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See the Creative Side of Savannah

With design-forward shops, imaginative new restaurants, and a bumper crop of art-school kids arriving each year, Georgia's oldest city is feeling brand-new.


Where to Stay

Sleep inside a 19th-century cotton warehouse at the Cotton Sail Hotel (from $229), a boutique property that opened in last May steps from the Savannah River. Ask for a room on the fourth or fifth floor overlooking the water; all have 14-foot ceilings, original pine floors, and walk-in quartz showers. At sunset, nab an al fresco seat in the nautically themed Top Deck rooftop bar and watch the boats roll by with a Spicy Maiden cocktail (jalapeño, tequila, Grand Marnier, and pineapple juice, $11).


Nods to vintage and contemporary design pop throughout the Brice.  

Soak in the effervescent scene at the Brice (from $189), an art-filled Kimpton hotel in a revamped Coca-Cola factory that opened in last May. The mod rooms are tailored to chic travelers: seersucker bathrobes, C.O. Bigelow toiletries, an honor bar, and a yoga mat for working off said honor bar. Catch some rays on one of the daybeds lining the pool, then grab some asparagus carbonara with heirloom carrots, a poached egg, and pancetta ($11) and a Cucumber Collins ($12) at Pacci, the hotel's lauded Italian restaurant.

Immerse yourself in the city’s fabric by booking a historic house through Lucky Savannah rentals. The three-night minimum is well worth it for what you’ll get—privacy, a full kitchen, central air-conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. Built in 1875 and fully remodeled a year ago, the Sycamore Carriage House (from $99 a night) on picturesque East Jones Street has a spiral staircase, exposed brick walls, and a balcony off the bedroom; the Charlton Garden Apartment (from $129 a night), has a four-poster bed, exposed beam ceilings, and a tranquil seating area in a manicured courtyard.

Where to Eat

The Florence is the latest platform for Hugh Acheson's talents.  

Dine in a former bus station at the Grey, which opened in December in a stunningly revamped Jim Crow–era Greyhound terminal. The 1938 Art Deco bones (Masonite walls, Terrazzo flooring) are echoed in gunmetal leather and white-oak banquettes and stainless-steel-inlaid tables. Chef Mashama Bailey, formerly of Prune in the East Village, churns out updated southern bites: roasted quail with white grapes, hominy, and ham broth ($16); pork shanks with “a mess of greens” ($30); sizzling smoky pig with fried egg, hot buns, and red pepper jelly ($13). Go on Saturdays at noon for their first-come, first-served al fresco lunch (just $7 a plate), which might include a roasted whole hog or low-country boil.

Taste what happens when Italian and Southern locavore flavors meet at the Florence, opened in June 2014 in a nattily refurbished ice factory. Culinary star Hugh Acheson’s imagination is evident in cheekily conceived dishes like a root-vegetable salad ($12) served on a slate, tossed with ground espresso beans that look like dirt, and cider-glazed pork ribs with spiced nuts and pickled mustard seeds ($28). Or try Acheson’s own favorite meal here: the whole egg ravioli ($14), with maitake mushrooms, ricotta, wild ramps, and fennel pollen, washed down with a grappa sour (grappa, egg white, lemon, and angostura, $11).

Sample finger-licking 'cue at the newest location of cult classic Sandfly Bar-B-Q, housed in a Deco-era Streamliner dining car since February. Locals line up for Memphis-bred chef Keith Latture’s served-til-the-kitchen-runs-out of plates: Think pecan and hickory-smoked chicken ($12); a Wally sandwich ($7) with duck-fat-fried chicken fingers, red cabbage slaw, and buttermilk ranch; or the fan favorite Hog Wild Platter, which comes with fall-off-the-bone ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, sausage, Texas toast, and your choice of sides ($23). Cut the grease with a sweet, fizzy Mexican Grape Fanta.

What to Do

There's plenty of room to wander and contemplate within the revamped SCAD Museum of Art.  

