If you are visiting Savannah, you have to head down to historic River Street. Facing north, onto the Savannah River, it is a great place to shop, eat and drink and just watch life go by. And the heart of River Street is Rousakis Riverfront Plaza in Savannah.
River Street is the river side of the buildings built on Bay Street as part of the warehouses and shipping enterprises along Bay Street. The Cotton Exchange (a Romanesque-style architectural gem designed by William G. Preston in 1886) was the center of shipping activity when cotton was king, and this area was known as “The Wall Street of the South”.
While the Cotton Exchange and adjacent buildings face south into the city, River Street faces the Savannah River and is actually several stories down from the city above. To get to River Street from Savannah proper, you can use the public access elevator near City Hall, or carefully use one of the many steep staircases located along the exchange. You can wander through the warren of old storage areas in Factor’s Walk as you make your way to River Street. (While you can drive down onto River Street, it is much easier to park elsewhere and walk down.)
Wear some good walking shoes because most of the roads and sidewalks down here are made from ships’ ballast. The plaza and newer parts of River Street do have smooth paving, but a large part of the historic areas still have the ballast stones.
Rousakis Riverfront Plaza is named after John P. Rousakis who was mayor of Savannah for an unprecedented four terms. From 1970 until 1990, Rousakis ruled the city and the plaza was dedicated to him in 1997. As mayor, he was instrumental in revitalizing River Street and starting the task of un-polluting of the Savannah River. Rousakis died in December of 2000.
In June 1997, the city of Savannah unveiled its new waterfront development that Rousakis helped develop. Over 80,000 SF of empty warehouses and offices had been renovated into shops, restaurants, bars and art galleries at a cost of over seven million dollars.
River Street is the home for many of the city’s activities. There are festivals held here throughout the year – Armed Forces Festival, Bacon Fest, Oktober Fest (with its world-famous Wiener Dog Races) and First Saturdays, to name a few. River Street is the perfect spot for viewing the city’s Fourth of July Celebration & Fireworks Extravaganza and for finishing up your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Antique shops, jewelry and art galleries, pubs and bars, nightspots – it is all here on River Street. You can find a tacky vacation souvenir as well as that antique armoire you’ve been needing.
With the busy Port of Savannah just up the river, you can sit on the plaza watching the HUGE container ships slip silently by. You can board a river boat at the plaza for a leisurely ride up and down the river. Or if you are lucky, one of the ‘tall ships’ (historic replicas of square-riggers) will be docked and available for touring.
Rousakis Riverfront Plaza in Savannah is the heart of River Street. After you have wandered up and down the cobbled street (watch out for the trolley), shopped, eaten and drunk your fill, take a break in the plaza. Relax and watch the seagulls as they scavenge for lunch, or the people bustling about. Whatever your pleasure, the plaza is a great place to start things off or to slow things down. Make sure to visit when you are staying in one of our Savannah vacation rentals! Contact us to book today.