YOU GET THE FEEL OF Savannah quickly: canopy trees draped with Spanish moss, green public squares, cobbled streets and a rich blend of architecture that reflects nearly 300 years of American culture.
But if you’re driving, you’ll miss the artful ironwork and hidden gardens, not to mention a lot of local flavor—for example, Pogoman, a fellow with a flowing white beard who gets around on a Pogo Stick. Savannah is made for walking, and spring is the perfect time, as the azaleas burst into bloom, filling gardens, boulevards and other nooks and crannies with color. It’s a different sort of “colorful” than the Savannah portrayed in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and slightly more enticing, especially on a warm April day.
THE GRID AND THE GUIDES
British general James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733 and laid it out in a straightforward grid pattern. It’s still easy to find your way around the 2½-square-mile historic district. That said, you’ll discover much more on a guided tour. Luckily, “tour guide” seems to be one of the city’s most common job descriptions. This friendly workforce—a mix of college students and retirees—staffs a dozen-plus companies that offer walks covering everything from pirates to churches.
FOUR SQUARES ON FOOT
What better introduction to a historic city than a stroll focused on, well, history? Savannah Heritage Tours’ guides explain Oglethorpe’s vision of a city centered on four open squares surrounded by public buildings, churches and houses (there are 21 squares today). The guides also describe the early settlers’ treatment of native peoples, the Civil War and modern efforts to reclaim historic sites. One tour highlight is the grand Owens-Thomas house. Completed in 1819, it was the first house in the city with indoor plumbing. Another is the birthplace of Juliet Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. Savannah Heritage Tours; 912-224-8365; savannahheritagetour.com
One unexpected treat of the Savannah Saunter Tour is the opportunity to mingle with a local celebrity, Frankie the cat. The on-site feline at Urban Cargo, the tour’s starting point, Frankie is now kept on a short leash after an unfortunate run-in with a passing taxi. For anyone who asks, store owner Dan Gleason will proudly pull out a stack of photographs of his furry friend, snapped by visitors and mailed back to him from around the world. Frankie tolerates the attention between yawns. See Savannah Walking Tours; 912-234-3571; seesavannah.com
GATES AND GARDENS
If you’re lucky, you’ll get Liesl Noble as your guide for the Gates & Gardens Tour offered by Savannah Walks. A retired educator, she patiently instructs her charges about the architectural significance of entry stairs and the origin of side yards. She also salts her lessons with juicier tidbits, like recent selling prices of local homes and the names of the best modern ironwork artists. Savannah’s semi-hidden gardens are the pride and joy of homeowners, she says, so it’s okay to peek over hedges and through garden gates. On Noble’s tour, you’ll see the city’s oldest Crape myrtle (about 150) and learn a bit about other native flora of the region. Savannah Walks; 888-728-9255; savannahwalks.com
It’s hard to be frightened while traveling with a group of giddy—and in some cases tipsy—tourists on a Saturday night, but the Ghosts & Legends of Savannah Tour is a hoot. Guides point out the ancient trees in Wright Square, where two indentured servants were hanged for murdering their master. The trees bear no Spanish moss—apparently they’re too haunted to be tolerated even by a chigger-ridden air plant. Also on the tour are allegedly haunted taverns, inns and houses; the site of a former Civil War hospital and yellow-fever infirmary; and the Revolution-era Colonial Park Cemetery, where occupying Union troops are said to have tinkered with the dates on headstones. Ghosts & Legends of Savannah; 866-264-8160; theghostsofsavannah.com
Ted Eldridge, the delightful guide and owner of A Walk Through Savannah, offers a slew of interesting strolls, including one that’s all about songwriter Johnny Mercer. But his Child’s View of Savannah Tour is among his best. At the start he hands the kids a stack of colorful cards, each printed with a question, and leads them (and parents) on a scavenger hunt. Youngsters try to spot the “oldest living thing in Savannah” (the 200-year-old Candler live oak tree on Drayton Street), “frogs in Lafayette Square” (sculpted into a fountain) and “a line that never ends in the Cathedral” of St. John the Baptist (a Celtic knot set at the bottom of a holy water font). A Walk Through Savannah; 912-921-4455; awalkthroughsavannah.bravehost.com
Since its founding in 1978, the Savannah College of Art and Design has left an indelible mark on the city. After buying up about 60 buildings (so far), the college has restored and repurposed them to the needs of one of the nation’s largest art and design schools. Its 9,000 students leave an impression, too—not just in their colorful presence, but also in the emphasis on visual art that they bring to the city, with studios and galleries on nearly every corner. Two to check out: the Telfair Museum of Art’s two-year-old building, called the Jepson Center for the Arts, at York and Barnard streets; and the Jack Leigh Gallery at Oglethorpe and Abercorn, showing works by the photographer who shot the cover for the first edition of Midnight. The Chroma Gallery on Barnard Street, in the tourist-friendly City Market, is ranked among Savannah’s best.
