I Heart My City: Gaby’s Savannah

Photojournalist Gaby Varela is currently based in Boston, but before that the former Traveler photo intern lived in Savannah off and on for six years. She says Savannah offers the best of city living and small town charm all in one package with its vibrant art scene, close-knit community, and air of mystery. And if you’re an out-of-towner, not to worry: the historic downtown area is full of quirky characters who welcome visitors with open arms. That’s good, because it just so happens that the Good Traveler will be making his way to Savannah this weekend. Tell us what he needs to see while he’s there in the comments section below.

Savannah is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is for a walk down Bull Street (Savannah’s main drag that goes through Forsyth Park and various squares around the city) to the river. The walk is peppered by beautiful architecture, small cafes, and local boutiques.

When I crave sweets, I go to LuLu’s Chocolate Bar. They have the most eclectic (and delectable) collection of cakes and truffles.

If I want to a classic Low Country experience, I go watch the shrimp boats at Lazaretto Creek Marina on Tybee Island.

Forsyth Fountain in beautiful Forsyth Park. (Photograph by Melissa Ferguson, My Shot)

For complete quiet, I grab a good book and camp out under a tree in Forsyth Park or hide away in the Sentient Bean‘s beautiful backyard garden (the cafe at the end of the park).

If you come to my city, get your picture taken in Bonaventure Cemetery.

If you have to order one thing off the menu at Kayak Kafe, it has to be the tilapia tacos.

The Book is my one-stop shop for great Savannah kitsch.

Locals know to skip searching for the Forrest Gump bench (it’s on display at the Savannah History Museum) and go to Johnson Square — the first and largest of the city’s famous squares — instead(but all 24 are worth checking out).

Spanish moss and azaleas abound in Bonaventure Cemetery. (Photograph by Thomas Sterr, My Shot)

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I grab a burger from one of the pop-up Southside barbecue stands.

For a huge splurge, I go to Zia Boutique for some stunning jewelry.

Photo ops in my city include all the old buildings and houses and squares. Savannah is one of the most photogenic cities in the country.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Kenneth Parcell, Jack McBrayer’s character on “30 Rock.”

The most random thing about my city is that it has one of the biggest St. Patrick’s day celebrations in the U.S.

My city has the most well-mannered (gentle)men.

My city has the most beautiful and creative women.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves joining in whatever sport is being played in Forsyth Park. Volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball, frisbee — take your pick. There is always something going on.

SCAD Theatre, home to the Savannah Film Festival. (Photograph by Juliana Freeman, My Shot)

My city’s best museum is the Jepson Center and the SCAD Museum of Art.

My favorite jogging/walking route is around Forsyth Park.

For a night of dancing, I go to Bar Bar.

Sweet Melissa’s is the spot for late-night eats. Go on a Friday or Saturday; the line is around the corner and the street is scattered with people closing out their night sitting on the curb enjoying a giant slice of pie.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Connect.

You can tell a lot about my city from what we’re wearing. The fashions reflect the individuals who live there.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they invite you to join them and they ask you what your drinking.

In the spring you should go on a tour of all the beautiful homes and gardens in the city. Bring an umbrella. It tends to rain around 3:00 p.m.

In the summer you should hit up the delicious Leopold’s Ice Cream for some inventive flavors such as Rosebud and Green Tea. Go gallery hopping in the evenings when it cools down and things are just getting started.

In the fall you should be a tour-ist. Savannah offers around 60 different tours and it is the perfect time to walk the city.

In the winter you should call your friends and ask them what season it is. Savannah stays beautiful and in bloom almost all year long.

A hidden gem in my city is the musicians on River Street.

For a great breakfast joint, try Clary’s Cafe.

Don’t miss the Savannah Film Festival in the fall, and the Savannah Music Festival in the spring.

Just outside my city, you can visit Tybee or Hilton Head (SC) islands. Stop at the National Wildlife Refuge and see some crocodiles along the way!

Sunrise on Tybee Island. (Photograph by Terry Johnson, My Shot)

The best way to see my city is on foot or by Pedicab. The cabbies point out various monuments and tell some great stories.

If my city were a pet it would be a cockatoo.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on a ranch in Patagonia.

The best book about my city is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is M. Ward’s cover of “Green River.”

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the dolphin tours or the Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens.

Throwing a city-wide celebration on the First Friday of each month, complete with a late night fireworks show on the river could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it’s full of secrets. You might be drawn in by Savannah’s southern charm, but when you look more closely, you’ll find it’s much more than sweet tea and magnolias. It has an unusual history, quirky locals, and a creative pulse.

Gaby will soon be traveling to Argentina to visit family and Salta for the Gaucho Festival in San Antonio de Areco. Keep up with her adventures on Twitter @Miss_Varela and on her personal travel blog.


  1. Mike
    January 16, 2014, 1:43 pm

    If you want to get away from the typical box hotel stays check out
    http://www.calypsorentals.com/. Very affordable and the most unique place I have ever stayed with my wife. Look for the Crows Nest for couples.

  2. Walter
    August 8, 2013, 7:01 pm


    Y’all will love Savannah. The River Street Inn is one of many bed and breakfast Inns in Savannah. You would really love the location.

    Amtrak is not so bad coming from Penn Station. in New York. If I recall, there are three trains each day.


  3. Ankita
    August 7, 2013, 3:45 am


    That was such a wonderful post to read. I am planning a trip to the US in 2014 and came across Savannah one a blog post that featured the most friendly towns in America. I would be traveling with either my female friend or my mom. Do you think it is a good idea to travel on our own? We would d be taking the Amtrak from New York. We plan to stay here for 2-3 days max. I would be happy if you can suggest any offbeat places to visit.


  4. Gaby
    May 16, 2012, 8:03 am

    @Sheri There are definitely other books I enjoy about Savannah. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evill is the classic that the city still very much embraces. For first tiime visitors it is a good introduction.

    I will have to read Delirium of the Brave. Sounds interesting!

  5. R
    Savannah, of course
    May 14, 2012, 6:45 pm

    Clary’s has lost anything it may have had to offer 10-15 years ago, now its just a place for tourists to feed their faces. If you really want a good breakfast, go to Goose Feathers (The Express Cafe to locals) near city market – much, much better option.

  6. lauren
    May 11, 2012, 1:57 pm

    Check out The Paris Market for some eclectic french shopping!

  7. Sheri
    May 10, 2012, 9:32 pm

    I disagree about the best book. Savannah has intrigued and enchanted numerous authors over the years. Delirium of the Brave is a more nuanced, less sensationalistic novel in the vein of Cold Mountain. Dig deeper and don’t just scratch the surface. Avoid the cliches. Step off the beaten path and you will fall in love with our “beautiful lady.”

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