Savannah Is Quickly Becoming the Artistic Heart of the South (2024)

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It's known for enchanting Spanish moss and historic architecture, but Savannah has so much more.

By

Liz Provencher

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Welcome toTwo Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

Easily one of the most beautiful places in Georgia, it doesn’t take much convincing to get people to visit Savannah. In some parts of the city, it’s like you’ve exited a time capsule into a nostalgic, charming town of yesteryear covered in Spanish Moss. But it’s also a creative hub thanks, in large part, to the celebrated Savannah College of Art and Design.

An undercurrent of artistic energy is pushing the city to grow and change more each year, with noteworthy exhibits, eclectic shopping destinations, and creative new dining options opening up all the time. So the next time you’re looking to change up your routine in Atlanta, hit the road and visit Savannah, where historic charm and new-age flair converge in the South.

Drive time:

3 hours, 45 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia

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If you don’t do anything else: Immerse yourself in the art scene

Savannah can get a bit of a stuffy reputation, but a new wave of artists and students at SCAD are chipping away at that bit by bit—and visitors are benefitting. The best places to see the change firsthand are smaller galleries around the city and other spots where artists pop up to sell their wares, plus the streets of Savannah's hippest neighborhood, Starland District. The weekly Forsyth Farmers’ Market, which begins just past the city’s iconic fountain, draws local artists who set up along the park’s main path with paintings, handmade jewelry, and other art. More established places like the Henny Penny Art Space and Cafe, a craft coffee shop that hosts a constant stream of artistic events for all ages.

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The city’s art scene really shines at its museums. Especially the SCAD Museum of Art, a contemporary art museum that features a mix of emerging and well-known artists. Works on display rotate regularly, but you’ll find famous names like Saul Steinberg gracing the halls of the college’s museum while other rooms are transformed into thought-provoking works that explore timely issues like the controversy around confederate statues in the South. The Jepson Center houses even more contemporary art to explore—and a section geared toward children—in an outsized modern building designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.

Fill Your Days:

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Vintage shopping in Savannah

Savannah’s artsy streak also shows up in the shopping scene. Vintage shops and thrift stores range from curated boutiques to mega malls where you can sift through clothing, old-school glassware, and more retro finds. House of Strut offers vintage fashions from all throughout the 20th century handpicked by founder Erica Jarman. Walk down the street and once you spot colorful cowboy boots repurposed into planters along Liberty Street, you’ll know you’ve reached East and Up. The vintage shop offers racks on racks of vintage clothing, but an outsized selection of cowboy boots and leather accessories are the reason to visit. For visitors with some extra time in their itinerary who are in it for the love of the hunt, Picker Joe’s and Wright Square Vintage Mall are must visits.

Museum hop by trolley

Old-timey trolleys that rove around this historic Southern town are another draw for nostalgia lovers—and embracing this tourist activity is a great way to get around and see the city. Old Town Trolley Tours, Old Savannah Tours, and others offer hop-on, hop-off trolleys with narrated tours of the city, so you can soak in a bit of history while traveling from place to place.

While passing by Savannah’s 22 historic squares and other architectural delights, keep an eye out for off-beat museums to explore. The American Prohibition Museum chronicles life when alcohol was outlawed and after seeing historic signs, old barrooms, and other artifacts, guests land in a speakeasy serving popular co*cktails of the era like Sazeracs and the local favorite Chatham Artillery Punch. Another unorthodox option is the Graveface Museum, a space that explores true crime, cults, secret societies, and more. Dig into these somewhat eerie topics and wrap up your visit playing in the horror-themed pinball and arcade room.

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Escape to the beach

If getting closer to the sand is your goal for passing through Savannah, you’re not alone. Tybee Island sits about 20 minutes from the historic downtown and is one of the area’s most beautiful beaches. This laid-back barrier island offers everything you may want from a seaside getaway: stunning views, lots of sand to stretch out on, and fun bars and restaurants from when you’re ready to retire from the sun for the day. North Beach is home to a number of historic attractions—stop by the Tybee Island Museum and Lighthouse to learn about 400 years of island history—while South Beach is known for lively Tybrisa Street.

Eat, Drink, and Sleep:

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Bars and restaurants in Savannah

Prepare to eat well, Savannah is a city in the South, after all. The city is awash in oyster bars and southern restaurants where you can feast on local specialties, but a handful of spots are innovating on the classics in ways you have to try. At The Grey, a beloved institution housed in an old Greyhound bus station, chef Mashama Bailey crafts classics like middlins and smoked collards alongside more inventive dishes. For another taste of the modern South, head to Common Thread, an ingredient-focused restaurant serving up oysters, carolina gold rice, hushpuppies, and more.

For a laid-back meal, Brochu’s Family Tradition is another excellent option riffing on southern cuisine. Located in the Starland District, the restaurant specializes in fried chicken and oysters, but takes the simple dishes to new heights with creative mignonettes and a whole chicken dinner that uses each part of the bird in a different way, from chicken salad to fried thighs.

Meanwhile, the bar scene in Savannah is wide ranging, from cool kid wine bars like Late Air and solid co*cktail spots like Alley Cat Lounge and Artillery Bar to must-visit dives both old (The Original Pinkie Masters) and new school (Moodright's).

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Hotels in Savannah

Inside a historic mansion on Forsyth Park, the city's newest hotel, Hotel Bardo, is raising the already-high bar for Southern hospitality in Savannah. Part hotel with 149 rooms, part members club with services like a lively pool and clubhouse for locals, it’s the coolest place to land in this historic city. Plus, it’s got one of Savannah’s most beloved new restaurants, Saint Bibiana. Other solid options like the laid-back The Drayton Hotel or the more upscale Perry Lane Hotel infuse the energy of the city into every space.

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Liz Provencheris an editor at Thrillist based in New York City. Follow her onInstagram.

Savannah Is Quickly Becoming the Artistic Heart of the South (2024)
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