My husband had to be in Georgia on business. While I was bummed he would be an east coaster for almost three weeks, my inner traveler was pretty stoked at the chance to visit him. I couldn’t wait to take advantage of his work obligations and explore the south a bit.
It was a quick trip – only two days. So we had to make it count. I flew into Jacksonville, Florida on a Friday afternoon. The cool thing about this airport is there are restaurants and eateries just outside of security. So your family members can park, meet you after security, and you can grab a bite to eat. Or you can chill together before your flight. Very convenient and quite frankly, welcoming. Unlike LAX where you have to say your sad goodbyes and warm hellos on a busy curbside.
Our drive from Jacksonville to Savannah was lovely. Open highway, trees along the roads, and clear views of the waters. Savannah is about two hours from Jacksonville. The streets are lined with gorgeous trees and old buildings. I could feel my architectural soul fall in love. I was so pleased that we got in town during daylight because street after street, the buildings got more grand, older, and more interesting. I was itching to get out of the car.
We chose the East Bay Inn for our accommodations. An old cotton warehouse one block from the river, the inn boasts beautiful bedrooms with four-post beds, brick walls, and a modern bathroom. East Bay staffers are very welcoming, quick to give you tips on the best tours and eats, and they just
make you feel at home. In the mornings, they offer a simple breakfast and in the afternoons, wine, cheese, and small bites. In general, East Bay offered the kind of southern hospitality you would hope for in a beautiful place like Savannah. To add to the charm, each hotel room has its own journal where guests are invited to briefly write about their stay. Our queen bedroom had many a romantic twosome. Honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries, and even just young lovers passing through town. I knew were in good company.
For our first meal in town, we ate at The Olde Pink House. Pink’s was only a couple of blocks away from East Bay and with the warm spring evening weather it was a very pleasant walk. We arrived early for our reservation (we booked online in advance, by the way), so we were directed to The Tavern in the basement for a quick drink. The Tavern is a darkly lit bar that also serves a nice menu of local cuisine. The setting is romantic, but also a little rustic being that you are basically in the basement of an old mansion. It was clearly popular as it was fairly busy when we entered. To our delight, there was a pianist playing a variety of classic music. I am a sucker for live music. Mix that with wine and I am a happy traveler. I quickly nabbed comfortable couch seats near the piano while my hubby headed to the bar. Something cool and unexpected, was the bartender first introduced himself, shook Aaron’s hand, then took our order. Dustin made sure we were taken care of from that point on and we soaked up the continued hospitality. Downey Mosley, the pianist was also very inviting. Proficient at his craft, the man asked about our travels without missing a key. He also never looked at the music. Later, I realized that there was no music – only scribbles on paper.
Dinner at The Olde Pink House was fabulous. This lovely structure served as someone’s home originally built in the late 1700s. The home is called pink because of the color of the exterior finish. The house was considered a mansion since it had an indoor kitchen. With Savannah being the 13th colony, the British influence through the Georgian architectural style is strong. The moldings and paintings leant themselves beautifully to a Jane Austen novel. Sitting in the parlor near the fireplace, I couldn’t help but think that Mr. Darcy was going to walk in the door.
We shared the she-crab soup, a salad, and then split an amazing steak. The she-crab is a must-have. Sprinkles of Sherry add a tinge of sweetness to this cream-based soup.
Seriously, you have to try it. We had this great soup again at another location later in the trip, but Pink’s got it right. Their meals tend to be quite large and it was recommended that we split the main dish. Luckily, Pink’s does not charge for sharing your dinners. I should also mention that their biscuits were divine. Emma was very friendly and she gave lots of great recommendations on the menu. I told her that I wanted to try the sweet tea – I am in the south after all. She said they overdid it on the sugar that night, something she called “ghetto sweet”. This cracked me up, but she was serious and I took her advice to sweeten the tea at my own pace.
