If the thought of Savannah, Georgia, invokes images of sprawling live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, historic squares adorned with elegant fountains, and the warm southern sun reflecting off cobblestone streets, you’re not far off. But did you know there’s more—much more—to this historic haven?
From secret gardens to spine-chilling ghost tours, Savannah is a treasure trove of unusual experiences nestled within timeless beauty. In this guide, we’ll venture off the well-worn tourist path and into the heart of Savannah’s unique culture and hidden gems. Whether you’re a history buff, an adrenaline junkie, or a culinary enthusiast, there’s something here for everyone. Let’s dive in!
1. Meander Through Bonaventure Cemetery
You might think visiting a cemetery sounds macabre, but Bonaventure Cemetery is no ordinary resting place. With a sense of gothic romance, it’s a hauntingly beautiful space filled with ornate tombstones, historic statuary, and, of course, those iconic Spanish moss-draped oak trees.
The Stories That Lie Beneath
Each plot has a story to tell, whether it’s that of famed songwriter Johnny Mercer or Little Gracie, the six-year-old girl whose life-sized statue is said to cry tears of blood. Guided tours are available for those interested in the intriguing and sometimes eerie stories embedded in this 100-acre sanctuary.
The Midnight Setting of “Garden of Good and Evil”
Fans of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt will find the cemetery especially fascinating as it’s one of the setting locales in this true-crime story. To amplify your experience, consider taking a night tour—just make sure you’re up for a slight thrill.
2. Attend a Drag Show at Club One
Savannah may be steeped in traditional southern charm, but it also has a thriving LGBTQ+ scene. Club One is famed as the home of The Lady Chablis; the unforgettable drag queen character also featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Feel the Energy
The atmosphere is electrifying, and whether you’ve been to a drag show before or it’s your first time, the talent and creativity on display are nothing short of amazing. The club has multiple levels, including dance floors and bars, so there’s plenty of room for all kinds of fun.
Not Just a Nightclub
Club One isn’t just a space for incredible drag shows; it also hosts a range of other events, including karaoke nights and themed parties. Whatever your vibe, Club One has something to offer.
3. Taste Your Way Through Byrd’s Famous Cookies
For something on the sweeter side, why not visit Byrd’s Famous Cookies? The first thing that will strike you is the overwhelming aroma of freshly baked cookies. From classic flavors like chocolate chip and oatmeal to the exotic Key Lime Coolers, your tastebuds are in for a treat.
What sets Byrd’s apart is its generous sampling policy. You can taste virtually every flavor they offer before deciding which ones to take home. So go ahead, unleash your inner Cookie Monster!
A Family Tradition Since 1924
The Byrd Cookie Company has been a staple in Savannah since 1924 and is still family-owned and operated. As you bite into their delectable cookies, you’re not just tasting flour, sugar, and butter—you’re tasting a piece of Savannah’s rich history.
4. Kayak on the Moon River
The Moon River District, yes—named after the Johnny Mercer song—is a beautiful marshland area perfect for kayaking. The river is a vast, serene waterway flanked by marsh grass, hosting a variety of bird species and, occasionally, dolphins!
Guided Tours Available
If you’re new to kayaking, there are guided tours that offer a combination of adventure and education. Learn about the area’s ecosystem history and why it’s so important to the local community.
Imagine paddling down the tranquil river as the sun sets, casting golden hues across the water and sky—this is what dreams are made of. Many outfitters offer sunset and moonlight tours, adding an extra layer of beauty and peace to an already mesmerizing experience.
5. Get Paranormal in America’s Most Haunted City
As one of America’s oldest cities, Savannah has a tumultuous history filled with duels, murders, and tragedies, making it ripe for ghostly encounters. Take a walking tour, a hearse tour, or even an investigation tour where you can use paranormal detection equipment.
Haunted Pubs, Anyone?
Another unique experience is the haunted pub crawl, where you can enjoy your spirits with some, well, spirits. Some of these pubs are hundreds of years old, and who knows who—or what—you might encounter.
Not for the Faint of Heart
For those who are daring enough, check out the Sorrel Weed House, one of the most haunted buildings in the city. The guided tours delve into the history of the house and its previous inhabitants, complete with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) recordings. Just don’t go alone!
6. Explore the SCAD Museum of Art
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art is not your typical art museum. With a focus on contemporary and often experimental works, it provides a platform for emerging artists as well as established names.
Beyond Paintings and Sculptures
The museum extends its reach beyond traditional media, featuring digital art, fashion installations, and immersive experiences.
Constantly Changing Exhibitions
With ever-changing exhibitions, you can visit multiple times and always discover something new. Take note that the museum is closed on Mondays, so plan your visit accordingly.
7. Discover Hidden Gardens on a Walking Tour
Savannah is famed for its public squares and parks, but there are also hidden gardens tucked away behind wrought-iron gates and ivy-covered walls. Book a guided walking tour that specializes in these secret gardens, and you’ll be treated to an array of lush, private oases.
Hidden, But Not Forgotten
Each garden has its own story to tell—sometimes tied to the historic home it accompanies. You’ll not only enjoy the visual feast but also learn about the intriguing histories and the horticultural choices that make each garden unique.
