Vacation Faceoff: Charleston vs. Savannah
Our editors visited two of the most popular Southern cities for weekend getaways: Charleston and Savannah. Decide for yourself which one of these historic towns can lay claim to being the South’s best city.
|Editor Kathleen R. channels her inner Southern belle on a weekend getaway in Charleston, strolling through plantation gardens and ogling the city's majestic mansions.
||Editor Lisa S. heads to Savannah for a weekend getaway with family and gets to indulge in a serious addiction for all things history, art … and ice cream.
|Where to Eat||Where to Eat|
|Charleston is a foodie heaven, especially for a seafood lover like me. I can still taste my meal at Coast, a laidback lowcountry, beach-inspired restaurant. I feasted on oysters, and shrimp and grits, and washed it all down with one of the best Dark 'n' Stormys I’ve ever had.
Brunch is one of the best ways to get a taste of Charleston's mouthwatering cuisine and relaxed vibe. After strolling along the seawall near The Battery, my friends and I soaked up the city’s charm on the patio at Magnolias, one of Charleston’s best high-end restaurants. We savored items from its New Southern menu like sautéed mussels, pimiento cheese flatbread and spicy catfish.
|Two words: Ice cream. At none other than Leopold’s. Founded by 3 immigrant brothers from Greece in 1919, this ice cream parlor has achieved legendary status over the decades. Inside, pictures showcase celebrities, from Georgia-native Kim Basinger to Tom Cruise, who’ve enjoyed Leopold’s decadent creations.
Then save room for … dinner! At the Lady & Sons Restaurant, you’ll get Southern food, by the grand dame of Southern cuisine herself: Paula Deen. Savor all that’s good and Southern, from fried green tomatoes to Savannah crab cakes. Plus, enjoy Savannah’s liberal open container policy in the historic district, walking around with cocktails in a plastic to-go cup, if you so wish.
|What to Do||What to Do|
|A visit to Charleston isn't complete without a scenic horse-drawn carriage tour of the city’s historic district. You’ll get a peek into this charming seaport town’s past as you clomp along the cobblestone streets and be awed by the antebellum mansions that line it.
Nothing’s better than a sweet ice tea on a warm sunny day in Charleston. Tour the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea garden in North America. Taste all the different flavors of tea (my favorite was Plantation Peach) as you relax on rocking chairs on the plantation veranda.
|Sorry, Charleston, but Savannah’s got you beat here: The Telfair Museum of Art, in the city’s historic district, is the South’s oldest public art museum; it’s also home to more than 4,500 American and European paintings, sculptures and other works of fine art – free for the viewing.
Savannah happens to be America’s first planned city. Among the must-see stops is the Savannah Theatre, the country’s oldest continually operating theater. And the kids will love this: the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, Savannah’s first National Historic Landmark, honors the Girl Scouts’ founder.
|What to See||What to See|
|For a look into Charleston's colorful past, stroll along Rainbow Row, a series of historic pastel-painted homes along East Bay Street. Historians claim it was homeowners who wanted to set their houses apart, but local lore has it that the houses were painted bright colors so pirates could find their way home after a night of debauchery. We prefer the latter tale.
You can't miss seeing the 400-year-old oak tree Angel Oak. This behemoth beaut will take your breath away -- it towers over 66 feet high and its wide-spreading canopy reaches 28 feet all around. Located on Johns Island just outside Charleston, this majestic oak tree is worth the trip. Just don't try climbing on the giant limps; it's strictly prohibited.
|Savannah does old-world Southern charm with a definitely quirky -- and spooky -- spin. Think: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You’ll want to see the Mercer House, in Savannah’s Monterey Square; the house was the scene of the shooting death recounted in nail-biting novel.
Afterward, decompress at Forsyth Park, a 30-acre park where you’ll see an impressive cast-iron fountain, designed, back in 1858, to resemble the grand fountain in Paris at the Place de la Concorde. And head to River Street, a 9-block stretch great for strolling, ship-watching and, with more than 75 boutiques, galleries and artists’ studios, plenty of window-shopping ops.
Now tell us in the comments -- which city do you prefer? Charleston or Savannah?