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A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop

A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop | CosmosMariners.com

Of all of the cities that I've visited, London remains my absolute favorite. Why? It's a combination of the deeply layered history, the vibrant and distinct neighborhoods, and the dozens of iconic sites. I've had the chance to visit five times over the last 13 years, and I find something new to discover--and love--about the city every time I go.

London was the first city I visited on our first European trip. It was my home away from home during my study abroad program in college. It was where I realized the depth of my British literature obsession...which would ultimately lead me to get my graduate degree in English.

Yes, the weather can be moody (to put it nicely) and you'll never be fully dressed without an umbrella in your bag, but if you can look past that, London can be one of the most phenomenal trips of your life.

In this article, I'm going to share what you need to know for your first trip to London. It's by no means a comprehensive list of things to see or do in the city, as that would be nearly impossible on just one trip (or even 10!). What I've offered below should give you an overlook into this fascinating place and, hopefully, whet your appetite to come back and explore even more deeply.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep


Hugging the western coast of Florida just outside of St. Petersburg is a 23-mile stretch of white sand and blue water. Welcome to the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area!

From Caladesi Island State Park at the northernmost point to Pass-a-Grille at the bottom, this beautiful collection of beaches and resorts has something for everyone. Whether you're visiting for the day from Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg, or you're here for a week long family vacation, you'll be dazzled by the wide, flat beaches, the stunning sunsets, and the wide variety of activities.

Plus, there's plenty of history along the way for people who want their beach vacation to have a side of culture!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Although the area is often referred to as St. Pete Beach or St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater, this stretch of Gulf Coast is actually composed of a series of communities, each with their own feel.

Pass-a-Grille, in the south, is eclectic with a bit of a hippy vibe while St. Pete Beach is filled with high rises, lots of gift shops and restaurants, and a lively, happening atmosphere. Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach are both laid back and homey feeling; Belleair Shore and Belleair Beach have some beautiful--and gigantic--houses! Clearwater, at the top of this stretch, always has something going on, and you'll find plenty of restaurants, dancing, and gift shops.

Where to Stay

As this area is a favorite vacation spot (Clearwater Beach alone draws around 4 million visitors a year), you'll find hundreds of apartments, condos, hotel rooms, and camping spots up and down the beach. I've had the pleasure of staying at several locations during my visits; while I have personal experience with these and can recommend them, this is in no way a comprehensive list!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida

  • The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille. This adorable inn dates back to the 1920s, but it has every modern amenity a visitor could need or want. Relax in the pool, flip burgers in the outdoor kitchen, or walk across Gulf Way to get to the beach. You might also want to check out the sister properties, Havana Inn and the Sabal Palms Inn, both of which are also in Pass-a-Grille.[Read my review here.] 

  • Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach. The Pink Palace defined the beach vacation for the rich and famous for a decade--during the 1920s, the Don CeSar was the place to see and be seen. It's been completely restored, so you can now stay where F. Scott Fitzgerald rested his head. 

  • The Plaza Beach Hotel, St. Pete Beach. For a kitschy experience with a throwback to the old mom and pop stops of the 1950s, the Plaza Beach Hotel is your spot. The hotel is aimed towards families and adventurous young travelers, so you'll find plenty of activities on-site, including water sports, a pool, a volleyball net, shuffleboards, a lifesized chess board, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. [Read my review here.]

  • Barefoot Beach Resort, Indian Shores. Since each of these units are personal apartments that are rented out by the management company, they feel more like home and less like a hotel room. Swim in the pool, go fishing off the docks in the Narrows, or step just across Gulf Boulevard to the gorgeous water. [Read my review here.]

  • Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach. These four apartment units are still run by the same family in quiet Indian Rocks Beach who built the property in the 1970s. You'll be well taken care of by the live-in property managers--so much so that you'll feel like you're part of the family by the time you leave! All of the units have huge porches that face the Gulf, and the beach is about ten steps from the back of the units. It's your own private paradise. [Read my review here.]

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our apartment at Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach.


