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IntroductionWhen you go to Savannah, take along a reverence for the past and a penchant for romance. You'll also want to pack a spirit of adventure, because Georgia's first city is full of surprises.
Savannah's 22 public squares are a source of civic pride. After losing two of the 24 original squares to development by the 1950s, preservationists stepped in to protect the remainder. Surrounded by lovely restored houses and dotted with monuments, statuary, fountains and relics, Savannah's lush pocket parks serve as outdoor museums, begging your patronage. Discover some of the prettiest along Bull and Abercorn streets.
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In DepthGen. James E. Oglethorpe and his settlers founded Savannah, England's 13th and last colony, in February 1733. Forgoing the usual village grid system, Oglethorpe and Col. William Bull laid out their new settlement in a series of wards in which commercial and residential buildings centered on a public square. This visionary plan has survived as the city's blueprint because of Oglethorpe's choice of location.
On a bluff overlooking the Savannah River, the new settlement soon prospered as a crossroads of trade with England and the new communities of the interior. Port traffic, begun in 1744, experienced a steady increase along with the plantation economy of tobacco and cotton.
Residents eagerly embraced the revolt against England, and Savannah was garrisoned by some 900 Colonial troops under Gen. Robert Howe. British forces captured the city by surprise in December 1778 and made it a base for their operations against the Colonies until their departure in 1782.
Nineteenth-century Savannah grew and flourished with King Cotton, becoming a vital port. In 1862 Union forces closed the port to all but blockade runners when they captured Fort Pulaski. Two years later Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman blazed a trail of destruction across Georgia to the city. Confederate forces fought stubbornly, but with the fall of Fort McAllister, Gen. William J. Hardee realized further resistance was futile and withdrew his troops to prevent the city's destruction. Sherman entered Savannah on Christmas Day 1864 and offered it to President Abraham Lincoln as a present.
Cotton again came to the rescue after the war as the city grew into a major trading center. The collapse of the cotton market at the beginning of the 20th century left Savannah languishing until just before World War II, when other industries began to develop. Almost lost to the wrecking ball, however, was what Sherman had spared some 100 years earlier: its squares, its houses and its heritage.
In a drive to reshape the city's skyline, developers began to tear down historic structures. The proposed demolition of the Davenport House, now a museum, sparked the founding of the Historic Savannah Foundation. This dedicated group of women organized one of the country's first and most successful urban restoration programs, buying hundreds of properties and selling them to private parties along with a covenant to restore and repair them.
Today 22 of Oglethorpe's original 24 squares survive, lined with handsome town houses, bedecked with fountains and statues and beautified by live oaks and azaleas. The success of the Historic Savannah Foundation's early efforts spawned other civic renewal projects.
The cleanup of the river and the restoration of the warehouses and cotton brokerage offices along Bay Street, Factors Walk and River Street revived the city's historic waterfront. Instead of the commerce associated with cotton trade buying and selling, these renovated 19th-century buildings now house specialty shops, restaurants and nightspots.
Notable landmarks include Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Free & Accepted Masons, in the 1886 Cotton and Naval Stores Exchange at 100 E. Bay St. The Masonic lodge, organized in 1734, is the country's oldest in continuous operation, and the old exchange is said to be the first building to straddle a public street according to the legal principle of air rights.
River Street's Waving Girl statue is evocative of Savannah's romantic character. In the early years of the 20th century the city light tender's sister, Florence Martus, became known to sailors all over the world for waving at every ship. One legend maintains that she promised her sweetheart to greet every ship until his return.
Another historic building is Christ Church, on Johnson Square at Bull and East St. Julian streets. The congregation—the first in the Georgia colony—organized in 1733, and in 1736 established what is believed to have been the first Protestant Sunday school for children in the New World. The present structure was built in 1838; the interior was renovated following a fire in 1895. The church is open to the public by appointment; phone (912) 236-2500.
Colonial Park, East Oglethorpe Avenue and Abercorn Street, is the site of the old Christ Episcopal Church cemetery, for many years the only public burying ground in the colony. Closed to interment in 1853, the cemetery suffered much damage when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's troops used it as a stabling ground.
Founded in 1755 by members of the Church of Scotland, Independent Presbyterian Church is at the corner of Bull Street and West Oglethorpe Avenue. The building and steeple were re-created after the original structure, built in 1829, was destroyed by an 1889 fire; the original was modeled after St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London's Trafalgar Square; phone (912) 236-3346.
First African Baptist Church , at 23 Montgomery St., was established in 1775. The church is housed in a brick sanctuary built in 1859 by congregation members. It is reputedly North America's oldest African-American church and has a museum containing archives and memorabilia dating from the 18th century. Guided tours are available; phone (912) 233-6597.
Since 1839, the Georgia Historical Society Research Center library and archives has preserved state history. The collection includes more than 4 million manuscripts, 100,000 photographs, 30,000 architectural drawings, 15,000 rare books, and thousands of maps, portraits, and artifacts. Across from Forsyth Park at 501 Whitaker St., it is housed in an 1876 structure designed by American Institute of Architects founder Detlef Lienau. The library is open Wed.-Fri. noon-5, first and third Sat. 10-5; phone (912) 651-2128.
