By Jessie on a Journey & Andy Pilc
Because I am such an awesome girlfriend I decided to get my boyfriend Andy a trip for his birthday.
Because I am not rich, however, my options were limited to the USA’s East Coast. While racking my brain I remembered a guest post The Strange and New had done for me on how European Savannah, Georgia was, with its romantic moss-draped squares and lax drinking laws. Hey, Andy and I both enjoy a nice adult beverage. Being able to drink said adult beverage while walking down the streets? To this US citizen — who grew up only being allowed to imbibe inside walled rooms after turning 21 — it sounded oddly exciting.
If you’re looking for a romantic US city it doesn’t get much more amorous than this. That whimsical Spanish moss is everywhere, not to mention buildings date back to the 18th century and history bursts from every block. It’s also haunted, meaning you can jump into your significant other’s arms when you think you see a ghost. So perfect.
Savannah Historic District video by my boyfriend, Andy Pilc
I didn’t go solo, but as a long-time solo traveler I know what makes a great destination for this type of travel. To me, Savannah is an ideal getaway for those traveling on their own. It’s fairly safe — though always exercise caution — it’s extremely walkable and it’s a very social city. I cite the lax open container laws for the latter.
The downside: accommodation is expensive, at least during high season. I did see one hostel, Savannah Pensione, for $84 for a twin private room. There is a CouchSurfing community too, which is helpful for budget travelers.
Your best bet for booking a budget-friendly hotel in Savannah? Use this handy dandy widget to search current prices:
Know Before You Go
1. Savannah is really really hot in the summer. Bring breezy clothing and pack 2-3 outfits per day to refresh after becoming sweat drenched. Also, book a hotel with a pool — we loved The Brice, a Kimpton Hotel — and make use of Savannah’s many breezy squares.
2. You will drink… a lot. Savannah’s lax open container laws and local college mean every occasion seems cause for boozing. Hot out? Let’s drink. No work today? Let’s drink. Sunny? Let’s drink? Have an itch? I heard a drink can help. My Savannah Taste Experience guide put it perfectly when she stated, “People in Savannah LOVE to day drink.”
3. The food is diverse. Yes, you can get butter-laden Southern dishes and hearty soul food; but the city also has French (Circa 1875), Cuban (Rancho Alegre Cuban Restaurant), Italian (Pacci), Peruvian (Latin Chicks), Japanese fusion and sushi (Wasabi’s Fusion Downtown) and more.
How have I not visited Savannah sooner? The flight was about two hours from NYC to Savannah, and about an hour and 30 minutes on the way back. Even during high season (summer) I was able to book flights for ~$150 round trip. Super budget-friendly and easy!
Tip: to get the best airfare deals use Google Flights‘ airfare calendar to see if altering your travel dates could save big bucks.
There are many things to do in Savannah, and it’s an extremely walkable city. Andy and I relied solely on our own two feet and the free bike rentals at the Brice Hotel to get around. If you’re not staying at the Brice Hotel the city has a bike share program called CAT Bike. It’s the most budget-friendly USA bike share program I’ve ever seen at $5 per day or $20 per week. Riders get an entire hour to ride before having to dock the bike again, and if you go over the time it’s only $2 per half hour over. Avoid this fee by docking the bike every hour.
Another option is renting from Sekka Bike for $10 for three hours or up to $60 for the week.
The only time we used a car service was to get to and from the airport and the Historic District. This cost about $18-$28 using Uber.
Andy and I were debating on whether to stay in a b&b or a hotel for our romantic getaway. Ultimately, The Brice, A Kimpton Hotel‘s outdoor pool and nightly free wine hour won us over. As soon as we walked through the doors into the lobby — which felt like a fashionable friend’s living room — we were in love. Picture shelves full of books, artwork-adorned walls, typewriters atop the table — not to mention a giant light-strung outdoor courtyard and comfortable couches inside to savor free morning coffee and homemade granola bars.
Join the free Kimpton Karma Rewards program, which I did, and get a free $10 minibar credit and free high speed Wi-Fi.
