Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
Dripping with southern charm, Savannah beckons with stately architecture, rich history, and a culinary scene that spans classic down-home cooking to James-Beard-Award nominees. This is the place to come to soak up the history, people-watch in flower-filled squares, and appreciate art in lauded museums. Get ready to stroll a lot, because that’s the best way to see, feel, and smell its luxuriant essence. Never fear, plenty of benches promise a properly southern pace (just ask Forrest Gump). But it’s not all elegance and sophistication here. You also have Tybee Beach, a quirky, fun-in-the-sun, relaxing place to spend an afternoon—or all day, with all of its accompanying water sports.
Savannah is about 250 miles east of Atlanta. The drive, via I-75 and I-16, takes about four hours. There’s also bus service between Atlanta and Savannah, with a journey on Greyhound Bus Lines taking about six hours.
Leaving Atlanta at a decent hour, you’ll pull into Savannah in time for lunch. At B. Matthew’s Eatery, a casual bistro in the heart of the historic district, you can’t go wrong with a fried fish wrap or fried green tomato and pimento cheese sandwich.
Fortified, it’s time to explore Savannah’s famous Historic District. Laid out in a neat grid by General James Oglethorpe in 1733, its 20 blocks overflow with antebellum mansions, flower-filled gardens, live-oak-shaded parks, and historic churches. You’ll find 22 historic squares here, each with its own personality; Chippewa is the one made famous by Forrest Gump, and while his exact bench isn’t there, plenty of others provide places to relax. The French-Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, founded in 1799, has dazzling stained glass and rich murals, and there are several art and history museums to check out, including Telfair Academy, Jepson Center for the Arts, and Owens Thomas House and Slave Quarters. Simply stroll the quarter on your own, or join any number of specialty tours, including trolley tours, horse-drawn carriages, ghost tours, foodie tours, pub tours, and the list goes on.
Three miles east of downtown on the Wilmington River, Bonaventure Cemetery is known to anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (or seen the movie). The historic section, very Victorian, has curving pathways and marble carvings—and benches. There’s an app to guide you around.
Next, head for River Street, a 200-year-old cobblestone street edged with more than 75 galleries, boutiques, art studios, restaurants, and pubs occupying old-world cotton warehouses. Pop into the boutiques, watch the cargo ships float past, or simply take in live open-air music. From here, board a four-deck paddle wheeler with Savannah Riverboat Cruises for a sunset cruise, complete with live entertainment, an à-la-carte specialty menu, and breathtaking views.
Vic’s on the River, also on River Street, is an excellent dinner choice, offering sophisticated takes on southern dishes: wild Georgia shrimp and smoked-cheddar stoneground grits; Atlantic shellfish mélange; braised short ribs. The setting on the outside patio beneath swaying live oaks makes the experience pure magic.
Get up early to take a stroll through Forsyth Park, 30 acres of paths and shady spaces draped in Spanish moss. The main walkway passes the famous Forsyth Park Fountain, dating from 1858. Enjoy coffee on a bench, sniff the fragrant garden, and peruse the Saturday farmer’s market. Linger over breakfast at The Grey Market, a New-York-style-bodega-cum-southern-lunch-counter. You’ll find egg creams and bagels here, along with “melts of the day” and “biscuits and gravy of the day.”
Staying in relaxation mode, head for Tybee Island, a 20-minute drive from downtown, where locals have been vacationing since the late 1800s. There’s the beach, of course, where you can plop down and spend all day. But there are plenty of water activities as well: kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and dolphin cruises with Captain Mike or Captain Derek. The quaint town features antique shops, art galleries, seaside eateries, and quirky beach shops—you’ll find everything from locally made jewelry to pottery to photography, and more. The Shoppes at 1207 on Tybrisa Street are all owned by local artisans. Civil War buffs should seek out Fort Pulaski, which also has trails and picnic spots. For those really wanting to ditch the world, the paddle from Tybee Island to the uninhabited barrier island of Little Tybee is the perfect remedy. The only beings you’ll see are egrets, ibis, osprey, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, and maybe a manatee or two along the way.
Break for lunch at your leisure at one of Tybee’s buzzy outdoor dining venues—wild Georgia shrimp and oysters, anyone? It’s hard to beat the huge patio overlooking bird-filled marshlands at the casual Crab Shack, with a diverse menu featuring seafood platters, BBQ, and sandwiches.
When you’re done with the sun, head back into Savannah. If you still have energy, the Starland District is an emerging neighborhood of artists and local businesses—a really fun place to stroll. You’ll find numerous galleries and studio spaces, vintage clothing stores, and much more. Take a breather at Starland Cafe & Gallery or Back in the Day Bakery. Here, too, you can join a workshop to make your own scrub or clay mask at Salacia Salt Studio. Your skin will thank you.
Then, soak in the balmy Savannah night on the semi-covered patio of a 1900s mansion at Elizabeth on 37th. Amid chirping crickets and flickering candlelight, you’ll enjoy exquisite southern coastal cuisine: spicy Savannah red rice with Georgia shrimp; local blue crab two ways; roasted chicken breast with local wild mushrooms. Sip a mint julep, which they have perfected, and call it a day.
Linger over breakfast at 22 Square, offering fresh spins on southern favorites, with an all-out effort to support local producers. Specials include swine and fowl Benedict, bistro filet hash, and shrimp and grits, complete with pork belly, leeks, and maple-smoked cheddar.
Then pack up, but before leaving for home, make a detour 20 miles south to Wormsloe Historic Site on the Isle of Hope. The 1.5-mile-long entranceway itself is worth the drive: an avenue of towering live oaks on either side festooned with Spanish moss. Wormsloe, dating from the 1700s and now in ruins, is Savannah’s oldest structure. Walking trails wander through a maritime forest, and there’s also a small museum with artifacts unearthed here; special events are offered throughout the year, including costumed interpreters and a colonial fair.
Before leaving the Savannah area for good, it’s not too late for one last hurrah at the beach. You’ll pass the turnoff as you leave Wormsloe. When you do finally head back to Atlanta, consider stopping at the Whistle Stop Café in Juliette. Yes, this is where Fried Green Tomatoes took place—and was filmed for the 1991 movie.
WHERE TO STAY
Savannah offers a wide assortment of accommodations, ranging from historic inns and B&Bs, to vacation rentals to comfortable hotels and motels. Perry Lane Hotel, just steps from Forsyth Park, is an award-winning luxury hotel with a chic rooftop bar. And the Andaz Savannah, located on the corner of the famous City Market, is modern and spacious.
WHEN TO GO
Consider fall or spring to visit Savannah, when the tourists are gone, the humidity is manageable, and room rates are lower. Spring has the additional perk of blooming flowers.