Riverfront Plaza is an area of Savannah's River Street that has been renovated and turned into shops, restaurants, hotels and galleries. The plaza is located at the northern end of downtown Savannah along the Savannah River. It is accessible from Interstate 16 and is served by several local trolleys. Although the street is within walking distance of many of Savannah's Historic District attractions, it is 40 feet below the rest of the city. If visiting Riverfront Plaza on foot, prepare for the stair climb back to the top of the bluff. Savannah's new bio-diesel-powered streetcar, Dottie, runs the length of the street.
Riverfront Plaza was once Savannah's Cotton Exchange. The buildings that now house the shops and restaurants in the area were cotton warehouses. Cotton was grown in the inland part of Georgia, brought to Savannah and stored in these warehouses until shipped all over the world from the port. Since Savannah was built on the bluff overlooking the river, the actual riverfront is 40 feet below the level of the rest of the city. The actual street dates back to the early 19th century and is covered in cobblestones and old brick. By the 1970s, the warehouses were abandoned and in disrepair. A group of civic leaders spurred their renovation into the tourist district it is today.
Riverfront Plaza is where most visitors begin their tours of Savannah. Its picturesque buildings and beautiful walkways by the river, combined with the tourist-oriented shopping and dining destinations, make it a popular draw. The Sherpa Guides describes the area as "an atmospheric fusion of nineteenth century old-world charm and twentieth century tourist potpourri.'' Among the diversions at Riverfront Plaza are:
The Chart House, a fine dining seafood restaurant with an upper level view of the river
Fiddler's Crab House, with seafood and drinks in a fun, party atmosphere
The River Street River Boat Company, which offers lunch, brunch and dinner cruises
Spanky's Riverstreet, one of Savannah's best-known casual eateries
The River Street Gallery, with locally-themed artwork and crafts
River Street Sweets, which bills itself as "Savannah's oldest candy store''
The River Street Market Place, an open-air mall with items from around the world
The Savannah Waterfront Association holds festivals every month along Riverfront Plaza, including First Fridays on the River, a fireworks celebration held the first Friday evening of every month, and First Saturdays on the River, an arts and crafts fair held the first Saturday of every month. The two-day St. Patrick's Day festival is one of the largest and the rowdiest in the country. Other holidays, including Christmas, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and New Year's Eve, have celebrations along the river. The Fine Arts on the River Festival celebrates higher-end pursuits, including wine, classical music and fine art.
Reviewers of Riverfront Plaza on travel websites have mixed opinions of the area. One woman called it "typical tourist stuff,'' but another says it's "a great place to have a good time,'' with "something for everybody'' and "lots of atmosphere.'' Everyone warns of the uneven footing - don't wear heels - and lack of parking, and some are disappointed, saying that it is "too touristy.'' This visitor sums up the ideal Riverfront experience, though, saying, "Safe, clean and fun, fun, fun. Best fun I've had in a long time.''