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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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Escaping the Holy City: the Best Day Trips from Charleston, SC

Escaping the Holy City: the Best Day Trips from Charleston, SC | CosmosMariners.com

Charleston, South Carolina is a fantastic place to live or visit and was even voted as the #1 tourist destination in the world by Conde Nast.

So, why would you ever want to leave? As a native (and lifelong resident) of Charleston, I know that the city's an amazing place.

I also know that there's nothing like a little change of scenery, and Charleston offers many quick trips to locals and visitors alike. Here are a few of my favorite day trips from Charleston, SC!

Best of all, they are less than two hours each way, so you can easily get back to the sights in Charleston when you're ready.

Christmas in Savannah, Georgia



Landon and I decided not to give each other presents this year. We already have a lot of stuff, and  most of the things that we really wanted to give one another (a new master bathroom, a new house) weren't really feasible for holiday gifts.

One thing that was wanted was time together. And that is definitely possible, though a little difficult with all of the Christmas stuff this time of year.

Since we were taking Britton with us, Landon and I chose somewhere that wasn't too far away for our mini-escape. We didn't want to torture our poor baby (or ourselves) with a really long car ride because she's recently decided that she hates her car seat and will gladly scream until we let her out.

We live in the Charleston area, and there aren't too many places that you can get to in two hours that are worthy of a mid-winter break. From here, we could go to Myrtle Beach, Columbia, Florence, Hilton Head, or Savannah.

Landon and I both have a soft spot for Savannah (so much so that I named our blog after a Savannah-based author), and we've visited many times. The city has a ton of stores to walk around in and great restaurants to eat at, which was just perfect for us--we wanted a low key weekend away.

We didn't make any plans. We didn't book any tours. We just found a great deal on Priceline the day before we left, packed a few things, and piled in the car. It was completely stress-free (which is saying a lot these days, as anyone who's ever traveled with a six month old knows that being between a 6.5 and an 8 on the stress scale is pretty much a given).

We stayed across the Savannah River from downtown over on Hutchinson Island. I'd never been to the Westin resort, but I'm always up to try a new hotel. I was excited when our Priceline bid was accepted and we found out that the Westin would be our home for the weekend. Plus (and this was a BIG draw for me), we got to take the water taxi across the river to go shopping and to eat. I know--I'm a huge dork. It's the little things in life that amuse me to no end.

Britton wasn't too bad on the car ride down there: she sleep half the way and screamed half the way. After we checked in, we wandered around the hotel to look at all the decorations.


Bundled up in her Baby K'tan to check out the hotel Christmas lights!
River Street and the Savannah skyline from our hotel
After exploring the hotel, we headed back upstairs to our room. Britton was acting tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning, so Landon and I thought "yes! she's going to go to bed early, so we can all get some rest!" Britton's always been a good sleeper, but in the last week or so, she'd been fussy when we put her down to rest and she'd been waking up multiple times each night. I figured it was a combination of the vaccines she'd gotten last week, teething, and her six-month-growth spurt. Whatever the cause, we were all tired.

So much for wishing.

With a full tummy and in her warm pajamas, Britton fell asleep in my arms as I rocked her, but as soon as I put her in her crib, she woke up and started screaming. Landon took over, rocked her back to sleep, and tried to put her down. Screaming ensued. This cycle continued for two hours until she finally went to sleep after midnight.

Needless to say, our relaxing retreat didn't start out exactly as we expected.

However, being the eternal optimists that we are, we figured that Britton would sleep in Saturday morning since she'd gone to bed late.

Let's all laugh together.

At the stroke of 6 a.m., she was back up and at 'em. She was so grumpy, but refused to go back to sleep. Landon, being the saint of a husband that he is, offered to walk her around the resort for a bit so I could rest. Ahhh.

I woke up again an hour later to a beautiful morning in Savannah. I was a little sleepy, but nothing could dampen my mood for our full day of shopping and sightseeing.

The view from our room. Hello, Savannah!
We hopped on the free water taxi that ferries visitors across the river. It makes three stops: at the Westin, at the Waving Girl statue, and near the Hyatt Regency on River Street. If you're visiting, make use of the public transportation to get around. There's also a free trolley that goes up and down River Street, as well as one that hits up major points in the historic district. Walking is definitely the best way to see the city, but sometimes, you've just got to rest those feet for a minute!

We can at least look perky, even if we don't feel that way! 

Our shopping was interrupted by a downpour. The rain cover on Britton's stroller just wouldn't withstand the rain, so Landon put her in the Infantino carrier and zipped her up in his Columbia rain jacket!
After darting through the rain, we headed over to eat at the Pirates' House Restaurant. I know it's a tourist spot, but I love eating there. Plus, where else can you eat in a 300 year old house where a guy dressed up like Jack Sparrow will give you a history lesson?
Next was lunch at the Pirates' House restaurant. I love their Fried Green Tomato BLT (BLFGT?) salad.
Walking around burned up some calories, so we stopped by Sweet Carolina Cupcakes to get a few treats. Landon was afraid that the icing would get smashed if we just held them, so we put Britton in my carrier and strapped the cupcakes in the stroller. People pretty much thought we were crazy!

That night, we were tired from walking around, so we took the water taxi back over to the hotel. We were sort of hungry (but still kind of full from our lunch and snacks), so we ordered a hamburger from room service. I'm totally country-come-to-town, but I've never ordered room service before. The guy who brought it even set it up in our room.
Plus, there were mini condiments. Life is good.
Britton got up TWICE Saturday night (between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.), so we still weren't feeling too great Sunday morning. Still, we wanted to make the most of our last hours in Savannah. We packed up the room, and then headed out to the nearby Fort Pulaski for an early morning history lesson.

What's the best way to keep your baby warm when you encounter a chilly breeze? By stuffing her inside of your jacket, of course.

The front of Fort Pulaski. It was designed by the same man who was behind Fort Sumter (in the Charleston harbor) and Fort Jefferson (in the Dry Tortugas, off the coast of the Florida Keys).
A few more pictures from inside the fort:


Even with Britton's bizarre sleeping patterns, we still had a wonderful time. Landon and I decided that we're going to try and do a weekend getaway every year instead of exchanging gifts--any ideas on where we should head next year?

Have you ever gone on a trip instead of exchanging gifts?