Other highlights of our stay included the central location, free bike rentals, comfortable in-room robes, Atelier bath products and the uber friendly doorman, Rodney, who quickly became our bestie.
Rates: $187-$343 per night.
Things To Do In Savannah
1. Get Fit
By Day 4 our overindulging was getting the best of us. It wasn’t easy getting up early for a 9am hot yoga class at Dancing Dogs Yoga, but was so worth it. In fact, for us it ended up being one of the top things to do in Savannah.
I’d never done hot yoga and was nervous about being uncomfortable, but it was a dry heat that didn’t hurt my breathing. Our instructor pushed us to “just go for it” with challenging moves, but also nurtured a supportive community by making students clasp hands and work together to achieve poses. She even surprised us with a quick Gangnam-style dance break!
After cooling down with chilled lavender-scented towels, we went downstairs and enjoyed a “Warrior 1 Organic Bowl” from the adjoining Beetnix Savannah Juice Bar. The colorful dish featured fresh fruit, house-made raw almond butter, granola and cacao nibs over a bed of ice cold pitaya.
Side note: If anyone knows where we can get pitaya in NYC please email me. I’m craving!
Both businesses are part of the Broughton Street Collection, a mixed-use restoration project that has renovated 37 properties. This has helped transform the once-abandoned storefronts into a bustling thoroughfare.
2. Savor Elevated Lowcountry Cuisine At A.Lure
We ate a lot of great food in Savannah, though both agreed no meal was a match for A.Lure. The focus is elevated lowcountry cuisine, a southern cuisine influenced by local Native American tribes as well as the French that eventually settled.
The meal began with homemade bread — including the most heavenly biscuits I’ve ever tasted — paired with sea salt-ladden whipped butter and homemade pineapple ginger jam. Almost everything on the menu is made from scratch, with ingredients typically sourced from nearby Kachina Farms.
Each dish was familiar but done in a creative way. For instance, the meatloaf was made with ground filet mignon and chunks of foie gras then gowned in a truffle Madeira sauce. Another highlight: the fish and chips featuring a fresh catch battered in Harpoon beer and served with minted peas, Cajun tartar sauce and old bay potato chips. We savored each bite while admiring local art depicting Savannah scenes, and ended the meal with a traditional strawberry shortcake paired with their own blend of locally roasted coffee. A definite must in Savannah!
3. Dine Old School At The Olde Pink House
Everything at the Olde Pink House — the smiling servers, the decadent culinary options, the Georgian decor — will leave you feeling like the mayor that King George had originally built the home for in 1771. We started our night in the Planters Tavern downstairs, sipping cocktails while being serenaded by a Victorian-gowned singer. Once seated in one of the eight unique dining rooms, our server Happy (yes that is his name, and yes, he more than lived up to it) eagerly shared with us the building’s rich history before suggesting food and drink catered to our preferences.
Note: You absolutely must get the BLT salad. This dish is not your average salad, with mouth-watering bacon slow-cooked for 45-minutes, fried green tomatoes bursting with flavor, and a black pepper thyme buttermilk dressing. This is one of the many sauces made onsite.
You’ll quickly see why the Olde Pink House has been featured on Iron Chef numerous times. And you may have a hard time chewing your food because of the jaw-dropping experience that comes with each dish.
4. Explore Savannah’s Delicious Side With A Guide
Andy and I took a tour with Savannah Taste Experience. In most cities I visit I try to take a tour that provides the local perspective on food and local culinary secrets. I also love trying small bites of many things. The Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour was amazing, as we tried everything from specialty sausages (seen below) to locally brewed coffee to peach cobbler-topped Belgian waffles filled with surprising sugar peals in the dough.
