Savannah, Georgia, feels like one giant park.
Moss-laden live oak branches stretch over the top of streets like a green ceiling. The city’s unusual layout breaks Savannah into 22 squares, each with its own statue, fountain or monument of a historic figure.
Historic homes, intricate churches and open-air markets are easy to find amid the beauty. The city has successfully reopened most group-friendly attractions with social distancing protocols in place.
Savannah’s year-round warm weather and attractions that prioritize safety make the destination especially good ones for groups seeking a getaway during the pandemic.
Savannah Riverboat Cruises
Savannah Riverboat Cruises offers a laid-back way to discover the city.
Groups can choose from various cruises and two traditional paddle-wheelers: the 600-passenger Savannah River Queen and the 1,000-passenger Georgia Queen. Both offer panoramic views of the Savannah skyline from an open-air top deck. Both offer private rooms for an intimate experience.
The elegant ride starts at River Street near where the founder of Georgia, Gen. James Oglethorpe, first landed in Savannah. Cruises then sail past Old Fort Jackson, the state’s oldest standing brick fortification and a National Historic Landmark. The fort fires cannons daily, which passengers can frequently see while passing by.
The company’s narrated cruises relate intriguing tales of Savannah’s history. Dinner cruises serve Southern and seafood classics like shrimp and grits. Brunch cruises include additional time-honored recipes like broccoli and cheddar quiche,
“Social distancing is completely possible on their ships,” said Erica Backus, director of public relations for Visit Savannah. “They are sailing at half capacity to make sure people have enough room to find a corner by themselves if they want to. The dinner cruises are also at reduced capacity for the ability to spread out the tables.”
In 1954, a demolition crew tore down the Old City Market to make way for a parking lot. Locals that wanted to preserve Savannah’s historic feel banded together and started the city’s preservation movement. A new City Market district was built from the remains of the old.
Now the site combines art and history in a four-block open-air market.
“City Market used to be where farmers would come to the city and sell their wares,” said Backus. “Now it is a nighttime hub. You can listen to live music during the night. During the day, there are plenty of shopping and dining options.”
Restored grain warehouses now contain restaurants, boutique shopping, bars and art galleries. Among the favorite stops is Pie Society, which serves authentic British pies such as chicken and thyme, and steak and kidney.
The Savannah Candy Kitchen also regularly attracts groups. Visitors can watch the store’s machine twist taffy while they peruse a plethora of sweets, including candy apples, homemade peanut butter cups and pralines.
Shoppers can browse the market’s other eclectic offerings in fine art, handcrafted jewelry and accessories. The 19,000-square-foot Art Center houses a group of working artists’ studios, where guests can drop in and watch the artistic process in action.
Old Savannah Tours
From Forrest Gump to General Oglethorpe, passengers never know who might turn up on Old Savannah Tours trolley rides. Re-enactors appear from time to time on the tour to recount how their characters relate to Savannah’s history.
Forrest Gump, the fictional character from the 1991 film shot in Savannah, often appears on the tours. Other common characters include Florence Martus, Savannah’s “Waving Girl”; Dessa, a Gullah woman; and a Savannah pirate.
The 90-minute trolley tour can work as one continuous tour or as a hop-on/hop-off tour that stops at 16 attractions along the route. Started in 1979, the locally owned company also offers two ghost tour options: Grave Encounters and Boo Ya’ll.
“They do a good job telling the stories of our city with colorful characters,” said Backus. “You can get your bearings, learn about the city and get up close and personal with some of our attractions.”
Stops on the hop-on/hop-off tour include Chippewa Square, the Massie Heritage Center, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and River Street. The stop at the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters illustrates the darker side of Savannah’s antebellum history with tours through a slave quarters in addition to the mansion and grounds.
The romance of Forsyth Park hasn’t escaped the notice of couples. The 30-acre park has provided the backdrop for hundreds of proposals and weddings over the years.
The largest park in Savannah’s historic district, Forsyth Park features a large 1858 fountain that resembles similar structures in Paris and Peru. The common photo op lights up at night for an incandescent evening stroll.
Like everything in Savannah, Forsyth Park has its own history. Designers modeled the park after the French ideal of a central public garden. Laid out in the 1840s, the park also holds the Confederate Monument and the Spanish-American War Memorial.
Groups visiting the park can enjoy abundant shade from towering live oaks, the color of pink and white azalea bushes and the people-watching possible at frequent benches. Nearby, groups can visit the Sentient Bean for a cup of coffee or Brighter Day Natural Foods for lunch.
“Our parks are great places to enjoy the city’s beauty and sunshine,” said Backus. “Outdoor activity is possible every month of the year here. We have year-round temperate weather. We typically enjoy an early spring in March and late winter.”
Visitors can choose from plenty of other green spaces in Savannah. Chippewa Square, Ellis Square and Franklin Square remain some of the city’s most popular squares to view live oaks and historic homes.