Around the country there are some destinations so well rounded in their appeal that almost everyone has them on their travel bucket lists. After a quick and very informal survey of friends and family, I have a hunch that Savannah is one of those unicorn cities; I know it was for me. One of the problems in planning a visit though is knowing where to start – there’s just much to see and do. Towards that, today I want to share a few experiences that I enjoyed the most. These are not meant to represent the top tourist activities although they may be, just my thoughts on how many people might want to spend their time in this languid Southern city.
First Squares Food Tour
My favorite way to first experience any new city is on a food tour, whether I’m in Bologna, Helsinki or Savannah. Not only are food tours inherently fun, they’re informative. When one learns about a local cuisine along with it comes a crash course into the history and culture of a destination since food is an integral aspect of both. Savannah Taste Experience is the only tour company in the city solely focused on food and culinary heritage and they offer a variety of different tour options. Since it was my first time though I went with their classic tour through the city, the First Squares Food Tour. With COVID-era precautions in place, I joined the small group as we began our easy walk through some of the city’s most beautiful and iconic squares and tree-lined streets. Along the way of course we stopped several times to sample great local fare and learn about the city’s impressive history in the process. I never like to give away all of the secrets of a food tour, but I will say that one of my favorite stops was at The Little Crown where I unexpectedly tried a great British meat pie. While it may seem strange to sample on a Savannah food tour, it points to the ever-shifting landscape of the food scene that is thankfully continuing to change and evolve.
Plant Riverside District
The Plant Riverside District is a part of the city long forgotten and left dormant but has recently been revitalized and reincarnated into something I think is quite spectacular. From shopping and memorable dining experiences to river views that will make your jaw drop, there’s a lot to love about Plant Riverside, but at the heart of the experience is the new JW Marriott. Savannah’s newest and most luxurious hotel, the architectural provenance on display here is unlike anything else in the city. Whether it’s the glittering lobby or any of the three unique buildings that comprise the property, there’s a lot to love at the JW Marriott and many more reasons to make it your home base as you explore the city.
There was one experience everyone told me not to miss during my time in Savannah, a ghost tour. Since Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the US it logically follows that it is also one of the most haunted. Ghost tours certainly aren’t unique to Savannah, you can find them in many urban centers around the world. What makes Savannah different though is that you actually believe the spots visited on the tours are indeed haunted. There’s just too much history in this beautiful city for it not to be as haunted as it is. There are many ghost tour options around Savannah, but a couple to check out are Ghost Talk Ghost Walk and Ghost City Tours.
Eating Even More
One of the great foodie cities of the country, I knew finding some delicious bites wouldn’t be the problem on my recent visit to Savannah, but how to narrow it down for what was really a brief visit. Centuries of multiculturalism have come together to create a truly unique cuisine but one that somehow also instantly feels familiar and even homey. While impossible to share all of the amazing bites around town, there are a couple that I have to mention.
Located in Savannah’s Historic District, B. Matthew’s Eatery is a one-of-a-kind bistro and is one of those places locals try to keep to themselves, but lucky visitors like me are always eager to discover. What started out as a casual deli and bakery has since evolved into a full-service establishment that elevates some incredible classic American dishes through the use of superior ingredients and an obvious love of the craft. The menus for all mealtimes look amazing, but brunch was the perfect match for me and my own love of a great breakfast. Nearly impossible to narrow down my choices, I went with the traditional sourdough French Toast. My only regret of course was being unable to try everything on the menu, but now I have many more reasons to return.
Visiting one of the country’s most famous ice cream parlors was not on my original to-do list, but as soon as I found out about Leopold’s I couldn’t resist a stop. Founded in 1919 by three brothers from Greece, their unique recipes and downtown location instantly hooked Savannah residents in search of a sweet treat. Since then generations of Savannahians have grown up on Leopold’s and the ice cream even has some famous connections. Lyricist Johnny Mercer grew up patronizing Leopold’s and was so inspired by their famous Tutti Fruiti ice cream, that he wrote the now famous song about the scoop. Today their super-premium ice cream is still hand crafted in historic downtown Savannah using those original recipes but if you want to enjoy a few scoops as I did be prepared to wait; lines are common for what truly is some of the best ice cream you’ll ever try.
Meandering Without Purpose
If ever a city was designed for people watching and aimless meandering it was Savannah. One of the city’s most notable features is a big reason why it’s so easy to get purposefully lost here – the squares. Savannah was originally laid out in 1733 around four open squares, each surrounded by residential and civic blocks. The original purpose for the squares was multifold. They provided areas for military training, but they were also aesthetically pleasing as well as served as a fire break; a reaction against cramped conditions in city’s like London. Additional squares were later added and by 1851 there were 24 squares in the city. Today there are 22 squares, the others lost to changes in the city, and they are thankfully revered as an important part of life in Savannah. There are several guidebooks to the squares, each sharing more information about them, their neighborhoods and how they were named. My advice though is to just wander through as many as you can, but also as slowly as you can in order to really soak up the spirit of Savannah. Bring a picnic and just enjoy the experience, because this really I think is one of the best ways to understand this amazing city.