One highlight for me was the homemade pimento cheese served on a house-made croissant at Our Daily Bread. Pimento cheese features grated cheddar cheese, chopped pimento peppers and mayonnaise. During the early 20th century it was the rich man’s food as cheese was expensive and pimento peppers had to be imported from Spain and Portugal. Everything changed, though, in 1915 when James Lewis Kraft — yes, that Kraft — stated selling processed cheese, lowering the cost. Around this time southern farmers also began growing pimento, and today Charlotte, North Carolina is the pimento capital of the world. The cheese now claims a spot as a staple of southern cuisine.
5. Savor Savannah’s Best Kept Barbecue Secret At Wall’s BBQ
I don’t want to give away all Savannah Taste Experience’s secrets, but Wall’s BBQ was so adorably charming — and delicious! Opened in 1963, the small understated barbecue joint is equal parts delicious and adorable. We tried the pork BBQ, which I smothered in spicy BBQ sauce. There’s a menu board on the counter with letter fridge magnets spelling out scrambled menu items. When a dish is ready to serve, its word becomes unscrambled.#Savannah is one of the #USA's best culinary destinations. Here's why. #georgia Click To Tweet
6. Get Drunk With Ghosts At 17Hundred90 Inn & Restaurant
Okay, just one more since they had so many great recommendations. Don’t miss the Hippie Juice at 17Hundred90 Inn & Restaurant, a concoction of local rum, vodka, and chunks of fresh and candy fruit.
What’s really interesting about this place is it’s also an inn — a haunted inn! Step outside and look in the window of Room 204 to see a creepy life-sized doll looking back. The doll is a replica of Anna, a girl who flung herself from the window to her death. The legend goes the suicide was because one of her many sailor lovers left her while pregnant.
Today guests of Room 204 must sign a waiver saying the hotel isn’t liable for the tricks Anna plays, like stealing women’s panties and caressing men’s faces. Apparently, Miley Cyrus stayed in this room and stated the ghost opened her suitcase and tried on her boots!
Fun Fact: Burt Reynolds’ film, “Gator,” featured the venue.
7. Have A Spooky Night With Ghost Tour
Speaking of ghosts, no trip to Savannah would be complete without a tour of the Historic District’s most haunted places. We met our guide Skippy in Johnson Square at 11pm for a Dead of Night Ghost Tour with Ghost City Tours. Here he told us the paranormal theory about why the surrounding live oak trees are the only ones in the city lacking Spanish moss.
Skippy revealed some of Savannah’s darkest tales, like that of Sweeny Todd-esque murderer Alice Riley, who hung from the gallows that once occupied the modern-day Wright square. He also spoke of the massive burial plots from Savannah’s yellow fever epidemics from the 1800s.
What really brought the tour to life was the video footage and EVP audio tracks from Skippy’s iPad. We heard the aggressive screams of the presumed ghost Molly at the Sorrel Weed House, a video of a ghastly boy running through the very cemetery we stood next to, and the growling of a malevolent spirit in the former slave holds next to the River Street Cotton Exchange. While beautiful, Savannah certainly holds a dark history in certain regards.
8. Have A Bloody Mary Scavenger Hunt
Looking for things to do in Savannah beyond the guidebook? One fun trend in Savannah’s culinary scene is unique Bloody Mary concoctions. Restaurants are elevating the boozy brunch staple with banana peppers and Sriracha (Treylor Park), bacon (17Hundred90 Inn & Restaurant), horseradish-infused vodka (The Bohemian Hotel), dill pickle (Distillery) and build-your-own (Kevin Barry’s Pub). See if you can
collect drink them all!
9. Savor Free Artisan Samples
Pondering things to do in Savannah? There are a number of shops with free samples of artisan products introducing you to local culture through the palate. A few suggestions include:
- The Salt Table: I loved the endless shelves showcasing 200+ salt and spice samples — either to taste or smell — and the table of locally brewed teas. Head downstairs to a wonderland of Georgia-made products like beer, wine and honey. We tried a free sample of Butter Ducks Sweet Peach wine made with real peaches (yummy soaked into pound cake, apparently), but for $10 you can do a proper 5-wine tasting.
