The coastal city of Savannah, Georgia welcomes anyone looking for a beautiful, scenic spot for a hospitable and delicious vacation. Only a few hours’ drive from Atlanta, I visited the city during a rainy, humid weekend in August, yet despite the heavy downpour, I thoroughly enjoyed many scenic and historic spots, which, complimented with a dash of that authentic hospitality you can really only find in the South, provided an enjoyable stay in the city.
Savannah is the oldest city in the state of Georgia with history that you can visualize through the architecture. Visiting historic downtown, you are immediately struck by the whimsical details that make you feel as if you have stepped back into the old South.
After an early morning drive through what was basically an endless grassy field with trees, you arrive in Savannah, entering a heady, green atmosphere. Seeking a late breakfast or brunch? Definitely. Look no further than the Gryphon, a café and tea room owned and managed by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The Gryphon is on a corner, across the street from the SCAD admissions office. Indeed, Savannah is very much a college town, filled with SCAD buildings and facilities in every nook and cranny of the city. SCAD students work and serve as wait staff in this elegant and attractive restaurant, and can be seen throughout the city. Despite this, Savannah maintains its old-time charm and authenticity.
Of further note is the Gryphon’s locally sourced menu. The café uses an array of organic and local ingredients to devise a menu consisting of afternoon tea, brunch, lunch and dessert selections. For instance, their specialty iced tea, the Atlanta Peach, incorporates fresh, local peaches (the state fruit!) and blackberries. The café itself is housed in an old apothecary, with a 1926 Scottish Rite architectural profile. Further complemented with mahogany bookshelves, colourful, patterned wallpapers and charming décor, the Gryphon was the perfect first stop and welcome into Savannah.
I decided to have a Hong Kong Cucumber Cooler, featuring limoncello, fresh mint and cucumber, while for lunch, I selected a roasted turkey sandwich. Tender slices of turkey, apple butter, warm brie, and crisp arugula, proved to be the most indulgent turkey sandwich I have ever had. After a leisurely lunch, we left the Gryphon and headed to our next stop, only to get soaked by a sudden and vicious downpour. We quickly sought refuge in the SCAD store, directly across the Gryphon and located next to the SCAD admissions office.
The SCAD store had your regular university merchandise (any SCAD dads?), but featured an assortment of items for purchase produced by SCAD students, such as 3D printed jewellery, ceramic vases, oil paintings, and metal sculptures. Just like the Gryphon, the creative set up of the store complemented the artistic items for sale. It was a great stop off amidst the downpour.
As the afternoon begins to set in and the rain finally stops, you head out for historic Jones St, just down the block from the SCAD store. Voted as one of the prettiest streets in America, I marvelled at the narrow, 19th century style homes, and frolicked across the puddles and wet cobblestone. Despite it being a through street, it remains relatively empty and free from traffic; many visitors saunter freely across and onto the street for photo ops. Lining the street are large live oaks dressed in layers of Spanish moss that hang lazily, embellishing an already very picturesque and tranquil scene. These live oaks and Spanish moss can be seen all throughout the city and are a huge part of Savannah’s chirping charm (cicadas galore). After spending about a quarter of an hour here and taking a few photos, I drove off, headed to the next destination, known primarily for this foliage.
The Wormsloe Historic Site and Plantation is an almost completely preserved representation of Georgia’s colonial past. Veering right off a manicured, cemented, two-lane highway, you slosh abruptly across unpaved road, immediately onto the avenue of Wormsloe Park and Historic Site. After paying a $10 car fee, visitors may gain access to the avenue, notable for its dramatic view of live oak trees and Spanish moss. The mile-long road leads to Wormsloe, the colonial estate founded and inhabited by one of the first settlers of Georgia from England. Nine generations later, the family continues to reside in a portion of the estate, which I was reminded of by the sight of a white Prius parked behind a gate labelled “PRIVATE PROPERTY.”
Our visit to Wormsloe was interrupted by another hefty downpour, but this almost enhanced the overall experience and viewing.With bright green grass on either side of the vehicle, uneven and muddy terrain, and a canopy of thick foliage above, I could not help but think of a tropical jungle. Due to the rain, we opted out of the foot tour of the old estate, and U-turned back into modernity via the gift shop parking lot, located at the end of the famous avenue. Coincidentally, the downpour ends, just as we leave Wormsloe and head for Downtown Savannah.
Cruising down Whitaker Street, you can easily assess what shops and establishments the downtown area has to offer. Local shops like The Impeccable Pig, Savannah Bee Company Honey House, and Nourish are intermixed with gift shops, cafés, and chain brands such as Gap and H&M. Just a block away, City Hall’s bright gold dome looms proudly at the end of Bull St, across from Johnson Square (one of Savannah’s many city squares). Because it is Saturday afternoon, street parking is limited, and we find one of several public parking lots around the corner, offering a $10-day pass to park. After circling the block, we go ahead and leave the car at one these lots, and head off to Leopold’s Ice Cream.
Within minutes walking down Broughton St you will easily spot the ice cream parlour, marked by the long queue of people funnelling out of its doors. Right next door and across the street are additional SCAD buildings, specifically a movie theatre and library. Founded in 1919, the family-owned Leopold’s is proud to serve fresh ice cream from original, secret, traditional recipes. Additionally, they claim to be the original creators of the tutti-frutti ice cream (since 1919!). I enjoy a scoop of tutti-frutti and honey almond & cream, before setting off for a walk along the shops.
The following morning, you return to downtown Savannah for a sweet breakfast at The Coffee Fox, a local coffeehouse. We order the cafés best-selling Horchata lattés, one hot and the other iced, but I must mention that the beverage tasted better hot, despite the heat and humidity. This kooky café also offers beer and wine, and cheese boards in the evenings. Savannah, after all, is known for their city open container laws, and visitors may carry around beverages of their choice. We take the lattés to-go and head for our final two destinations in Savannah: Forsyth Park and River St.
Forsyth Park is just a few minutes’ drive from the café. Essentially a green space in the centre of a four-way street, the Park features more live oaks and Spanish moss, and a fountain built in 1858, known for resembling several others around the world. Savannah does offer several other similar mini parks like this, but Forsyth Park is the largest park, hosting concerts, farmer’s markets, recreational sport and more throughout the year. During St Patrick’s Day, for instance, the city dyes the fountain water a festive green. Seeing as we visited the park in the earlier hours of the day, our fellow park attendees featured mostly joggers, walkers, and of course, mosquitos. Having our photos and fill of the fountain, the trees, the scenery and the bugs, I hurry back to the car, silently noting the new bug bites I have acquired.
After these last couple stops, and, running on little sleep and a latté, we decide to conclude our weekend in Savannah with a walk along River St. Historic River St is a combination of paved cement and 200-year-old cobblestone that runs between the Savannah River and a variety of shops and stands. Much of the original buildings and streets have been preserved from the early 1800s, as the original neighbourhood was quarantined due to yellow fever in 1818. Since its renovation in 1977, what was once several thousand feet of empty warehouse space was transformed into a square for shops, restaurants and galleries. Savannah trolleys chug slowly down the road here, and steam boats glide lethargically along the river, towering over the water. Just like at Forsyth Park, the path amidst the gift shops and artisanal arts and food stores can serve as a fantastic place for walking and jogging.
Sitting on one of the many stone benches, staring at the quiet, cloudy river, I enjoy a silent breeze as happy, panting dogs trot by in front of me. As we stand up to leave, we smile and wave at the boatmen on the river.