Booking.com

What to Eat

One thing I love about this stretch of the Gulf Coast is that there are only a few national chains. Stop into one of the many locally owned restaurants for fresh seafood, a quick breakfast, or some evening cocktails.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Having fun at Hurricane Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille!


Hurricane Restaurant, Pass-a-Grille. I had some of the best blackened chicken alfredo I've ever tried here, and my husband loved the grouper. It's right on Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, so you can watch the sun go down in the evenings or do some people watching!

Shaner's Land and Sea Market, Pass-a-Grille. On our last trip to the area, my husband, my toddler, and I stopped by here at least three times. There's a delicious sandwich counter for quick lunches, and a huge selection of freshly caught seafood in the back. I loved the stuffed chicken breasts--we had those two nights in a row. The market also offers a small selection of grocery basics (fruit, veggies, beer, bread). 

Lighthouse Donuts, Indian Rocks Beach. On our first morning of our first visit to the St. Pete Beach area, Landon and I discovered this place, and it quickly became a favorite. The doughnuts are freshly made each morning, and they've got a nice selection of coffees, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches as well. 

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Toucan's Bar and Grill, Clearwater Beach. After we'd attempted Frenchy's one night and discovered a 2 hour wait, we began to wander in search of food and came across this place. It's nothing fancy--a sports bar, really--but it's a sports bar with a great view. Try to eat outside if the weather's nice: you'll be able to people watch, and you'll have a view of the Gulf.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Frenchy's Rockaway
Frenchy's Rockaway, Clearwater Beach. This place is a Clearwater institution, and the hours-long wait is a testament to that fact. To beat the crowds, we went right as they opened one morning. After eating there, we were glad we'd found a way to try it out. The conch fritters and spicy dipping sauce were worth the entire trip. 

I've also heard amazing things about Snappers Sea Grille (St. Pete Beach), Crabby Bill's (Clearwater), and Seared 1200 Chophouse (St. Pete Beach) from my readers, but I haven't had the chance to try them out myself. Next time!


What to See

The main attraction here is, of course, the beach! Most of what's offered here revolves around that. Try stand-up paddleboarding in Pass-a-Grille, or see how long you can stay on one of those huge water trikes in St. Pete Beach. Clearwater offers multiple parasailing outfitters from which to choose. Kayak rentals are a great way to see this stretch of island from the bay side. Many hotels also offer bike and fishing rod rentals.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Standup paddleboarder near St. Pete Beach


Don't forget to do that staple of beach vacations: go putt-putting! There are plenty of courses all along this area. We had a blast one night at Smuggler's Cove in Indian Shores, where you can pause halfway through your game to feed some alligators.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Spend the day at Caladesi Island State Park or Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island is only accessible by ferry, kayak or personal boat, so it's one of your last chances to see a Florida beach completely unspoiled! Honeymoon Island was Florida's most visited state park for the last six years.

Don't forget to go to Pier 60 in Clearwater at least once on your trip. There's a nightly festival held there (much like the one in Key West's Mallory Square) two hours before and two hours after the sunset. Check out the street performers and see what the local crafters have on offer.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Soaking in the arts history at the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Petersburg is only a quick car ride away, where you can experience the Dali Museum, and the Chihuly Collection, and see glassblowing at the Morean Arts Center. Historic Fort De Soto is just south of Pass-a-Grille and makes for an easy day trip: rent a bike, surrey, or kayak, and bring a picnic.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Our surrey at Fort De Soto!

What to Know

  • While the stretch of land from Pass-a-Grille to Clearwater is only 23 miles long, you won't go anywhere quickly. If you have dinner or activity reservations, make sure to allot plenty of transit time. Between the busy areas of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, stoplights, and everyone being on island time, traffic is often fairly slow. 

  • Make sure you clarify which side of the land your hotel is on. There's water on both sides of the St. Pete Beach/Clearwater area, but if you're interested in an Gulf view (and not just a "water" view), it's worth a call to your hotelier. 

