(Southern) Charm City Savannah delights are both familiar and foreign.


Think of Savannah, Georgia as Baltimore’s fun cousin — the one that shows up to family reunions looking prim and proper but who will certainly close down the bar at the after-party. Though they’re more than 600 miles and a climate zone apart, these two coastal cities have a lot in common. Historically, both played integral roles in the Revolutionary War, and today, both boast eclectic art scenes and serve up infamous seafood feasts.

Both are good-time destinations adjacent to grand bodies of water that welcome scores of revelers each year. So, I felt right at home during my visit to the Hostess City, taking advantage of a direct and inexpensive flight from BWI on discount carrier Allegiant.

Artful Accommodations

The Mansion on Forsyth Park, Savannah native Richard Kessler’s evocative boutique hotel, could easily be mistaken for a museum. The property sits catty-corner from the city’s most photographed fountain (you know the one) and is filled to the brim with more than 400 original paintings, sculptures, ceramics and other striking pieces of décor. My plans for a dip in the marble-framed swimming pool were quickly abandoned for a long walk through the labyrinthine estate. In addition to typical luxury hotel accoutrements — a topnotch spa, a terrific restaurant and two swanky lounges — the Mansion also houses an art gallery.

Despite all of this formal beauty, the hotel manages to be quite comfortable too. Even standard rooms come appointed with generous soaking tubs and plush bed linens.

Grand Tours

I began to notice a theme as I strolled the picturesque streets and squares of downtown Savannah: Art is a big deal here. That’s thanks in large part to the Savannah College of Art and Design, which is consistently recognized as one of the finest art schools in the world. The creative spirit of students and alumni is on display in countless galleries around town as well as in textile and jewelry shops, annual film festivals and the school’s very own contemporary art museum. I spent an hour in shopSCAD on Bull Street, thumbing through prints and picking out quirky jewelry.

But there are plenty of other things to do in Savannah besides ogling lovely things. History lovers in particular will be drawn to the city’s architecture, cemeteries, military landmarks and many museums. There’s a tour for just about every niche interest, including those that explore the city’s culinary heritage, most photogenic angles and African-American experience. Tours crisscross the city by foot, Segway and trolley and are ideal for Savannah newbies overwhelmed by their options.

The best tours in Savannah happen after dark. Ghost and paranormal tours are almost as popular here as the iced tea — and just as chilling. Named the country’s most haunted city by the kinds of outlets that consider these things, Savannah’s history is overflowing with scandals, natural disasters and personal tragedies that make for classic ghost stories. On my late-night tour I enjoyed ambling around town (alas, I was too big of a wimp to choose the tour cruising by in a decommissioned hearse), making acquaintance with the spirits of spurned lovers, storm-ravaged residents and homesick soldiers. It’s enough to make you double check your locks and pull the covers over your head. Unless you’re staying in a haunted hotel, because — yep — Savannah has those, too.

Deep-Fried Delicacy

Those looking for a quintessential Savannah repast should make a beeline to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, which has been serving up family-style meat-and-threes for the better part of a century. Come hungry —and early: There’s almost always a line at Mrs. Wilkes. Sitting next to and chatting with the locals (called Savannahians, if you’re wondering) was almost as transfixing as the sweet potato soufflé.

The next day, I was after seafood, so I set out for nearby Tybee Island and snagged a seat under the tin roof at Gerald’s Pig & Shrimp. This no-frills roadside joint offers perfectly fried po’ boys and hushpuppies, tender ribs and brisket and a faithful version of Lowcountry Boil. After a basket of shrimp and French fries — both seasoned up something special — I made my way to the beach for a swim. (Full disclosure: That swim turned into a nap beneath a big umbrella.)

Leopold’s Ice Cream is the city’s go-to for dessert, especially during the warmer months (which, in Savannah, is almost all of them). Opened by three brothers in 1919, this locally adored ice-cream parlor still follows the 100-year-old recipes that made it famous. A dish of the honey almond cream tasted somehow both simple and decadent and took the edge off a scorching afternoon.

Drink up, downtown

Savannah is a drinking town (another thing we have in common) with a one-up on Baltimore: an open-container law in its historic district, where visitors can explore the Spanish moss-draped downtown with an adult beverage in hand. I did not have a difficult time finding a proprietor to provide me with that accessory.

My first stop was Moon River Brewing Company for a pint of profoundly refreshing witbier, with notes of bitter orange and coriander. I stuck around for the fried green tomatoes — a must during any Southern getaway.

For something a little more exotic, I ponied up to the mead bar at Savannah Bee Company’s flagship store on Broughton Street. People have been making mead for millennia, and as I sipped my way through the sampler, I began to understand its staying power. Savannah Bee also boasts a honey bar for teetotalers and sweet-tooths alike.

Outside of the historic district, Ghost Coast Distillery offers tours and a tasting room with a tantalizing list of 17 liquors and cordials made on-site. This was the perfect place for a carefully made nightcap. Oglethorpe’s Mule (named for Georgia’s founding father James Oglethorpe) ) was bright and minty.

I rounded out the rest of my time enjoying lush gardens, strolls along the Savannah River and the thick accents that give the city its own definitive charm. When it was time to say goodbye, it felt almost like that family reunion: I was worn out but refreshed and vowing to visit more often.

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