Food & Wine Escape in Savannah

  • Distance from Atlanta: 250 miles
  • Best time: March to April; September to October
  • Best for: RomanticArts and CultureFood and Wine

When it comes to gastronomy, Savannah never disappoints. This Southern belle is an epicenter for Creole flavors and classic dishes like shrimp and grits, while the city's leading chefs play with emerging trends without going overboard. Cocktails, too, are just right—made with locally sourced ingredients and a nod to tradition, and always served with a smile. Between meals, the city's beautiful, tree-lined squares provide an enchanting way to burn off some your indulgences. These are our favorite places to experience a real taste of Savannah. Bon appétit! –by Blane Bachelor

Friday

1 Toast to your epicurean escape at Circa 1875, an upscale pub and restaurant oozing with classic Parisian charm. Wine lovers will appreciate an extensive selection of Old World varietals, and bartenders do an excellent job with classic cocktails.

2 From Circa 1875, it's a short stroll to Alligator Soul, whose inventive, always-organic cuisine boasts a masculine, Creole flair: think fried frog legs, foie gras, and duck-fat French fries. There are plenty of exquisite options for vegetarians, too, and sweet-toothed guests won't be able to resist desserts like speckled chocolate-chip cheesecake.

3 Wind down the night with a PBR at Pinkie Master's, one of Savannah's most legendary dive bars. As the story goes, Georgia native Jimmy Carter declared his bid for presidency here, with a framed photo of him on the wall, amidst other random memorabilia.

Saturday

Today, Savannah's 21 squares are beloved for their beauty, but their original purpose was to provide colonists space to perform for military exercises.

1 Fuel up for a long day of exploring at Goose Feathers Café with breakfast staples like eggs Benedict, grits, and an enticing selection of quiches, all delivered in a fast, friendly manner. For a sweet start, the bakery churns out delectable fruit-stuffed croissants and signature Whoopie pies.

2 Right around the corner is the Paris Market, whose artful offerings include plenty more than Parisian goodies. Stock up on sophisticated souvenirs such as lavender soaps, dainty jewelry, home décor, and candles sourced from such exotic spots as Florence, London, Holland, and Belgium.

3 You're probably still full from breakfast, but your next stop is to pick up a picnic lunch at Parker's Market, a gas station and convenience store where fueling up takes on a whole new meaning. The store's selection of "urban gourmet" includes delectable Low Country favorites like mac-and-cheese and She-crab soup at the hot counter (browse the daily menu online ahead of time), while aisles overflow with a surprisingly international selection of culinary goodies and an excellent wine selection.

4 Both movie and history buffs will enjoy a stop at the stately Mercer Williams House Museum on Monterey Square for a glimpse into one of Savannah's most eccentric characters. Built for the great-grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer and later restored by antiques dealer Jim Williams, a real-life character from the book-turned-movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil who was eventually acquitted in three murder trials. Tours ($12.50 for adults) are held throughout the day.

5 From the Mercer House, amble over to Forsyth Park, a 30-acre oasis in the midst of the city's historic district, and spread out with your picnic lunch under the canopy of stately, Spanish moss-draped oaks. In addition to a farmers' market, the park also occasionally hosts live music concerts, and on St. Patrick's Day, its majestic fountain is dyed green.

6 After lunch, stroll (or hop in a pedi-cab) to the Starland Design District, where eclectic art galleries and studios run by current and recent art students at Art Rise Savannah feature constantly-rotating exhibits by Savannah's up-and-coming artists. Just around the corner, pop into the aptly named Back in the Day Bakery for cupcakes—in flavors like red velvet and lemon-coconut—that have inspired a cult following among locals (tasty sandwiches are available, too).

7 After an afternoon nap, it's time for a Southern staple: pre-dinner cocktails. They're mixed to perfection, along with the romantic ambiance, at Planter's Tavern, a cozy, dimly-lit bar located in the basement of the Olde Pink House (which also happens to be your stop for dinner). Excellent live jazz and potent cocktails may be tempting enough to stay put for the night, and you can do just that, as dinner is served here, too. The main dining room upstairs draws a more gussied-up clientele to feast on some of Savannah's finest cuisine: think lump-crab hush puppies, fried lobster tails, and ravioli stuffed with caramelized Vidalia onion and sweet potatoes.

Sunday

1 Start off your Sunday with wholesome, hearty fare like stuffed French toast and creamy grits at Clary's Café, a cheerful longtime favorite among locals and visitors alike. For a post-breakfast stroll, the beautiful Layfayette Square—one of 21 squares throughout Savannah—is right around the corner.

2 Hop in the car (or take a cab) to Bonaventure Cemetery, the lovely final resting place of hundreds of souls, including Conrad Aiken, Johnny Mercer, and other legendary residents. The cemetery no longer houses the famous "bird girl" statue from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but its serene, Spanish moss-cloaked oaks and riverside setting make for a hauntingly beautiful stop nonetheless.

3 For your final meal in Savannah, dig into piles of fresh shrimp, blue crabs, and Low Country boil at Desposito's (3501 Marye St.,(912) 897-9963), an unassuming seafood shack just a short drive down the road in the tiny village of Thunderbolt. Mingle with locals as you shell the sweet crustaceans, served up on piles of newspapers (though the chili, when it's on the menu, is excellent too). Cheap beer rounds out the meal: Toast to your gastronomic journey—and your next visit to this Southern culinary epicenter.

Where to Stay

Savannah prides itself on its b&b culture, and a perennial favorite is the Savannah Bed & Breakfast Inn, in the historic district. The inn blends history—the circa-1853 building was once owned by Jim Williams, the aforementioned real-life character from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil—with spacious rooms and homey touches like milk and cookies before bedtime.

For a sexy splurge, the Bohemian Hotel, on the River Walk, boasts luxurious rooms complete with handsome touches like wooden and velvet headboards, driftwood chandeliers, and artwork from the owner. Plus, its on-site restaurant, Rocks on the River, is a hip spot for a nightcap, with a chic indoor-outdoor setting overlooking the Savannah River.

When to Go

Spring is exquisite in Savannah, with the azaleas in full bloom usually by mid-March through April (though the flowers can bloom as early as January, depending on the weather). During St. Patrick's Day, the city's deep Irish heritage comes to life, with a huge parade and Irish-themed festivities throughout the Historic District.

Summer is always hot and sticky, but by September and October, temperatures have cooled off, making this time of year ideal for a visit. With its haunting Spanish moss and grim history—many of Savannah's squares were built on burial grounds—the city makes for a spectacularly spooky visit around October 31, with plenty of Halloween-themed festivals and events.

How to Get There

By Car: Take I-75 south from Atlanta about 80 miles to Macon, then get on I-16 east toward Savannah. Depending on rush hour traffic out of Atlanta, the approximately 248-mile trip should take about three hours and thirty-five minutes.

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