Following dinner, we decided to meander around town. Thanks to great city planning, most hotels and restaurants are within walking distance. With perfect squares throughout the downtown area, it is easy to find your way. You can also cheat and pick up a trolley map which will show you all the interesting stops. The trees drip longingly around the landscaped town squares, which just
added to the evening ambience. It was around 11pm, but the city was still moving. Young people gathering here and there, we could hear the various bars with locals enjoying the warm night. I found it odd that many people were carrying plastic cups while walking the sidewalks. Not solo cups ala Toby Keith, but plain clear plastic cups. We eventually found ourselves on Whitaker Street where there is a nice line up of restaurants and bars. We joined a small, boisterous group at a restaurant and bar called Sage. Newly opened, this is a posh little corner boasting fine food and a full bar.
Once again, the bartender began introductions. Avery was her name and few honey’s and sweetheart’s later, our wine glasses were full. Sage has the bottomless glass in which you pay one flat fee for as much wine as you can stand. And those plastic cups in the street? Those are to-go cups. Savannah – much like Las Vegas and New Orleans – has an open-container law. No need to down your last glass, just take it with you. Explains all the happy, wandering people at night. According to the locals, Savannah doesn’t see much crime and thanks to the walkable streets and adult sippy cups, not many DUIs either. Overall, Sage was a total treat. Each person at the bar, including the owner, was chatting and exchanging fun tales. The soft jazz music in the background made it very easy for the conversations to keep on rolling. Yet another place that felt like home.
With fond goodbyes to Avery and all of our new friends, we headed back towards the hotel. At the very end of Whitaker, though, we found a crowd bustling on a street corner. The smell of freshly baked pizzas filled the air and the crowd slowly headed in for a late night bite. We joined in and nabbed two hot slices. Sweet Melissa’s knows how to do pizza and it was the perfect topper to our first night in town.
The next morning, we skipped the early complimentary breakfast and hit the street for our only full day in Savannah. We had lunch at The Shrimp Factory on River Street. Only one block from our hotel, River Street is quite literally along the river. Those smart planners did it again and made sure that the main portions of Savannah were several feet higher than the riverbank, reducing the risk of flooding throughout the city. Thus, to get to River Street you must descend below the main road. I had the shrimp and grits at The Shrimp Factory and I highly recommend it. We were told that the shrimp in Georgia are the best, supposedly due to the lemongrass growing in the waters. The shrimp eat the lemongrass and, thus, are marinated from within. That sounds very appealing, but quick frankly all the shrimp I had were in some kind of sauce. My palate could not detect any lemongrass, but the tiny creatures were none-the-less tasty. After lunch, we walked along River Street and enjoyed the view of the pretty waters. With several boats of vary sizes floating by, it was a nice view. Be advised there are a lot of tourist shops along the river. I recommend having your lunch, grabbing a drink at the bar, and taking a long stroll. But pass on all the souvenir stops. Also, expect to see Paula Deen products for sale in a variety of locations. She has a restaurant in Savannah, but it was not highly rated online. Ultimately, we opted to pass on Paula.
Back up to city level, we once again wandered the streets. We traced some of our late night steps and meandered through the shops and cafes. One such shop that I loved was The Paris Market. I spent one day in Paris a few years back and thoroughly loved it. Been hooked ever since. This two-story shop has high-end furniture, antique jewelry, and a variety of other interesting trinkets. In the front of the shop, there is a little cafe where Aaron and I shared a cappuccino and a French pomegranate seltzer. These kind of stops are my favorite – just us enjoying a quiet moment in a corner cafe. Should you decide to stop here, I also suggest trying the caramels – ridiculous.
After a day of meandering and enjoying the gorgeous parks, we headed to dinner at 17hundred90 on President Street. We signed up for a late night ghost tour and Aaron thought it would be appropriate for us to first eat at one of the most haunted restaurants. 17hundred90 boasts great cuisine and a few spooky stories. The restaurant is on the main level of a hotel that has been in existence since – you guessed it – 1790. The brick walls, candlelit tables, and live piano music set the stage for a romantic, but eerie dinner. Supposedly, there is a little boy named Teddy who wanders the restaurant and leaves pennies for visitors. There is the story of a mail-order bride who plunged to her death from one of the upper level windows. There are a variety of other ghost stories, primarily in relation to the hotel itself. We did not experience anything unusual during our meal. Speaking of which, I had the jambalaya and my husband had the steak – both good meals. If you only have one place to eat while in town, I suggest The Olde Pink House. They set the bar pretty high and while 17hundred90 was a pleasant experience, Pink’s won this round.
