6 Reasons You Should Be Celebrating in Savannah
Snow, schmow. This subtropical stunner offers so many ways to get into the holiday spirit that you won't miss the parkas and mittens. Here are six favorites.
There are epic new ways to keep spirits bright
"In Savannah," -- according to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" -- "the first question people ask you is, 'What would you like to drink?'"
And we're happy to report that the list of stellar answers just keeps growing here. Take the new Ghost Coast Distillery, which tips its hat to Savannah's rep as one of the nation's most haunted cities. The first distillery to open locally since Prohibition has already produced award-winning vodkas, both of which you can sample on free tours Tuesday-Saturday. From there, a half-mile walk takes you to the American Prohibition Museum, which features a password-only speakeasy. Your greeter? A bartender ready to serve you something straight out of the 1920s. Naturally, you're allowed to sip your giggle water while you tour the exhibits.
Once you've worked up an appetite, keep the theme alive by heading to the new Prohibition (no relation to the museum), a Jazz Age bar and restaurant that serves up the likes of grilled oysters with smoked vermouth cream.
The sky's the limit on the festivities
Be ready to look up a lot in Savannah. The first Fridays of November, December and February bring waterfront fireworks to River Street, where you'd want to hang out regardless thanks to the century-old warehouses turned antique shops, boutiques, galleries, brew pubs, restaurants and nightclubs.
But the ultimate reason to crane your neck on River Street happens on Dec. 31, during Savannah's signature Up the Cup New Year's Eve Celebration. Along with a digital light show and fireworks, the event includes the raising of a 6-foot to-go cup (a nod to the open container policy in the city's historic district) during the final moments of 2017. More festive than a mere ball drop, this thing is a larger-than-life toast to the new year.
There are literal boatloads of fun
With the Savannah River at your doorstep -- and Savannah Riverboat Cruises running a whole line-up of holiday sailings -- why limit your celebrating to terra firma? Options include Sailing with Santa (Nov. 24-25), the Holiday Gospel Dinner Cruise (select dates in December) and Christmas Eve Cruises.
There's even a Boat Parade of Lights on Nov. 25, when more than 30 decorated vessels float along the river. And rather than settle for spectator status, consider joining the parade as a Riverboat Cruises passenger.
There's nowhere better to bling in the new year
Savannah's natural beauty shines year-round. But it's exponentially, well, shinier during the holidays, when those famous Spanish moss-draped trees that line the city's streets and squares are illuminated by ribbon-wrapped gas lamps, for starters.
Perhaps the most dazzling display takes place at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, where a million lights shine during the holidays. During your self-guided walking tour, don't miss the white- and gold-lit Formal Garden, the blue-lit Mediterranean Garden, the endlessly glittering LED sparkles along Crapemrytle Allee -- and the herds of twinkling reindeer in the historic bamboo grove.
Culture vultures have cause to celebrate, too
Defying any staid and snooze-y stereotypes, Savannah's arts institutions throw down during the holidays -- each in its own way. The Savannah Philharmonic takes over the Civic Center's Johnny Mercer Theater with Holiday Pops concerts (Dec. 9) that include the Savannah Children's Choir, sing-along ops and a rumored Santa sighting.
Speaking of the Civic Center, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that it also hosts beloved productions of "The Nutcracker" (Nov. 25) and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (Dec. 21) -- as well as indoor ice-skating (all season long).
And two of the city's renowned Telfair Museums -- both historic mansions turned decorative arts and artifact collections -- get gussied up for the holidays: Telfair Academy, the neoclassical Regency-style mansion that became the first public art museum in the South, celebrates "Greening of the Telfair" on Nov. 27, when volunteers deck the museum with holiday-themed greenery and decorate just as the original (19th century) lady of the house would have. You can then tour the house -- as well as its sister museum, the Owens-Thomas House, where the likes of Marquis de Lafayette once stayed -- through programming that's as close to "Downton Abbey" as you'll get this side of the Atlantic: From Nov. 27 through Jan. 7, the Holidays Upstairs and Downstairs Tour shows you first-hand what the holidays were like two centuries ago in the luxurious formal rooms of both homes, as well as in the kitchen and pantry areas, where life was decidedly different.
There's total immersion in the holiday spirit
Among the many winter activities on Tybee Island -- dubbed Savannah's Beach, as it's just 20 minutes away -- perhaps the most famously festive is the annual Tybee Polar Plunge. On New Year's Day, hundreds of people in costume (think everything from Santa Claus to Cat Woman) fling their entire bodies into the Atlantic. And at 58 degrees in January, the water isn't too painful to endure for the attendant bragging rights. Or just watch from the sidelines, where you can also catch the Gang of Goofs parade and costume contest.
But Tybee's ready to party throughout the season: With lots of families spending the holidays here, several local restaurants serve up festive feasts on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Tybee's holiday season also offers up plenty of recreation ops, with temperatures often reaching the 60s. But because this is still considered the low season, you'll find accordingly thinned-out crowds -- and reduced room rates. So winter is actually an amazing time to hit the North Beach Birding Trail by the lighthouse to see, among others, some of the stunning species that visit only this time of year. Or rent a bike or kayak. Or, you know, just sit and enjoy having the beach to yourself -- arguably the best holiday present ever.