Savannah, GA: The Secret Bucket List Destination
Savannah, GA may not be on your bucket list of places to visit, but it’s time to pencil it in, babe. Although most tourists you see on the street look vaguely like your grandparents, there are so many hidden pockets of art, culture, and (of course) ghosts that make it a millennial’s dream.
This city is loaded with history. It was one of the first founded cities of America, so the history goes back a loooong way. You can of course take a guided tour through all the squares littered with Spanish moss and Civil War monuments, but Savannah really made its breakthrough with the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. His view of Savannah was so vastly different and enlightening that tourists flooded in by the trolley-load.
SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) has also been credited for making Savannah what it is today. Since 1978, SCAD has brought in an influx of artists and different cultures and also helped to clean up and preserve the history of the city. I’ve been told many times that Savannah would not be what it is today had it not been for SCAD.
There are so many things you can do in Savannah. You could spend your entire time hopping from local coffee shop to coffee shop, art museum to art museum, or you could spend your entire time at Tybee beach and have a completely different experience. I could spend all day telling you about the restaurants and bars we have, but here are a few of my favorites.
Things To Do
Downtown. Tourist city. Easy to walk everywhere, but watch out for those trolley buses, they drive like they’re on a mission.
Broughton St., Bay St., and River St. are the hotspots for food, drinks, and live music. The atmosphere is great, especially if you’re looking to take it easy and go on a shopping spree. You can taste the wonder that is Byrd’s cookies (I still don’t know how they pack all that flavor into a cookie that small), go day drinking at Service Brewery or Ghost Coast Distillery (both on Indian St.), or wander your way down a few blocks to Liberty St. where under the shade of the giant oaks and Spanish moss lie hidden gems like Book Lady Bookstore and E. Shaver’s. These are places where the books are piled haphazardly and it’s very easy to get lost before spending all your money on books you’ll likely never read. But it’s here you’ll find the book that started it all, proudly displayed in the windows.
But if you wait until dark, you’ll see the streets lined with hearses with sunroofs, perfect for the ever famous ghost tours of Savannah’s squares. As if being in a hearse wasn’t creepy enough, you’ll get an earful of stories about little girls appearing in the windows of houses or a mother desperately searching for her newborn child before disappearing.
The best thing about Savannah is that once you get through the clutter of downtown, the tourists clear up. Practically no one knows about the Starland District where you can buy vintage records at Graveface from a guy who collects John Wayne Gacy paintings. Or where you can slather kimchi cream cheese on an everything bagel at a bodega run by the Big Bon family, creators of the pop-up-only pizza restaurant (follow them on insta to find them). The best way to experience all this non-touristy beauty is First Friday, every first Friday of the month where you can walk around and see the art galleries and taste the delicious food simultaneously.
Home to the biggest outdoor arena in Savannah, Forsyth is favored by locals and tourists alike. It’s an amazing place to exercise, play with pets (not necessarily your own), or just lie in the grass. You could spend your whole day out there because the edges of the park are home to adorable coffee houses and boutique restaurants. This is the perfect place to take that much needed breather.
Let’s Get Cultured
Like I said, Savannah is overflowing with history, so it would only make sense that we have a ton of museums. The biggest is the Savannah History Museum where you can learn about the railroads that used to run through the city but don’t anymore, but at the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum you can learn about huge black role models in the Civil Rights Movement and you can learn why one of our busiest streets is named after Martin Luther King Jr.
The Telfair Museum and the SCAD Museum of Art are amazing at showcasing the new and invigorating artwork in the world. These two museums specialize in artists that might not be well known to people outside of the artist realm, but they’re work is always spectacular. The tickets at the SCAD Museum are always cheap and the artwork is definitely worth seeing.
I’ve made it my mission to find the best food in Savannah, and I’ve found so many I can’t pick a favorite. There’s such a variety of cuisines that there’s no way I’ll be able to try them all, but a few have stood out.
The Flying Monk (Broughton St.) and Little Duck Diner (River St.) are both owned by the same person dedicated to making Asian Fusion popular in Savannah. They are both approved by many of my Asian friends and they continue bring in lines out the door. At Flying Monk, you can taste the best Pho the south has to offer and at Little Duck, you can get an Asian inspired pork bowl that will fill you up for days.
