As Savannah's founder, General James E. Oglethorpe, understood in 1733, all expeditions require a plan. Before embarking on any lengthy tour of our moss-draped city, make sure you prepare a daypack of essentials. For your purposes, an umbrella, water bottle, sunscreen, street map, and camera should suffice. By day, the dress
code for just about everything is tourist casual, so don’t forget to include that souvenir sun visor from the gift store. If you want to beat the
heat, plan your visit between February and May; after that, temperatures climb above 90 degrees.
During business hours, you will need to locate a parking garage. Over 3000 parking meters are also ready and waiting… along
with the meter police. These timed parking reservations are stringently enforced. Make sure you examine each meter carefully for time limits to avoid
fines or towing expenses. Check with Savannah Parking Services
for convenient, secure garage locations, pre-paid ‘smart cards,’ and general parking information. After locating proper parking, you will be ready to follow your interests where they lead.
Savannah’s picturesque landscape and historical landmarks are wide-ranging in appeal. They also make for good business. Sign up
for a tour—or combination of tours—to broaden your knowledge of art, history, culture, and our seacoast environment. Historic Downtown,in particular, lends itself well to scenic tours of well-preserved squares, homes, monuments, cathedrals, and displays of decorative ironwork. Be sure, however, to call tour companies for current rates and reservations, as these vary according to the season.
Take advantage of area experts. Check out S.C.A.D graduate Jonathan Stalcup's new book Savannah Architectural Tours
for a close look at architectural history, spanning from Georgian to contemporary. Learn about the city at night, and the role electricity plays in architectural invention and evolution.
Ghost walks and cemetery tours are interesting additions to the historical tours. With authentic ties to parapsychology in Savannah, Sixth Sense Savannah
dares to scare with a lively mix of local legend and eerie paranormal testimonials.
Cinefiles should zoom in on Savannah Movie Tours
. Visit the shooting locations of Bagger Vance
, Forces of Nature
, Forest Gump
, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
, Something To Talk About
, and others.
When walking is not on the agenda, you may choose to hail an environ-friendly bicycle taxi. These charming rickshaws are a fun, quirky alternative to driving and walking. Old-fashioned horse-drawn rides can also be found around the downtown and City Market areas. For those who prefer vintage engine power, Classic Caddy Tours
offers excursions in beautiful vintage cars.
Be sure to visit Bonaventure Cemetery, the location of the haunted gravesite made famous by John Berendt’s book and novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Larger groups may opt for a trolley tour. Old Savannah Tours & Transportation
includes mini-buses and limousines, in addition to the open-air trolleys. Belles of Savannah
is a new 3-hour tour, which focuses on important women throughout Savannah history. Another new tour spotlights southern dining entrepreneur Paula Deen, and ends with a marsh side meal at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House.
Exciting adventures are not limited to land, however. Dolphin and fishing tours are also available for the seafarer. Standard Bay Charters
provides an outstanding list of environmental tour options. Docks for departure and return are located at Isle of Hope, Skidaway Island, Thunderbolt, and River Street hotels. Additionally, Riverstreet Boat Cruises
operates year round, and features an assortment of theme-based tours, including services for corporate and educational purposes. For interactive sleuthing, sign up for the Murder Afloat Mystery Cruise
. Immerse yourself in the saga as onboard actors unfold the drama and subsequent crime.
Most people who tour Savannah's parks and squares appreciate a brief historical background first. If this is not your cup of tea, scroll down to How About Lafayette Square for area highlights.
Savannah (its name derived from the Shawanah Indians that lived along the river in earlier years) is America's 13th colony, planned and then founded, in 1733, by General James Oglethorpe. With help from local native Tomochichi, the city took shape. Subsequently settled and farmed by freed English debtors and the religiously persecuted (slavery, Catholics and alcohol were banned early on - I'm guessing this annoyed many), its colonizers worked hard to establish an ordered society. All of this, and pirates lurked at sea!
A warm and surrendering town, Savannah raised the white flag in 1779 to the British, and again to Sherman in 1864. Savannah must have been a cool Christmas present for Lincoln.
With the invention of the cotton gin and plenty of slave work, Savannah enjoyed economic growth in the early 19th century, producing rice, silk, tobacco and cotton for trade. This is also when those enormous and architecturally stunning homes were built. It was THE place to be, unless, of course, you were a lowly worm on the Mulberry Tree of Life.
The twentieth century brought with it depression and, later, revitalization. The birth of restoration began as the Historic Savannah Foundation creatively organized renovation and preservation efforts in the 1950's. Since then, the city has undergone a series of changes - including the expansion of Savannah's premier art college, SCAD - all culminating in an even more beautiful and prosperous downtown, from its lofts to its sidewalks.
Serious history and design fanatics will want to spend more than a few days in the area, but visitors can glean a fundamental appreciation of the squares (miniature parks, actually) in a matter of hours, really . . . so get going. Pick a square, any square . . .