Writer Mary Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah in 1925 and lived at 207 East Charlton St. on Lafayette Square until 1938. A more recent local celebrity is chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Paula Deen. Born in Albany but a longtime Savannah resident, the ebullient Deen owns a popular downtown restaurant.
As you might imagine, Savannah has a packed events calendar. In mid-February the Savannah Irish Festival is celebrated with traditional folk dances, music and food. The city dons green for its festive St. Patrick's Day Festival on River Street. The 4-day Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens , during which numerous private houses are open to the public, begins the fourth Thursday in March; for more information phone (912) 234-8054.
The holidays are celebrated in festive style in November and December. Individual events include the Savannah Harbor Foundation Annual Boat Parade of Lights, Christmas on the River and the Holiday Tour of Homes ; for more information contact the visitor information center.
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EssentialsGo museum-hopping. Get a proper introduction to the city at Savannah History Museum , peruse outstanding art collections at the Telfair Academy and learn about local maritime heritage at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum .
Put on your walking shoes. With 22 parklike public squares at two-block intervals, Savannah's historic district was made for strolling. Fountains, monuments, historical markers and statuary commemorate important people and events.
Pose for the camera in front of the ornate cast-iron fountain in Forsyth Park, one of Savannah's most photographed landmarks and an “extra” in many Hollywood films, including “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
Courtesy of Davenport House Museum
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Discover River Street, Savannah's waterfront promenade. In addition to captivating scenery you will find gift shops, candy stores, eateries and pubs in a row of refurbished cotton warehouses known as Factors Walk .
Mingle with the locals in courtyards, watch artists at work in studios, listen to live music in clubs, dine in upscale restaurants, or nosh at European-style outdoor cafés at City Market. This Ellis Square gathering place has been a social and commercial hub since 1755.
Soak up a little Civil War history at Old Fort Jackson , in the downtown historic district, and at Fort Pulaski National Monument , on an island at the mouth of the Savannah River.
Photo submitted by Janet Brindle Reddick / AAA
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ShoppingUnless your heart is set on a classic mall, outlet mall or shopping center experience, you’ll be more than content exercising your purchasing power within the boundaries of Savannah’s walkable downtown historic district. While great places to swipe your credit card are found on nearly every street, there are a few areas you should definitely zero in on.
Sure, River Street is a tourist trap, but for good reason: This bustling waterfront promenade is easily navigable and has a little something for everyone. Formerly cotton warehouses, the multilevel 19th-century buildings lining the famed cobblestone street have been transformed into restaurants, bars, galleries, specialty stores and, as you’d expect, souvenir emporiums cluttered with T-shirts and pirate tchotchkes. Art aficionados should stop by Gallery 209 for a look at two floors’ worth of local photography, sculpture, woodcrafts and other pieces as well as the chance to meet one of the artists. Suckers for sweets, take note: The aroma of fresh pralines and saltwater taffy wafting from the doors of confectioneries River Street Sweets and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen makes it nearly impossible to pop in just for the free samples.
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At the Paula Deen Store , just south of City Market at 108 W. Congress St., fans of the local celebrity chef scope out her line of cookbooks, kitchen essentials and signature “Hey Y’all” mugs.
Those seeking to spruce up their homes and wardrobes with one-of-a-kind finds head to Whitaker Street, which runs parallel to Barnard. Known as the Downtown Design District, the segment between Charlton and Gaston streets is home to 20 or so indie retailers specializing in everything from antiques, folk art and vintage clothing to painted furniture, trendy lighting fixtures and fine linens. The exclusive boutiques, showrooms and galleries are definitely worth a peek inside, even if you’ve vowed to keep the credit card holstered.
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For more than a century, Levy Jewelers has dazzled Savannahians with its diamonds, watches, sterling silver and other precious pieces. In 2012 the family-owned retailer opened a new flagship location in a 20,000-square-foot midcentury modern building at the corner of Bull and E. Broughton streets. Also on E. Broughton is the exclusive Globe Shoe Company , which has helped hipsters complete their outfits since 1892. If you have a few bucks left after exploring the retail offerings on this side of Broughton, go ahead and indulge in an old-fashioned soda fountain fave at Leopold’s Ice Cream, next to SCAD’s Trustees Theater.
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Malls outside Savannah’s downtown historic district offer the usual mix of nationally recognized department, clothing and specialty stores. Oglethorpe Mall , 7804 Abercorn Ext., is anchored by Belk, JCPenney, Macy’s and Sears; Savannah Mall , 14045 Abercorn St., includes Dillard’s, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Burlington Coat Factory. One of the city’s newer shopping complexes, Abercorn Walk (5525 Abercorn St.) counts Jos. A. Bank and J.Jill among its retailers. Bargain hunters bag discounted name-brand items at The Shoppes of Savannah , 11 Gateway Blvd.