- Savannah Bee Co: Here you’ll find a large sunlit shop with a 10+ honey tasting bar, a 100% natural beeswax and honey body care section, and a mead tasting bar. Two highlights were the Tupelo Honey, a rare honey that can only be made two weeks per year, and a raw cinnamon honey with a nice baking spice.
- Savannah Rae’s Gourmet Popcorn: They have over 250+ popcorn flavors. Some are more typical like Movie Theater Butter and Truffle; however, some are downright weird like Blueberry Cheesecake, Captain Crunch, Margarita and Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. Unlimited free samples are available for tasting, and they give military and student discounts.
- Smith Brothers Butcher Shop: This family-owned business has been open since 1924 and features free samples of delicious cheeses, jams and meats around the shop, as well as a complimentary wine tasting from 3pm-6pm on Saturdays. It’s a great spot to grab picnic supplies — including wine — for an afternoon in Forsyth Park. From their 13+ sausage varieties my favorite was the spicy andouille!
- RMC Boutique: This boutique has a gallery feel with different sections showcasing carefully curated items from local brands. And it’s not just clothing. Have bags embroidered, peruse handmade jewelry, and enjoy free samples of blackberry beeswax beauty balm, cookies and orange-infused water.
10. Have A Quirky Coffee At The Coffee Fox
Late nights drinking on the waterfront meant coffee was a very necessary part of our trip. We fell in love with the Coffee Fox, and it easily became our sole coffee purveyor. What initially attracted us was the offerings we saw recommended on FourSquare. For me: an iced horchata latte. For Andy: an “Eye Opener” with a double espresso shot and Left Hand Nitro Stout.
11. Visit France In Savannah
Located next to our beloved Coffee Fox was the Paris Market, an Instagram obsessed’s heaven. If I owned a home my credit card would have been in trouble with all these flirty French housewares and unique decor items. Large mahogany desks littered with leather-bound books featured a giant magnifying glass, while a lavish table was set up with elaborate place settings under detailed chandeliers. Handmade lavender soaps, fashion-focused coffee table books, armature table lamps and a café offering delicate options like macaroons, rose seltzer and a “French Garden” lavender tea could also be found.
Andy and I were also amused by a Mason jar of cicada carcasses for $0.75 each. Is there someone who goes and collects the dead bugs from the park then flips them for a profit?
12. Have A Cocktail On Draft At Savannah Cocktail Co
Upstairs from Savannah’s delicious sushi joint, Co, the Savannah Cocktail Co serves classic cocktails like Sazeracs and French 75’s in a dimly red-lit romantic lounge. The large hand-cut ice cubes, tailored glassware and house made infusions like homemade ginger beer and lavender syrup for a “Lavender Old Fashioned” prove the venue’s attention to detail, though what really enticed Andy and I was a sign boasting cocktails on draft.
I opted for the “Chatham Artillery Punch” made with rum, bourbon, cognac, sparkling wine, lemon and sugar that’s a local specialty.#Cocktails on draft is just one reason to visit #Savannah, #GA. Here are more! Click To Tweet
13. Try A Southern-Style Cronut At Goose Feathers Cafe (For A Photo Op)
I’ll start by saying I really did this because I’m from New York where the Cronut fad reached humorous levels. At Goose Feathers Cafe they call their version the Ecroissant, and honestly it’s tiny, uber sweet and not what I’d really want for breakfast. It was fun to try though, and the rest of their menu is delicious. Some highlights include the “Bird’s Nest,” a hearty nest of grits, eggs and salsa, and a “Beach Blanket Latte” made with coffee, white chocolate and coconut syrup that’s topped with whipped cream. Drink it for inspiration before heading to the nearby Tybee Island Beach about 30 minutes outside the city.
14. Be A Kid Again Through Outdoor Games
Within an hour of wandering Savannah we were sweating like crazy. Luckily there’s a splash pad in Ellis Square to cool you down. We ran through the spurting water before grabbing a beer at Moon River Brewing Co. The food and homemade beer was tasty, but what we really loved were the silly head-in-the-hole boards and giant Connect 4. I won, if you were wondering.
