Last weekend, the hubby and I spent a romantic Valentine's Day getaway on the riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. I must highly recommend River Street, the cobblestoned one-way riverside strip with restaurants and incredible stores that runs parallel to the Savannah River. The mix of retro, modern and classic combined with a good dose of famous southern hospitality on the River Front is really quite fun.
Savannah is no New York City, and River Street is no Times Square. You won't find glaring lights, neon signs, obnoxious drunk people, car horns or large jumbo-trons advertising models in underwear. Instead, you'll find a quaint tranquility surrounded by friendly people and a sense of time warp. Although Savannah is thoroughly modern, it also oozes an old fashionedness that doesn't rely on gimmicks and bright shiny digital billboards to seduce you. The feeling that people from 100 years ago were walking the same streets doing the same things is seduction enough. It really does take you to a kinder, gentler place.
Disclaimer: generalizations that you won't find obnoxious drunk or rude people are not binding. You may find a few, depending upon the tourists, occasions, events or holidays. I'm sure there are unruly Savannahians but I have been fortunate enough to not encounter them.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency on the waterfront. The best part of this hotel is its location, which literally straddles River Street for a block. We had a high end room, the room with a View, but the bathroom looked a bit old and there was no frig or microwave. I expected more from the Hyatt, but then we loved River Street so much that we really didn't spend that much time there. However, the room service menu is good, the interior of the hotel is gorgeous and the restaurant, lounge and shops in the lobby are a definite plus.
Now comes the fun part... leaving the hotel! River Street is old cobblestone with a set of railroad tracks running through it, sandwiched in between the Savannah River on one side and a string of shops, stores, bars and restaurants on the other. The sidewalk that traces along the river has areas for docking ferries and boats as well space for small concerts, which is always occupied by a man playing the saxaphone or another singing with his guitar. Donations appreciated! But they are singing the classics, from old rhythm and blues to memorable sitcom ditties from The Jeffersons or Sanford and Son. The air is full of character as these various sounds ring out and make Savannah what it is. You might also find artists with their easels painting the landscape or sketching people.
The shops along River Street are loads of fun. Several candy stores have barrels full of candy that can be grabbed by the handful and stuffed into bags. And these candy stores are big, complete with rooms full of retro memorabilia, working trains suspended from the ceiling, and lots of free samples. You can also watch as the candy is made fresh on the premises.
There are also plenty of cute Five & Dime stores along River Street that have great stuff like this:
The River Street Market Place is down a bit further and hosts local vendors who sell some pretty interesting things, too, most hand made in Georgia. My favorite was this:
The most charming experience of the night was a moonlight cruise and dinner aboard the southern beauty, the Georgia Queen Riverboat, which docks on River Street in the Savannah River. The Valentine's Dinner Cruise was about $135 for the two of us, but a typical moonlight cruise is less than $23 per adult. I was surprised at the level of catering the staff gave to patrons.... reservations are required and for $6 more you can reserve window seats. The experience was uniquely southern with lots of hospitality from waiters and staff.... it's not every day you can find a romantic venue for a Valentine's Day that makes you feel like you've actually had a great date night while children and babies enjoy the experience, too. There's something about the music, food and atmosphere that makes all feel welcome and like we've gotten our money's worth.
The menu was a surprising hit. I assumed it would be an overpriced buffet of cafeteria type food, but instead it was an array of wonderfully fresh salads, sea food and perfectly cooked southern gourmet dishes... my favorite was the Shrimp and Grits. The bar was great... fantastic Margaritas and a specialty cocktail called the Georgia Peach. Wow, was that wonderful!
Our personal experience on River Street aside, which was wonderful, it's hard to imagine that anyone wouldn't have as memorable a time as we did. There's a little something for everyone, and the thing that will stick with you is the charming southern warmth with a sense of stepping back into time exclusive to Savannah, where happiness comes from family and friends and a good conservation and a stroll along the river on a cobblestone street. There's something very timeless, old and classic about Savannah, and River Street captures it perfectly.