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NightlifeRunning the gamut from restaurant bars to cozy little neighborhood pubs to martini and dessert lounges to hot dance clubs, Savannah’s nighttime entertainment options are primarily concentrated in the downtown historic district. The district’s walkability makes barhopping easy, and for many, the lax open-container regulations make it more fun. Two pieces of safety-related advice for those who plan to hoof it after dusk: wear comfortable shoes (cobblestones, bricks and 4-inch stilettos just don’t mesh well) and stay within the district’s boundaries.
Inside The Distillery , (912) 236-1772, a sign above the front door explains in four simple words what this casual W. Liberty Street restaurant/bar is all about: “No Crap Just Craft.” While you can’t order a Bud at the long mahogany bar (which is usually jam-packed on weekends), you can take your pick of 100-plus craft beers, about two dozen of which are on tap. Almost as diverse as the suds selection is the clientele—artsy types, preppies, T-shirted twenty-somethings and everyone in between come here to bond over Fat Tires and Golden Monkeys.
Also hailed for its custom-crafted brews is Moon River Brewing Company , (912) 447-0943. Occupying a W. Bay Street space that originally served as a hotel, Savannah’s only brewery attracts a multifarious crowd—and not just of the townie and tourist variety. Rumor has it that there’s paranormal activity (and lots of it) here. Don’t let that scare you away, though—the drinks and grub are definitely worth a try, and the 5,400-square-foot attached beer garden is a fun place to unwind if the weather’s nice. A Moon River tradition since the 1990s, a weekend-welcoming toast takes place every Friday at 6 p.m.
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Other good spots to grab a stout are Molly MacPherson’s Scottish Pub & Grill , 311 W. Congress St., where you’ll find kilted waiters and an outstanding selection of single malt whiskeys; and Six Pence Pub , a small, laid-back British tavern on Bull Street (you can’t miss the old-school red telephone booth outside). Phone (912) 239-9600 for Molly MacPherson’s and (912) 233-3151 for Six Pence.
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You can also satiate your sweet tooth at Jen’s and Friends , (912) 238-5367, which has more than 300 specialty martinis to choose from. This reasonably priced, eclectic Bull Street bar is a popular girls’-night-out destination, but take one glance at the extensive craft beer list and it’s plenty obvious that the guys, too, are welcome here. Jen’s and Friends’ “Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends” motto rings true, thanks not only to the glasses of strong, sugary goodness, but also to the friendly bartenders and the maximum seating capacity of 37.
Wet Willie’s , (912) 233-5650, is the place to hang on sultry summer nights when ice cream just won’t do the trick. The main draw of the brick-walled E. River Street location (there’s a second location in City Market) is the rainbow of machines dispensing curiously named frozen drinks—from Attitude Improvement to Call a Cab. Be forewarned: these “adult Slurpees” are potent!
Gorgeous views of the Savannah River can be enjoyed at Rocks on the Roof , the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, Autograph Collection 's sexy rooftop lounge located at 102 W. Bay St. and accessible from River Street. You can sit inside at the bar or a table or sink into a cushioned wicker couch or chair on the deck amid potted trees ablaze with Christmas lights. When it’s warm outside, the lively lounge’s transparent roll-up doors stay open; on nippy nights, a fire pit takes the chill out of the air. Along with beer, wine and some killer cocktails, appetizers are served; phone (912) 721-3800.
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If doing JELL-O shots and bumping and grinding to Latin, Top 40 and house music under strobe lights sounds like a good time to you, then get dolled up, make sure you have some cash (there’s a cover charge most nights) and head to Club 51 Degrees on W. Congress Street. Open Thursday through Saturday, this loud, raucous and usually packed dance club caters to an under-30 (but over-21) crowd and is split into three levels, each with its own DJ; phone (912) 234-7265.
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Savannah in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Savannah.
Day 1: MorningStart at the Savannah Visitor Information Center in the massive brick building that used to be the Central of Georgia Railroad passenger depot. This tourist hub has a large souvenir shop and the Savannah History Museum . For a good historical overview and to be introduced to the city's founder, Gen. James Oglethorpe, watch the film, “Savannah the Survivor.” The museum has an array of artifacts, including an 1830s cotton gin, 19th- and 20th-century ladies' fashions, and a carriage belonging to the family of U.S. Girl Scout founder and Savannah native Juliette Gordon Low.
Take a trolley tour around the city; Old Savannah Tours and Old Town Trolley Tours ) depart from the information center. These companies offer themed tours, but if this is your first time in the city, go with a basic narrated tour that offers unlimited hop on/off service throughout the day. It's a great introduction to the city's history and helps you get a feel for the layout. Depending on the trolley's route, you might be able to see some of the nearby historic railroad structures occupied by the Georgia State Railroad Museum and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) when you pull out of the visitor center parking lot. The college has a large presence in the city. It operates from dozens of buildings, giving the entire historic district the feel of a beautiful college campus.
