Sometimes referred to as America’s first planned city, Savannah has retained much of its original structure and charm. Savannah’s grid town plan was laid out in 1733 by General James E. Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, and you can still see most of the city’s signature squares today. Savannah’s Historic District, home to incredible 18th- and 19th-century architecture, and a mix of Greek Revival, Gothic, and Southern styles, is a National Historic Landmark. It’s true, though, that the city has seen many updates to its art and restaurant scenes, but Savannah’s rich history happens to make it a really ideal family destination (and you can still get real deal Southern home cooking here). Meaningful education opportunities abound (beginning with a tour of a former plantation and a better understanding of the South’s tumultuous past), as well as fun outings that feel wholly unique for kids (ghost tours and trolley rides, anyone?).
601 E. Bay St., Historic District | 877.482.7423
What’s cool about the Brice Hotel is that it’s located in the city’s historic district, just off cobblestoned River Street and the Savannah River, but the chic interior feels both Southern and modern. Also, they have an outdoor pool, which is nice for the kids or anyone looking for a reprieve from the Savannah heat—while it’s family friendly, just note that the pool is adults only from 8am-10am. The hotel is pet friendly, too (they give out water bowls and pet beds, leashes and plastic bags). And you’ll find a yoga mat in every room.
123 E. Broughton St., Historic District | 912.644.7896
If you’re after old world charm, The Marshall House (also in historic Savannah) is your best bet. The hotel dates back to the mid 19th-century: In 1851, a French cabinetmaker named Gabriel Leaver built the four-story Marshall House; his daughter, Mary Leaver Marshall became the first proprietor. The house served as a hospital for soldiers at the end of the Civil War, and as a hotel on and off for years until closing in 1957. Forty-plus years later, The Marshall House was restored and reopened, with stunning original features, like the 19th-century doors and staircases; and carefully reconstructed spaces like the classically Southern veranda (complete with wooden rocking chairs and green shutters) off the hotel’s popular Broughton rooms, and bathrooms with antique claw-foot tubs.
1B W. Victory Dr., Bingville | 912.234.5522
The Florence’s menu is, not surprisingly, Italian-focused, with an emphasis on Southern-grown, locally harvested ingredients (e.g., the seafood stew comes from coastal Georgia and the bacon in Florence’s carbonara is house-cured). The crowd-pleaser? Hands down the pizza. Florence is closed on Mondays, but otherwise open for dinner and lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and they have a special Sunday brunch menu. Also, in addition to being an Italian restaurant, The Florence also functions as a coffee shop—good for a mid-day pick-me-up.
23 Abercorn St., Historic District | 912.232.4286
Located on Reynolds Square, this is a beloved local restaurant in an 18th-century (pink) mansion. The cuisine here is distinctly Southern: fried green tomatoes, local shrimp and grits, ravioli stuffed with Vidalia onions, corn bread with fried oysters—the kind of food you have to eat at least once while in Savannah.
404 Abercorn St., Historic District | 912.233.0402
You might recognize Clary’s from Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It’s long been a Savannah staple, serving up eggs, biscuits, and gravy for breakfast; black bean soup, jumbo fish sandwiches, and the like for lunch and dinner. Formerly a drugstore, Clary’s is decorated today with nostalgic knickknacks, family photos, and memorabilia—though you’re not coming here for the decor.
212 E. Broughton St., Historic District | 912.234.4442
Family vacations are hardly complete without a trip to the local ice cream shop. Founded in 1919 by three brothers who moved to the States from Greece, Leopold’s is an institution in Savannah. And after one visit, it’s easy to understand (read: taste) why. In addition to their ice cream flavors and sundae creations, Leopold’s is known for old-fashioned fountain sodas (and hence, ice cream sodas, too). Oh, and you can choose to have your ice cream topped with an espresso shot, or dunked into hot cocoa.
107 W. Jones St., Historic District | 912.232.5997
In 1943, a young woman named Selma Wilkes opened a traditional Southern boarding house (lodging upstairs, a few hearty meals downstairs). Still a family-run business today, Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is where you head for real-deal Southern home cooking, although the upper part of the boarding house can actually be rented. It’s open every day for lunch (but closed in January), and everything is served family-style: fried chicken, sweet potato souffle, beef stew, collard greens, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins, and biscuits. It’s cash only and takes no reservations, so expect a line of people waiting to get in. After lunch, take a walk around beautiful Jones Street, which is lined with historic Southern homes and arched, weeping trees.
Tybee Island | 912.786.5444
A really nice advantage to vacationing in Savannah is that you can split your time between town and beach. Tybee Island, about 15-20 miles from Savannah’s historic district, is a fun, easy day trip. There are restaurants on the island, and activities like water sports, parks and playgrounds, walking and biking trails—but the pretty beach makes a good excuse to park it for a while.
7601 Skidaway Rd., Isle of Hope | 800.864.7275
Commonly referred to as Wormsloe Plantation, this is the former 18th-century estate of English pilgrim, Noble Jones, whose family owned the land until the state of Georgia acquired the majority of the plantation in 1973. It’s located on Isle of Hope, which is about a 20 minute drive from downtown, ending with a mile-long corridor of large oaks laden with Spanish moss. Inside, the site includes Wormsloe’s tabby ruin (the oldest standing structure in Savannah), the plantation house built by a Jones grandson in 1828, and a museum.
As legend has it, Savannah is a haunted city. (A few ghost-favorite places are actually in this round-up: Marshall House and Olde Pink House.) For kids that enjoy spooky stories, touring the mansions, squares, and streets of Savannah that boast a dark past can be a real treat. You can walk your own route, or go on an organized tour with Ghost City.
175 Bourne Ave., Pooler | 912.748.8888
A twenty-five-minute drive outside of Savannah, in Pooler, Georgia, this museum sits where the Eighth Air Force was activated in 1942. It’s a trove of aviation and WWII history, with rotating exhibits and interactive displays. Mission experiences are recreated, offering a glimpse into what it would have been like to fly on a bomber; and kids can also take a peek at original air crafts and engines.
207 W. York St., Historic District | 912.790.8800
One of the oldest public art museums in the U.S., Telfair opened in the 1880s in a renovated family mansion, and has since expanded into three separate buildings, which includes a 4,000-piece permanent art collection, a mix of 18th-21st century pieces from America and Europe. The draw for kids, though, is really ArtZeum, which is located in Telfair’s Jepson Center. ArtZeum is home to a couple dozen activities that allow kids to explore art in a really hands-on way. For instance, there’s a glass house created by artist Therman Statom that kids can wander through, a magnetic sculpture wall, architectural blocks that kids can use to make their own buildings, and 3D shapes to mold. Perfect for a morning or afternoon activity.
While touristy, riding the trolley when you’re in Savannah just feels right. And a tour can be a good way to see more of the city on a day when everyone is feeling a bit tired.
Read & Watch
Some of the below books and movies are unique to Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (admittedly not family-friendly) is set there, Flannery O’Connor was born there. We also included some of the all-around Southern Greats, books and films that have long become synonymous with the region and its vivid past.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee Amazon, $6.79
Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson Amazon, $11.89
Roll of Thunder,
Hear My Cry by
Mildred D. Taylor Amazon, $4.83
Stories by Flannery
O’Connor Amazon, $10.89
A Summer of
Faulkner by William
Faulkner Amazon, $23.83
Midnight in the
Garden of Good and
Evil by John Berendt Amazon, $9.74