Savannah, Georgia is one of the most charming cities in the entire United States. If you spend 24 hours in Savannah, you can see pretty much everything a tourist might want to find, and all in one location. There are both historic homes and cutting-edge art museums. You can dine at classic Southern restaurants or get a little more experimental at one of the most award-winning restaurants in the country.
However you choose to spend your 24 hours in Savannah, I know you’ll have a marvelous time. My family has lived in Georgia since before the American Revolution, so I have my own perspective on the place. So just for today, allow me to walk you through four of my favorite places in the city. Y’all won’t be disappointed, I promise!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Savannah. And if you’d like some itineraries for Atlanta to add to your Georgia vacation, just click here.
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24 Hours in Savannah
Where Should I Stay?
Now we are talking! Savannah, Georgia is home to some of the finest hotels and bed and breakfasts in the country. I recommend the Justine Inn for some serious Southern charm. There’s a full breakfast every morning, a huge wine and cheese spread each evening, and a delicious baked treat with your turndown service at night. (And I guess there’s nice fluffy beds or something. I just care about the food!)
The location is in a beautiful, safe neighborhood which is just a short drive from every attraction. And if you don’t drive, like me, Uber is everywhere in Savannah. You see! Now you have no excuse not to stay here during your 24 hours in Savannah.
24 Hours in Savannah
Morning: Owens-Thomas House Tour
Savannah has so many historic homes. It’s almost harder to avoid a historic house tour during your 24 hours in Savannah than it is to find one. But the Owens-Thomas House is one of the best in the city. First of all, the interior is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Second, it is historically important.
Third, and most importantly, it is part of the Telfair Museums. This means that you can save money if you buy a combination ticket to the Owens-Thomas House, the Telfair Museum, and the Jepson Center for the Arts. And don’t worry, you don’t need to visit all three attractions in one day. You get a week to see all three sights.
But for now, let’s concentrate on the Owens-Thomas House with…
three fun facts: owens-thomas house
1) who owned the owens-thomas house?
The Owens-Thomas House is sometimes called the Richardson-Owens-Thomas house because the first person to own it was a man named Richard Richardson. (Not a joke.) As you can probably tell from his name, Richardson was extremely wealthy, so he hired a fancy-pants English architect named William Jay to design a lavish home in Savannah to show off his wealth. I wonder how he’d feel about all us unwashed tourists tramping through his ornate mansion?
Unfortunately for Richardson, everything that happened to him after he moved into the house was terrible. He and his family fell victim to financial disaster, fires, and yellow fever, which are three of the worst things that can happen to anyone. So he vacated the home only three years after moving in. It became a boarding house temporarily and legendary Frenchie Marquis de Lafayette even stayed here.
Eventually it fell into the hands of George Welshman Owens, the Mayor of Savannah. (Yes, that’s his actual middle name.) I suppose people felt that a mayor was a more important person than a yellow fever victim who only lived in the house for three years, which is why we mostly call the house after Owens.
2) who else lived in the owens-thomas house
Many enslaved people lived in this house. Our guide, whom I shall call Gilbert, said that slave labor made the house run. Richardson had been involved in the slave trade, and Owens kept 15 enslaved people working in the house. Half of those enslaved people were children.
Owens was very involved in advocating for the slave trade. He even made business deals with people in the Polk administration on the condition that they not speak out against slavery. Oh greed! Is there any terrible thing you can’t accomplish.
The Owens-Thomas House is in the process of restoring the slave quarters, which explains why they look unfinished in my photo. One interesting feature is the remains of “haint blue” paint on the walls. The African-Americans who lived around the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, also known as the Gullah, believed that this particular shade of blue protected against evil spirits. You can find haint blue on the ceiling of many Southern homes to this day.
3) what about the architecture?
Yay! I finally have an architecture nerd reading this blog! I’m so excited. My favorite room in the house is the pink room pictured above. It’s often called one of the prettiest rooms in America. That’s a funny coincidence because my living room is often called, “What even is this?” or just “Yikes!”
When the Owens-Thomas House was built in the early 19th century, trompe l’oeil details were all the rage. (The Boscobel Mansion outside Cold Spring, New York is in a similar style.) Trompe l’oeil is French for trick the eye. So a trompe l’oeil detail fools a guest into thinking that part of the house is something it is not. Some examples are wood that is painted to look like marble or a flat ceiling that is painted to look curved.
