There is something truly seductive about the coastal South… The old homes, the moss-draped oak trees, the slowness of both the life and the cooking… It just sings… Just like Savannah, a place so steeped in being Southern, to call it anything else would be a sin against nature.
Here’s How We Did It
We had several options in mind for this month’s Around the Corner trip, but there was one factor which made the choice of Savannah: a Hilton free weekend night certificate from our Citi card.
So, we took a look at nearby cities for this past Thursday and Friday and looked at which option would result in the best value and Savannah was it.
We combined that certificate with 40,000 Honors points, to get a two-night stay. The certificate cost me $95 (annual fee on the Citi Hilton Reserve) and most folks value 40,000 points at about $200. Since the room would have cost me $210 per night, plus taxes, I saved about $135 on a two-night stay and had no cash going out of my pocket this month.
The other thing Savannah has going for it is plenty of stuff to do which doesn’t cost money. Indeed, of the $350 we spent on this trip, we spent$112 on gas and parking and $220 on food. We were able to splurge here and there because we saved so much on a really nice hotel.
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Hilton Savannah DeSoto
For our hotel, we chose the Hilton Savannah DeSoto, located right in the heart of the historic district, sandwiched between Madison and Chippewa squares. The hotel is in the process of being renovated and we got one of the newly renovated rooms on the fourth floor. Typically, I prefer a higher floor, but getting one of the renovated rooms was a treat.
Unfortunately for Hilton fans, the hotel is leaving the chain at the end of the year, so your opportunity for taking advantage of the deal we got for the room is diminishing quickly. Service at the hotel was prompt, save for one minor issue with housekeeping, and the breakfast buffet was hearty. Again, having gold status with the Hilton Honors program made for a serious benefit to the tune of $30 a day in breakfast vouchers for both Bonnie and I.
As you can see from the pictures, both at the top and above, the view from the room was outstanding. While there are plenty of hotels on River Street which offer convenience to the bars and the river front, this hotel offers a much more central location for exploring the squares and streets of the historic district as well as proximity to some of Savannah’s more foodie restaurants.
Walking the Streets of Savannah
Upon arriving in Savannah, we promptly got walking. The city is very pedestrian-friendly. Indeed, bipedal locomotion is one of the best ways to see one of the main attractions of the city: the squares.
There are 22 squares (small parks) situated throughout the city. Each square houses some measure of history of the city, whether a monument of some kind, a fountain or just the name of someone of import to Savannah’s history. It is also home to a great many live oak trees, draped eternally in Spanish moss, which give Savannah so much charm.
The squares are typically surrounded by historic homes and buildings. In fact, you cannot help but trip over history and culture in downtown Savannah, whether it is the home of author Flannery O’Conner or the monument to Methodist founder John Wesley, who was a minister for the Church of England here in the 1700s.
We took a southerly route, meandering square to square, following a walking tour we found online all the way down to Forysth Park and then on to dinner.
Dinner was at the Savannah institution Vinnie Van Go-Go’s, a New York-style pizzeria Bonnie knew and loved when she lived here more than a decade ago. Bonnie had a slice of pizza and I had a fantastic calzone.
After a brief rest back at the hotel, we headed back to Forsyth Park for the Savannah Jazz Festival. No, we didn’t plan it that way, but we certainly like to take advantage of a free concert when we can.
After enjoying a rockin’ blues show, we decided upon dessert at the Six Pence Pub, located just down the street from the hotel. Some outstanding bread pudding, a glass of port for Bonnie and a glass of Scotch for me and then off to bed.
Catching up with Friends
We spent Friday morning catching up with old friends, which is always a treat while traveling! First stop, The Foundery Coffee Pub, run by Bonnie’s nearly life-long friend Kevin. For most folks, The Foundery is just a coffee shop, but it also provides community outreach and ministry.
For lunch, we travelled outside the historic district to meet up with another friend, Paige, at Jalapeños, a local Mexican restaurant. The chimichangas were tasty, just like Bonnie remembered from when she lived here. Again, spending time with old friends just makes any vacation that much better!
Fort Pulaski National Monument
After lunch, we were off to Fort Pulaski to continue our sight-seeing. The Army built Fort Pulaski following the War of 1812 as a coastal defense fort. It took 18 years to complete and military leaders considered it as tough as the Rocky Mountains when completed in 1847. In 1862, Union forces used rifled canons to punch holes in the walls from a great range. That forced the Confederate commander to surrender.
The fort remains relatively intact for visitation and is a great example of pre-Civil War fortifications. The rangers hold tours and demonstrations regularly, so be sure to check the schedule before you visit.
One warning: the fort is located in coastal marshes and is a haven for mosquitoes. Be sure to take some bug spray with you! They ate us alive!
On the way back into town, we stopped at the Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book and movie are both a fantastic primer for a visit to Savannah.
River Street on a Friday Night
We knew we wanted to have a nice dinner, but also knew we wanted to get down to River Street at some point on our trip. River Street is a cobblestone street along the Savannah River. It is home to a great number of bars and mediocre restaurants which play to the tourists. We did some hunting and found an outstanding place for dinner on Friday night: Rocks.
Rocks has two components: Rocks on the River, a full-service restaurant, located on River Street in the bottom of the Bohemian Hotel. Rocks on the Roof is a roof-top bar with tapas-style plates. We opted for the bar and, wow, did we make the right choice!
We got there shortly before sunset and found a table on the city side of the bar. While the river side was obviously more popular, the city side provided a great view of the sun setting behind the city. I found a couple of new beers to try and Bonnie had a Blood Orange Margarita from the barrel-aged cocktails.
For dinner, the Hunter’s Plate of meats and cheeses and a Crab and Carmelized Onion Flatbread easily filled us up and both were outstanding. I also had an Uisge Beatha, probably the single best whiskey cocktail I have ever tasted. They make it with a mix of Irish whiskey, Scotch, cherry liqueur and smoked honey. The mix is then barrel aged and oh my! Fantastic!
After dinner, we strolled along the river taking in River Street. It was a bit quiet for a Friday night, but still pretty lively. Another good reason to choose a hotel off River Street is it can get a bit wild there at night.
Dessert was at another Savannah staple, Leopold’s, a classic soda fountain-style shop along the Broughton Street. River Street wasn’t busy that particular Friday. Broughton Street, however, was full of local folks enjoying a night out. The line for Leopold’s was out the door.
The folks behind the counter were up to the challenge and service was swift. Bonnie enjoyed a scoop of rum bisque and I enjoyed a black forest milk shake. Toss in an evening walk, and it capped off a great evening.
We would be remiss to visit Savannah and not visit Tybee Island. Located about a 30-minute drive from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island is a small beach community with nice, wide sandy beaches.
There are a couple of hotels on the island, but someone looking to stay on Tybee would probably be better served by looking for a vacation rental rather than a hotel. There is a lighthouse on the north end of the island and the remains of some coastal artillery fortifications.
The island makes a great day trip as part of a visit to Savannah. It’s also great if you want to find a quiet spot away from the crowds on Hilton Head. Just make sure you bring money to pay for parking on the island.
Savannah is a great place to spend a weekend. The trip doesn’t have to break the bank, even with eating very well!