Updated: Jun 27
Charleston to Savannah, a road trip filled with apricot sunsets, sagging old oak trees, and the sweet, sweet scents of jasmine and honeysuckle. There’s something mysterious and majestic about the lowcountry. Where you can island hop through the glorious Carolina and Georgia coasts, skimming your fingertips across marsh grasses and centuries of history at the same time. Visitors naturally get fixated on these two great American cities but are caught off-guard when they fall hopelessly in love with everything in between.
Lowcountry is synonymous with slow country. It’s a place where people take their time and savor the moments and details that often go unnoticed when we rush from place-to-place. So, I’ve devised an incredible road trip itinerary where you’ll have time to watch the way the sunlight dapples through the swaying Spanish moss. Where you can soak up the creaking floorboards of centuries-old homes and the thwack of a brittle screen door. On this road trip, we spent four days in Charleston, two days in Beaufort, and another four days in Savannah, but you can take as long as you like. We chose to stop in Beaufort for its picturesque coastline, historic homes and inns, great dining and a reputation for true southern hospitality. Lots of people stop in Hilton Head, but the golf-course resort scene wasn’t what we were going for on this trip.
The American South is filled to the brim with history, controversy, incredible food, artistry, architecture and scenery. And if you can appreciate all those facets in their own messy and complicated way, you’re going to love this road trip. It’s moving. In the face of so much prosperity and despair, where old money mingles with extreme poverty, we are given the opportunity to confront our discomforts and evaluate our own ideologies. Travel is a vessel for self-discovery. And if we use it correctly, it can shine a light into the darkest corners within us, coaxing forward insecurities, fears and prejudices. So buckle up and prepare to be lured in by the paradox of it all.
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How long is the drive from Charleston to Savannah?
Distance: Approximately 109 miles (175 km) with no stops.
Duration: A little over two hours if you go directly on the I-95 S and Hwy 17S - but you’d miss SO much.
While you could drive straight from Charleston to Savannah, it’s only two hours after all, you’d be missing out on the glorious coastline. There’s so much to experience in this region, from ancient natural wonders to man-made marvels and ruins. There are literally hundreds of lush, palmetto-clad islands to explore.
We started in Charleston and decided to head south, but you could reverse this itinerary if you wanted. Known for its pastel-hued row houses and stately mansions on the sea, Charleston is a vibrant city with one foot in the past and one in the present. It’s a place of expansive front porches adorned with hanging ferns and vibrant flower boxes. Towering palmettos line the cobbled streets where at any given moment, you can unknowingly walk into a cloud of the sweetest jasmine perfume.
Dining is serious business in Charleston, and the restaurants take that responsibility to the next level. A couple of restaurants you should know about are CRU Café, Chubby Fish, FIG, Husk and Estadio. We stayed at the Zero George, and I’m convinced it’s the best boutique hotel in Charleston. I’d been watching the hotel from the West Coast for about three years before booking. Their food and beverage program is impressive and the innovation and creativity coming out of that kitchen without question, gives any other restaurant in the city a run for its money.
Where to eat before your Charleston to Savannah road trip:
Rodney Scott’s BBQ
1011 King St, Charleston, SC 29403
Swig & Swine
1217 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407
Few things scream southern road trip like a good ole roadside BBQ spot. If you’re still in the city, head north on King St. to Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Scott is known for his whole-hog barbecue, a method that requires the burning of hardwoods down to embers that heat and smoke the succulent meat to perfection. Don’t eat pork? No big deal, the brisket and smoked turkey are to die for. Before you think you might not be a BBQ person, Rodney Scott is a James Beard Award winner, has been featured in Bon Appetit Magazine and on Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern’s food shows. We have him, among others, to thank for the elevation of southern BBQ to a more prominent and distinguished position on the food scene.
If you’re already on the road and making your way toward Savannah, stop at the Swig & Swine on Savannah Highway in West Ashley. They have an impressive whiskey and bourbon list that pairs perfectly with their smoked brisket grilled cheese and their ridiculously delicious potato salad. It’s a little closer to a loaded baked potato than what you’re used to than the traditional mustard/mayo version. It was the first thing gobbled up on our plates.
