A Guide to Savannah’s Two Sides, Soulful & Spooky

The essence of Savannah curves through the city.

Oak trees covered with dangling Spanish moss.
Historic homes with beautiful iron details.
Unwavering southern hospitality.
A burgeoning food and drink scene.
And, of course, historical markers on what seems like every street.

It’s said to be one of the most haunted cities in America, and at night, walking through the quiet city squares, you can’t help but feel the whispers of eras past.

Savannah’s layout, composed of 22 squares, divide the city into wards, which makes it easy to navigate on foot. If you’re not up for walking, you can easily take a taxi or Uber around the city, or hop on a trolley tour.

My first time in Savannah, I visited the city on a long weekend as a sophomore in college. As part of the honors program I was enrolled in, we took an annual trip somewhere in the US. While on the trip, there were suggested educational activities (think historic city tours), but everything was optional.

On that trip, I recall going on a trolley tour to see Savannah’s best bits, an evening ghost tour, wandering through a few cemeteries, strolling along the riverside, and being in awe of the beautiful, stately historic homes.

Twelve years later, my next time in Savannah was on a day trip from Brunswick. Visiting my sister for a few weeks, we ventured to Savannah for a day of exploring the city. Even though I’d been before, I didn’t remember too much, aside from what I captured in photos. Acknowledging risks from COVID, we decided we’d walk everywhere, keep our masks on the entire day (even when outside), and only sit down to eat if we found a place with distanced, outdoor seating. There were a few things we weren’t able to do, like visiting cool cocktail bars, but we felt safe the entire day, and ultimately, that’s the most important thing.

I’d head back to Savannah in a heartbeat. Like other southern cities I’ve enjoyed, New Orleans and Charleston, I love wandering the historic districts, savouring southern eats, and revealing in hundreds of years of history.

What to Do & See

Take a stroll through the city’s hauntingly beautiful cemeteries: Savannah’s biggest and most famous cemetery, Bonaventure is a 10-15 minute drive from city centre. Here, you’ll find the graves of prominent residents, fighters in the Spanish-American war, and, perhaps most famously, Little Gracie.

Little Gracie’s parents owned one of Savannah’s most prominent hotels in the 1800s. Unfortunately, at only the age of 6, Gracie died from phenomena. What makes her grave especially spooky is the life-size replica of her- if you stand on the left side of the grave, and look into her eyes, don’t be surprised to feel chills run down your spine.

City centre, stop in the Colonial Park cemetery. Here, among final resting spots, you’ll find a Yellow Fever mass grave burial site. And, along the east wall of the cemetery, tombstones vandalised by Union soldiers are on display. You’ll have to look closely to see what the soldiers changed, but the marks left by their bayonets remain visible- one man lived to the ripe old age of 421, another man’s son was born 1,000 years before his father.

Explore any of Savannah’s 22 squares: Originally, Savannah’s squares were created to facilitate military exercise, but today, they’re a beautiful place to rest and relax. Often, you’ll find a statue or fountain, along with benches and plenty of shady space. A few of my favourite squares, and ones you’re sure to come across exploring: Layfayette Square, Pulaski Square, Chippewa Square, and Johnson Square.

Relax in Forsyth Park: A lush park with an ornate, sprawling 150 year old fountain? Yes, please. Chances are you’ll wander through Forsyth at some point during your stay- it’s that much of a focal point in the city. If you happen to be visiting Savannah on the weekend, don’t miss the Saturday local merchants market.

Travel back in time through a stroll down Jones Street: A world famous historic district never disappoints, especially not when it’s heralded as one of the prettiest streets in America. More than 20 cobblestoned blocks with stunning mansions, towering oaks, lush squares and historic churches compose Savannah’s historic district. A wander up and down Jones Street, reveals some of the most impressive homes, mansions that survived General Sherman’s march to the sea during the Civil War.

Enjoy the buzz of the River Walk: Albeit not my favourite part of Savannah, given the abundance of boozy, party spots and chains, no visit to Savannah is complete without a stroll along the River Walk. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see some cool boat traffic- on our most recent visit, we watched a tug assist a much larger boat in transferring crew and supplies.

Feel the city’s spirits on a Ghost Tour: With a reputation as one of America’s most haunted cities, a ghost tour is practically a must-do. If you’re really up for the spooky stuff, the Dead of Night tour should be on your itinerary- it’s adults only with tales of demons, possessions and murders. 