Day 1: Afternoon
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After lunch walk east on Bay to the first intersection, Habersham Street, and head south to Columbia Square's north side to tour the circa 1820 brick Federal-style Davenport House . Isaiah Davenport was a builder from New England, and this house served as the family household as well as his office. You'll learn what life was like for the Davenport family, including how they dealt with such inconveniences as dirt streets and hot coastal weather without modern conveniences.
Before you leave Columbia Square, take a few minutes to admire the exterior of the adjacent 1892 Kehoe House , now a bed-and-breakfast. Any similarity between this and the Davenport house ends at their brick exteriors. This large Renaissance Revival mansion boasts Corinthian columns, balconies and several dozen windows beautifully fitted with cast-iron embellishments.
Head west a very short distance to Oglethorpe Square to tour the Owens-Thomas House . It was completed at nearly the same time as Davenport House, but there's no confusing the two. You'll be amazed over and over as you go from room to room, and keep in mind that English architect William Jay was only 24 when he designed the house. Highlights include a bridge above the staircase, an amber-colored glass window in the dining room innovatively serving as a skylight, and the use of trompe l'oeil painting in the drawing room to create the illusion of a domed ceiling.
If you didn't get to experience the majority of the trolley tour in the morning, hop back on at the nearest stop to catch what you missed.
Day 1: Evening
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Day 2: MorningChances are you heard stories about Colonial Park Cemetery during your ghost tour the previous evening and are anxious to inspect it up close in daylight. Enter through the large granite archway at Abercorn Street and Oglethorpe Avenue. The age of the cemetery, which was open to interments 1750-1853, is readily apparent from the abundance of cracked and weathered grave markers. Although there are more than 9,200 graves, only about 550 are marked. Like all cemeteries, this one has many stories to tell. As you investigate the markings on some of the stones, you might notice that dates on several have been inaccurately re-carved as pranks. Although there is no proof, a lingering tale blames British soldiers during the Revolutionary War and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's troops during the Civil War. Also of interest are the headstones attached to and propped up against the only remaining portion of the 1796 wall. They probably ended up here because no one knew where they belonged or because they were moved to make room when paths were cut through the grounds. Either way, they're certainly a conversation piece.
Just west down Oglethorpe Avenue is the Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low . The exquisitely furnished dining room and parlor are two highlights. Not only will you get to tour a lovely house and garden, you'll get to hear the remarkable story of how she founded the Girl Scouts of the USA. The 1821 Regency house has seen several modifications over the years. In 1886 the house underwent major renovations, including the addition of a piazza and a third floor. During World War I it became a Red Cross office, and in World War II it was converted into apartments.
Walk west and head up to Telfair Square on Barnard Street to explore the Telfair Academy . William Jay designed this mansion for Alexander Telfair, Gov. Edward Telfair's son, shortly after he designed the Owens-Thomas House. The home was eventually left to Alexander's sister Mary, who intended for it to become a museum after her death. Alterations and expansions were implemented 1883-85 so it could better function as a museum. Statues of Michelangelo, Phidias, Raphael, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens grace the entrance.
When you leave the museum, take Jefferson Street north to City Market. The market's origins lie in the mid-18th century when farmers, fishermen and tradespeople congregated at this commercial and social hub. City Market is still a gathering place, but now you'll find art galleries and specialty shops as well as places to stop for gelato, ice cream and handmade candy. The demolition of the 1872 market building in 1954 escalated local preservationists' frustrations and led seven women to form the Historic Savannah Foundation. The first of the many houses the organization has been able to save was the Davenport House you toured yesterday.
Day 2: AfternoonOn nearby Congress Street to the east, look for the sign for The Lady & Sons . This is celebrity chef Paula Deen's restaurant with sons Jamie and Bobby, who are also known for their cookbooks and television show. The menu features ultimate Southern comfort food with staples like baked or fried chicken, chicken potpie, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, seafood dishes, peach cobbler and pecan pie. You can opt for the daily buffet or order from the menu Mon.-Sat. The restaurant highly recommends reservations which can be made up to a year in advance.
Walk south to Lafayette Square, which is surrounded by points of interest on all sides. Work your way around the square clockwise, beginning on the south side where a large historical marker points out the simple and modest four-story Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home . Acclaimed author Mary Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah in 1925 and lived in this house until 1938. She attended Catholic school and St. John the Baptist Cathedral, both across Lafayette Square. The house reopened in October 2007 after a renovation to return the two main floors to their appearance when the family lived here.
On the west side of the square is the Andrew Low House , which features cast-iron filigree on the balconies, a dry moat, a garden in front and a wrought-iron fence. The five bedrooms are furnished and laid out beautifully, most with reproduced wallpapers of designs that would have been used during that era. One of the rooms includes the desk that English author William Makepeace Thackeray used when he was a guest here.
Around the corner stands the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist . The parish was established in the late 1700s but the current cathedral dates to the late 19th century. Steps front the entire facade of this French Gothic edifice, and inside are many religious works of art. Walk down the wall aisles to see the Stations of the Cross, large multicolored figural wood carvings from Bavaria displayed against detailed American woodwork. Other highlights are the Italian marble altar and baptismal font.