Stop No. 1 on your road trip from Charleston to Savannah:
Angel Oak Tree
3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455
Distance: Approximately 13 miles (21 km)
Duration: 25 minutes unless there’s traffic (it can get congested taking the causeways from island to island so plan on it taking a little longer.)
Your first stop is on Johns Island to see the magnificent Angel Oak. At around 400 years old, she’s the largest live oak tree east of the Mississippi. An incredible flex from Mother Nature, the tree is one of the purest examples of what our planet can do if humans would stop screwing things up. According to the placard on the property, the tree is 65 feet high (20 m), and 31.5 feet around (9.6 m), casting 17,000 square feet (1579 square meters) of shade, or enough shade to cover more than six tennis courts. Let’s repeat that in case I threw too many numbers at you. This tree is so big, it produces enough shade to cover six tennis courts with some left over.
As you crunch through the leaves, you can hear a variety of bird songs, crickets and the playful squirrels who’ve undoubtedly reached nirvana in a tree this size. The limbs are otherworldly, and I mean that with the least amount of exaggeration as possible. They twist and turn, reaching for the sky, through the ground, and towards the road. Some of the gnarled branches even grow into the ground and back up through the earth. It’s incredible. While many believe the tree takes its shape from the aura of an angel, it was named for the property’s owners in the early 1700’s, Martha and Justus Angel.
Just don’t lean or sit on the branches. You don’t want to do anything that may weaken them. This old girl is only about halfway through her life span and will be around for far longer than we will. Nothing like travel to teach us how insignificant and grand we are, all at the same time.
Stop No. 2 on your Charleston to Savannah road trip:
Distance: Approximately 66 miles (106 km)
Duration: 1 hour and 13 minutes from the Angel Oak Tree
Now onto Beaufort. In the last couple years, Beaufort, on Port Royal Island has gotten some impressive accolades. Named one of the best and most beautiful small towns in America by both Travel + Leisure, and Condé Nast Traveler, I’m here to tell you I will support those distinctions any day of the week. Beaufort’s historic district is lined with incredible old homes and those towering oak trees draped in Spanish moss. It’s as if every single home in Beaufort is a finalist in a curb appeal contest and they’re all neck and neck.
Beaufort feels like what a small town should be. It’s oozing with charm, it’s quiet and safe and has friendly and diverse residents who are always quick to say good morning. Not to mention, the food is excellent, especially for a town this size. Everything in the historic district is walkable, so make sure you go down to the waterfront. It’s lined with porch swings instead of park benches and is a great place to watch the boats come in at sunset.
Where to stay in Beaufort on your road trip from Charleston to Savannah:
The Rhett House Inn
1009 Craven St, Beaufort, SC 29902
Anchorage 1770 Inn
1103 Bay St, Beaufort, SC 29902
Cuthbert House Inn
1203 Bay St, Beaufort, SC 29902
The Rhett House Inn, the Anchorage 1770 Inn, and the Cuthbert House Inn are my top picks. One thing to remember is that Beaufort is small, which means the great places book up fast, so don’t wait. We stayed at the Rhett House Inn and apparently follow a slew of Hollywood A-listers who’ve done the same. Tom Hanks, while he was in town filming Forest Gump, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand while she filmed The Prince of Tides, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Affleck and more. It’s like reading from the Hollywood phonebook.
I just really liked the double gallery porches and the fact that their chef is a celebrity in her own right. Chef Beverly has graced the pages of Southern Living Magazine and has been a staple at the Rhett House Inn for more than twenty years. Undoubtedly ruining peoples’ lives with the best savory grits they’ll ever have and will likely never have anywhere else. A full southern breakfast is served each day with stacks of pancakes and French toast, fresh biscuits, country ham, bacon, and so much more. You can also order mimosas or bloody Mary’s to go with your coffee, and enjoy it all on the wraparound front porch or the stately dining room. On Sundays, they have a jazz brunch featuring live music from local musicians.
