SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Forbes named Savannah one of the 10 coolest U.S. cities to visit in 2018.
Savannah stands alongside cities like Louisville, Ky., Portland, Maine, Philadelphia and Detroit.
"The message of coolest destination to visit, I think that's a reflection on how our visitors and our customers are changing," said Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah. "They're getting younger. They're getting a bit more affluent, and they're really enjoying all that the city has to offer."
Forbes lists Savannah's growing restaurant scene and boutique hotels as reasons to vacation in the hostess city.
One of the restaurants highlighted in Forbes' list is plant-based cafe Fox & Fig. The vegan restaurant opened in Nov. 2017, and co-owner and general manager Clay Ehmke said the national recognition is exciting.
"Very exciting," he said. "We're doing something unique. I think that helps, to do something that really hasn't been done here yet. We're definitely offering something they've never experienced before unless they've traveled to larger cities other than Savannah, so it's definitely been quite an eye-opening experience for them to know that you can eat this kind of food, this kind of cuisine without it being boring or weird."
Ehmke says Savannah's status as a foodie destination has exploded in the last four years.
"There are places opening up left and right," he said. "El Coyote just opened up and Husk. There's a lot of different options. I think Savannah constant influx of tourism allows for sort of a playground for food and beverage."
Marinelli agreed and noted many of the new business are opening in areas like the Starland or Moon River Districts where there wasn't a lot of tourist-activity before.
"As the product changes and you look at the wave of boutique-style hotels that are coming into the market, you look at the array of restaurants, the vegan restaurants that are coming in, I think as our customers get younger, they spend more," he said. "They stay longer, but they're enjoying parts of town that typically they've not visited in the past."
Ehmke said locals benefit from the new endeavors as much, if not more than tourists. In his restaurant, he said he sees about 70 percent of customers are locals and 30 percent are tourists.
So far in 2018, 14 publications have recognized Savannah as a place people should vacation. Ehmke says the city's charm and history keep locals here and tourists coming.
"It's a hidden gem," he said. "It's a beautiful town. I mean, it doesn't get better than Savannah. Yeah, it's perfect. I've been here just over four years, and it's perfect. I don't want to leave anytime soon."