Take a trolley tour: My first time in Savannah, we took advantage of a trolley tour to understand the city’s layout, and orientation of key sights we wanted to see (this was long before the days of Google maps). Now, even though you can easily look things up on the fly, I’d still recommend taking a trolley tour to learn more about Savannah’s history. Some offer hop on/hop off options, which make it even easier to get around a wonderfully walkable city.

Pop in a few of the city’s many eclectic, locally owned/operated shops: A few of my favourites- One Fish Two Fish (homewares), Chocolat (artisanal chocolates), The Paris Market (for croissants and tea, or browsing goods), and The Spice and Tea Exchange.

Venture back in time, to the days of Prohibition: Whether you’re a social drinker or find yourself drinking far less frequently these days (*raises hand*), it’s wild to think there was a time when alcohol was illegal in the States. I haven’t visited Savannah’s Prohibition Museum, but it’s high on my list of things to do on a return visit. I’ve heard the museum does a wonderful job educating on how prohibition came to be (in an interesting way), and the entire experience ends with a cocktail at a speakeasy, in a nod to the times. One tidbit I learned from a friend who visited- Georgia went dry prior to national mandated Prohibition, which didn’t sit well with Savannah residents, who tried to secede and form their own state.

While you’re wandering, be on the lookout for: 

  • Tabby sidewalks, a mixture of oyster shells and cement, they’re famous in historic parts of the city
  • The birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Lowe
  • Chippewa Square (where Forrest Gump was filmed sitting on a bench)
  • The Mercer House, one of Savannah’s most historic homes
  • The Olde Pink House, a beautifully hued facade

Where to Eat

There’s truly no shortage of great eats to be found in Savannah- from southern staples to world flavours.

Most of the below offer plentiful vegetarian options. I’ve eaten at Collins Quarter, Huey’s, Sandfly BBQ, Zunzi’s, Husk, Byrd, and Leopold’s, and have heard fantastic things about the other options listed.

Collins Quarter: If I could recommend only one place to eat in Savannah, this would be it. Brunch at this funky, Aussie inspired, southern flair cafe is a must. Everything we had was incredible from the lavender spiced mochas (which everyone who gave me recommendations for Savannah told me was a must try), to the Bananas Foster French Toast (best french toast, ever), to the Short Rib Hash and BLAT sandwich. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again to try their cool cocktail menu, and other delicious looking dishes.

Huey’s on the River: It’s unusual for me to recommend a restaurant in the heart of what’s known as the ‘tourist district’, but the fried green tomato muffaletta is worth singing praises of. Slices of tart green tomato slathered in tangy olive spread and sandwiched between fluffy bread with creamy, provolone cheese- it’s, as one TripAdvisor reviewer says, brilliant.

Byrd Cookies: A Savannah staple, Byrd’s cookies are delectable in every sense. Don’t miss the key lime coolers and Georgia peach cookies- both were so good, we brought tiny, takeaway bags to share with friends and family.

Leopold’s: Another Savannah dessert tradition, Leopold’s serves up made from scratch, award-winning ice cream. For over a century, they’ve been serving up “Good Things to Eat, Good Things to Drink” in beautiful, historic Savannah. Two scoops on a cone are the ultimate treat after a hot day of wandering- big fan of the coffee chocolate chip, lemon custard and peppermint.

Zunzi’s: Locals line up for the South African inspired sandwiches here. In Capetown style, their sandwiches are overstuffed with deliciousness. Be sure to add a bag of Zapp’s Voodoo chips to your meal- I first discovered the sweet and tangy flavour in New Orleans, and since then, they’re my favourite chip to have with any sandwich.

Sandyfly BBQ at The Streamliner: Famous for their pulled pork, their sides are also seriously mouthwatering. I’d have no objection to making a meal out of their mac and cheese, potato salad, fried okra and sweet tea.

Husk: Using only ingredients from the south, HUSK nails hearty home cooking. I haven’t been to the branch in Savannah, but loved lunch at the one in Charleston and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for an upscale lunch or dinner.

Foxy Loxy Cafe: Opened by a Texas transplant, Foxy’s does a bit of everything that makes tex-mex great- from kolache buns to horchata lattes, and the unexpected, locally sourced wine and cheese boards.

Fox & Fig Cafe: Recognized as one of Savannah’s best vegan cafes, you’ll find lots of local favourites at Fox & Fig, from PERC coffee to Leopold’s coconut cream milkshakes. Just about everything on their menu gets a thumbs up from me.

Kayak Cafe Broughton: Recommend to me for their great vegetarian options, Kayak is wholesome food made fresh daily. A scan of their menu and I’m unable to choose what I’d order- so many things look great. Highlights: the olympic Greek salad, tiger tofu tacos, balsamico panini, black-eyed pea burger, avocado toast and the southwestern burrito- easily the kind of place I could come back for multiple meals.