Completing the quartet is Hamilton-Turner Inn . Admire this elegant 1873 Second Empire mansion and its beautiful wrought-iron fence from the sidewalk or the square. With the installation of salon lights in 1883, it became the first residence in Savannah with electricity.
Day 2: EveningSpend the evening along the Savannah River in the northernmost section of the city, but put on flats before you set out to make walking on the cobbled sidewalks there a bit easier. Begin at Bay and Drayton streets (on Yamacraw Bluff) at the Savannah Cotton Exchange. The impressive size of this late 1880s building gives you a clue just how important cotton was to the city. Head one block west to City Hall. On your way you'll pass a small memorial with two cannons captured at Yorktown during the American Revolution; both date to the late 1750s and were a gift to the Chatham Artillery after President George Washington's visit to the city in 1791. City Hall , which opened in 1906, has sported a shiny gold-leaf dome since 1987.
Stairs, an outdoor elevator and ramps off Bay Street—including one at City Hall—lead down to Factors Walk , which lies on the middle level between Bay and River streets. In the 1800s cotton was a major export for the city, and Factors Walk developed when warehouses and offices for cotton brokers (factors) and other merchants were built. Iron and concrete pedestrian bridges connect the historic buildings to the bluff. The stone paths were cobbled from ballast that was unloaded from ships coming into port.
Head down to the final level, which puts you on the lively and touristy River Street paralleling the Savannah River. This area hosts many of the city's special events, but it usually has a street festival feel on its own anyway. Restaurants, shops and galleries occupy the magnificent multistory 19th-century buildings, which are actually just the other sides of the ones lining Factors Walk, but now you can see all the stories at once instead of just the two in view from Bay Street. River Street Market Place on the east end of River Street features open-air shopping with vendors selling jewelry, art, Savannah souvenirs and items from other countries.
For dinner, try River House Seafood & Bakery . You'll find a variety of seafood dishes on the menu, but you can also choose from filet mignon, sirloin, chicken Marsala and pork or veal chops. Take the hint in the restaurant's name and order a homemade dessert; the bakery menu is nearly as long as the dinner one!
Day 3: MorningForsyth Park , on Gaston Street between Whitaker and Drayton streets, originated in the 1850s and remains an important part of the community. Joggers make good use of the walkways, and the vast fields attract picnickers and athletes alike. It's also where you'll finally find that extravagant two-tiered fountain you keep seeing on all the Savannah brochures. Water sprays outward from multiple points on the lower tier into a large pool, which is surrounded by a decorative wrought-iron fence.
Head north up Bull Street to Monterey Square, which boasts the nearly 55-foot-tall Italian marble monument honoring Gen. Count Casimir Pulaski's dedication to America's fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War. Across the square is Mercer Williams House Museum . The Civil War temporarily halted its construction, which had begun in 1860 for Gen. Hugh Mercer; it was finished around 1868, but by this time Mercer had sold it. A century later antique dealer and noted house restorer Jim Williams bought the vacant house and began to restore it. Most of the home's furnishings, which include furniture from the 18th- and 19th centuries, belonged to Williams.
You probably have time to only tour one more place in the morning, so if you're interested in religious history, tour Temple Mickve Israel on the other side of the square. If you prefer historic homes, head north on Bull Street to Madison Square. Although the Jewish congregation dates back to the founding of Savannah, the current structure was built in the late 19th century. A docent will walk you through the sanctuary and museum.
Walk north up Bull Street a few blocks and just south of Madison Square you can't miss the 1892 brick Savannah Volunteer Guards Armory with its corner towers and multitude of arches and wrought-iron balconies. It now serves as SCAD's welcome center and houses the popular shopSCAD boutique that sells works and designs by students, faculty, staff and alumni.
The eye-catching early 1850s Green-Meldrim House —with its sandstone parapet, oriel windows and extensive iron filigree—coupled with the fact that it was Sherman's headquarters during the Union's occupation of Savannah makes this an ideal stop on your itinerary. Sherman telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah….” Unlike Atlanta, Savannah was spared from great destruction during the war.
Day 3: AfternoonVenture toward the coast on your last afternoon to visit Bonaventure Cemetery and Fort Pulaski National Monument. You can stop for barbecue at Barnes Restaurant ; the restaurant has been serving it up for 40 years.
Bonaventure Cemetery occupies the bluff above the Wilmington River. The long, Spanish moss-draped branches of live oaks rest above the old graves, many embellished with marble and granite statues. Stroll through the grounds to see the intricate carvings, engravings and statues up close. Angels, crosses and female figures are frequently represented in the artwork. Author Conrad Aiken's grave is one of the more unusual markers—his is an engraved bench instead of a headstone.
About 12 miles east stands Fort Pulaski National Monument . It was widely believed that this Confederate fort—surrounded by water and marsh and outfitted with extremely thick walls—was indestructible, which is why its 1862 surrender within only 30 hours after being attacked was so shocking. Thanks to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the fort has been restored. The visitor center displays recovered objects, including uniforms, flags, bottles and personal items from the soldiers. As you tour the grounds, you might get to see a resident alligator in the moat.