Our late night ghost tour was pretty cool. If I ever do this again, however, I am taking an open container with me. Nothing like bloody stories told in dark alley ways. Our tour guide, Jan, was great though. She basically gave all of us (about 20 people and two very sweet dogs) a history lesson with a whole lot of scary details. Being that this is a walking tour, it also gave us a better sense of the city. One interesting location is The Marshall House. Now a nice hotel, this building once served as a hospital. We are talking lots of death and lots of amputations. Supposedly, there are souls walking the halls with missing limbs. Many ghost-hunting shows have visited this fine establishment and some folks stay here on purpose (!) to test the paranormal waters. Just to add to the fun, the amputated limbs were originally thrown in the basement. Guess what – they are all still there. They explored removal of the makeshift burial ground, but they opted to not separate the remains from those that might be “searching” for their lost limbs. The owners of the building ultimately performed a funeral in the hopes that those buried below could rest.
Another interesting spot is the office building for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This was also a hospital and the psychiatric wing is now aptly used by the guidance counselors. It has been reported that scared faces can be seen peaking out the windows, supposedly souls that were locked away long ago. Some of the younger girls in our group were students at the college. They noted that there are also many stories about poltergeists in the nearby dorms. Apparently, certain dorm rooms can no longer be utilized due to the high level of activity. It’s important to remember that this colony saw a lot of rough times before becoming the city we know today. Think of people fighting in bloody battles, the masses sick with yellow fever, and the lost souls coming here to the New World with very little in their pockets. Something funny Jan noted was that there was always slave labor on hand…or you could just hire an Irishman. I once heard that the Irish were the working class of Europe. I was originally offended, being a pale Irish gal myself. But this is a true part of history and I am sure many of my ancestors struggled their way to a better life.
Aside from all of the ghost stories, Jan’s tour was very informative. While walking through one of the beautiful squares she pointed out the Spanish Moss dripping from the trees. Fun fact: Spanish Moss is neither Spanish nor moss. Also, it is advised that you not touch this spongy foliage as it houses chiggers and spiders. Chiggers being a type of tic – think creepy crawly mites all over you – and, of course, spiders are not welcome with me in any situation. She noted that the moss can fall from the trees and land somewhere around your feet. Do your best to avoid contact with this apartment building of insects. Enjoy this natural decoration from afar
I enjoyed the walking ghost tour and highly recommend Jan as your guide. I should note that my husband went to Savannah again and tried another ghost tour with his pals. They actually road in a trolly which took you farther, but he thought it was a bit cheesy. It ended in a fake haunted house with actors. Needless to say, he was disappointed. This city has real history with real struggles. As I see it, there is no need for gimmicks to keep my interest.
Savannah, Georgia was everything I hoped it would be: beautiful, romantic, tons of hospitality, and with loads of history. I am itching to go again, but will have to rethink our accommodations. While the East Bay Inn was nice and the staff was very welcoming, it was a noisy hotel at night. I could hear heavy footsteps on the floor above, doors shutting in the hallway outside, and sometimes our
neighbors chatting. At the end of the ghost tour, Jan mentioned that the East Bay Inn was haunted by the slaves walking the halls of the old cotton warehouse. Her comment made me open up the hotel room journal again, scanning for any unusual notes. A few people talked about a ghost named Charley walking the floor above us. Believe what you will, but this pretty Inn was a tough place to rest. Perhaps, that’s the key – with all it’s history and gorgeous landscapes, Savannah will never rest. It will continue to be an amazing destination and I hope to stop by for more southern hospitality someday soon.