Just start walking
You don’t need a plan of action. Just start walking toward the Savannah River to discover City Market, a former market that’s been refashioned into a center for art, dining and entertainment. River Street, right near the water, is lined with shops, restaurants and bars. Head away from the river, down Bull Street and through the squares that intersect it, and you’ll reach gorgeous Forsyth Park, where you just might run into the previously mentioned Pogoman, who, for the record, lays claim to only a single proper name, Christopher. Pogoman hops his way around the park for exercise, enjoyment and a mission: to spread word about the nation’s homeless. His purpose might be somber, but his delivery is whimsical—not unlike his town.
Other Walking Tour Contacts
Most city-licensed tour operators charge roughly $15–$20 a tour.
Architectural Tours of Savannah
Savannah Photo Outings
RCI®-affiliated resorts near Savannah are on Hilton Head Island, SC,
about an hour’s drive:
ISLAND LINKS RESORT
PORT O’ CALL
For more information, visit www.RCI.com or call
OTHER SAVANNAH HOTELS:
A 16-room B&B in the historic district. You’ll get a dose of history without even leaving the property—it was built in 1838. 14 E. Oglethorpe Ave.; 800-822-4553 or 912-236-1484; ballastone.com; doubles from $235
Save money, stay funky. This 42-room 1964 classic motel has new carpeting and furniture in retro-cool style. 611 W. Oglethorpe Ave.; 866-324-2661 or 912-232-2661; thethunderbirdinn.com; doubles from $100
Mansion on Forsyth Park
Simply lovely, the 126-room hotel is decorated in soothing olives and creams, with comfy linens and huge bathrooms. 700 Drayton St.; 888-711-5114 or 912-238-5158; mansiononforsythpark.com; doubles from $200
New York–style pizza in Savannah? It’s right in City Market, and it comes with New York attitude—no credit cards allowed. 317 W. Bryan St.; 912-233-6394; dinner for two, $30*
Stop by this charming café on Troup Square for breakfast or a casual lunch or dinner. The menu is vegetarian-friendly. 321 Habersham St.; 912-234-1971; dinner for two, $55
Local 11 Ten
Set in a former bank building (the vault is still intact!), this hip spot has a Mediterranean-influenced menu that uses locally sourced ingredients: Sapelo Island clams, coastal shrimp, Georgia squab, and vegetables and herbs from a nearby farm. 1110 Bull St.; 912-790-9000; dinner for two, $50
A romantic spot that earns high marks for its regional and organic foods, especially seafood. 110 W. Congress St.; 912-443-9962; dinner for two, $60
*Prices cover a three-course meal for two, not including
drinks, tax or tip.
After all that walking, you deserve a treat, right?
Back in the Day Bakery
Stop in for a sandwich, but don’t leave without a red velvet or hummingbird cupcake.
2403 Bull St.; 912-495-9292
Wright Square Café & Chocolatier
Gourmet treats abound, but it’s hard to resist those pretty truffles in the center display case.
21 W. York St.; 912-238-1150
River Street Sweets
Cranks out fudge and pralines, right before customers’ eyes. Inevitably, mouths get in on the act, too.
13 E. River St.; 912-233-6220
Leopold’s Ice Cream
An old-time ice cream parlor, with memorabilia from movies produced by owner Stratton Leopold.
212 E. Broughton St.; 912-234-4442