Day 3: EveningCatch the 8 o'clock performance at the Savannah Theatre . Several productions headline each year and often feature popular music, including oldies and rock 'n' roll. The 1818 building is one more of William Jay's contributions to Savannah, but since its remodeling after a 1948 fire, it has had an Art Deco style.
After the show, stroll north up Drayton Street and over to Reynolds Square for dinner at The Olde Pink House . The late 1700s mansion boasts an elegant interior, but some diners prefer to take the stairs around the side of the building down to the cozier, darker and more intimate Planters Tavern, where a piano player performs nightly. Both spots offer the same menu.
AttractionsIn an area with dozens of attractions and points of interest, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.
Everyone knows about Savannah's beautiful public squares. But did you know that there are 22 of them laid out in a uniform grid pattern and spaced two blocks apart within the historic district? Founder Gen. James E. Oglethorpe conceived the unique city plan, one that has stood the test of time. Now, as then, Savannah's squares are common ground, places where residents come together to celebrate, socialize or just sit for a spell under shade trees. Through monuments and historical markers, these lush green spaces highlight important people and events in Savannah's history.
Make it a priority to pick up a walking-tour map at the Savannah Visitor Information Center in the historic Central of Georgia Railway station. Here you will find cordial service and free brochures and sightseeing information. The center is a stop on the dot Express Shuttle, a free minivan connecting downtown points of interest, and it serves as a departure point for several interesting guided tours.
Savannah History Museum next to the visitors center surveys the events that shaped Georgia's first city. In keeping with its historical context, the museum occupies a renovated 1850s railroad shed. With exhibits of rolling stock, a working turntable and 13 original buildings, nearby Georgia State Railroad Museum chronicles more than a century of Georgia railroad history. Organized in 1833, the Central of Georgia played a vital role in establishing Savannah as a cotton port.
Cotton dealers brokered Savannah's most important export in the offices of Factors Walk , beside a bluff overlooking the Savannah River. The 19th-century multistory brick buildings feature shops, restaurants and pubs accessible from iron walkways at street level, atop the bluff, and from lower levels—formerly the cotton warehouses—facing River Street. Of interest in this area is the imposing 1886 Cotton Exchange, now a Masonic hall.
Many of Savannah's loveliest historic houses were built with fortunes made from King Cotton. Such was Owens-Thomas House , a AAA GEM attraction facing Oglethorpe Square. Built in 1819 for a cotton merchant, the mansion was a model of sophisticated living in its day and is hailed as one of the nation's finest examples of Regency architecture. Distinctive design features include a central stairwell with dual, brass-inlaid staircases connected on the upper level by a bridge. The carriage house, serving as the visitors' entrance, contains a rare example of intact urban slave quarters. Margaret Thomas, granddaughter of Savannah mayor and later U.S. Rep. George W. Owens, left the house and its furnishings to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1951.
Davenport House on Columbia Square was tapped for preservation in the mid-1950s by seven concerned women who eventually formed the Historical Savannah Foundation. Through faithful restoration, the Federal-style house featuring columns, ornate plasterwork, Italian marble fireplace mantles and a cantilever staircase appears as it did in the 1820s, when it was constructed by master builder Isaiah Davenport; period furnishings present an accurate depiction of daily life.
The Wayne-Gordon House, better known as the Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low , was the childhood home of the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Built 1818-21 for then Mayor James M. Wayne, the house and its furnishings reflect the Victorian-era occupancy of the second generation of the affluent Gordon family—William Gordon II, a cotton factor and brigadier general in the Spanish-American War, and Eleanor Gordon, Juliette's mother and founder of the Colonial Dames in Georgia. Juliette's grandfather William Gordon I, who acquired the house from Mayor Wayne, was the first president of the Central of Georgia Railway; look for a monument honoring him in Wright Square, across the street from the house.
Andrew Low House , facing Lafayette Square, was the home of another successful cotton merchant said to be the richest man in Savannah at the time this three-story Italianate residence was built in 1849. English author William Makepeace Thackeray and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee were among Low's distinguished houseguests. On Low's death, his son William inherited the house and shortly thereafter married Juliette Gordon. It was from this residence that widowed Juliette later organized the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Charles Green, another of Savannah's wealthy cotton merchants, was the first resident of the 1850 Green-Meldrim House on Madison Square. During the Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman set up headquarters in the house and penned a famous missive to President Abraham Lincoln, formally presenting the city to him as a Christmas gift. Details about the general's occupancy complement a tour of the neo-Gothic mansion.
Mercer Williams House Museum on Monterey Square has a storied past. In 1981, antiques dealer, socialite and restoration expert Jim Williams shot a male assistant here; he was tried four times and acquitted. Bestselling novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” later a blockbuster film directed by Clint Eastwood, traces the events while introducing the world to a few of Savannah's colorful characters. Docents will show you around the richly appointed first floor of the mansion, but you will have to read the book or see the movie to learn more about the unsavory incident. The house was built in 1860 for Gen. Hugh W. Mercer, great-grandfather of singer and songwriter Johnny Mercer.
