If you’re a first-time visitor to River Street who hasn’t seen photos of this Savannah—indeed Southern—landmark, you could be in for a few surprises.
It’s going to be narrower than you pictured. Even if you picture it narrow.
It’s going to be at once quainter yet livelier than you imagined. Even if you imagine it quaint yet lively.
Most important, it’s going to exceed your expectations. Even if you expect a lot.
If you give this cobblestoned heartbeat corridor of Savannah one afternoon and evening, you’ll come back to The Studio Homes at Ellis Square—your Bluegreen Vacations resort a short walk away—more than satisfied. You’ll be culturally enriched; memorably well fed; proud of having found the perfect souvenirs; and (if so inclined) perhaps even all partied out.
Traverse this less-than-1 mile stretch of cobblestone and you’ll see …
Markers, monuments and statues all along the riverfront put the port, River Street and Savannah in proper historical perspective. Here are but a few:
- The easternmost marker, King Cotton, relates the importance of this crop, first grown in Savannah, to the early Georgia economy.
- The Waving Girl Statue in Morrell Park pays tribute to Florence Martus (1868-1943) who lived on a barrier island with her lighthouse operator brother and is said to have waved a handkerchief—or at night a lantern—at every ship that entered or left the port for 44 years.
- The Savannah’s Cobblestones marker essentially details early recycling—how ballast material from incoming ships was re-used to pave River Street.
- Across the street from the river, an inscription on the Solomon’s Lodge building calls attention to the oldest such organization, founded in 1734, still intact in the United States.
- The African American Statue, which bears an inscription penned by Maya Angelou, honors the captured Africans brought to U.S. slavery through this port.
- And just a bit farther west, a compass emblem marks the spot where, on Feb. 12, 1733, colonist leader Gen. James Oglethorpe first set foot on land that would become Georgia.
Restaurants, Pubs, Galleries and Shops
The buildings on River Street are stories unto themselves. Some are 200 years old, converted cotton warehouses or other businesses that served waterfront trade. The exteriors are a blur of bricks, balconies, fire escapes and colorful canopies. And the interiors of many are just as fascinating, in architecture and content.
Start with shops. You’ll find everything on River Street from snacks and candy to all kinds of tee shirts and accessories. Local artists and craftsmen display their work at galleries. If you’re looking for bargains under $20, there’s more than one store specifically dedicated to you.
Done shopping and hungry? Whatever your criteria for picking a place to eat, River Street offers choices. Whether you’re in the mood for Southern or seafood or Irish or Cajun or Italian, you’ll find a restaurant that suits your appetite. If you’d like to eat somewhere nationally known, there are places like River House Seafood & Bakery. If you’re looking for an underpublicized gem that you’ll feel as if you’ve “discovered,” places like those abound, too.
If price range matters, you have choices. You can opt for fine dining … or not. And deciding on the restaurant with the perfect river view becomes a choice, too, though not an easy one of so many great vantage points.
There also are unique choices aplenty when you’re ready to begin the nightlife portion of your visit. Pub-crawls are popular pastimes. In fact, because Savannah is considered one of the most haunted cities in America and many taverns claim their own resident ghost, one tour company even offers a Haunted Pub Crawl.
The newest major addition to the River Street tableau is a refurbished 1930s-vintage streetcar that runs a three-quarter-mile route on former railroad tracks. It’s in operation noon-9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
The 54-passenger car, a hybrid that runs on biodiesel fuel and batteries, began operation in 2009. It’s an interesting way to see River Street even though sometimes walking actually is faster, such as when the streetcar is westbound against the grain of one-way eastbound driving traffic.
River Street also is the setting for some of Savannah’s most fun-filled festivals.
Each month, First Saturday on the River is a blend of music, entertainment and arts and crafts. Annual events include St. Patrick’s Day on the River, Fine Arts on the River Festival, Savannah Tall Ships Challenge, the Armed Forces Festival, July Fourth Fireworks on River Street, River Street Labor Day Celebration, Oktoberfest on the River and Christmas on the River.
But festival or not, River Street is always festive. Day and night, year round, if you’re staying at Studio Homes at Ellis Square and looking for sure-thing fun nearby, you know where to go. To simply say there’s something for everyone doesn’t give River Street enough credit.