  • Carefully choose where you'll stay. Because the ambiance of each area is so different, you'll want to make sure that your accommodations match your expectations. If you're looking for lots of nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, St. Pete Beach or Clearwater are safe bets. If you'd rather enjoy quiet evenings and uncrowded beaches, head to Pass-a-Grille or Indian Rocks Beach

  • There aren't many grocery stores directly on the Gulf coast. While there are a few scattered here and there, you might find that the closest grocery store is actually back towards St. Petersburg, Seminole, or Largo. Use that GPS!
Have you visited the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area? What did you like doing there?

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If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by linking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


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A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Over its 450 years of existence, St. Augustine has had to reinvent itself many times to stay relevant and to continue thriving. The modern day city is no exception, and St. Augustine has found new life in reworked classic attractions, daring chefs, and upfitted shops and streets. It might have plenty of history, but St. Augustine, Florida, is anything but old and stuffy!

Where to Stay

Since I'm a huge proponent of staying at locally owned accommodations, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the city's 25 bed and breakfasts within the historic district. The St. Francis Inn, where I stayed during my most recent visit, dates to the 1790s, and is located at the intersection of St. George and St. Francis Streets [read my review here]. The Hemingway House (just a block off of the bay) and the Inn on Charlotte (which dates from the early 1900s) are popular and well-situated.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Lobby of the St. Francis Inn

Other popular places to stay include the recently built Hilton Bayfront Hotel, which overlooks the Mantanzas Bay, and the Casa Monica, a hotel from the Flagler era of St. Augustine, and upfitted in a beautiful neo-Moroccan style.

Booking.com


What to Eat

So. Much. Good. Food. Come with an empty stomach because you're going to find plenty of places that will tempt your taste buds!

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Tapas at Taberna del Caballo


  • Johnny's Oyster Bar: fresh seafood, overlooks the bay
  • The Raintree: upscale food in a romantic setting. A St. Augustine staple!
  • O.C. White's: casual vibe, live music, amazing options from seafood to pasta, great drink menu
  • Taberna del Caballo: Spanish tapas and cocktails in the heart of the historic district
  • Hot Shot Bakery and Cafe: to-die-for breakfasts and paninis, home of the chocolate datil pepper challenge!
  • Hyppo: gourmet popsicles in over 450 unique flavors
  • Claude's Chocolate: handmade chocolates and sweets
  • Ancient Olive: not a restaurant, per se, but an olive oil and vinegar shop filled with unusual flavors and varieties
  • A1A Ale Works: craft beers served with Floribbean dishes, great location near the Bridge of Lions
  • Vino del Grotto: unique wines, and wine smoothies to go
  • Cafe Alcazar: Greek-American food in an unusual location (the deep end of the Hotel Alcazar's former pool!)
  • St. Augustine Distillery: tours of the facility and free samples of their gin and vodka

For a more in-depth opinion on many of these restaurants, check out my guide to eating your way through St. Augustine.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Beef Wellington at The Raintree


What to See

This section would be much easier for me to write if I just entitled it "What not to see" (a list that would include practically nothing since St. Augustine is so awesome!). But that's not exactly compelling travel writing, so let's talk about some of the can't-miss sites in this beautiful city.

Castillo de San Marco has been a staple of the St. Augustine attractions for as long as I can remember. In fact, taking a guided tour of the Spanish fort is one of my earliest memories of visiting the city. Allot at least half a day to full explore the fort, and make sure to take one of the ranger-guided tours. Catch one of the re-enactments for a taste of life in the fort!

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


Other classic, been-there-forever attractions include Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth (which really has no historical basis for Ponce's famed water, but it's still fun), the world's first Ripley's Believe it or Not, and the Old Jail (where Martine Luther King was held after his arrest in 1964).

Just across the street from Castillo de San Marcos is the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, a pet project of Pat Croce, television personality, author, and former Philadelphia 76ers basketball team president. With pieces from his own personal collection and extensive research throughout, the museum is focused on education--and is far less hokey than you'd expect.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Artifacts in the Pirate Museum


The shops and restaurants along the pedestrian-only St. George Street are at the heart of the historic district. Check out the Colonial Quarter to walk through 400 years of St. Augustine history--you won't be disappointed with the amazingly talented (and thoroughly amusing) tour guides who will have you enthralled to learn about the diverse history of the city.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The thoroughly entertaining Colonial Quarter guide, Mr. Grimm, at the artillery demonstration


Head over to the quiet Aviles Street to browse through art galleries and cute boutique shops, or sip your coffee at one of the sidewalk cafes. The Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is down this road, and is a great place to learn more about the entrepreneurial women who helped create 19th century St. Augustine.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Aviles Street: supposedly America's oldest street!


