Two-Day Towns: Savannah, GA

There’s such a thing as overstaying.  There’s also such a thing as wearing out a place you’re visiting so you may never want to return.

Our goal is to always leave a little on the table so we’ll want to return, even if we never do.  That’s the origin of the two-day towns.  Most small to mid-size cities are great, for two days.

Savannah, Georgia, is a perfect example.  We’ve now been there several times, and have been able to watch the city progress over a few visits.  We can always go back because we never overstay.

First, the short and sweet history:

The city dates back to 1733, when General James Oglethorpe landed a ship on a bluff along the Savannah River.  It was the first city in Georgia, and known as the first planned city in the U.S.  Oglethorpe laid out the city as a series of grids, allowing for wide streets and public squares and parks.  Twenty-two of the original 24 squares are still there today, and you can walk the entire downtown historic area (one of the largest National Historic Landmark districts) and the river in two days or less.

During the American Revolution, Savannah was taken over by the Brits before securing independence.  It was also significant in the Civil War.  The city didn’t fall until Union General William Tecumseh Sherman entered in after burning Atlanta and everything else in his path on his “March to the Sea.”  (You may have heard something about this in high school history.) Upon entering Savannah, Sherman was impressed by its beauty and couldn’t destroy it. On December 22, 1864, he sent a famous telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, offering the city as a Christmas present.

What to do (in two days):

The historic district has the city market, made to emulate the old open air market.  There are also plenty of museums if you’re interested.  Just walking the city, admiring the elegant architecture, hanging out in the many parks (Forsyth, with its ornate fountain, is a favorite), and enjoying the grand live oaks (the kind with hanging moss), can fill a day.

It’s a great place to get inspired by Southern hospitality in all its glory.

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Enough history: now for the gluttony and fun.

Where to stay:

Yes, there is every known hotel chain, many with good locations.  Yes, they offer consistency and dependability, but our philosophy is to always try a little harder to find something a bit more unique. (Even though we count many chains as clients, you learn from experiences, not always consistency).  However, in Savannah, almost every hotel is part of a chain, so we relaxed our rules.

Within the last few years, an existing hotel was changed to an Andaz (the Hyatt’s boutique brand), so we gave it a try.  It’s right on Ellis Square, a block from the river district, in a great location.  In prior trips, we stayed at the Mansion on Forsyth Park.  This known historic grand dame is now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. We’ve also tried a smattering of B&Bs. The best of which is Azalea Inn & Gardens also near Forsyth Park.  The Brice, a Kimpton hotel, is also a pretty good option, and to have more of a scene, try the Bohemian on the river which has a rooftop bar (also an Autograph collection hotel).

On this trip, we found Savannah is putting itself on the culinary map…a little.  It’s always had a ton of mediocre tourist friendly, “all things to all people” restaurants.  On this visit, we got a chance to really see great creativity in branding and space.

The Grey

Incidentally, our competition for the 2015 James Beard best restaurant design.  We were in good company.  The Grey is thoughtfully designed and well-detailed.  Maybe went two steps too far with the Greyhound bus depot theme, but overall a pretty spectacular result.  We also loved the food and service.  The right combination of quality, innovation, and great service without pushing too far.

Treylor Park

Probably one of the greatest examples of restaurant branding we’ve seen in a while.  From the name to the over the top creative menu to the added touchpoints from shot glasses to can coolers, the owners Bill and son Trey (of course, we met them at the bar) know how to pull together a concept.  Try the fried apple pie for lunch.  Don’t judge or count the potential calories. Just try it.

The Florence:

This Hugh Atcheson’s newer restaurant (a James Beard chef with four restaurants throughout Georgia).  It’s not in the historic district, but it’s worth the drive.

Cotton & Rye

A newbie worth the walk or drive (it’s south of Forsyth Park, so a healthy walk).

Collins Quarter:

A must for breakfast.  They take their coffee very seriously, have a cool walk up window, and great food overall.  This takeout window is a great idea for restaurateurs with the right concept.

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In the “been there a while,” part of Savannah’s concierge recommendations program:

Huey’s (breakfast beignets, on the river)

The Olde Pink House (an institution, and a former bank built in 1789)

Is there anything to do in Savannah except shove food in your face and walk around?  It’s a historic city with a great waterfront, and plenty of sights for the history buff.  You can also get outside of the city and grab some peel-and-eat shrimp on Tybee Island or tour a few plantations.  There are also bike rentals and trolley tours (only recommended if drunk, according to our favorite new bartender at the Grey).

Two days.  Perfect.

Side note:

Savannah is also the jumping off point for Hilton Head.  If you don’t golf or like hanging out at the beach every day, the place is torture.   It’s all about relaxation and doing nothing (except golf and beach), which apparently a lot of people like?!?!?  If you are heading to Hilton Head, make sure to include a stop of at least a night in Savannah as a palate cleanser.

If you find yourself there, check out a few deceptive little restaurants on the island.  They’re deceptive because they’re quite literally in strip malls:  Vine and 843.  The Skull Creek Boathouse is a great outdoor place for lunch and a crowd-pleaser.

The hotels in Hilton Head go against everything that makes a great hotel experience.  They are mostly nameless, faceless chains of sameness with the basic balconies, king beds and mango-scented lotion.  All consistent without major flaws.  The one exception is the Inn at Palmetto Bluff.  It’s a highly detailed, expensive Montage resort in Bluffton, about 30 stoplights (and 10 miles) off the island.

That’s about all we can offer on Hilton Head.

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