I’m a sucker for a good ‘top list.’ From places to eat, experiences to try, the best way to disguise under-eye circles (did I just type that last one out loud?)…doesn’t really matter what the topic may be, if it’s going to reveal ‘the top’ of anything, count me in. But before you get the wrong idea, I wanna let you in on a little secret: this is not a top 10. This isn’t even a top 5. This is all about THE TOP. Literally. After all, the top represents the best, right? That’s why the penthouse suite is on the tip-top floor, and why skyscrapers are so fascinating. Admittedly, Savannah is not known for its skyscrapers. It’s known for many other things, yes, but big, tall buildings isn’t one of them. So does that mean you can’t get an elevated view of the city? On the contrary. Despite its flat topography and modest building heights, Savannah still offers several options that will give you a bird’s eye view of this beautiful city. So what do you say? Let’s take it from the TOP and explore the many ways to elevate your Savannah stay!
When we say top, we mean it. As in, ‘prepare for take off,’ kind of top. So fasten your seat belts, slip on your headset and get ready take to the skies via helicopter! Really, helicopter! Now before your palms start sweating, let me assure you, I am no roller-coaster fan. I avoid them at every turn, yet even I love riding in a helicopter. It’s surprisingly smooth, doesn’t go alarmingly high and travels at a just-right pace for you to really take in the sights. In fact, I’m a Savannah native, and until my recent Savannah helicopter tour, I didn’t fully comprehend the lay of the land of this historic city. So Tip #1, take your helicopter tour first and then hit the ground running; the grid layout, riverfront, parks – even the Atlantic Ocean – will all be understood with newfound clarity once you’ve seen them from above.
On a clear and sunny November morning, Jackie Schott, director of online communications for North Point Hospitality, and I made our way to Old City Helicopters (oldcityhelicopters.com/912.247.0047). Located not too far from the Savannah/ Hilton Head International Airport, upon our arrival we were warmly greeted by Ben Miller, who would be our captain and guide for the day. After discussing the various tours, we opted for the 10-minute downtown excursion, filled in some electronic information and headed out to the helicopter. Within minutes, we were securely buckled and taking flight, reaching an altitude of about 500 feet and coasting toward downtown Savannah. Tip #2, Ben advised us that mornings tend to be the best time of day since they provide a smoother flight due to less turbulent air (for those with a fear of flying, you’re welcome). According to Ben, the tour we selected is the company’s most popular, and helps passengers visualize the city and see that things in downtown are not as spaced out as they may seem on the ground. One of the first sights that you notice on is the expansive Talmadge Memorial Bridge, which hovers over the Savannah River, connecting downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and nearby South Carolina. From this vantage point, Forsyth Park, Broughton Street and River Street are nothing short of surreal! Not to mention the artistic symmetry of the city’s historic squares below. Along the way we flew directly over rtb!, the picturesque bar that sits atop Homewood Suites (keep reading for more about that!) and as we headed down river and neared the Port of Savannah – the fastest-growing port in the nation – we couldn’t help but be in awe of row after row of hundreds of colorful containers awaiting their final delivery destination. Moments later, we arrived back at Old City Helicopters, our phones filled with photos and videos. “That actually might be my biggest piece of advice,” shared Ben as we took a few last snapshots of the helicopter, “for people to remember to charge their phones and make sure they have enough memory.” And that is Tip #3, because the last thing you want is to be mid-tour and not be able to capture the moment. As far as best way to dress, there are no rules, but you might want to keep in mind that it can be slightly warmer than expected so layers are probably a good idea. In addition to Old City Helicopters, you can also take high-flying tours with Southeast Helicopter, Inc. (southeasthelicopter.com/ 912.966.1380), which is located on Hutchinson Island just across the river from River Street and accessible by car or ferry. With a similar tour offering as Old City Helicopters, Southeast Helicopter takes off just a stone’s throw from historic downtown for added convenience.
At an altitude of 500 feet, a helicopter tour is quite literally the apex of our TOP points of view, but Savannah still has a number of intriguing options for seeing the city from a higher perspective. Remember rtb! we mentioned above? This, you’ve gotta see. Located atop Homewood Suites by Hilton Savannah Historic District/Riverfront (611 East River Street), and reserved exclusively for the hotel’s guests, this rooftop retreat includes a full-service bar, pool, private cabanas, fire pit, nine TVs and live music from beloved local artists. “While enjoying all of this, our rooftop area offers amazing views of Savannah and a front-row seat to the stunning ship traffic as they enter and leave the nearby port,” said Bryan Cornelius, general manager. As a guest of the hotel, and with your room mere steps away, you’ll lose all track of time atop rtb! as you watch the sun go down, the stars come out and the massively impressive ships pass on by (and after an experience like that, you might not come back down to earth for a long while).
As you travel west down Bay Street from rtb! keep your eyes open for Churchill’s Gastropub and Taphouse (12 West Bay Street/ thebritishpub.com). We recently included Churchill’s in a post for its hidden-basement wine cellar (click here for that post) but this time we’re heading up and out to explore the restaurant’s Rooftop Terrace. Thanks to Savannah’s temperate year-round climate, outdoor libations and dining are yours to enjoy whenever you visit the city. And if taking in the views while dining on the restaurant’s full menu offering sound like your speed, then the Rooftop Terrace at Churchill’s is a must. “Fabulous food, terrific drinks and wonderful service all provided in a glorious, elevated outdoor setting,” is how Mark Royston, general manager of Churchill’s describes the restaurant’s rooftop oasis. Even though its located on one of downtown’s busiest streets, from your rooftop vantage point, you’ll feel worlds away as you sip on a refreshing cocktail and sample the best of the restaurant’s extensive menu.
So you’ve taken flight, seen ships passing in the night, and even felt worlds away in the heart of the city, now it’s time to ‘branch out’ at Perch (see what I did there?). Perch is a refreshingly sophisticated rooftop bar and lounge that sits above the Local 11ten restaurant on Bull Street just south of Forsyth Park (1110 Bull street/local11ten.com). With its mix of metal, steel and natural bamboo materials and cozy seating groups perfect for gathering together, Perch puts you at eye level with centuries-old oaks for a whole new perspective on Savannah. “Perch is great to come and lose track of time,” said Tess Riter, general manager of Local 11ten. “It’s so cozy to watch the sunset through the live oaks and then watch the moon rise in the east. It really does feel like you’ve escaped to this serene, secluded spot where you can truly relax.” Add in the ambiance of live music twice a week and Perch is certain to have you on an all-time vacation high.
Speaking of trees, though this next TOP point may not technically be up and away, it does harken back to the dizzying heights of childhood. Tree House Savannah (309 W. Saint Julian Street in City Market/ savannahtreehouse.com) is decorated to reflect its namesake and will make you feel like a kid again – albeit the grown up kind. That’s because this quirky watering hole features a full bar, two covered balconies and live music for one unforgettable play date.
At just 46 feet above sea level, Savannah will never earn a reputation for impressive altitudes, and that’s ok. Thanks to helicopters, rooftops and balconies (oh my!) you can take your pick from any number of inspiring ways to take your Savannah visit to new heights!
By: Heather Grant, Contributing Writer