It might be an institution of higher learning now, but a guided tour of Flagler College allows you to walk through the building that helped define St. Augustine's golden period under Henry Flagler. You'll see the opulent ladies' room, the stunning Tiffany windows in the dining hall, and the incredible details that Flagler put everywhere in his hotel. These tours are run by students and all proceeds go back to help the ongoing preservation efforts of the property.

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The former Ponce de Leon hotel, now the women's dormitory at Flagler College


The nearby Lightner Museum was also a Henry Flagler hotel and now houses an eclectic collection of antique housewares, costumes, and home furnishings.

While a walking tour is a great way to see the city, you might want to check out the two tram companies: Old Town Trolley Tours (the green and orange trams) and the Red Train Tours (the red ones, obviously). Both zig zag all over the historic district and include running commentary to help you with your local history.

Another great way to see the city is through a boat tour: with an emphasis on environmental protection and education, the staff at St. Augustine EcoTours goes out of their way to make each boat tour more than a trip around Mantanzas Bay. All proceeds from EcoTour go back into the preservation of St. Augustine's waterways and a joint research venture with Flagler College.


What to Know



  • Parking is extremely hard to come by in the historic district. The city recently put up a parking garage near the Visitors' Center to help alleviate some of the parking woes. Look for the well-marked signs pointing you to the Visitors' Center and the garage as you enter St. Augustine. 
  • September 2015 marks the city's 450th anniversary of continual habitation, a milestone that makes it an older city than both Jamestown, Virginia, and Plymouth, Massachusetts (which were founded earlier, but have not had people living there continuously). While the biggest events--including potential visits by both Pope Benedict and the Spanish royal family--are in September, St. Augustine is celebrating throughout the year with concerts, a special exhibit in the Visitors' Center, and tours. 
  • Be prepared to walk. While historic St. Augustine isn't a huge area to cover, you'll still want to strap on your best walking shoes to get the most out of the city. Because of the parking issue and the many pedestrian-only areas, your best bet for navigating the city and its attractions quickly and easily is to hoof it. 
  • The least crowded times to visit the city are in early fall (after school takes back in) and early spring (late January and February). If you plan your trip during these times, you'll have more of the attractions to yourself and you don't have to traipse around in the sweltering heat of the most popular months: July and August. 
A First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Have you visited St. Augustine? What are you favorite places to see? Where is your one can't-miss restaurant?

If you liked this guide, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guides to other cities by clicking on each image:
First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
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A First-timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

After my First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia, made some waves, I figured that the time was right for me to impart my knowledge about my beloved hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. I was born here, and other than an eight-year-gap when I lived elsewhere in South Carolina, I've called Charleston my home my entire life.

From school field trips to my own wanderings, I've seen most of what the Holy City has to offer. If you're heading this way on a trip, here are a few ways to make the most of your stay.

Where to Stay

If you're staying in downtown Charleston (aka the Peninsula), there are plenty of options for every budget.


Booking.com


What to Eat

Charleston has so many great places that I don't think you can really go wrong no matter your budget, tastes, or style. I've broken down some of my favorite restaurants into a few different categories, and then suggested favorite dishes at each (since I'm allergic to shellfish, any recommendations for seafood have come from family and friends). Note that not all of these are in the historic district!

