Julia Hammond discovers a slice of real Americana in Savannah, Georgia - far away from the maddening crowds
Stop for lunch at Mrs Wilkes Dining Room (107 W Jones St) for some good old fashioned Southern dining, but get there early or you’ll queue round the block. If you’re too late, head instead for Clary’s Cafe round the corner (404 Abercorn Street); it featured in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
End the day in River Street. Cobbled paths down to the river lead you past nine blocks of boutique shops selling crafts and souvenirs giving a new lease of life to former warehouses on the wharf. In the evening, this is where Savannah’s visitors come to kick back and enjoy themselves. Head for Joe’s Crab Shack; drool over the menu whilst working your way through a Mason Jar Margarita or two – try a Ragin’ Cajun steampot or an enormous bucket of king crab legs. You won’t have room for dessert, but pick up some salt water taffy or glazed pecans from the candy store opposite to nibble on later.
Top end: The Bohemian (doubles from $249/nt). Right on the river, it is an easy walk to restaurants, and bars – that’s if you can drag yourself off the hotel’s own beautiful terrace. Effortlessly elegant, it is tastefully decorated in earthy tones.
Mid-range: Hyatt’s Andaz Hotel (doubles from $189/nt), is right on Ellis Square and a short walk from the waterfront. Ask to face the square on a high floor and enjoy stunning views across the Historic District from your room’s comfy chaise longue.
Budget: The Hampton Inn (doubles from $149/nt), near SCAD Museum of Art and the Georgia State Railroad Museum, is just adjacent to the Historic District and easily walkable. It offers a free breakfast, free wi-fi and parking, as does its sister hotel on Bay Street.
Renting a bicycle (or if you’re brave, a Segway) enables you to cover more ground than if you stick to two feet. Off Bay Street, traffic is light (the drivers cannot be bothered to make the four turns each time they need to navigate the squares) so you can freewheel or stop without risk of being hooted or rear-end shunted.
If Savannah has whetted your appetite, head north to Charleston in the neighbouring state of South Carolina. More like Savannah’s big sister (for this feels like a city), Charleston is packed full of historic homes and guides itching to show you on one of the many excellent walking tours. Head a short distance out of the city to the Magnolia Plantation, where you can nose around a plantation house, admire the gardens and take a boat trip through the plantation’s swamp to spot alligators. Basing yourself in Historic South Charleston, it’s also an easy boat trip to Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Alternatively, if the weather’s good, stay in Georgia and head for the coast. Savannah’s resort is a few miles east at Tybee Island, with wide stretches of white sand perfect for soaking up some rays in summer or taking a stroll along the wooden pier in the shoulder seasons.
Time zone: GMT -5 (Mar-Nov GMT -6)
International dialling code: +1
Visas: British citizens must obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). It is available online at a cost of $14 (beware of agencies which will charge more) and you must purchase it at least 72 hours before travel.
Currency: US dollar ($), currently around $1.59 to the UK£.
Highest viewpoint: This is a low-rise city, for the best views try to book a hotel room on a high floor as there’ll be little to get in your way.
Health issues: None - though watch out for those snappy 'gators if you visit a swamp!
Recommended guidebooks: Frommer’s The Carolinas and Georgia
Web resources: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/the-south/savannah
App: Savannah Walking Tour by Tour Buddy
Climate: Humid sub-tropical best describes this city, so best avoid the sweltering heat of high summer and the chance of a hurricane in early autumn. Winter days are pleasantly sunny with an average high of 15°C and almost no chance of frost. The humidity falls dramatically as the breeze picks up in spring and late autumn yet temperatures are well into the 20s, making this the best time to go.