From Azaleas to Art Deco: Rediscovering the Allure of Historic Savannah

This classic Southern destination has been experiencing a rebirth.

Text by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Images by Adam Kuehl

Draped in Spanish moss and organized around verdant city squares, Savannah has long been a sophisticated coastal city. Established in 1733, it’s full of stories, yet always ready to provoke new memories—Savannah loves nothing more than a good party. The past years have seen Savannah, known as “the Hostess City,” undergoing a rebirth, with new restaurants, shops, and hotels opening. 

Downtown Savannah is made for strolling—even more so in March and April when the azaleas burst out in bountiful hues of pink. But it’s beautiful in any season.  

Start with the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, held on Saturday mornings, year-round, for people watching, fresh produce and trying prepared foods. Or meander along the Savannah River, where a recently revitalized waterfront features outdoor-seating restaurants and new shops, adding to the charm of the aged cobblestones and cooling breezes. 

A little farther out of town, you can explore the ruins of a colonial estate at Wormsloe State Historic Site and interact with the past in the stately, circa-1846 Bonaventure Cemetery

For fine dining, The Grey has garnered national attention for executive chef/co-founder Mashama Bailey. She is the winner of two James Beard Foundation awards, and an expert in the diverse cultures of Southern food, which she references while elevating her menu to new heights. The setting is noteworthy, too: The Grey is inside a gloriously restored 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus station. It’s lovely at night but equally worth visiting for brunch or an early dinner, to take in the full effect of the architecture and light. 

Likewise, Common Thread has a historic, yet reimagined setting, in the Victorian-era Krouskoff House. The restaurant spotlights seasonal ingredients, including both global influences and Lowcountry delights. 

Newcomer Saint Bibiana is a coastal Italian restaurant tucked inside a recently renovated, 1888 mansion. The resulting makeover gave it a sensual, date-night ambience. A recent visit included  martini perfection, with the bartender using Japanese Nara gin; as well as a meal with fluffy focaccia; artfully presented scallop crudo; grilled branzino, and a moan-worthy budino for dessert.  

interior of a restaurant in savannah with an opulent chandelier
The recently renovated Saint Bibiana.

Cocktail enthusiasts should also raise a glass at Savoy Society, a vibrant bar serving up drinks that will put you in a vacation state of mind—the Miami Vice with rum, for example—as well as local specialties like Chatham Artillery Punch. 

But it’s in the Starland District, just outside historic downtown, where the culinary and nightlife landscape is most rapidly changing. 

“When my wife and I were talking about moving back to her hometown of Savannah, one of the things that appealed to us was contributing to a developing food scene,” says chef Andrew Brochu, of Brochu’s Family Tradition, which was recently named to Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants. The Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-nominated chef, and his wife, Sophie, opened their lively restaurant in the Starland District, inside a former grocery store from the 1930’s. 

“Savannah has some obvious staples, but there’s something exciting and scrappy going on right now,” says Brochu. “We’re happy to be a part of that new wave and we hope it continues to blossom.” Try his fried chicken, which is the pinnacle of Southern food, or some of the oyster preparations. 

Emily McCarthy’s clothing line features irrestibile, vibrant colors.

The clams with swiss chard and tumeric at Late Air, a wine bar.

After dinner, stop by the restaurant Late Air, which has rotating offerings of natural wines, available by the glass or bottle. 

For shopping, the historic retail area Broughton Street is feeling refreshed due to the Broughton Streetscapes Project. Browse through The Paris Market, where chic decadence greets you. There’s art, beauty products, chocolates, jewelry, antiques, housewares—it’s one of those places where you feel transported and it’s easy to lose track of time. 

Also downtown, Elizabeth Seeger’s company Satchel features leather accessories, such as totes, handbags, wallets, wristlets, and cuff bracelets. “My dad was a pilot and my mom was a flight attendant,” explains Seeger of her inspiration to craft classic leather goods that provide both luxury and everyday utility. Satchel products are made in-house by their sister company, Port City Sewing Factory. Custom pieces and private shopping events are available, too. 

Emily McCarthy’s clothing and lifestyle brand features irresistible, vibrant color palettes and prints. “I’ve lived here for 18 years and have watched [the retail scene] ebb and flow,” says McCarthy. “We have so much variety now… I love to see a local community member bringing a concept to life.” McCarthy describes her brand’s aesthetic as “bright, joyful, but also always with a classic element, whether that is a silhouette or a detail.” McCarthy’s business has recently expanded into a new location, offering not only shopping for clothing and gifts, but also, the Joy Club, a bar featuring wines and sparkling wines. 

Another good option: Jones and Bull, which curates new, vintage, and antique home décor, art and furniture, as well as gifts like beautiful lacquer trays and Savannah-specific toile tea towels. 

savannah, georgia lush green

Savannah also has a rich literary heritage—it’s the hometown of poet Conrad Aiken and short-story master Flannery O’Connor, after all—and enjoys a robust indie-bookstore scene. E. Shaver is a delightful warren in an 1842-built building (though it has also opened a satellite store in the Starland District). The Book Lady is a cozy spot with an extensive collection of Georgia and Southern history, alongside first editions and other hard-to-find titles. The Stacks in midtown is owned by a local author and is noteworthy for its inclusive curation and its disability accessible design. 

But wherever you go or which neighborhood you explore, Savannah will make for an unforgettable visit.



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