A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
Fuel Restaurant


Trendy
  • The Ordinary (downtown): oysters on the half shell
  • O-ku (downtown): sushi, chicken teriyaki
  • Red's Ice House (Mt. Pleasant and Seabrook Island): fish and chips
  • Husk (downtown): the menu rotates seasonally since all of the ingredients are locally sourced
  • Fuel (downtown): braised pork tacos, hoe cakes
  • Poe's (Sullivans Island): blue cheese coldslaw, any of their burgers
Classically Southern 
  • Poogan's Porch (downtown): fried green tomato BLT, crab cakes, ham macaroni and cheese
  • Jestine's (downtown): pecan fried chicken, fried okra, sweet tea
  • Sewee Restaurant (Awendaw): fried flounder, potato salad, any dessert
  • Virginia's on King (downtown): pecan fried chicken, macaroni and cheese
Cheap
  • Groucho's (downtown and West Ashley): mushroom cheese melt or the Pink Moose
  • Fire Grill (downtown): chicken teriyaki
  • Tzakiki's (downtown and Mt. Pleasant): traditional gyro
  • Andolini's (Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, North Charleston): standard cheese pizza or calzone
Fancy
  • Eli's Table (downtown): filet mignon, pimento cheese and tomato appetizer
  • Peninsula Grill (downtown): the coconut cake
Breakfast
  •  Hominy Grill (downtown): omelet, biscuits
  • Acme Cantina (Isle of Palms): the Southerner (sweet tea fried chicken on a biscuit)
  • Charleston Cafe (Mt. Pleasant): waffles, Amber's Choice (egg-topped crab cake)
What to See

Charleston has some tried and true attractions--I'm a firm believer that some things are popular because they're good. So, while you're here, try out a few of the big attractions, but don't forget to mix in a few hidden favorites as well!

A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
Hampton Plantation, McClellanville

Plantations are a part of Charleston's history, so if you'd like to learn more, you need to head out to see the Ashley River Road plantation district. The big three are Middleton Plantation, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation. Of the three, Magnolia is my favorite since there's a great petting zoo, extensive gardens, a butterfly house, and restored slave quarters in addition to a tour of the main house. If you're willing to drive further away from downtown, Hampton Plantation in McClellanville is never crowded and, with its wide front porch and classical architecture, looks more like a stereotypical antebellum plantation.

Many of the rich planters also had fashionable "city" homes in downtown Charleston, so you can get the full story by visiting both the plantations and the houses in the historic district. The Edmonston-Alston House, the Nathaniel Russell House, and the Aiken-Rhett House are all within easy walking distance of the rest of the historic district.
A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
My husband and our dog on Isle of Palms

If you'd like to see more of the Charleston area, I highly recommend renting a car or taking a cab out to one of the beaches. Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island, and Folly Beach are all barrier islands just off the coast of Charleston, and each has its individual charms.

Visiting Fort Sumter circa 1994. I'm the cool kid in the middle, while my sister's rocking her rainbow bike shorts.

There's a lot of military history in the Charleston area as well. Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, is located in the middle of the Charleston harbor; you can get a ferry over to this national monument from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant or from the pier near the South Carolina Aquarium downtown. Patriots Point is more than just a ferry departure point--it houses the U.S.S. Yorktown, the U.S.S. Clamagore submarine, military aircraft and much more.

A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
King Street when it's closed to vehicles during the seasonal 2nd Sundays on King

If you're into shopping, King Street will be your best friend. Start just above Marion Square and work your way towards Lower King, where you'll pass all sorts of shops: Urban Outfitters, Lush, Louis Vuitton, the Body Shop, and Forever 21 are just the start! If you'd rather take home a painting, head over to East Bay and Broad Streets to the art district.

For kids, a trip to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry and to the fountain at Waterfront Park are great breaks between historical tours.
Britton on one of our many trips to the kids' museum.
Want even more suggestions? See my 101 Things to Do in Charleston post!

What to Know
A First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com
Residences on lower King Street

  • The horse and buggy tours are actually a pretty good way to get to know the city. As a resident, I detest these things because they clog up traffic downtown (which isn't the greatest to begin with) and make the streets smell like horse pee. While they are kind of hokey, the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable (all Charleston guides have to take a ridiculously rigorous test before leading a solo tour), and you'll be able to cover more ground than a walking tour. 