The Anchorage 1770 Inn and the Cuthbert House are two stately mansions, that also happen to be neighbors, facing the waterfront along Bay Street. You’ll see Bay Street come up a lot in Beaufort because it’s essentially the main drag through town. Both bed and breakfasts have been renovated and have exceptionally friendly staff. But Anchorage 1770 has a rooftop porch overlooking the Beaufort Mooring Field and the Memorial Bridge, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to watch the sunset. They also have a culinary program serving elevated regional cuisine. Think, pan seared diver scallops, roasted lamb, hot smoked salmon and seared duck breast.
Where to eat in Beaufort on your stop over from Charleston to Savannah:
Lowcountry Produce Market
Old Bull Tavern
Saltus River Grill
Stop for brunch or lunch at Lowcountry Produce Market & Café. The building is a converted old post office they’ve turned into a marketplace and restaurant. It’s filled to the brim with homemade and handmade delights like boiled peanuts, hand-sewn quilts, canned veggies and sauces, oil paintings, fresh tomato pies, and the best jalapeño jelly anyone has ever had. Wren Bistro is another lunch spot, with exposed rafters and brickwork, it’s a charming place to grab a salad or sandwich for lunch and enjoy a glass of wine or a craft cocktail.
If you fancy a more upscale dinner, you won’t go wrong with Old Bull Tavern. It’s dark and moody, like any good tavern should be, with a wood-fire oven and elevated menu items like duck confit, escargot and lamb shank. The Saltus River Grill is along the waterfront and has a beautiful outdoor dining space lined with trees and bistro lights. It’s a great place for locally sourced seafood, steaks and oysters on the half shell. But I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention the wine list. With more than 75 unique choices from France and Italy to New Zealand and Napa, you’ll definitely find something you like.
What to do in Beaufort on your way from Charleston to Savannah:
Spanish Moss Trail
Beaufort Walking Tour
Hunting Island State Park
Marsh Boardwalk Trail
Horse-drawn Carriage Rides
Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
We borrowed bicycles from the Rhett House Inn, a complimentary amenity, and set off through town to see all the charming storefronts and historical buildings. On recommendation from the Inn staff, we set off down the Spanish Moss Trail, a 12-foot-wide trail that winds its way through quintessential lowcountry scenery. The trail is full of pedestrians at any given time of the day, and was named one of the 10 Best Urban Walking Trails in America by Outside Magazine.
Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina, so it’s got more than 300 years of history behind it. While we weren’t able to do the Beaufort walking tour, the GM at the Rhett House Inn told us that Janet is the best in the business, and Beaufort just happens to be her hometown. So if you scratch one of these other items off your list and have time for a walking tour in Beaufort, this is the one the locals recommend.
I highly recommend visiting Hunting Island State Park. It’s a semitropical locale with dense forests right along the beach. Walk down the pier to see what the fishermen are catching on their lines, take a closer look at the informal bird sanctuary, visit the lighthouse if it’s open, and cross the marsh into Boneyard Beach. If you’ve never seen a driftwood beach before, you’re in for a real treat.
Hundreds of enormous trees line the sand, some upright and others lay where they fell. At high tide, you can scan the water line and see trees that are submerged nearly up to their limbs. The waves crash around them as if it’s perfectly normal to see drowning trees. They are a result of erosion. As the shoreline recedes, the ancient forest that once stood on this site is swallowed by the sea. They lay scattered across the sand, scrubbed by the salt and bleached by the sun. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight to see. This is a must-do.
While I’d normally advocate for watching the sunset on the beach, I’m going to break my own rule. This is one of the most unique beaches I’ve ever been to, but it faces east. It would be an incredible place to watch the sunrise. But for sunset, I recommend you watch it across the main road, in the marsh. Type Marsh Boardwalk Trail into your phone, you’ll be blown away by what you find at the end of that dock. The sun melts across the marsh like butter, covering everything it reaches, including you.