Telfair Academy is on Telfair Square. Mary Telfair, daughter of a former Georgia governor, established the museum through her will, bequeathing the 1819 family mansion in which the art collections now reside to the Georgia Historical Society. Handsome Regency architecture and elegant period rooms show off outstanding decorative arts, rare furniture and paintings by American impressionists and artists of the Ashcan school, to name a few. Opened in 1886, the Telfair ranks among the South's oldest art museums. Jepson Center for the Arts, the Telfair's newest addition, provides exhibit space for contemporary art and features ArtZeum, an interactive children's gallery.
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is a natural fit for the port city. In addition to seeing artifacts and more than 150 ship models, visitors will learn about the S.S. Savannah, which sailed from Savannah to Liverpool, England, to become the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Exhibits are housed in a mansion designed for S.S. Savannah owner William Scarbrough.
Guided tours add structure to your itinerary and are particularly valuable if your visit will be short-lived. Options include Carriage Tours of Savannah ; trolley excursions by Old Savannah Tours and Old Town Trolley Tours ; a waterfront perspective offered by Savannah Riverboat Cruises ; and themed evening walks such as Southern Strolls Walking Tours . Such focus tours as The Freedom Trail Tour also are available.
Another option is CAT Bike, Savannah's bicycle-sharing system. Two-wheelers may be rented at two self-service kiosks downtown. A 24-hour rental, 7-day rental and other options are available; phone (912) 233-5767. A free passenger ferry also is available to Hutchinson Island.
Locals head to Tybee Island for a day of swimming, fishing, boating, bird-watching, biking or relaxing. With restaurants, shops, lodgings and island-getaway ambience, Tybee rejuvenates the spirit, as the Victorians who flocked here to “take the salts” discovered in the early 20th century. Attractions include the Tybee Lighthouse and Museum , on the grounds of former Fort Screven at the northern tip of the island, and Tybee Island Marine Science Center , on the southern end near the pier and pavilion. Tip: Tybee is 18 miles east of the city, less than 30 minutes by car. For a reasonable fee, you can ride a shuttle that leaves from the Visitor Information Center and from two convenient locations on the island Friday through Sunday; phone (912) 388-3380.
AAA GEM Fort Pulaski National Monument encompasses two islands and preserves Fort Pulaski, a massive Civil War fortress. Skidaway Island, south of Tybee, is home to The University of Georgia Marine Education Center & Aquarium .
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Southern comfort food. A Lowcountry boil. Seafood plucked daily from coastal waters. These are the staples on Savannah's restaurant tables. Whether you prefer the old favorites or exciting new classics being created in Savannah's premiere culinary hot spots, deciding where to dine out is as simple as letting your taste buds pick for you.
Many downtown restaurants are within walking distance of Savannah's most popular historic hotels and inns. Fireplaces, antiques and artwork lend to the warm, homey ambience of The Olde Pink House , in an 18th-century mansion. Some say the ghost of the original owner even roams the premises. Southern-inspired cuisine and seafood specialties with regional ingredients come together with professional, personable service for a relaxed, fine-dining experience.
A menu of Continental cuisine offers enough variety to tantalize even the most discriminating patron of 45 Bistro at the Marshall House , which was constructed in 1851 and was the first hotel in Savannah. The restaurant's upscale décor blends with the building's historic aesthetic, providing comfortable, relaxing surroundings in which to enjoy distinctive food preparations.
The Lady & Sons owes its popularity with out-of-towners to charismatic owner, cookbook author and celebrity chef Paula Deen. Buffets of Southern home-style cooking—shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken and chicken potpie, for example—await diners on two floors of the restaurant. Menu service also is available Mon.-Sat. The atmosphere is bustling and the service attentive. Reservations are highly recommended.
The intriguing history of The Pirates' House is intertwined with the settlement and growth of Savannah. On the site of founder James E. Oglethorpe's experimental garden, the original tavern opened in 1753 and became a gathering place for sailors and pirates. Each of the 15 dining rooms is decorated in period. A menu centered on seafood and Southern cuisine includes she-crab soup, fried green tomatoes and honey pecan fried chicken.
Garibaldi's Cafe , a stylish restaurant with hand-painted murals, offers a varied menu of Italian and seafood dishes. Imaginative plate presentations complement the well-prepared cuisine.
An 1850s cotton warehouse overlooking the river houses River House Seafood & Bakery , known for Lowcountry cuisine and a variety of breads and desserts made on the premises. Pecan-encrusted tilapia, shrimp and grits, and chocolate cheesecake are signature dishes that keep customers coming back for more. Original ceiling timbers and brick-and-mortar walls accent the restaurant's nautical theme.
Expect long lines during lunchtime at bustling B. Matthew's Eatery . Worth the wait are the restaurant's signature deli sandwiches—black-eyed pea cake, fried green tomatoes and a ham-blueberry-brie combination, to name a few—and an array of fresh breads, cookies and assorted treats from the bakery. Like many of Savannah's downtown eating establishments, this one is in a historic property.