Trompe l’oeil is easy to try with your guests at home. Just give them a wooden piece of fruit painted to look like a real one. Then when they bite into one and break their teeth, yell at them, “TROMPE L’OEIL!” Oh, how they will laugh!
24 Hours in Savannah
Afternoon: Jepson Center for the Arts
The Jeps is an imposing modern art museum, all made of glass panels and bright white walls. It’s more known for its temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art than for having a permanent collection. I am not a contemporary art enthusiast, so I was hesitant about spending time here.
But there’s no need to fear the Jepson. They always have a number of exhibits on. Some will be challenging and confusing, while others will be exquisite and easy to appreciate. Plus, it’s home to the most famous girl in Savannah, so we have to say hello to her. But first, it’s that time in our 24 hours in Savannah when we need lunch!
approximately top 5: jepson center for the arts
1) mrs wilkes dining room
Mrs. Wilkes is truly a Savannah institution for Southern food. It was founded all the way back in 1943 by the now late Mrs. Wilkes. There are so many rules to follow when you eat at Mrs. Wilkes, but all of them are worth it. Just look at the feast you are presented with when you get inside! And you can eat as much as you want. There’s no menu. All the dishes are served family style.
First, Mrs Wilkes is only open on weekdays at lunch time. You have to wait on line outside because Mrs. Wilkes doesn’t take reservations. However, if you are a solo diner, you can tell the manager because they will use you to fill in any empty spaces at a table. So solo diners probably won’t have to wait as long. But do plan on spending at least two hours at Mrs. Wilkes altogether, what with the waiting on line and the eating.
When you get towards the front of the line, they will fit you in with several other groups. Do not have you cell phones out during lunch at Mrs. Wilkes! You’re supposed to get to know your neighbors.
Some of the many, many fabulous dishes at Mrs. Wilkes include: a succulent fried chicken with crispy skin, flawless cornbread dressing, butterbeans, beef stew, cheesy mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, mac and cheese, and black eyed peas. If you can’t find something you like at Mrs. Wilkes, it’s your own fault!
Once everyone at the table is full, you’ll get a choice of usually two desserts. I selected the banana pudding because I have impeccable taste. (For non-Southerners, ‘nana pudding is made with vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers, and bananas. Different versions might add other ingredients.) It doesn’t look at much, but it’s full of carby bliss with every bite.
Once you’re full up, roll on out the door and over to the Jepson.
2) bird girl
Bird Girl is the most famous work of art at the Jepson. She became famous when a local photographer named Jack Leigh took her picture, and it was used for the cover of the smash hit book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Before then, Bird Girl was just a decoration for the Trosdal family graves. (She is called Bird Girl because she’s a bird feeder.) But after the movie came out, so many people were messing with her that the family moved the statue to the museum.
I don’t want to tell people how to live their life. But personally I’d be a lot more cautious about messing with statues of bird girls in graveyards. Especially when they are so closely associated with tales of murder, ghosts, and witchcraft. Call me crazy!
3) dave jar
The Dave Jar has a truly remarkable story about the resilience of the human spirit. This style of pottery is often associated with enslaved potters in the South. There were many of this artisans making brown, glazed stoneware like this. But the Dave Jar is special because it was signed. Enslaved people were forbidden from reading or writing, and they were definitely not allowed to sign their name to their work. But Dave broke the law and signed his name to the front of his piece.
According to the docent notes, this act of defiance was especially significant because the jar was made in 1861, towards the beginning of the Civil War. So Dave was showing his hope for freedom. After the war, Dave registered to vote in 1867, so the Jepson Museum has his full name and information about his life. By breaking the rules and signing his name, Dave ensured that his memory would live on in Savannah even after he was gone.
4) chaim soutine
The Jepson Museum has legendary 19th and early 20th century artists like Chagall, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec. But I want to introduce you to a wonderful, but less well-known artist named Chaim Soutine. Soutine was a Jewish painter from Lithuania. When he was a young man, he moved to Paris and literally became a starving artist for many years. I’m always so impressed with people who can make it as a starving artist. I get hangry if I skip breakfast.
This painting by Soutine is called “Landscape at Cagnes”. Cagnes is a town on the French Riviera. I guess if you’re going to be a starving artist, it’s better to do it on the Riviera than Paris, especially in winter. But I’m a little concerned about Cagnes if this picture is any indication. Is there an earthquake happening? Are all the buildings melted into each other?
