River Street-revitalized with shops, restaurants, and year-round festivals-anchors Savannah's historic waterfront.

By Gayle K. Christopher
January 30, 2007
Blake Pearson 

Take one part Southern history, one part outdoor concert, onepart carnival, and a smidgen of the Fourth of July. Mix well andyou have Savannah's River Street.

At the time of the city's founding in 1733, the cobblestonestreet was a stomping ground for pirates and rogues, until cottonbecame king and Savannah its queen. Worldwide cotton prices wereofficially set on Factor's Walk, just above the River Street cottonwarehouses.

Today, the thoroughfare boasts 20-some restaurants, four artgalleries, 84 shops, and six hotels. "River Street is 'New Orleanslite'―all of the culture, minus the raunch," says CarolHixson, who moved here to attend the Savannah College of Art andDesign (known locally as "scad").

Any weekend from March through December, you're likely to find acelebration on River Front Plaza. Take St. Patrick's Day, when thepopulation swells by the thousands for a party bested only by NewYork's. "Our St. Patrick's Day is everything you haveheard―and then some," says Kenny Hill, associate director ofthe Savannah WaterfrontAssociation. Or consider Oktoberfest, when almost 200 caninescompete in weiner-dog races.

The fun extends to smaller festivals as well. The WaterfrontAssociation plans more than 20 events, including First Friday (ofthe month) celebrations capped off by fireworks over the river.First Saturday festivities feature music and artwork made and soldby juried artists. All the events are free, but a portion ofproceeds from sold items goes back to the community throughnonprofit groups such as SecondHarvest, a hunger-relief group.

Just walking around on a festival weekend is an invigoratingexperience. You can sample fish on a stick, watch pottery beingmade, and listen to a mariachi band play "Blue Suede Shoes." Thepirates of old wouldn't recognize today's River Street, and theyprobably wouldn't know what to make of the street performers. Butthey'd still have a good time―and they'd definitely enjoy thefireworks.