Explore the $26 million overhaul and expansion of the SCAD Museum of Art, which turned the former 1853 railroad depot and adjacent freight warehouse into an aesthete’s dream. Wander the 82,000-square-foot space to survey forward-looking exhibits like installation artist Xu Bing (through July 3)—his tiger-skin rug, made of 540,000 cigarettes, fills an entire room with a sweet tobacco scent—or the André Leon Talley–curated spotlight on Vivienne Westwood (up through September 13). When you’ve had enough of the established creatives, head south to the Starland District, where up-and-coming multimedia artists rent work space at Sulfur Studios; the central gallery (open noon to 5p.m., Thursday to Saturday) is often hung with works made on the premises. Stop by during Savannah’s Art March, held on the first Friday of every month, when most of the city's studio artists fling open their doors to the curious public.

Stroll through Savannah’s newest design shops, starting at NOLAJane. The tin-ceilinged, white-walled space, opened in September, stocks teakwood and tobacco-scented candles ($18), Nashville-made rose-gold necklaces ($45), and Ivy Prepster bow ties ($44). In downtown Savannah’s Historic District, stopping in at Shoe-Be-Do feels like flashing forward a few centuries in an instant. Gawk at the Gaga-worthy heels, which arrive from as far away as Brazil and Amsterdam; the Julian Hakes Mojitos ($398), designed in London by a bridge architect, look more like a squiggle than an actual shoe. Prospector Co. is a refreshing respite from the chain stores of Broughton Street: a spare, tastefully curated shop selling woodsy beard oil ($18), Swedish flax towels ($40), Danish Han Kjøbenhavn sunglasses ($145), and packets of German rubber bands made from bike tubes ($9).

Scavenge for Old South treasure among the local interior designers and vintage fiends at the Savannah Fire Flea Market, founded in May by a New York City expat who was a vendor at the Brooklyn Flea. Among the 30 to 100 booths worth perusing: Coydog Vintage, which recently had an oval Eames dining table from 1958 on offer ($1,100); Kleo’s, selling locally made vegan soap in scents like jasmine and lemon-grass green tea ($5); and Civvies, a vintage-clothing outfitter founded by a former Buffalo Exchange employee, which offers finds like a silk Chinese pantsuit ($55) and a double-breasted cream Céline linen jacket ($250). To score the best loot, arrive in the early morning, and don’t shy away from buying the big furniture—they’re happy to help organize shipping from Savannah’s Starland District to your door.

Expert's Tips

Avoid the Tybee Island beach crowds by taking to the waters around Savannah in a kayak.  

From painter and photographer Cedric Smith, who has lived in Savannah for nine years.

I always tell people to go to Leoci’s Trattoria, an Italian restaurant that’s a two-minute walk from Forsyth Park. I’m there all the time for their hanger steak with mushroom risotto. The owner was trained in Florence and really knows his stuff.

I haven’t been to the Back in the Day Bakery in a while because I was trying to cut back on the sugar, but they really live up to their name (plus the owners were James Beard nominees for Outstanding Baker). The décor and the way the employees dress make you feel like you’re stepping back in time. I love their banana pudding, which reminds me of the kind my grandmother used to make when I’d spend summers with her in Thomaston, Georgia. Plus, they have three of my paintings hung in there.

A lot of people head to the beaches on Tybee Island, but when I go to the water it’s on a kayak. We love kayaking Ebenezer Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River. You see dolphins near Little Tybee, and a lot of dolphins around Tybee Island itself—you can go paddle right alongside them on the water. Rent a kayak at Savannah Canoe and Kayak, which is near the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, or go on a five-hour tour with their guides.

We take our dogs out to the beachfront Fort Pulaski National Monument at sunset. It’s pretty cool that you can see cannon holes from the Civil War in the barrier around the fort itself. Definitely bring bug spray to fend off the sand gnats, though.

The Paris Market, which was inspired by the Marché aux puces in Paris, is probably the coolest store here in Savannah. I collect all kinds of vintage things and taxidermy, and I’ve found deer heads and even, recently, a chicken foot they had on a stand. I love their vegetable wax Izola candles and often pick them up in the Green Moss scent. My girlfriend gets little trinkets like jewelry and broaches there.

Resources

Snag a copy of bimonthly South Magazine at your hotel or a local newsstand—each issue is chockablock with local news and events like fashion shows and music festivals.

Find out what’s happening on the visual arts and music front by scoping out the calendar of Connect Savannah, the city’s version of The Village Voice.

Peruse Do Savannah, another local alt-weekly, for food and art news; their “Big Calendar” is a color-coded social register that includes everything from fund-raisers to what classic films are screening at Lucas Theatre.


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