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Savannah and the Georgia Coast Offer Bounty of Treasures
Some might say Savannah is about as deep as you can go in the Deep South.
But groups can go even deeper by visiting the neighborhoods in and around the city, discovering culture, nature and history while gaining a deeper appreciation for this seaside haven that is not only the state’s oldest city but one of its most photogenic.
“We provide our guests a glimpse of an authentic cultural experience in unique coastal settings,” said Julia Keating, events coordinator and site manager at Pin Point Heritage Museum, set just south of the city in the Gullah/Geechee community of Pin Point, heart of Georgia’s fabled Lowcountry and part of the Moon River District. (Yes, that “Moon River.”)
Overlooking the famed river and the marshes surrounding it, the museum explores both past and present of the Gullah/Geechee—descendants of slaves who preserved and adapted traditions from 1700s West Africa—with a 35-minute film, historic photographs and voice recording displays. Former Gullahs of note include Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was born in Pin Point and grew up speaking the language.
“Some of our interpreters are residents of Pin Point, who share their personal stories of the community and their connection to it on their tours,” Keating said, also noting that the museum is available for private events, with 150 being the maximum group size.
Keating also has an F&B recommendation.
“We encourage guests to embrace casual, Lowcountry menus such as a Lowcountry Boil and oyster roasts to represent the food ways of the Pin Point community, which is part of this museum’s story,” she said.
A Savannah sojourn can continue in the Historic District of downtown Savannah, incorporating a basic city grid of multiple town squares, designed by founder James Oglethorpe in the 1730s. The district spans a 2.5-square-mile area boasting 1,600-plus historically and architecturally significant structures.
“I love to recommend downtown’s historic house tours, but not the same ones everyone has always done,” said Summer Bozeman, communications manager for Visit Savannah, pointing to the Harper Fowlkes House, a monument to early preservationist Alida Harper Fowlkes; the Gothic Revival Green-Meldrim House, Sherman’s headquarters during the Civil War; and the Sorrel-Weed House, a property Bozeman called “a beautiful example of a combination of Regency and Greek Revival architecture.”
Another era of history entirely is examined at the new American Prohibition Museum downtown, featuring 13 immersive galleries, a theater, life-size wax figures and an on-site speakeasy where customers have to whisper a password to enter.
Groups can get into the spirit of the era with private cocktail classes, creating the drinks of the day.
“We teach you how to make one sour, and groups can choose the liquor they want,” said Caity Hamilton, the museum’s assistant director. “It’s a good way to get a feel for the time period. We can also include a tour of the museum.”
Good drink deserves good food, and groups will find it in the quirky cafes of Starland, an artsy enclave created 20 years ago by two students from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Starland is adjacent to the downtown Victorian District, so it’s just a quick walk from Victorian to the hip and restored buildings of Starland, now housing funky shops, artist studios and quaint cafes.
After browsing vintage clothing and vinyl record stores and perusing eclectic art galleries and studios, groups can call it a day at Elizabeth on 37th, set in a grand Southern mansion and offering a Southern Coastal menu as well as a private dining room upstairs.
Sitting down together to break bread is also grand, but attendees can stand up to each other in a culinary challenge at Chef Darin’s Kitchen Table, where participants are given a bag filled with ingredients and challenged to use a certain technique.
“The reward is you get a great meal at the end,” said assistant Myrtle Weinreich, who noted the venue—created and operated by iconic local chef Darin Sehnert—can accommodate between eight and 45 for private culinary challenges.
“We also like to mention that the class can take up to three hours, so if you come in at 5:30 you’re not going to be eating at 6:30,” Weinreich said. “But we’re flexible about scheduling sessions with private groups.”
Meanwhile, a new art museum in Savannah has already outgrown its original location. Now set in a historic home in neighboring Thomas Square, the Savannah African Art Museum is a private collection of more than 1,000 objects and artifacts from West and Central Africa.
“This is an amazing experience and there is no charge to get in,” Bozeman said. “The owner is only interested in sharing his collection, gathered over 30-plus years.”
When it comes to the beach, some people only want to know two things—where it is and how long before they’re stretched out on the sand. Tybee Island is 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, so that answers that.
However, if a group would like to combine beach oblivion with a little nautical knowledge, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center offers a variety of group programs, including guided beach walks, marsh talks, “jelly jives” focused on jellyfish, and turtle briefings that take attendees back to the beach to investigate nesting habitats.
For further immersion in marine life, the center also offers “floating classrooms” that travel by boat through the salt marsh’s tidal creeks and rivers as well as out on the ocean where the group will pull a trawl net, hauling shrimp, squid, jellyfish, puffers and crabs aboard for an on-the-spot look at what’s under the sea.
Another island, another wild encounter.
The Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah is traversed by lush trails that take visitors past wolves, birds of prey, bobcats and animals typical of a Georgia farm, including geese and goats. Guests come in from the beautiful natural surroundings to gather in a historical meeting space with vintage hardwood floors, a stone fireplace, screened-in porch, breakout rooms and direct access to the trail.
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Click over to Page 2 for the Latest & Greatest hotel updates in Savannah and the Georgia Coast.PageBreak
LATEST AND GREATEST: SAVANNAH AND GEORGIA COAST
Sea Island, a Forbes Five-Star resort on the Georgia coast, has launched the Sea Island Explorer, a 71-foot, state-of-the-art yacht accommodating 49 passengers. Other enhancements underway at Sea Island include six new cottages with 14 sleeping rooms, a new oceanfront pool and pool house, and a new 17,000-square-foot Golf Performance Center, opening early next year.
Coming to Savannah in winter 2018 is the Armstrong-Kessler Mansion, under development by Orlando-based Kessler Group. Built in 1919, the original Armstrong Mansion is a registered National Landmark and is currently being restored to its former Italian Renaissance Revival glory. When complete, it will be available for private events, including executive retreats.
An even bigger Kessler project is currently under construction in Savannah’s Plant Riverside District, slated to open in spring 2019. Incorporating a 100-year-old power plant building, the new center will include a 419-room JW Marriott —actually three hotels in one—complemented by 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space and a 4.5-acre riverfront entertainment district of dining, nightlife, live music, art galleries, retail shopping and attractions.
Newly opened in downtown Savannah, the Perry Lane Hotel offers 160 rooms and 10,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including a rooftop ballroom and rooftop event lawn. The boutique property also features two restaurants and a library, and regularly hosts author talks and performances by local musicians.