Looking down River Street toward Talmadge Bridge. (Photo by Jacob Nguyen)

Savannah has become one of my yearly vacation destinations, especially for a long weekend getaway. Only four hours from Atlanta, the city has an amazing mix of history and seaside charm that will appeal to different interests. 

For this trip, I stayed in the city at Hotel Indigo on Bay Street. It’s steps away from all the shops and restaurants along Factor’s Walk, River Street, and City Market.  

A River Street restaurant recommendation is The Cotton Exchange Tavern, which has the best crabcakes I’ve ever tasted. The generous-sized cake is served with tangy remoulade and hushpuppies. Pair it with a basket of fries and you’ve got a meal. 

If you’re craving something sweet after the seafood, the smell of pralines drifting out of River Street Sweets will draw you inside to try a sample. The double Oreos dipped in dark chocolate are also recommended, or maybe get an ice cream cone with one of the many available flavors (definitely try the mint chocolate chip).

The western end of River Street has recently been reclaimed and its historic buildings turned into apartments, restaurants, and shops. The unmissable centerpiece of this restoration is the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside hotel.

The new JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside Hotel has become a new landmark. (Courtesy Marriott)

The former power plant has been transformed into an elegant hotel, and even if you can’t afford to stay there (rooms start at $500 per night) the massive lobby with a giant chrome dinosaur sculpture and historic artifacts is worth a visit. Or maybe head to the rooftop bar for amazing views of the towering smokestacks left on top of the building and the Talmadge Bridge.

Although I’ve taken several tours of the city’s historic sites, I’d never taken the nighttime Ghosts & Gravestones Trolley Tour, which departs from River Street. A tour guide talks about the city’s cemeteries, squares, and homes as you pass, but the best part is a tour of the Andrew Low mansion (birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, a haunted piano, and creepy bedroom full of dolls) and a stop at the Perkins & Sons Ship Chandlery on River Street. The former store for sailors is said to be the most haunted place in Savannah and it’s both a history lesson and full of haunted house-style jump scares. 

Tybee Beach as seen from the pier. (Photo by Jacob Nguyen )

When you’ve had enough history, head to the beach on Tybee Island. The 30-minute drive takes you over the inland marshes to the throwback beach town. Paid parking is plentiful and recently added changing booths along Strand Avenue make getting in and out of your wet swimsuit easy if you’re traveling back to the city.

The Tybee Beach Pavilion and Pier is a great place to grab a snack, cold drink, and use the bathroom. At the end of the pier, you can try your hand at fishing (or watch others cast their lines) and see incredible views of the beach and Atlantic Ocean. The pier is also a beautiful place to visit at night. 

For a more substantial meal, get a hearty southern breakfast at Sunrise on Butler Avenue and if you need souvenirs, Tybrisa Street is full of shops selling t-shirts, magnets, and other beach essentials. 

The Crab Shack restaurant on Tybee Island. (Photo by Jacob Nguyen)

If you’re hungry after the beach, be sure to stop at The Crab Shack on your way back to Savannah. Overlooking the water, the big outdoor dining area is shaded with trees and the seafood is unmatched. Get a big sampler platter (shrimp, snow crab, mussels, and crawfish) or if seafood isn’t your thing, they have delicious barbecue as well. Be sure to stop at the lagoon to feed the baby alligators while you wait for a table,

Before I left, I also wanted to see inside one of Savannah’s most beautiful buildings, the 19th-century neo-gothic Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. Located on Lafayette Square, its twin spires are visible on the city skyline, and you can hear its bells ringing out over the historic district. I attended a surprisingly full Saturday evening mass and had the chance to look around the cathedral.

Find out more about visiting Georgia’s first city at visitsavannah.com.

Jacob Nguyen

Jacob Nguyen is a freelance writer and photographer in Atlanta.