  • The City Market never sold slaves. This is one of the biggest mix-ups I hear about Charleston attractions. While slaves did sell their wares here, and they did shop here for their masters, there wasn't any human trafficking going on at this location. That sordid portion of our history did occur elsewhere in our city (in private auctions,  near the Exchange Building, and in the actual slave market), and you can learn more about it at the Old Slave Mart Museum. While the Slave Mart Museum provides a detailed look at this horrific chapter in Charleston, the City Market sells souvenirs, t-shirts, pictures, and sweetgrass basket. Yes, they sound alike, but they are very different places. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Upper King has been undergoing a revitalization over the last 15 years. While this area (up to Ann and Mary Streets) is safe during the day, be cautious about venturing away from the main thoroughfares at night. The areas around America Street (just a few blocks away from Upper King) can be violent when it's dark, and tourists are easy targets for muggings. Lower King, East Bay, and Meeting Streets are all safe no matter the time of day, so strap on those walking shoes, grab your guidebook, and head out the door! 

  • Get great views of Charleston from the top of the Ravenel Bridge. The bridge has an awesome biking and walking path, and you can access it from downtown or Mount Pleasant. Make sure to lock your car and stow valuables from sight (especially on the downtown side) when you leave to walk up the bridge. 

  • Make time to meander. From the Battery and Rainbow Row to Queen Street, Charleston is best enjoyed on foot. Take your camera, wander the streets, and explore down the residential alleys. While the South of Broad area houses the most expensive houses, you can find gorgeous architecture on everything from St. Phillip's Church to the houses on Tradd Street. 

  • Explore even further with my 101 Things to Do in Charleston post! There's always something new to learn, do, or see in the Holy City. 

Booking.com

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to book a hotel through the above links, I will receive a small percentage with no added cost to you.

Have you visited Charleston? Tell me what you loved and what you'd rather have skipped!

If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide the each city by clicking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
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A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Stately oaks dripping Spanish moss.

Gentile Southern mansions nestled around small parks.

Artsy students hurrying off to class, sketchbooks clutched in their hands.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

You can find all of this (and lots, lots more) on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, one of my top three favorite Southern cities (Charleston being the numero uno in my book, of course, and New Orleans rounding out the trio).

Savannah's historic district isn't very big, but if you're visiting for the first time, you've probably got plenty of questions about what to see and do and where you should stay and eat. This isn't a definitive guide by any means, but hopefully, it will help you dive into the beauty and charm of Savannah.

Where to Stay

In the downtown area, there are plenty of great hotels within walking distance of everything that Savannah has to offer. Over the years, we've taken a bit of a hotel tour with all of the different places that we've stayed.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our room at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto

The Hilton Savannah DeSoto doesn't have a very glamorous lobby (though it does have a Starbucks!) but the rooms have recently been renovated. It's about halfway between River Street and Forsyth Park which puts you within easy walking distance of the entire historic district.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Andaz Savannah on Ellis Square
We stayed at the Andaz Savannah (then known as Avia Savannah) one night of our honeymoon and loved the trendy vibe and super modern decor. It's located on Ellis Square just across from the City Market.

For my 29th birthday, we took a trip to Savannah with my parents and my sister and stayed in the Hampton Inn and Suites Historic District. As far as Hampton Inns go, this was a particularly nice one. A note to newcomers: at night, I wouldn't recommend wandering too far off Martin Luther King Boulevard away from the historic district if you stay at this hotel. I never felt unsafe walking to and from the Hampton Inn, but the area behind the hotel towards I-16 gets into not-so-great-for-tourists territory pretty quickly.

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort from the water taxi

On our most recent trip, we ventured across the river and stayed at the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort. Initially, I was hesitant about taking the water taxi back and forth, but I ended up loving the fact that we could retire to a quiet hotel away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Plus, the views were amazing!

There are of course, dozens of other places to stay in the historic district including the Mansion on Forsyth Park, the Hyatt Regency, and the River Street Inn

Booking.com


What to Eat

The answer to this is everything. (I kid. Sort of.) If you're interested in the super popular restaurants of the historic district, head over to The Lady and Sons or The Pirates House. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised by The Pirate House, and their BLT salad is one of my favorite meals in Savannah. I love that you get to dine in the historic buildings which date back to Savannah's colonial days. While Clary's Cafe is one of those incredibly popular spots, it comes by the fame for the right reasons. They serve a top notch breakfast here all day. I'm a huge fan of their strawberry cream cheese French toast!

