Living in Savannah: Things to Do and See in Savannah, Georgia
Historic Meets Hip—with its thriving culture and food scene—in the Oldest Town in the State
Everything You Wanted to Know About Living in Savannah
Savannah epitomizes Southern charm with its Gothic Revival architecture, cobblestone streets, the clop of horse-drawn carriages, ancient oaks draped in Spanish moss, public gardens and leafy squares. This Antebellum step back in time is now imbued with a thriving arts, culture, and foodie scene, proving that everything old can be new again while still honoring its historic roots.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is widely credited with infusing the city with its decidedly global and contemporary artistic vibe. The school and museum are housed in a railroad depot, built in 1853 and occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. Boarded up and crumbling before renovated for the school, the building was again recently reimagined with a $26 million glass tower addition, complementing vintage industrial utilitarianism with cutting-edge wow. The museum’s permanent collection and visiting installations are world class.
The festivals are festive—Savannah’s Music Festival, originating in 1989, is a two-week-long celebration of almost every music genre held in venues throughout the town and now providing free music education to kids from kindergarten to second grade. The dining is divine. The city is cinematic. Savannah was the inspiration for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the best-selling book by John Berendt and the subsequent film directed by Clint Eastwood. Though set in Alabama, Forest Gump’s most poignant scenes, the bench at the bus stop, for one, were filmed in Savannah.
What is the History of Savannah?
During the Civil War, as Union soldiers marched through the South and burned city after city, General William Sherman was so smitten with Savannah’s beauty that he couldn’t bear to destroy it. Savannah was spared.
In the 1950s, Savannah architecture dodged a second threat. The crumbling historic structures were slated for demolition but saved by a group of forward-thinking women who banded together to halt the destruction, forming the Historic Savannah Foundation to renovate the venerated old buildings. Savannah’s Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
General James Oglethorpe founded Georgia, named in honor of England’s King George, in 1733. Oglethorpe and 120 fellow explorers on the ship Anne landed on a bluff along the Savannah River, making Savannah the state’s oldest city. They were welcomed by the Yamacraw tribe led by Chief Tomochichi, who saw opportunities for peaceful trade. Oglethorpe and Tomochichi became friends as well as colleagues and often traveled to England where the chief acted as mediator for tribal relations to British colonists. Oglethorpe also conceived Savannah’s enduring grid of residential and public squares, earning it the distinction of “America’s first planned city.”
Savannah also appears in history books during the American Revolution when British forces occupied the city in 1778 and held it the next four years. Up until the Civil War, the city flourished agriculturally due to its rich soil, favorable climate, and plantations worked by slaves. The slave trade, of course, ended with the Civil War. The city now offers memorials, museums, art installations, a dedicated gallery for African-American artists, and even tours of slave cabins in order to acknowledge that sad chapter in Savannah’s history.
What to Do and See in Savannah?
SCAD or Savannah College of Art and Design—with campuses in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and France—has proven to be a creative magnet for Savannah in all of the arts, including architecture and the culinary arts. SCAD is credited with rehabilitating more than 100 historic structures for their new incarnation. The trend is trending; restaurants, speak-easy bars, high-end shops, and boutique hotels are housed in reclaimed and reimagined historic buildings.
As for the culinary arts, famous chefs are coming to the river town to put their signature spin on low country staples such as shrimp and grits, collard greens, and seafood stew. Cotton was once king yet now the fertile land is being put to best use to support a thriving farm-to-table movement with fresh fruit (yes, peaches, the state’s namesake), olives, vegetables, and grass-fed livestock. Music from fine dining to dives emanates into the storied squares, infusing the town with a toe-tapping joy.
Besides music, Savannah’s festivals celebrate art, children’s books, food and wine, motor cars, Jewish food, gardening, seafood, and film. Oktoberfest is the fall’s biggest party.
The Active Lifestyle
Savannah’s climate makes it possible to get outside year-round. Located on a river with the beach a conch-shell-throw away, the city embraces all things water—sailing, boating, fishing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboard.
Skidaway Island State Park offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, exploring the tidal waterways, cycling on paved bike trails, and even riding more technical single-track mountain biking trails. Tybee Island has three miles of public beach, which is a huge draw for the amphibious sports enthusiast, as is the fresh from the ocean seafood. With more than 9,000 wilderness acres, the Cumberland Island National Seashore is home to 18 miles of pristine beaches, windswept dunes, and marine wildlife, including sea turtles, plus a feral population of horses. The largest of Georgia’s barrier islands is accessible by ferry with trails for hiking and biking. There is limited camping by reservation. The ruins of the 59-room estate, Dungeness, built by Thomas Carnegie in the 1880s, was destroyed by fire and now a legacy of that over-the-top era maintained by the park service. The wild horses can often be seen grazing on the front lawn.
How Many People Live in Savannah?