Savannah, Georgia: an elegant, complicated Southern gem

History — knotty and deeply American — is around every corner

Spanish moss on a street in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in the United States
(Image credit: Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images)

When you come to Savannah, Georgia, plan on staying a while. From the oldest Black church in North America to historic squares shaded by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, there's so much to explore. 

Going green

Water sprays from the Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah

This might be the most Instagrammed spot in Savannah

(Image credit: Tetra Images / Getty Images)

Savannah's parks and squares are the stars of the city. Visitors and locals alike enjoy these green open spaces, and there are dozens to traverse. At 33 acres, Forsyth Park is the largest park in Savannah. Known for its landmark Forsyth Fountain (dyed green on St. Patrick's Day), it also draws crowds for live music performances, a weekly Farmers Market and the Forsyth Park Fragrant Garden. 

Visiting the dearly departed

A statue of an angel in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

The Bonaventure Cemetery is so tranquil that visitors come here for picnics

(Image credit: Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images)

Things can get spooky in Savannah. It has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the United States, and no itinerary is complete without a stop at the Bonaventure Cemetery, established in 1846. Ornate gravestones and statues fill the grounds, which can be explored during free guided tours on the second weekend of the month.

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Black life across the centuries

The outside of First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia

The First African Baptist Church is the oldest Black church in North America

(Image credit: Amy Sparwasser / Getty Images)

Savannah is an epicenter of Black history and culture. This is, after all, a majority-Black city. There are guided tours, like Footprints of Savannah and the 40 Acres and a Mule Tour, that showcase Black landmarks and areas of interest. Footprints of Savannah focuses on urban slavery and the cotton trade, with a visit to a former slave market that became a freedmen's school. The 40 Acres and a Mule tour stops at six public squares, where you'll learn "the intertwined history of Savannah's promotion of slavery and the rise of the Black church." 

If you would rather embark on your own exploration, make sure it includes a visit to the First African Baptist Church. Organized in 1773, it is the oldest Black church in North America and still has an original baptismal font, pews and light fixtures. Tours are offered Monday through Saturday. 

A city of museums

The front exterior of the Andrew Low House in Savannah, Georgia

The Andrew Low House is a step back to the late 1800s

(Image credit: Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

You could stay in Savannah for weeks and still only scratch the surface of its museum scene. There's the Telfair Academy, featuring 19th- and 20th-century American and European art and the famed "Bird Girl" statue, made famous by its appearance on the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The Savannah African Art Museum has over 1,000 objects from West and Central Africa, representing more than 180 cultures and ethnic groups, and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum tells the story of the Savannah chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the 1940s through '60s. The Andrew Low House Museum is a step across the centuries, with 19th-century furnishings, art and household items on display, and has a connection to Girl Scouts. The Girl Scouts' founder, Juliette Gordon Low, lived there while she launched the organization. 

A taste of the coastal Deep South

The front exterior of Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, Georgia

Elizabeth on 37th is inside a mansion built in 1900

(Image credit: Jacqueline Fitzgerald / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

A Savannah staple inside a graceful 1900 mansion that is known for its coastal cuisine and top-notch service, Elizabeth on 37th draws a crowd thanks to its good food and ambiance. There is one seven-course chef's tasting menu, which changes based on the season but always includes fresh seafood like James River oysters and local blue crab cakes. Fodor's recommends asking for wine pairing recommendations, as "the wine cellar is massive and the staff is knowledgable." 

At The Grey, executive chef Mashama Bailey, the first Black woman to win the James Beard Award for outstanding chef, serves "food with a refreshingly broad worldview," Travel + Leisure's Brad Japhe wrote. Bailey's focus is on "infusing Southern soul with African influences," and the menu is flexible and changes based on the availability of local ingredients. Recent offerings included rabbit mortadella with pickled daikon; salted fish croquettes with paprika and lemon aioli; sweet potato with coconut collards, apple and pomegranate molasses; and okra with peanuts and a ground nut sauce. The space, a beautifully restored 1938 Art Deco Greyhound bus terminal, is central to The Grey's allure.

You'll want to anchor an evening around dinner at Good Times Jazz Bar and Restaurant. Owner Stephen T. Moore opened the space due to a love of "good food, good wine and good music," and there's live jazz Thursday through Sunday nights and a Sunday Gospel Brunch. For dinner, start with the fried green tomato salad and follow it with the Southern pan-fried catfish or sauteed crab cakes (be sure to add a side of Savannah red rice). There's a live music calendar on the Good Times website, so you can check in advance to see who is playing.

Wear comfortable shoes to Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room. There's always a line, and if you want to be among the day's first diners, definitely plan to get there early. Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room serves Southern comfort food at its finest, from fried chicken to black-eyed peas to sweet potato souffle. This is a communal dining experience, with strangers sitting next to each other at spacious tables for 10. Note: The restaurant takes a winter break, so ensure it is open before heading over. 

Spending the night in Savannah

The front exterior of the historic Hamilton-Turner Inn in Savannah, Georgia

Once a private home, the Hamilton-Turner Inn is now a 17-room inn

(Image credit: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Hamilton-Turner Inn in Savannah's Historic District was built as a private home in 1873, and today is a luxe bed and breakfast with 17 guest rooms and a three-bedroom carriage house. There are elegant touches throughout, including brocade wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, clawfoot tubs and antique four-poster beds. A chef-prepared breakfast is served every morning in the dining room, and in the evening guests can gather in the parlor for complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres. 

Although it is located inside a 19th century building, The Drayton Hotel is thoroughly modern, with a bright lobby and bustling rooftop bar. The 50 rooms and suites have views of the Historic District, Savannah River and City Hall and were designed with total comfort in mind, from the fine linens to the quilted bathrobes. Music lovers will want to check out The Vinyl Room, the hotel's "music listening room and intimate cocktail lounge" where visitors can sip whiskey while enjoying their favorite record.

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