Soutine painted many pictures of Cagnes and they all look like the city has just been stomped on by Godzilla. So while I do recommend Soutine’s paintings, I can’t recommend spending 24 hours in Cagnes. It looks like a dangerous place. Better to stick with 24 hours in Savannah.
5) leroy almon
One of the best things about visiting a regional museum like the Jepson is getting to see the work of local folk artists. A folk artist is just an artist who hasn’t been formally trained. Often in Europe I’ve seen them called “naive artists”. Leroy Almon is one of the most famous folk artists at the Jepson.
He was born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, which is a great name for the birthplace of a folk artist. Almon worked various jobs, including for Coca-Cola, until he learned the art of woodcarving from a man named Elijah Pierce. Almon then became a preacher and a police dispatcher (as you do) but also began to carve elaborate scenes of religious themes and/or African-American life.
I think this work of Almon’s is most appropriate for Savannah because it’s called “Good and Evil”. It predates the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by about a decade. It also combines all my favorite elements: the Statue of Liberty, the Mafia, and very angry bird people. (I assume the Statue is Good and the Mafia is Evil, but I haven’t decided yet about the bird person.)
24 Hours in Savannah
Evening: The Grey
So this 24 hours in Savannah is really highlighting how many of the best chefs in Savannah have been female. We stopped at Mrs. Wilkes for lunch, and now we’re dining at The Grey. The Grey is absolutely one of the hottest reservations in Savannah, especially since Chef Mashama Bailey was featured on Chef’s Table.
The Grey is an emotionally significant restaurant for many people in Savannah. It’s located in a former Greyhound bus station, and that bus station used to be segregated. So it’s a big deal that the station now houses a restaurant run by a Black American chef. Bailey was born in New York, but spent a lot of time in Savannah as a kid because her mother’s family is from Georgia.
I love Bailey’s use of Southern ingredients in surprising ways. The menu consists mostly of small plates, so I suggest getting three and one dessert per person. I can’t guarantee anything I ate will be on the menu, but I can give you an idea of what to expect.
One theme I noticed at The Grey is upscale versions of Southern comfort foods. So this fish toast was a glammed up crab toast, which is usually made with lots of mayo and Old Bay. Here, the fish was more lightly seasoned so the flavors of the seafood could shine through.
And here we have a Very Fancy version of that Southern sea folk classic, the shrimp boil. (Or shrimp berl as my Louisiana grandmother used to say.) I loved the light and summery flavors of the watermelon, lime, and basil. And it was the first time I’d ever had a shrimp boil served cold, but it’s perfect for a hot Savannah day. (PS. That’s every day in Savannah.)
24 hour treat: foie gras grits
This is my favorite dish on the menu. If it’s there when you go, PLEASE EAT THIS! There is nothing that says Upscale Southern more than serving grits with foie gras. Because foie gras usually goes better with something sweet, this dish came with a peach mostarda. A mostarda is an Italian condiment made with candied fruit and mustard syrup. (Did you know mustard syrup was a thing? Me neither.)
Of course, since this is Georgia, it’s state law that you need to use peaches as a fruit. Try using oranges, and you’ll get exiled to Florida.
24 hour treat: muscadine ice
This is my second favorite dish on the menu. Except it isn’t even on the menu, it just comes automatically between the main course and the dessert course. This pop is called a Thrill. Bailey and her friends used to eat them as kids in Savannah, when they’d just be made by freezing juice and sugar.
But this Thrill is made with muscadine grapes, which are much sweeter than non-muscadine grapes. I actually burst into tears when I ate this because the flavor was so lovely and normally the only things that make me cry are the ending of the movie A Little Princess and when Air France loses my luggage.
How to make an upscale Southern dessert? How about taking a fancy French pastry like a Napoleon and stuffing it with sweet potatoes? Then you place the whole thing on a flawlessly torched marshmallow. It’s just like Thanksgiving dinner, only without having to listen to your terrible uncle’s political opinions!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Savannah!
What would you do with 24 hours in Savannah? Are all the best chefs in Savannah female, yes or yes? And is there anything I can do to make my living room as pretty as the Owens-Thomas House or should I just take off and nuke the site from orbit? Please leave your thoughts below!