How about Lafayette Square?
Located on Abercorn, between Charlton and Harris, Lafayette Square is named for the Marquis de Lafayette (Marie Jean Paul Joseph Roche Yves Gilbert du Motier, to be completely accurate), a French noble who, ultimately, helped bring about the British surrender at Yorktown. If you are in town for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, this is considered a great square for families and Irish Catholics, since it is also home to The Roman Catholic Cathedral of John the Bapist.
SERIOUS readers should not overlook The Flannery O'Conner Childhood Home. Known for her exploration of Catholic spirituality through the use of Southern "grotesque" imagery and violence, O'Connor is now an iconic Southern literary figure. Currently closed for renovations, this simple 3-story building is quietly nestled at 207 East Charlton St. It's here that she trained her pet chicken to walk backwards! (Yes, a good chicken is hard to find.) Stop by in September when it reopens for tours.
Lafayette Square is also the location of the Hamilton-Turner Mansion. Some readers may also enjoy the mansion's notoriety as the home of Joe Odom in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Local Savannahians may still remember their Halloween ghost tours. These days it is a luxurious bed & breakfast. You may want to walk through the square at night, where you can see it aglow.
The Low-Colonial Dames House is another draw to the area. Designed by John Norris for Andrew Low in 1847, the home is also famous for being the home of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.
You are bound to discover Lafayette Square at some point in your Savannah experience. For many locals and students, it's just a nice park in which to relax and eat lunch. The centerpiece fountain was added by the Colonial Dames of America.
In Taverns Measureless To Man
I told myself I wouldn't start this nightlife assignment with any references to the past or to "kickin' it old school." But that's just not possible. In Savannah, back in the late eighties, a totally awesome night meant piling into my red VW Beetle after work and puttering down to Jim Collins' Bar on State Street for 75 cent pool games, good conversation and 2 dollar cans of Foster's beer (It goes down and it stays down).
Plastic checker-board table cloths draped two or three wobbly tables, and a 2-foot Christmas tree blinked year round. In the front corner, a jukebox played vinyl 45's. Jim, the owner & bartender, sometimes informed folks to "take it out of here" if they used profanity or danced too provocatively (to the scratchy sound of The Kingston Trio?). But the focal point at Jim's bar was the pool table-- a less than professionally-sized stretch of faded green, somehow harnessed to fit into an even smaller gaming area. Bent pool sticks were generally the norm, and the "short stick" understandably became the most popular.
My father referred to the bar as a "dive." I guess that's an objective assessment, even though it comes from a man who never left the Southside unless he needed the services of a Federal building. Why go out for drinks if you own a five speed blender? Those carefree nights at Jim Collins' formed a lifelong appreciation for small, "underground" social spots, the likes of which I may no longer gain true access.
Nearly twenty years later, I find myself downtown again, looking to replace the now closed social spot of yesteryear. Our group is older (as are our knees and livers), so I suppose it makes sense that our first epiphany clarified that we should not drink at every Savannah pub in one night's search. That said, we parked the Quest for the night and hailed a bicycle cab
(Savannah's transportainment) from Savannah Pedicab
(912-232-7900). These open-air taxis are a very charming and easy-going alternative to crawling. Kudos to the young woman driver for her fun spirit and strong legs!
While there are dozens of taverns and clubs to choose from downtown, we were in search of a "dive," a smallish gathering place with beer, music, characters, and pool. This is what we found:
McDonough's Restaurant & Lounge
on the corner of McDonough and Drayton Street, has a comfortable friendly bar/lounge/restaurant and also a Karaoke room for socializing with music and games. While not exactly a dive, the lounge does provide a great mix of locals, students, and professionals.
The Social Club
, located at 411 W. Congress St., is also well known for its good pool tables. Alternative music and high energy shows attract people here as well. Clearly, this is too cool to be a dive.
, at 305 W. River Street, is probably the closest we came to finding a "true" dive. This is a fabulous escape from the tourist scene on River Street. Dark, quiet, and friendly, Chuck's reminds me of pleasantly surreal dreams I've had after taking Nyquil. There is a pool table and an eclectic mix of people enjoying themselves. (921-232-1005)
, at 17 Lincoln St, (912-925-5111) resides a little off the tourist path, which made it a great place to end our abbreviated "dive crawl." A cozy, familiar atmosphere predominates. Although the bar has an additional room with a pool table and juke box, the main room is large enough for a long bar and a couple of pub tables. The bartender was new, and we found that rather charming. Over the course of the evening, we met a variety of nice folks, including a woman renowned for appearing on stage with Prince (the artist formerly known as?). The juke box kept the Prince songs coming, and we all decided this was the best place ever. I imagine this feeling is behind the real spirit of the dive.
about Savannah's Nightlife - Click here.