At the Funky Brunch Cafe, fill up on smoked salmon-laced BLTs and make-your-own pancakes before playing a game of Hopscotch on their patio. This was my favorite game as a kid!
15. Feel Like A VIP With A View At The Bohemian Hotel
Back in NYC you’ll typically find Andy and I on a rooftop if it’s a sunny day. Which is why in Savannah we loved the Bohemian Hotel and its Rocks on the Roof rooftop bar. Here we sipped sparkling wine and gazed out over the 300-mile Savannah River and cable-stayed Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Views paired with sparkling wine at the top of the Bohemian Hotel
16. Have A True Speakeasy Experience At Mati Hari
I’m a licensed sightseeing guide in NYC and lead a cocktail tour in the East Village. I love cocktail bars, and wherever I travel I always try to find at least one standout. In Savannah this quest led us to Mati Hari, a hidden bar in the back of the boisterous 309 Club. It took Andy and I about 20 minutes to figure out how to get inside, and when we finally found the hidden door the bouncer informed us we needed a key or membership card; however, when we asked nicely if we could go inside we were easily let in (hey, this is the south after all).
To me, the coolest aspect was just how much Mati Hari felt like a Prohibition-era living room — they even had carpeted floors. We sipped absinthe-laced cocktails on a weathered thrift store sofa while listening to a singer croon soul music.
For another Prohibition experience, Distillery Ale House actually operated during Prohibition. While today it’s a craft beer bar with a pub atmosphere, it was originally a distillery in 1904. During Prohibition it was Freich’s Pharmacy, a drug store, soda fountain and lunch counter that also secretly made bathtub gin and homemade beer.
17. Get Sweet In Savannah
I typically avoid the most popular places in lieu of the lesser-known, but I made an exception for Leopold’s Ice Cream. Yes, there’s typically a line out the door, but this spot is extremely important to locals. Open since 1919, the venue has ties with film as owner Stratton Leopold — the younger son of the original owner — was once Vice President of Paramount Pictures. He still produces movies, though his love of the family business brought him back to the shop.
Among soda jerks in proper attire doling out floats, cones and ice cream flavors like Mint Chip and their signature Tutti Fruiti, you’ll find a small historic film exhibit and photos of celebrities like Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Ben Affleck.
Other suggestions for sweet things to do in Savannah:
- For an uber decadent experience, Lulu’s Chocolate Bar offers chocolate fondue for two, dessert martinis, tarts and cakes. Get the Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie!
- Savannah Candy Kitchen on River Street offers free praline samples out front and a candy and ice cream-filled shopped that takes up almost en entire block.
- Mirabelle Cafe’s dessert waffles are da’ bomb. We tried the Peach Cobbler Waffle with sugar pearls infused into the dough. Pair with their locally-roasted Perc Coffee for a heavenly experience.
18. Enter Happy Hour Heaven At Jen’s And Friends
Jen’s And Friends has won many awards for their happy hour. The prices are insanely cheap to begin with — think $8+ martinis and beers starting at $2. Even Dog Fish Head is only $6!
During happy hour they become even cheaper. Their other draw is the 200+ beers and 300+ martinis on the menu. While I’ll admit many are candy coated and sugary, it’s a fun concept and you can sip your libation while playing classic touch screen games like erotic-style Find The Difference and Tetris.
Their happy hour special includes $2 domestic beers, $3 house wines, and $4 Appletinis and Cosmos.
19. Photograph Savannah’s Architectural Gems
Savannah is possibly the USA’s most whimsical city, with over 40% of its 2,500 buildings having historic significance. Federal, Georgian, Gothic Revival and Italianate are just a few of the styles you’ll see without even trying.