If you’d like to take a horse drawn carriage ride through Beaufort’s historic quarter, learn about the town’s history and see many of the Hollywood filming sites, you’ll want to book ahead. These tours fill up fast so make this one of the activities you book first.
The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is a wide-open green space with sweeping views of the Beaufort Marina, the bay and the Beaufort Memorial Bridge. This is where you’ll find the porch swings lining the riverfront, a playground for kids and a large pavilion for events. We happened to be in town the same time the Taste of Beaufort was happening, so the lawn was filled with food vendors and local musicians. If your trip coincides with a festival in Beaufort, consider yourself lucky because they are a lot of fun.
Stop No. 3 on your Charleston to Savannah road trip:
The Old Sheldon Church Ruins
Old Sheldon Church Rd, Yemassee, SC 29945
Distance: Approximately 18 miles (29 km)
Duration: 25 minutes from Beaufort
You’ll have a hard time peeling yourself away from the rocking chairs and sense of relaxation that Beaufort gives its visitors, but it’s time to hit the road. Your next stop is the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, originally known as Prince William’s Parish Church. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place filled with those enormous live oak trees draped in Spanish moss. The church was built around 1750 and was burned down by the British Army during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt again in 1826, only to be burned again during the Civil War in 1865. All that’s left of the church today, are the Greek Revival columns, the church’s exterior walls and the graves that have been left behind.
It's a place you’d have to see to believe. It’s now owned by the Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort and still hosts weddings and an annual church service the second Sunday after Easter. We stopped and talked with a local photographer who was visiting the same time we were, and he mentioned the addition of the wrought iron fence in the last couple years. You used to be able to walk through it, but vandalism became a problem. Honestly, it doesn’t take away from the mystical nature of the property or the ruins one bit.
Stop No. 4 from Charleston to Savannah
Wormsloe Historic Site
7601 Skidaway Rd, Savannah, GA 31406
Distance: Approximately 63 miles (101 km)
Duration: Just over one hour from the Old Sheldon Church
Wormsloe State Historic Site is the oldest of Georgia’s tidewater estates, having been constructed in the 1730s. It’s famous for its incredible oak avenue that is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) long and lined with 400 live oak trees. Talk about a photo opp. The property was once a plantation, with an estimated 1,500 slaves working the 500 acres that belonged to Noble Jones, an original Georgia colonist. The site is now home to a museum, miles of hiking trails, ruins from an original house made of tabby (masonry made of oyster shells and lime), and a family grave plot.
You could spend an entire day here if you’re a history buff. But if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, you can always dedicate a day to touring Wormsloe and Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. The cemetery is a must-see in Savannah, so you may as well knock out two birds with one stone.
Stop No. 5 – Final destination in Savannah, GA
Distance: Approximately 10 miles
Duration: About 15-20 minutes from Wormsloe (depending on traffic)
Ah, you’ve made it to Savannah, the land of the 22 magnificent squares and more historical significance than you can truly digest. Savannah is wildly romantic, stately mansions cover every inch of the historic quarter, the food is excellent with a long lineage of chefs promoting local ingredients, and it’s just plain stunning. The green spaces are lush, often filled with flowers, trickling fountains and those stunning old trees. In Forsyth Park, you’ll find the more than 300-year-old Candler Oak, which has been growing since the 1700s.
Thanks to the Savannah College of Art and Design, historic buildings that are even remotely threatened with demolition are bought and saved by the university. It’s this dedication to preservation that has kept the city so close to its roots. And since it’s technically a college town, that means it’s also got a lively bar and nightlife scene with a welcoming and diverse crowd. Some of our favorite restaurants were The Grey, Alligator Soul, Savannah Seafood Shack, Sorry Charlies, Cotton & Rye and Clary’s Café. A note on Savannah dining, book a reservation early, these restaurants fill up days in advance. If you're looking for an incredible place to stay, you practically trip over them in Savannah. But our favorites are the Hamilton Turner Inn, The Gastonian, and the Bellwether House.
Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.