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside the Pirates House Restaurant
The River Street area has lots of places to eat. Huey's is right by the water, so you can watch the barges come down the Savannah river while you eat a muffaletta. Kevin Barry's Irish Pub is also a popular spot by the water.

Another concentration of restaurants is in and around Ellis Square. In the City Market, you can grab some tasty wings at Wild Wings Cafe or build your own pizza over at Vinnie Van GoGo's (the pesto pizza with mushrooms and onions is a personal favorite).

Sample some local brews over at Moon River Brewing Company or Southbound Brewing Company. Southbound is just outside of the historic district, so you'll have to hop in your car if you're staying downtown.

What to See

On your first trip to Savannah, you absolutely have to allot time just to wander: part of the city's charms can only be absorbed when you're away from a guide book or a tour bus. Park your car and walk from spot to spot on your itinerary--everything's close enough to easily walk if you're in decent shape.
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
One of the many beautiful historic houses in downtown Savannah

  • Take a historical tour. Savannah dates back to 1733, so you've got almost three centuries of happenings to discover. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, as Savannah offers walking tours, trolley tours, and carriage tours
  • Get spooked. If you're into the paranormal (or if you just like being scared a little!), Savannah's supposedly one of the most actively haunted cities in America. I guess the people who lived there liked it so much that they couldn't leave when they shuffled off this mortal coil. While there are ghost tours by foot and by trolley, my favorite is one that takes you around in an old hearse. I've taken a lot of ghost tours, and the Savannah Hearse Ghost Tours remains at the top of the list for both Landon and I. (And no, they didn't pay me to say that!)
  • Find the perfect souvenir. From your standard t-shirts and blankets in River Street shops to the first edition books over at the Book Lady Book Store, you'll be sure to find whatever tickles your fancy. Stroll down West Broughton Street for a bit of everything from Banana Republic to the Savannah Bee Company.  
  • Support the local arts. With one of the nation's top art schools (Savannah College of Art and Design, affectionally known as SCAD) located in downtown, you can be sure that there's no shortage of art galleries and exhibitions. There's an incredible rotating gallery on East Liberty Street where you can view and buy the work of SCAD students and faculty. 
A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Outside of E. Shaver Booksellers, one of my favorite independent bookstores in Savannah
Other great spots to include on your trip are the fountain at Forsyth Square, the Juliette Gordon-Low house, the Mercer Williams house (famous for being the home of the songwriter and the later living quarters of Jim Williams, who features heavily in John Berendt's book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and Bonaventure Cemetery (the gorgeous final resting place of Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, who's tombstone inspired my blog's name!). 


What to Know

  • Check the calendar. If you're going around the time of the Savannah Marathon or St. Patrick's Day, prepare to pay higher prices and deal with bigger crowds. The St. Patrick's Day parade draws over a million visitors and is consistently ranked among the nation's biggest St. Patty parades. 
  • Expect to pay for parking. As with any historic or downtown district, parking is at a premium. Even if you're staying at a hotel in the downtown area, you'll still see a parking surcharge on your hotel bill. If you're driving in from a hotel elsewhere, there are plenty of parking garages and on-street parking meters. 
  • Make use of the free transportation. The Dot trams run in a circle around the historic district, and the River Street train takes people along the waterfront. There's also a water taxi that goes in a triangle between the Westin (across the Savannah River from the historic area), the Waving Girl statue, and the Hyatt Regency. 
  • The Hyatt Regency on River Street has free bathrooms on the second floor. Technically for the use of those attending a function in one of the ballrooms, these bathrooms are always clean and generally empty. There's also a nice seating area for nursing moms who want a little privacy. 
This post contains affiliate links to the hotels listed. If you choose to book through those links, I will receive a small kickback from the sale at no additional cost to you. 

Have you visited Savannah? If you have, what was your favorite part? If you haven't, is Savannah on your travel list?

A First-timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com


If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by clicking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides 
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