A Photographer’s Dream
If you’re an aspiring photographer, these hidden gardens offer a rich tapestry of colors, textures, and light, creating the perfect environment for capturing stunning photographs. Just remember to ask permission if it’s private property!
8. Savory Savannah: A Food Tour Experience
Savannah has a rich culinary history. Fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and peach cobbler are just the beginning. A food tour is an excellent way to indulge in these Southern classics while learning about their origins.
However, it’s not just about Southern cuisine. Savannah’s food scene is as diverse as its history, influenced by African, French, and even British culinary traditions. Don’t miss the chance to try unique dishes you won’t find elsewhere.
Drinks Are Included
Most food tours in Savannah also include a foray into the local drinks scene, be it sweet iced tea, craft beer, or the iconic Chatham Artillery Punch, a potent mix that is a story in itself. Cheers to a culinary adventure!
9. Visit Wormsloe Historic Site
A Canopy of Dreams
The Wormsloe Historic Site is famous for its mile-long avenue framed by live oaks, creating an almost ethereal tunnel. It’s one of the most photographed spots in all of Georgia and for a good reason.
Wormsloe is more than just a pretty face; it’s also a historic plantation. A small museum and various exhibitions delve into early colonial life in Georgia, and you can even catch historical reenactments on special occasions.
For those looking to stretch their legs, Wormsloe offers nature trails that wind through the salt marsh and maritime forest. It’s a quiet escape where you can appreciate the area’s natural beauty.
10. Telfair Museums: A Triple Treat
Telfair Museums comprises three distinct sites: the Telfair Academy, the Jepson Center, and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters. Each offers a unique experience, from classical European artworks to contemporary art and historic homes.
A Glimpse into Slavery
The Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters presents a no-holds-barred look at the lives of both the wealthy owners and the enslaved individuals who lived there. The tours are both eye-opening and educational.
The Jepson Center frequently hosts interactive installations and activities designed for children, making this a great stop for families. Their ArtZeum—an interactive children’s museum space—is an ongoing feature.
11. River Street Sweets: Savor Handmade Candies
River Street Sweets is an iconic candy store that feels like stepping back in time. The scent of boiling sugar and melting chocolate hits you the moment you walk in.
Witness the Magic
One of the highlights is watching the candy-making process. From pulling taffy to crafting caramel apples and pralines, it’s mesmerizing to watch these treats being made from scratch.
Whether it’s saltwater taffy or their world-famous pralines, you’ll want to bring some of these treats back home as souvenirs—or to indulge in during your trip!
12. Forsyth Farmers’ Market: Fresh & Local
Every Saturday morning, Forsyth Park becomes a bustling marketplace. The Forsyth Farmers’ Market is a must-visit for foodies interested in organic, locally sourced produce.
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Seasonal picks that you can’t find in a regular grocery store.
- Artisanal Cheese and Breads: Perfect for a picnic in the park.
- Homemade Preserves and Sauces: Add some Georgia flavor to your home cooking.
Meet the Makers
The market is also an opportunity to meet local farmers, craftsmen, and food artisans. Engaging with these passionate individuals adds a personal touch to the whole experience.
A Community Affair
Live music, cooking demonstrations, and even yoga sessions make this more than a shopping excursion; it’s a community event where you can get a sense of the local culture.
How did Savannah become the first planned city in the U.S.?
Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Edward Oglethorpe with a detailed plan for the city’s organization. It is Georgia’s oldest city and was one of the first planned cities in the United States.
Was Catholicism allowed when Savannah was founded?
No, Catholicism was outlawed when Savannah was founded in the 1700s by James Edward Oglethorpe. The ban was later lifted, and today, Catholicism is freely practiced in the city.
What is the oldest structure in Savannah?
The oldest standing structure in Savannah is located at the Wormsloe Historic Site. The site features an estate known as the Wormsloe tabby ruin, which was owned by Noble Jones in 1739.
What is the oldest building in Savannah?
The Pirates’ House is the oldest building in Savannah that remains fully intact. Built in 1794, it initially served as a tavern and is now a historic restaurant.
How was Savannah involved in the Civil War?
During the Civil War, Savannah was gifted to President Lincoln by Union General William T. Sherman as a Christmas present after the “March to the Sea to Atlanta,” which captured the city from the Confederate army.
What is the significance of Savannah’s Jewish community?
Savannah is home to one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the United States. Temple Mickve Israel, founded in 1878, is one of the oldest synagogues in the country.
Is Savannah’s iconic Spanish Moss actually moss?
No, the Spanish Moss that adorns Savannah’s streets and trees is not actually moss. It belongs to the Bromeliad family, the same family that Pineapple plants fall under.
Is Moon River Brewing Company haunted?
Yes, Moon River Brewing Company is known as one of Savannah’s most haunted sites. The building was built in 1812 as the first hotel in Savannah and has a history of being used as a hospital for Yellow Fever victims and a site of various murders.
So there you have it, a guide to 12 unusual things you can experience in Savannah. Each offers its own slice of the multifaceted culture that makes this city an endless adventure. Whether you’re exploring haunted pubs or secret gardens, relishing homemade candies, or setting sail on Moon River, Savannah has something unique for everyone.