Our favorite building was the Victorian Gothic-style Cathedral of St John the Baptist. Immigrants fleeing Haiti and France established the church’s first parish in the late 1700s. While the first cornerstone was laid around then too, the new cathedral we see today was designed in the 1870s. It’s Georgia’s oldest Roman Catholic Church, and definitely one of the most beautiful, too.Is there any #US city better than #Savannah for #architecture? I think not! Click To Tweet
The “city built upon its dead” did not fail to impress us as we biked through Bonaventure Cemetery, a picturesque escape from the Historic District just less than four miles away. We pedaled on dirt paths flanked by lush trees dangling Spanish Moss and beautiful Gothic monuments paying homage to Savannah’s deceased.
We were extra motivated to visit the cemetery after our ghost tour guide showed us a picture of possible paranormal activity around the grave of Gracie Watson. Gracie was a six-year-old girl — better known as “Little Gracie” — that passed away from pneumonia in 1889. Because of the tragic story and her notoriety you’ll see small gifts left by visitors around her resting place.
21. Have The Weirdest Southern Meal Of Your Life At Treylor Park
Opened by Rich Kunzi and Trey Wilder (get it?), Treylor Park features an RV-theme with sexy-looking RV photographs and a “Live Sensibly” tag line. Despite the name it’s a clean comfortable restaurant with wood framed flatscreens showing old movies, shelves displaying empty bottles and Warhol-esque artwork. The reason we really visited, though, was the quirky menu. Picture peanut butter and jelly wings, an apple pie grilled cheese with cinnamon roasted apples and bacon, and fried shrimp served on a bed of popcorn. The main highlight was the fattening yet fancy Treylor Park Nachos featuring waffles fries embedded with chunks of fried chicken, pickles, bacon, cheddar, chive ranch and balsamic gastrique. Yum!
Also check out the eatery’s just opened slightly more upscale restaurant, Hitch, with a similar but expanded menu.
If you’re into the transport-themed restaurants, The Grey is a modern southern eatery in a converted Greyline Bus Terminal.
22. Get Out In Nature
You won’t need to look far to find one of the 22 scenic squares peppering Savannah’s Historic District. Take a break from the heat and camp out below the canopy of Spanish moss, or have a picnic by taking food to go and washing it down courtesy of the city’s open container allowances. Tip: Order Zunzi‘s chicken and special sauce-laced “Conquistador, voted 2nd best sandwich in the country by the Travel Channel.
If you’re looking for things to do in Savannah that let you escape the city environment, head to the 30-acre Forsyth Park and enjoy the picturesque landscape that dons the cover of Savannah’s travel brochures.
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Budgeting Information: Unless you’re okay with CouchSurfing, it will be hard to really do Savannah on the super cheap due to the hotel prices (though again, please use the widget below this logistics box to find the best deals).
Luckily, there are many free things to do in Savannah like wandering the squares, taking free walking tours, savoring free samples on Broughton Street and taking a free first time Latin Dance class at Salsa Savannah. For food you can of course grocery shop or live on $5 Subway sandwiches, but if you want to enjoy a mix of low key and nicer restaurants I’d suggest allotting at least $40 + tip and drinks per day per person.
Costs for some of the paid things to do in Savannah mentioned above include:
- Dead of Night Tour with Ghost City Tours: $29.95
- Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour: $56.95 including food
- Dancing Dogs Yoga Class: $20 drop-in rate (though they offer other packages)
Recommended Tours: Along with the things to do in Savannah mentioned above, a few tours to check out include:
- Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Ticket: $26.75
- Bonaventure Cemetery After Hours Tour: $35
- Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah: $19.99
Currency: US Dollar
Getting Around: As mentioned above, walking and biking are the best ways to get around Savannah.
Packing Essentials: Along with your clothing — again, bring extra garments as you’ll sweat a lot — I recommend:
- Aromaflage Perfume/Bug Spray In One
- Vigilant Personal Alarm
- Poncho / Travel rain jacket (it rained on us a few times)
- Travel umbrella
- DSLR Camera + lenses
- Day Pack
- Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum (for a moisture boost after baking in the sun)
- Sun Bum Paraben-free Sunscreen (I buy the large and squeeze into TSA-friendly bottles)
- Scarf Shawl (was great for chilly restaurants and impromptu picnics)
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