President, Georgia Historical Society
EAT: B. Matthew’s Eatery. It’s one of the first places non-tourists will go. I like the Mayme’s Omelette, which has goat cheese, spinach, tomato—all the good stuff. It was built in 1854 and was allegedly a brothel at one time. At Leopold’s Ice Cream, try the lemon custard or the tutti frutti. They’re original recipes from when Leopold’s opened in 1919. For dinner, The Olde Pink House sets the standard for excellent service. Cotton & Rye is in the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District. It has incredible shrimp and grits. At The Wyld Dock Bar, you can arrive by land or boat. When you’re on the water, you can really appreciate the beauty of this city.
STAY: The Cotton Sail Hotel, on the Savannah River, used to be a cotton warehouse. Its rooftop bar is a good place to see the sunset. The Hamilton-Turner Inn is stunning. It dates to 1873 and was made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The Marshall House, Savannah’s oldest running hotel, has a beautiful veranda.
DO: You can self-tour by downloading our Georgia Historical Marker app. Also, Jonathan Stalcup’s 90-minute Architectural Tours of Savannah are worth the time. Bonaventure Cemetery is hauntingly beautiful and peaceful, with the moss quietly shifting in the wind.
Owner, Carroll Construction
EAT: I like the Victorian District, where I work and live. Local 11ten is at the corner of Bull and Duffy. My wife and I go there for date night. The Sentient Bean is a coffee shop within walking distance from our house, an easy place to be with kids and friends. Also, Brighter Day Natural Foods Market makes to-go sandwiches; they’re healthy and organic. Forsyth Park is right there—you can pick up a picnic and go eat in the park. In the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District, Green Truck Pub has amazing hamburgers. They make their own ketchup!
STAY: I would suggest a vacation rental, where you can meet the owners and the people who live next door. Also, a historic inn called The Stephen Williams House is a fairly amazing place on Liberty Street. They’re really on their game, it’s gorgeous.
DO: A neat building is Alex Raskin Antiques on Gordon and Bull streets. It’s in a four-story mansion [the Noble Hardee Mansion] with antiques for sale throughout. Its paint and textures are amazing. You just want to be able to capture it in time.
We also like to go out to Fort Pulaski National Monument. On the river side, there are a bunch of little beaches where our kids look for sharks’ teeth.