El Coyote is one of the many Mexican restaurants Savannah has to offer, and yes it’s a little far away (just past the Starland District), but I’ve never had a better quesadilla in my life. It was the closest thing I’ve ever had to real Mexican food and I almost had to get a wheelchair to roll me out of there when I was done. Also this place is super Instagrammable and has a rooftop, so if you don’t go for the food, at least go for the photo op. And the boozy margaritas.
If you’re looking for more history served with your food, go to Clary’s. It’s this cute little brunch place (on Abercorn St., but only open till 3) where the locals know the waitresses by name and the waitresses themselves have become a fixture of the building. And for desert, head back down to Broughton St. for Leopold’s ice cream, where you may or may not have to wait in a line that wraps around the block.
The coffee shops in Savannah are so abundant, it’d be a shame not to include a whole section dedicated to them. And as a sleep-deprived art student, I know where Savannah keeps the good stuff.
The Foxy Loxy is the biggest and the best seller of coffee in Savannah. You can’t go wrong with any of their locations-- Foxy Loxy, Henny Penny, The Coffee Fox, or their newest vegan restaurant Fox and Fig. The Foxy family serves locally brewed coffee and has a variety of vegan products that taste heavenly.
Bitty and Beau’s is an experience in itself. It’s run entirely by those who are “differently abled.” It was started in Wilmington, North Carolina by the Wright family who wanted their children (Bitty and Beau) with down syndrome to have a career. So, they started a coffee shop run by people who simply have different abilities.
Purrvana is a cat cafe. Yes, a cafe where you can get coffee and pet cats. Don’t worry, it’s separated, but the important thing is that all of these cats are up for adoption through the humane society in an attempt to get as many kitties out of kill shelters as possible. And if you’re not in the mood for coffee but you’re down for a meowmosa, Pounce Cat Cafe is on Broughton St. and is essentially the same idea.
Savannah turns into a different city when the sun goes down, and sure you can go to all the bars on River St., but there’s a secret one called Alley Cat. It’s down some alley downtown with a door that almost blends into the wall, and I honestly haven’t even found it yet. Still looking though.
The Grove is one of the cleaner bars in Savannah. It’s primarily rooftop, but it gets crowded fast. In one of the upper rooms, you can dance where the floor seems like it’s about to cave and the strobe lights blind you as they bounce off the white walls.
Broughton St. and River St. have plenty of shopping options, especially if you’re looking for something that’s similar to what you have back home. But what Savannah specializes in is vintage. We’ve got several vintage clothing stores and antique shops where you’ll find unique items you can’t find anywhere else.
The Future on Forsyth, Civvies (Broughton), and House of Strut (41st St.) are three of my favorite places to shop vintage. Fast fashion is becoming old, but Savannah has always had a leg up on recycled clothing. At any one of these places you can sift through the racks and find something that literally screams you.
Universe Trading Co. (Skidaway Rd.) is an antique store, but it deserves a special shoutout. Here, you can find literally anything. I mean it. There used to be a giant T-Rex display in the window, but I think someone bought it. There’s Buddha statues, a section of chairs, and a room dedicated to belt buckles.
Of course, I can’t skip the Savannah Bee Company (Broughton). Savannah loves its bees and here, there’s nothing that’s not made with honey. Tea, honeycombs, chocolate, lip balm, perfume, and wine. You can even sign up for a little tour of the shop because there’s so much in there.
Where To Stay
Now that I’ve convinced you to come to Savannah, a place you never thought you’d visit, it’s time to find your hotel. We have all of your classic name brand hotels, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks those are easy to find. But if you want the best chance of catching a celebrity while they’re filming they’re latest movie in Savannah (yes, it happens a lot), stay at the Marshall House. It’s off of Forsyth and it’s the place for celebrities to hang. I’ve heard it’s really nice in there.
The Marshall House on Broughton is another celebrity hot spot, especially during our annual Film Festival. So, even if you don’t have a room there, it’s a good place to hang around during the end of October.
Mirabelle’s is lesser known and they only have four suites, but it’s the perfect romantic experience for couples. The suites are upstairs and downstairs is this adorable waffle shop that serves the best peach cobbler waffle I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. I’m sure the smells in the morning are irresistible.
Cover image via Scavenger Hunt