With a metro population of less than half a million, Savannah is hardly a big city. But on a recent Saturday night on River Street, it felt like one. Massive container ships cruised the river as countless bachelorette parties strolled the cobblestone. Crowds gathered around a band and an aerial dancer outside Plant Riverside, the J.W. Marriott hotel and entertainment complex where there’s a restaurant or walk-up cocktail window or sparkling geode display at every turn. Down the street, the long-standing Wet Willie’s seemed quaint.
Plant Riverside is the largest of many newcomers making the Hostess City feel rather urbane and bustling these days. Bona fide foodie destinations go far beyond pralines and fried chicken. The artsy Starland District lures tourists outside the historic hub. It was a relief, really, to find you can still walk Bull Street early on a Sunday and have the storybook squares practically to yourself. No matter your itinerary, leave time to do that.
EXPLORE | Starland District
Vibrant street murals and Victorian mansions meet in this enclave south of Forsyth Park. Shop for gently used art supplies (Starlandia) or vinyl (Graveface Records & Curiosities), discover emerging artists (Sulfur Studios), or browse an expansive private collection of African works (Savannah African Art Museum).
DOUBLE DOWN | Telfair Museums
Set in striking opposition on Telfair Square, the contemporary Jepson Center and the historic Telfair Academy together constitute the South’s oldest public art museum. On view at the former: a “greatest hits” of permanent holdings, from a jug by enslaved potter David Drake to paintings by noted American impressionists.
OGLE | SCAD Museum of Art
The jewel of Savannah College of Art and Design turns 10 this fall. See eye-popping contemporary works in a historic train station, including the first exhibition of fashion designer Christian Siriano, featuring looks worn by Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga. Relax in cabanas by the sand at SCAD Beach, a fun surprise outside.
SHOP & SIP | ShopSCAD and Art’s Cafe
Pick out a colorful souvenir or collector’s piece at the college’s long-running Bull Street boutique, which showcases art, decor, and gifts by students and faculty. Then head across the street and order coffee from a double-decker bus inside the SCAD-run cafe.
DIVE IN | Abe’s on Lincoln
The centuries-old ceilings of this iconic pub aren’t much higher than six feet, and along with the walls, they’re littered with cocktail-napkin illustrations of Abraham Lincoln—some funny, some plain impressive. Ask for a PBR and a pen; the owner frames the best drawings for charity auctions.
ELEVATE | The Grey
This stunning restaurant in a 1938 Greyhound bus terminal has been the toast of Savannah since 2014. You might spot James Beard Award–winning chef Mashama Bailey in the ticket-booth-turned-kitchen prepping her African-influenced Southern tasting menu. Forgot reservations? Try the lively Diner Bar.
PROCURE | Forsyth Park Farmers Market
At this Saturday tradition in the city’s loveliest park, pick up locally prepared treats—kettle corn, kimchi, pasta sauce, granola—to stash in your pantry or enjoy on-site. Make a morning of it with al fresco brunch at Collins Quarter at Forsyth (the avocado toast is enormous).
CHILL | The Wyld Dock Bar
Drive or boat up to this local haunt for straight-from-the-water seafood prepared Lowcountry-style, along with next-level accompaniments that change with the seasons (recently, chicharrones with truffle hot sauce). The marshside setting just outside town, accented by string lights and wooden swings, is unbeatable.
NOURISH | Common Thread
From the team behind South Carolina’s Farm Bluffton comes this Starland District newcomer out to prove that a handsomely restored Victorian house (that staircase!) is the perfect setting in which to savor elegant fare—yellowfin tuna with palm fruit leche de tigre, shrimp rice with smoked meat morsels—from local farms.
CARB LOAD | Big Bon Bodega
South Korea native “Mama Kay” Heritage, who first fed Savannah in 2016 out of a mobile pizza kitchen, gives her famous wood-fired treatment to mouthwatering bagels and bagel sammies at this sunny Starland District storefront. Watch Instagram for Big Bon Ghost Kitchen pop-up events, where local sous chefs shine.
STROLL | Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour
No one can better tell the stories of the enslaved people who built Savannah than Vaughnette Goode-Walker, a former CNN journalist and celebrated local historian. Her intimate, 90-minute downtown tour visits structures both standing and long-dismantled.
SNAP | Bonaventure Cemetery
Drive a few miles east of downtown and unleash your inner photographer among evocative statuary made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Songwriter Johnny Mercer and “little Gracie Watson” have popular gravesites, but stumbling upon your own favorite palmetto-and-moss-framed vignette is the true appeal.
REWIND | American Prohibition Museum
Don’t be deterred by the kitschy wax figures, including gunned-down gangsters splayed across a 1929 Peerless sedan. This City Market attraction (with an on-site speakeasy) offers a spirited immersion into the strange chapter of our nation’s history known as Prohibition.
DISCOVER | Pin Point Heritage Museum
A 15-minute drive from downtown, this former seafood factory honors the laborers of Pin Point, a still-active Gullah Geechee community founded in 1890 by freed slaves. The teeming marshscape and clever re-use of artifacts (like oyster cans turned into photo viewing scopes) conjure the lives of past fishermen and crab pickers.
ENCOUNTER | Ghost City Tours
No fewer than 20 companies offer paranormal tours of America’s most haunted city, but this on-foot operation prides itself on digging into the historical record and relaying true events. Your imagination will take it from there. (We dare you to visit Hanging Square in the wee hours.)
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of Southbound.