Spanish Moss. Upon driving into the city, we were struck immediately by the cascades of Spanish moss that poured from the overhanging branches. Creating a hauntingly beautiful canopy, the moss perfectly complements the ghostly atmosphere on which much of Savannah’s tourism relies.
Squares. Twenty-one squares comprise the area directly south of downtown. Walking through some of the squares, we noticed in each one a central war memorial surrounded by greenery and park benches. The well-laid squares leading into the gridded structure of downtown made the entire area easily navigable.
Restoration. Strolling through the historic downtown, we were charmed by the old city feel that the restoration had created for us. However, we avoided wandering through the dark and sparsely populated streets that ran toward the river, which lacked the needed renovations. Leading away from the main city attractions, we noticed ramshackle buildings on the immediate outskirts of downtown.
Forsythe Park. Besides a few tennis courts and a large white stage halfway up the park, we didn’t find much to do besides sunbathing in the open greens or seeking refuge in the shade underneath the tall trees. Having said that, we enjoyed people-watching and picture-taking as a way to take a break from the touristy parts of downtown.
City Market. While most of Savannah’s squares are green, City Market is paved in cobblestone and lined with restaurants and shops. On our first night, we found a spirited atmosphere created by outdoor dining and live music. During the daytime, we entertained ourselves by sampling some free pralines in the candy store and popping into the tourist shops.
Wet Willie’s. Specializing in strong alcoholic daiquiris, we found Wet Willie’s to be a real gem amongst the dive bars and expensive dining on River Street. We enjoyed everything about the experience: choosing from the menu of colorful drinks, sampling flavors to narrow our choices, and (thanks to Savannah’s liberal alcohol policy) leaving the bar with our large daiquiris in cool Wet Willie’s souvenir cups. As people suggested online, we found the drinks to be extremely potent. We recommend the Dreamsicle daiquiri for a sweet and refreshing taste.
Zunzi’s. A few blocks from the middle of downtown, this shack-sized restaurant had a line out the door when we arrived. The eclectic menu had both gut-pounding sandwiches and vegetarian-friendly stir-fry and salads. We made our selections and ordered from the busy yet enthusiastic staff, waiting patiently in the crowded space as the food was prepared right before us. The sweet tea and vegetable medley came quickly, but the falafel was delayed and eventually forgotten, so the friendly server made up for it with a free piece of chocolate cake. The outdoor dining looked uncomfortable, so we walked to one of the nearby squares and found a spot on a bench for an impromptu picnic.
ShopSCAD. Savannah’s student culture revolves around SCAD, or Savannah College of Art and Design, and their presence is best felt at their own store. With a selection of paintings, jewelry, clothing, stationary and small furniture, we found the products of local art students to be a refreshing turn from the repetitive merchandise of the surrounding stores. While the prices of the handmade products discouraged us from making a purchase, we appreciated the calm atmosphere as we admired the many talents of SCAD students.
River Street. We don’t recommend you omit River Street from your itinerary, but we found that its attractions were quickly exhausted. We enjoyed the Peanut Shop and outdoor markets by day, but at night the dive bars overtake the scenic street. As one of the two downtown social hubs, River Street does not match up with the City Market area.
Tybee Island. Going in February may not be ideal, but we made the 25-minute drive out to Tybee Island anyway. Given the season, the beach was relatively empty, but what stood out to us was the run-down condition of the surrounding beach houses. It might be all right in the summer, but we’d rather spend our afternoon in Savannah.
Paula Deen. This lady runs this town. With her prominent downtown restaurant, Lady & Sons, and her ubiquitous merchandise in tourist shops, Paula Deen is inescapable in Savannah. The Paula Deen Store is certainly worth a peek – if only for laughs – but we couldn’t help but feel frightened at the sight of a thousand Paula faces watching us as we shopped.
To us, Savannah seemed a city built for tourists, something which we definitely appreciated. Much in line with the stereotype, we found that in shops and restaurants, Southern hospitality was palpable. The smallish size and grid layout of the downtown made getting around very easy, and the myriad of free and cheap parking made staying there convenient. As a note of precaution, although we felt safe walking around the downtown during the daytime, we were very conscious of some shady areas at night. Men hassled us as we walked around, imploring us to buy palms from them. We even encountered a man sitting on a dark stoop with a large, yellow boa constrictor draped around his neck. Additionally, while most walkways are well-paved, the steep stairs leading down to River Street and the uneven cobblestones can be dangerous to walk on at night, as the area is not well-lit. Overall, however, we felt comfortable in Savannah and greatly enjoyed our stay.
Tours. Guided tours were a popular choice for other tourists, especially: ghost tours, historic tours, Paula Deen tours, and boat tours. With our budget in mind, we forwent the chance to take advantage of Savannah’s popular tourism offerings, opting instead to explore the city on our own.
Dining. We overlooked some tempting dining options, like a tapas bar in town and Huey’s on the River, because of our student-sized budget. Therefore, choosing a restaurant proved difficult for us, although we were pleased with the Moon River Brewery Company and Cotton Exchange Tavern and Restaurant, which provided local charm and affordable meals.