Gay Savannah in a Nutshell:
The jewel of Georgia's lazily enchanting coast, Savannah was founded in 1733 by British General James Oglethorpe, who designed the perfect grid of streets and grassy tree-shaded squares for which this city of 130,000 is still famous. This has long been a place where eccentrics, artists, and traditional Southerners mingle with ease, but the 1994 publication of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil especially heightened the city's popularity with gay travelers, who appreciate its many stunning inns, fine restaurants, beautiful house-museums, handful of gay bars, and rich arts scene.
Savannah - like its sister Charleston, a two-hour drive northeast - draws crowds on weekends virtually year-round, but the sultry (i.e., humid) summers tend to be sleepiest, and the beautiful springs, when gardens spring colorfully to life, draw the greatest numbers of visitors. Fall is also highly popular. Average high temperatures in January and February are about 62 degrees F, with nighttime lows dipping into the upper 30s. During the slower summer season, from June through September, highs average in the low 90s, with nighttime lows in the low-70s. Savannah receives plenty of rain throughout the year.
is a busy commercial port that sits about 15 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, along the Savannah River, which forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina. It's the hub for a larger tourism-driven region that takes in Hilton Head, S.C., to the east and Georgia's Golden Isles (which include Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Cumberland Island National Seashore) to the south. Most visitors spend their time in a historic quadrant that's about a mile wide and extends for a a mile south from the Savannah River. Tybee Island is a small but popular beach vacation town due east, about 15 miles away.
Driving distances to Savannah from major cities and points of interest are:
- Amelia Island, FL: 130 miles (2 hrs)
- Asheville, NC: 310 miles (5 hrs)
- Athens: 220 miles (3.5 to 4 hrs)
- Atlanta: 250 miles (3.5 to 4 hrs)
- Charleston, SC: 110 miles (2 hrs)
- Charlotte, NC: 250 miles (3.5 to 4 hrs)
- Columbia, SC: 160 miles (2.5 hrs)
- Fort Lauderdale, FL: 460 miles (7 to 7.5 hrs)
- Hilton Head, SC: 40 miles (45 min)
- The Golden Isles: 80 miles (75 min)
- Jacksonville, FL: 140 miles (2 hrs)
- Orlando: 280 miles (4 hrs)
- Pensacola, FL: 320 miles (5 to 5.5 hrs)
- Raleigh, NC: 320 miles (5 to 5.5 hrs)
- Tallahassee, FL: 300 miles (4.5 hrs)
- Wilmington, NC: 280 miles (5 to 5.5 hrs)
Flying to Savannah:
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is an easy 10-mile drive northwest of downtown, is served by American, jetBlue, Delta, and United. Alas, because of a relative lack of competition, fares from some destinations can be rather pricey.
Savannah 2016-2017 Events Calendar:
- Mid-January: Pulse Art + Technology Festival at Jepson Center.
- Mid-March: St. Patrick's Day Celebrations (this is the rough equivalent of Mardi Gras for Savannah, a wild and rollicking weekend celebration that draws at least 250,000 visitors to the city).
- Late March: Annual Tour of Homes and Gardens.
- Late March to early April: Savannah Music Festival (a major cultural draw, lasting 21 days).
- Early May: Tybee Island Gay Days.
- Late September: Savannah Jazz Festival.
- Mid- to late Oct.: Savannah Gay Pride (this event has grown tremendously over the years, drawing many thousands).
- Late October: Savannah Film Festival.
- Early November: Telfair Art Fair.
- Early to late December: Southern Lights Holiday Celebrations
Things to See and Do in Savannah:
Apart from simply strolling through Savannah's leafy squares and dining at fabulous restaurants, there are a handful of key attractions here to visit.
Also, the lovely Telfair Museum of Art, which occupies a regal 1818 mansion and is the oldest art museum in the south, opened its striking, contemporary Jepson Center for the Arts in 2006. Other worthwhile stops include the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, and Bonaventure Cemetary.
A Side Trip to Tybee Island:
It's just a 20- to 25-minute drive to Tybee Island, Savannah's beach community, which generally feels distinctly more family-oriented and less gay-popular than the city itself. With that in mind, it's worth coming out here, especially on a warm day, to walk or lie on the beach, tour Fort Pulaski National Monument, or grab a bite to eat. There are several fine dining options here, including Sundae Cafe and the famously dive-y and fun Crab Shack. The GLBT Tybee Gay Rainbow Fest, takes place in early May and including a number of events and parties
Resources on Savannah:
A handful of resources provide information on the city in general, and to a limited extent on the local gay scene. These include the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the best online resource out there on the city, GaySavannah.com, which has details on gay-friendly businesses, including restaurants and nightlife, as well as gay-friendly accommodations.
Getting to Know Savannah:
Following its 1733 founding by James Oglethorpe, Savannah prospered as a silk exporter during its first century, before developing into one of the world's major cotton suppliers as well as a significant participant in the South's slave trade. Much of the architecture downtown is antebellum, but only by a couple of decades - a mid-19th-century fire destroyed many beautiful wood-frame Colonial homes, and the city was quickly rebuilt with elaborate brick and stucco Victorians. Had General Sherman not spared Savannah during his notorious "March to the Sea" from Atlanta, most of these structures would also have been destroyed.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the city's architectural heritage, however, occurred when the prosperous cotton industry bottomed out around World War I. By the Depression, Savannah's economy had been brought to its knees. During the '50s, the national trend toward urban renewal reared its ugly head. It was only the valiant lobbying of several preservation-minded locals that saved many targeted structures from the wrecking ball. The momentum to keep Savannah intact grew steadily, culminating in a 2.5-square-mile chunk of downtown being designated the largest National Historic District in the country.
The city's draws are many. Architecture buffs come to explore the city's bounty of beautifully preserved buildings, many of which are open to the public. If this subject interests you, consider taking one of the superb walks offered by Architectural Tours of Savannah, whose charming and knowledgeable guide, Jonathan Stalcup, can also tell you a thing or two about Savannah's gay scene.
One factor that contributes to the presence of gays and lesbians here is Savannah College of Art and Design (aka "SCAD"), whose campus is situated in the heart of the downtown historic district. Savannah is a fitting locale for an art school, given its considerable appreciation of the arts. There are numerous galleries and performance venues here.
And then there is the buzz that's resulted from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The author himself is gay, and several key characters in his book were as well, including Lady Chablis, the drag queen who still continued to perform at the city's top gay bar, Club One, until she passed away in summer 2016. Several tour companies provide walks and bus excursions that point out sites featured in "The Book," as it's referred to - sometimes proudly, sometimes derisively - here in Savannah.