Savannah. A lush city that buzzes with understated magic (or sometimes overstated magic if you are anywhere near River Street on a Friday night). I like to say that while the West, with its rugged landscapes, soaring mountains, and larger-than-life vistas, is the place that has captured my soul, Savannah is the city that will always have my heart.
My love affair with it is long; beginning with eating sticky caramel apples and as much saltwater taffy as I could carry on the riverwalk during childhood trips and spanning to my most recent visit (a couple years ago) where I got to share my love of this place with my son. There is a full-circle, extraordinary sense of satisfaction that comes from bringing your own son to one of your favorite childhood vacation spots.
That is the trip I’ll be recapping here, so it’s definitely more family friendly than some of my past trips (like the one my husband and I spent half of sleeping off a hangover we earned when our ghost tour was cancelled and we went to a bar instead). That being said, Savannah truly has something for everyone. I enjoyed my trips there as a wide-eyed kid as much as I did as a hard-to-please teenager, a college student visiting with friends, a newlywed, and a new mom with a toddler in tow.
So, let’s start with food because isn’t that everybody’s favorite thing about traveling to a new city?
Where to Eat
Savannah Coffee Roasters – Such a scrumptious place we ended up going here for breakfast both days of our stay. They serve a variety of great quick bites: pastries, sandwiches, breads, pies, and quiches– true cafe fare. The iced coffee can’t be beat, and if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re serving up pavlova (a New Zealand creation involving merengue, whipped cream, and fresh fruit), I’ll be personally offended if you don’t try some.
Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room -If you’re trying to decide between Paula Deen’s and this place, go here. (If you can do both, Paula’s Ooey Gooey Butter Cake is a reason in and of itself to visit her restaurant.) Once you get seated at Mrs. Wilkes, it’s a great place for kids. The family style dining and large array of dishes will fulfill even the pickiest eaters (my toddler ate bread and mac and cheese and we called it good. Kind of like every meal.). Keeping them entertained in line long enough to actually get seated is another story. If you can manage it, I think the long wait is definitely worth it. The food is some of the best Southern food I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of Southern food because I am sort of from Georgia). For adults, the wait isn’t so bad (but go early!); it’s great to strike up conversation with the people around you (whom you’ll most likely be eating with!) and enjoy being on what is arguably the prettiest street in the whole city.
Moon River Brewing – If I’m being honest, our decision to go here was based solely on the fact that it’s in a building widely said to be the most haunted in Savannah (with Savannah being consistently ranked in the top ten haunted cities in America, that’s pretty haunted). I tend to focus on other things in the city, while enjoying a scary ghost tour as much as anyone, but my husband really loves a good ghost story. He asked a waitress if she’d had any “supernatural” experiences in the building and she got visibly flustered and told him she didn’t like to talk about it. That gave me the heebie jeebies more than anything in that city ever has! The food is your standard brewery fare and your standard kids’ menu. Come here for a decent meal, good beer, and better backstory.
The Pirates’ House – The draw of this place lies in its history and family friendliness. The restaurant is housed in the oldest building still standing in Savannah. The stories written on the menus are fun to read and they have an extensive gift shop for kids to explore or to pick up kitschy souvenirs. The food was okay. Certainly not the best you’ll find in the city, but the buffet was perfect for a quick southern family meal.
Leopold’s – You cannot visit in the dog days of summer and not make a stop at this classic Savannah institution. I have many memories of standing in line under the bright neon lights as a kid, weighing the merits of Tutti Frutti versus bubblegum.
North Beach Bar and Grill – Okay, so this one is on Tybee Island, but if you’re in Savannah and you can swing it, stopping by the island for a beach day or evening sunset dinner is a great (and relaxing) way to spend some time. This restaurant is right by the beach with a perfect view of the lighthouse and ample outdoor seating for those warm and breezy beach nights.
What To Do
Tybee Island – Not technically Savannah, but what’s a trip to this area without an island stop? Especially for kids, a trip to the beach for a couple hours is perfect to add to your Savannah itinerary. The beach is large, with soft sand and plenty of shells and rocks to collect. Visit the lighthouse for pretty views and to drain some more energy out of your kids on the climb to the top.
Forsyth Park – A fun (enclosed!) playground, sidewalks galore, bathroom facilities, a cafe, vibrant green lawns, shade from majestic live oaks, and a stunning fountain all make this park a must-see. We let our toddler run wild here after our three-hour drive to the city. He got to stretch his legs and get some much needed fresh air and exercise, which made for a calmer dinner experience a bit later that day.
Old Savannah Tours – Choose the on/off ticket to get the most out of these tours. Savannah is a city best experienced walking or by trolley, as driving and finding parking can be a hassle (plus, driving doesn’t let you walk through all those pretty squares!). We loved our guide, and learned so many unusual facts about the city. We got off at the end and chose to explore the places that interested us the most more thoroughly. Which leads me to my next “to-do”…
Explore the Squares – This one might sound obvious, but it took me a lot of trips before finally giving the squares enough time to really appreciate them. Savannah wouldn’t be Savannah without its squares, so get out and see the building blocks of the city. And not just the Forrest Gump one– they all have something to offer. My personal favorite is Johnson Square, the biggest square and one of the first created. The trees there are so big and I could sit on a bench and stare at the fountain for hours. Walking around and discovering the unique statues, fountains, and histories of each one could easily fill up a full day by itself. Meander on your own and read statue inscriptions and stop at benches to people watch or take a more structured route and do a self-guided walking tour.
Morrell Park – After you’ve explored River Street a little bit, keep going east until you get to Morrell Park, home of the Waving Girl Statue and a quaint green space right on the Savannah River. Here, you can let kids run around and watch all the boats go by. Our toddler loved seeing the big container ships and tug boats while he goofed around on the big lawn with his dad.
Wormsloe Historic Site: The avenue of more than one hundred-year-old oaks leading to the museum and ruins will take your breath away. It’s the stuff Southern postcards are made of. For a fee, enjoy a small museum and gift shop, an interpretive nature trail, and a look at some ruins from a fort built in the mid-1700’s. There weren’t many visitors the day we went, and we had the ruins and the drive down the avenue to ourselves. It was an enchanting experience well worth the admission fee.
Bonaventure Cemetery – There is really nothing like this cemetery. I wasn’t so sure about walking around a cemetery for “fun” at first, but I’m so glad we went. It’s quiet, peaceful, and full of Savannah history. Pick up a map and a guide to the most famous headstones at the visitors center and spend some time walking around. While kids running wild may not be the most appropriate for a cemetery, if you have young ones who still enjoy stroller naps, this could be a great place to take one.
shopSCAD – Savannah is home to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and the city is made more vibrant by its creative student residents. Visit shopSCAD for one-of-a-kind art pieces, jewelry, textiles and so much more that make thoughtful souvenirs for friends and family (or yourself).
Savannah Bee Company – I love honey. I grew up sneaking spoonfuls out of my grandma’s honey stash she kept for her tea. Savannah Bee Company is heaven for someone like me. There are so many types of honey to sample (you can’t go wrong with any of them but my favorite has always been the orange blossom), and they even have mead tasting! There is a children’s play area with a TV screen to keep little ones entertained while you get a sugar high (better you than them, right?).
Savannah is such a gem and I discover a different face of it every time I visit. Get the most out of your trip by keeping your eyes open to the city’s smaller details and getting a little farther away from River Street. Enjoy it and let me know your favorite spots!