Bull Street Taco: Hailed as fantastic Mexican, any place with handmade tortillas gets two thumbs up in my book. On my next visit to Savannah, I’d love to try their red chile tempura cauliflower taco and agave dijon slaw, topped off with a hibiscus iced tea.

Back in the Day Bakery: You’ll need to drive to this bakery (or take a taxi/Uber), as it’s not centrally located, but the vintage decor, staff decked out in Rosie the Riveter outfits, plus earl grey cookies and lavender cookies make the trek worth it.

Where to Have Coffee

During my December trip to Savannah, we checked out several cafes over the course of the day- Sentient Bean, The Coffee Fox, and Gallery Espresso. I’ve recommended all three below, plus a few other places others have encouraged me to check out when I return.

  • Sentient Bean: Our first stop of the morning for good reason- it’s hailed as one of Savannah’s best cafes. The vegetarian options are plentiful, and the drink menu is a mix of classic coffee drinks, and speciality ones. We had vegetarian breakfast tacos (great) and a peppermint mocha, made with actual peppermint- which I loooooved, so refreshing
  • Gallery Espresso: Without question, the coziest coffee shop we visited- Gallery feels like you’ve stepped into someones living room. With a fireplace, tons of plush couches and chairs, and colourful wall art, it’s stay and linger vibes. Here, I picked up a sweet tea and blueberry muffin, both were fantastic
  • The Coffee Fox: Nearing evening, I didn’t need more coffee, but when we strolled past The Coffee Fox, I knew I had to go inside. Eclectic and artsy, it seems like it’d be a rad place to hang post-COVID. I picked up a bag of beans from South America to try, and enjoyed the steaming cup of their holiday brew blend
  • PERC Coffee Roasters: With coffee roasts sourced seasonally, you know it’s always going to be fresh. I’ve heard wonderful things about their nitro cold brew
  • Savannah Coffee Roasters: Described to me as Starbucks, but local, it seems like a good place for a caffeine pick me up or a snack
  • Blends: Known for their handcrafted blends made from beans around the world, I’ve heard Blends is a good place to slow down and enjoy a refreshment before continuing on with exploring

Where to Drink

Once entrenched in Prohibition, Savannah is now known for its great nightlife. Riverside, you’ll find plenty of boozy, rowdy bars, but if you’re in for a quieter night with a bit more local flair, the five bars below are at the top of my list to check out on a return visit.

On this trip to Savannah, we didn’t stop in any places for a drink. In part, because we were limited with time, and also because, we’re not comfortable eating or drinking indoors for the COVID foreseeable.

  • Perry Lane Hotel rooftop: Savannah has a few rooftops, and I’ve heard this one atop a swank hotel is a lovely spot to make the day to evening transition with a bird’s eye view of the city
  • Artillery Bar: The bar I’m looking forward to someday visiting most, Artillery boasts stunning interior (and exterior) design with a creative cocktail list. Take note, the dress code is ‘smart’, and no phones are allowed
  • Jen’s & Friends: Jen’s may look like a nondescript dive bar, but they have 300 martinis on the menu. I’ve heard the watermelon lemon drop is among the can’t miss martini hits
  • The Wyld Dock Bar: Fifteen minutes outside the city, it’s worth visiting this dockside bar to get into a slow, sweet southern mode. With plenty to keep visitors occupied (bocce, games, porch swings) and a fire pit, The Wyld sounds like thee place for sunset drinks after a day of exploring
  • The Grey: Nab a seat at the bar for modern, expert made cocktails

And, for those of you who love visiting distilleries or tasting different types in alcohol, two of my favourite spots in Savannah are Ghost Coast Distillery and Savannah Bee Company.

Ghost Coast Distillery produces whisky, vodka and rum. In non-COVID times, they offer free 40-minute tours at the top of each hour, which end with a sample flight of spirits. One of my favorite things about Ghost Coast is their cocktail tasting option- a fun, less potent way to try some of their top spirits mixed with flavours.

Savannah Bee Company may be known for their honey, which is incredible and wholly lives up to the hype, but their mead tastings are what earns them a mention here. Savannah Bee has multiple locations in the city, and inside each, you’ll find honey, and also mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey. Honey tastings are unlimited (and free), and for $10, you can try several meads at the tasting bar, from still to sparkling, and semi-sweet to sweet. It’s a sweet stop in seeing Savannah, to say the least.

Have you ever been to Savannah? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit one day? 

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