Good eats and eateries ranging from casual to classic abound in neighborhoods just south of downtown, too. Elizabeth on 37th is an excellent choice for nouvelle Southern cuisine, the chef's health-conscious take on classic dishes and cooking methods. The décor of the elegant mansion evokes early Savannah.
At Sweet Potatoes Kitchen , its namesake vegetable, a Southern staple, finds its way into soup, salad and entrée menu selections. If you're not fond of sweet potatoes, try Jamaican jerk pork served with a black-eyed pea relish or a plate of peach-glazed barbecued chicken. Like its sister, this restaurant's décor is whimsical and colorful.
Love's Seafood Restaurant , overlooking the scenic Ogeechee River southwest of Savannah, has been family owned and operated since 1949. As the name suggests, fresh seafood is the specialty here, and you can get it fried, broiled or grilled, or in soups and stews, as an appetizer, in a cocktail, or piled up on a giant platter. You can even pair your favorite seafood with steak. Rustic décor and optional patio seating add to the casual atmosphere. Love's was a filming location for the movie “Forrest Gump.”
See all the AAA Diamond-rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of exceptional festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Savannah's robust Irish contingent attend the St. Patrick's Day Festival , which features a parade, music, Celtic dancing, mischievous “greenings” and a reverence for Irish values and customs. This mid-March event is one of Savannah's most-attended, so visitors are encouraged to reserve hotel accommodations well in advance. According to tourism officials, the population doubles. There is also the Savannah Irish Festival in mid-February that features live Irish music and dancing.
“The Hostess City” is especially hospitable in the spring. Besides the big Irish bash, March brings the annual Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens , one of only a few opportunities a year to enter private residences in the historic district. In April, The Garden Club of Savannah NOGS Tour of Hidden Gardens takes you behind a selection of eight walled gardens, the award-winning Massie Heritage Center Garden and the historical Green-Meldrim House where a Southern tea may be enjoyed. If you miss the spring tours, return in December for the Holiday Tour of Homes .
Savannah's cultural calendar keeps the arts in the spotlight throughout the year. World-class musicians perform jazz, blues, gospel, pop and more during the 15-day run from mid-March through early April at the Savannah Music Festival . In September the Savannah Jazz Festival focuses on jazz disciplines. Each year in late October or early November the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) hosts the Savannah Film Festival , bringing in films and filmmakers from around the world for screenings, discussion groups and artists' presentations.
With chalk for a medium, SCAD students transform the concrete walkways in Forsyth Park into colorful canvases during SCAD's Savannah Sidewalk Art Festival in April. You might see Picassoesque self-portraits, trompe l'oeil scenery or even a 3-D human body relief. The Telfair Academy salutes the arts in November with the Telfair Art Fair .
October offers an international gastronomic feast. Sample the flavors of Savannah's multiethnic community at Oktoberfest on the River in early October, the Savannah Greek Festival on the second weekend of the month and the Shalom Y'all Jewish Food Festival in late October. Savannah celebrates the holidays November through December, an all-encompassing holiday fete. Boat parades, tree lightings, fireworks, music and myriad other events, activities and spectacles evoke the spirit of the season.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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The First Girl ScoutJuliette Gordon was born in 1860, one of six children of wealthy Savannah lawyer, mayor and statesman William Washington Gordon II and Eleanor Kinzie, of a prominent Chicago family. A daughter of privilege, Juliette—or Daisy, as she preferred to be called—completed her education in Eastern boarding schools. At age 20, she was formally presented to Savannah society.
In 1886 Daisy married William Mackay Low, the son of a Georgia-born mother and a successful British merchant with significant Savannah holdings. The couple moved to England within a year, and Daisy discharged her duties as lady of the manor with great ease and aplomb. She was even presented at court. The Lows separated in 1902, and William died before divorce proceedings could be finalized, leaving the bulk of his estate to a mistress and just a token pension to his lawful wife. The rightful Mrs. Low, however, sued and won her inheritance, which included the Low family house in Savannah.
Single and independently wealthy, Daisy traveled the world for several years. While in England in 1911 she became friends with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a British military hero and founder of the Boy Scouts, and quickly got involved with the group's female counterpart, the Girl Guides. Convinced that she had found her true calling, Daisy returned to Savannah the next year and—at age 51—assembled the first troop of Girl Guides in the United States. The name was changed to Girl Scouts the following year.
Even before her marriage failed, Daisy was well acquainted with adversity. In her early 20s she suffered permanent hearing damage in one ear after receiving poor treatment for an infection. Then, on her wedding day, a grain of rice thrown by a well-wisher lodged in her good ear, resulting in more injury. Daisy went through the rest of her life with diminished hearing. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923, she continued to work tirelessly for the cause dearest to her heart—the Girl Scouts. Her closest associates were not even aware of her illness until very near the end. Daisy died on January 17, 1927. Ever the scout, she was buried in uniform.
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Places in Vicinity