Southern Hospitality Shines in Savannah - 405 Magazine

Southern Hospitality Shines in Savannah

This Georgia city is a haven of cuisine, culture and natural beauty.

Forsyth Park. Photo by Explore Georgia.

This Georgia city is a haven of cuisine, culture and natural beauty.

Draped in Spanish moss, abloom with vibrant azaleas and redolent of soulful comfort food, the innate charm of Savannah is a multi-sensory experience felt all over. It’s on its historic thoroughfares, lined with so many live oaks that streets feel like floral tunnels. It’s in its stone-clad architecture, a timeworn motif that looks distinctly its own. It’s in its waterways, from the ornate fairy tale fountains to the riverboats chugging up the Savannah River. It’s in the food, at restaurants showcasing the local bounty through seasonal tasting menus and dining rooms. Savannah is the kind of quintessential Southern city that sometimes gets compared to a miniature version of New Orleans or Charleston, but it’s got a laid-back charm — and an almost hauntingly beautiful identity — all its own. 

Where to stay

Thompson Savannah Photos.

Old and new, large and small, Savannah boasts a wide array of lodging options, each one sporting a singular style and vibe. For quality and quantity, the JW Marriott Plant Riverside is a stunning, massive property perched on the Savannah River at the lavish Plant Riverside District. Housed in a former power plant, the huge hotel dazzles with its myriad restaurants and bars (including multiple rooftop lounges), spacious guest rooms with exposed brick, cabana-clad pool deck — and most strikingly, its soaring lobby decorated with bejeweled fossils and a giant chrome-dipped dinosaur. 

Just down the river, it doesn’t get any more chic than the Thompson Savannah, a masterpiece of midcentury-meets-modern architecture, with some of the best hotel dining in town. The art-filled resort is handily sandwiched between the Historic District and the Eastern Wharf, providing the perfect amount of solace while still close to downtown’s cultural epicenter. Views, too, are striking — whether from one of the 193 rooms, 21 suites or pristine pool deck, vistas of the river and the cobblestoned city provide ample eye candy. 

Where to play

Photo by Explore Georgia.

From its ornate squares and pastoral parks to its lustrous inns and twee abodes, one could simply stroll around town and be awe-struck by Savannah. But for a little more immersion, the city has plenty to see and do. 

Start at City Market, an open-air market in and around an array of restored warehouses. Brimming with galleries, shops, live music and restaurants, it personifies everything there is to love about this singular city. There’s an art center, where visitors can watch artists work their magic, along with stores selling everything from jewelry to shoes and bath salts. There’s also the American Prohibition Museum — complete with a speakeasy-themed cocktail bar, aptly — and a slew of restaurants, like The Little Crown by Pie Society, a British-style pub and “pie house” slinging pies both savory, such as steak and kidney pie, and sweet, such as chocolate silk. 

For some history, see a show in one of the oldest continually operating theaters in the nation: the Savannah Theatre. Located on Chippewa Square, right across the street from the famous park where Tom Hanks sits in Forrest Gump, it’s operated since 1818. The local icon has hosted performances from the likes of Oscar Wilde and Otis Skinner, and today it’s used for musical revues.

Another park that merits a visit is Forsyth Park, a 30-acre oasis of billowing Spanish moss in the heart of the historic district. An idyllic place for a picnic or a stroll, or just to sit on a bench and wax poetic a la Mr. Gump, the green space contains one of the most famed fountains in the city. Installed in 1858 and modeled after lavish fountains in Paris, the selfie magnet has appeared in films like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Cape Fear and, of course, Forrest Gump

Where to eat and drink

Photo by Emily Dorio.

Savannah’s proximity to rivers and the ocean positions it as one of the mightiest food cities in the nation, with dining styles that run the gamut from destination-worthy fine dining to homey institutions for platters of tried-and-true fried chicken. 

Among the city’s foremost restaurants is The Grey, an award-winning concept from executive chef and partner Mashama Bailey. Elegant and warmly welcoming, the contemporary Southern sensation serves an ever-changing menu of fiercely seasonal low country cuisine and seasonal cocktails inside an Art Deco Greyhound bus terminal. The restaurant is fronted by a more casual oyster and cocktail bar with a lofty dining room in back, serving tasting menus and a la carte dishes divvied into categories like “Dirt” (e.g., sweet potatoes with coconut milk and collards), “Water” (e.g., snapper with squash and mushrooms) and “Pasture” (e.g., lamb heart with carrots, pomegranate and molasses).

In terms of Savannah classics, it doesn’t get much more iconic than The Olde Pink House, a comfort food institution serving lunch and dinner in a pink-hued Colonial-style mansion. Folks have been flocking here since 1971 (though the building dates back to the 1700s) for time-tested recipes like Cheerwine barbecue pork, blackened oysters, fried chicken and something called “Southern Sushi,” made by rolling smoked shrimp and grits in coconut-crusted nori. 

For old-school sweets with new-school techniques, rise and shine at Back in the Day Bakery, a weekend bakeshop with some of the best confections and baked goods in town, such as buttery biscuits, lavender cookies, blondies, salted honey bars and focaccia.

A standout cafe is Stevedore Bakery, a newcomer inside the Thompson Savannah that spotlights local ingredients and innovations from pastry chef Noah Whritenour. In addition to a medley of excellent breads and sandwiches, options include country ham and cheese croissants, sweet potato pound cake and benne seed profiteroles. 

While you’re at the Thompson, make it an all-day affair and linger for dinner at Fleeting. Chef Rob Newton puts his stamp on regionally influenced low country cuisine with the likes of shaved collard green salad, pan-roasted fish with field pea chowder and Carolina Gold Rice pudding. Cap it off at Bar Julian, the hotel’s rooftop bar (and the tallest in the city), where the cocktails — including zero-proof ones — are just as pretty as the views, including the peach whiskey Georgia Julep and a mezcal medley with red pepper and cocoa. 

Photo by Explore Georgia.