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Before I start, I have to get something off my chest. Charlestonians call Savannah the slutty younger sister of Charleston. Locals head from Charleston to Savannah when they’re looking to let loose a bit.
To some degree, the connotation sticks:
- Open container laws
- Bachelorette parties galore
- Heavy drinking on River Street
- Saint Patrick’s Day in general
But don’t judge a book by it’s cover! Or do, as Savannah residents don’t care.
As a Savannah innkeeper told me, that younger sister is way more fun at a party.
Savannah, Georgia, is worth exploring in its own right. The two sister cities, Charleston and Savannah, are more different than people give them credit.
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Charleston versus Savannah
Charleston is more European in feel. While it’s larger, it’s scattered across islands and peninsulas.
Savannah, meanwhile, is more concentrated in its downtown. It also has taller buildings, which give it more of a city feel, despite being smaller.
Savannah’s farther from the ocean, so beaches are more of a drive. And the Spanish moss drapes more densely on the trees, which certainly contributes to the classic Southern feel.
Most still associate Savannah with “the Book”, or the 1995 novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. John Berendt’s novel about the city from the perspective of a scandalous murder trial is still worth a read before you step foot here, if you have the time.
A weekend is all you need to get a good grasp on Savannah. That said, more time will allow you to explore farther afield or check-off the things I skipped on my recent visit.
Everything You Need to Plan a Short Weekend in Savannah from Charleston
The good thing is Savannah is relatively compact. The city sprawls like a typical American metropolis. And yet the major attractions are largely central to downtown.
I recently drove down after work on a Friday. I wandered around downtown all Saturday, then explored further parts of the Savannah area on Sunday. And I wasn’t too exhausted to drive driving home that evening.
Though even if I wasn’t, I would have had to, what with work and all.
While I could have done more (like the museums), I can’t say I was bored.
How to Get from Charleston to Savannah
Many people lump Charleston and Savannah together when they visit the Lowcountry. I drove the 2 hours from Charleston to Savannah. It may be cheaper depending on where you’re coming from to fly to Charleston International Aiport and then drive to the Empire State of the South.
That said, the Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport is 8 miles away from downtown. The airport has regular flights to all the major cities of the Northeast, plus Miami, Dallas, Houston, and Chicago. You can even skip the drive from Atlanta and Charlotte, if you’re so inclined.
If you prefer to be a little eco-friendly and travel by rail, Amtrak passes through Savannah on its Silver Service / Palmetto line.
Savannah’s easily accessible from I-95. If you’re coming from the north, I recommend getting off on Route 17 close to the Georgia / South Carolina border. That way, you can cross the Savannah River via the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, rather than the uglier bridge that I-95 travels, further west. You can also take Interstate 16 to enter the city from the west.
While the drive is only about 2 hours, there are a lot of great places to stop and poke around on the way.
In order of distance from our starting point on a Charleston to Savannah road trip itinerary:
Kiawah Island: An Exclusive Retreat
Kiawah Island, an opulent private island, is only 25 miles southwest of Charleston, South Carolina. This upscale resort is known for its immaculate beaches, lush scenery, and first-rate amenities. It’s an ideal spot to relax or take part in outdoor activities while on your Charleston road trip itinerary.
With its natural beauty and five championship golf courses at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, this island paradise is a true dream come true. Kiawah Island is a must-see stop on a Charleston road trip.
You can relax on the beach, pedal around the island, or tee off on one of the top golf courses.
Activities and Attractions on Kiawah Island
Outdoor enthusiasts are spoiled for choice on Kiawah Island. Get active with kayaking, biking, and golfing while surrounded by breathtaking scenery. Beachwalker Park, located on the western end of the island, offers public beach access where you can relax on the sand or explore the island by bike. Keep an eye out for local wildlife like bald eagles and ospreys while you’re there.
For more structured activities, the Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers a variety of outdoor activities:
- Play a round of golf on one of their five championship courses
- Indulge in some tennis
- Or take part in water sports like kayaking and paddleboarding
After a day full of adventure, relax and rejuvenate at the resort’s spa or take a dip in one of the multiple swimming pools.
Other spots to explore near Kiawah Island include Edisto Island. Much less developed than other Charleston sea islands, it’s famous for its peaceful atmosphere. Try out some outdoor activities to explore the area like:
- And golfing
Edisto Beach State Park is worth just a few hours to visit. It offers hiking trails, an environmental education center, and fishing tournaments.
Where to Stay on Kiawah Island
If you decide to extend your South Carolina road trip to include an overnight on Kiawah Island, you have a few options.
The Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers villas, homes, and suites with stunning ocean views.
Beaufort: A Charming Stopover
Nestled between Savannah and Charleston, Beaufort is a charming small town. It’s a delightful break on your road trip. This coastal town is famous for:
- Its historic homes
- Picturesque waterfront
- And delicious seafood
It’s an ideal stopover for road trips to and from Savannah and Charleston.
The center street of town drips with as much Southern charm as Spanish moss-in the oak trees. Beaufort captures the Lowcountry ambience in a small package.
Exploring Beaufort’s History
Be sure to discover Beaufort’s rich history through its well-preserved historic district. It features stunning antebellum homes and beautiful historic churches. On Port Royal Island, one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands, Beaufort once competed with Charleston for the title of South Carolina’s major port. It lost, but it’s still quite charming. Highlights of Beaufort’s history include its role in the American Civil War and the Port Royal Experiment. The second was an initiative by President Lincoln’s administration. The goal was helping emancipated slaves become economically independent.
Explore Beaufort’s history and picturesque surroundings with the help of:
- Walking tours
- Carriage tours
- And boat tours
Don’t miss nearby attractions like the Fort Pulaski National Monument. This is a Civil War site that witnessed the Union Army’s siege and eventual capture of the fort. Another is Hunting Island State Park, an island state park famous for:
- Stunning natural beauty
- And the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse
And the Old Sheldon Church Ruins are a cool stop just off the highway outside of Beaufort. This church had a tumultuous history, which hides the tranquil setting you find now. It appears that too many people have been doing reckless things at the Old Sheldon Church ruins, so a fence now surrounds them.
Beaufort’s history is also deeply intertwined with the Gullah culture. The Penn Center was one of the first schools in the country to provide education for formerly enslaved individuals. The site and visitor center offers an opportunity to learn about African American history, art, and culture through self-guided or group tours.
Hilton Head Island: Relaxation and Adventure
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is a popular tourist hotspot . It blends relaxation and outdoor adventure. Ranked as one of the best US islands, Hilton Head Island hosts:
- Stunning beaches
- Diverse Lowcountry wildlife
- World-class golf courses
- And delicious food
Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat or an action-packed visit, Hilton Head Island is a great pick. Lounge on the beach, explore nature trails, or enjoy a round of golf at one of the many golf courses.
Outdoor Experiences on Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island offers a wide range of outdoor experiences for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Golf enthusiasts can tee off on one of the island’s world-class golf courses, while tennis players can enjoy a match at one of the many tennis courts. Hilton Head Island is also home to beautiful beaches like Coligny Beach Park. There, you can relax on the sand or rent a paddleboard to explore the Atlantic Ocean.
To discover the island’s natural beauty and wildlife, the Coastal Discovery Museum is a must-visit attraction. Here, you can walk along well-maintained walking trails throughout. All the while, learn about Hilton Head Island’s ecosystems with hands-on exhibits and outdoor activities. For a different perspective of the island, take a boat tour of the marshes and waterways. Or visit nearby attractions like:
- Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
- And Shelter Cove Community Park
Ending Your Journey in Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia, is the grand finale of your road trip, offering a charming blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Stroll through the cobblestone streets, marvel at the Spanish moss-draped oak trees, and explore the city’s rich history that dates back to the 18th century. Must-see attractions in Savannah include Forsyth Park, River Street, and Bonaventure Cemetery, making it the perfect destination to end your Charleston road trip.
As you explore Savannah, you’ll be captivated by its historic architecture, vibrant waterfront, and delicious Southern cuisine. From the iconic historic squares to the bustling City Market, Savannah is a city that offers a delightful mix of old-world charm and modern amenities.
I’ve visited Savannah more than a few times. This most recent visit, however, I got to see the city from a local friend’s eyes.
Savannah’s Historic District
I stayed on the edge of downtown and walked in during the day, so I listed attractions by how I found them. Mostly, we just wandered around the live oak-lined streets of Savannah’s historic downtown.
This 30-acre park is massive. Its huge, central fountain is one of the most photographed sites in Savannah. Plus, it’s where the farmers market meets on Saturdays, on the southern end. Originally a 10-acre park designed by William Hodgson, the park has expanded to its current size. It now includes tennis and basketball courts to match the expansive lawns and plantings.
Juliette Gordon Low House
The birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts, this house is always covered with Girl Scouts. You can usually catch a troop taking a line picture up the front stairs as you walk by the building.
Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
The facade of this 19th-century Roman Catholic cathedral is impressive, but be sure to get inside and enjoy a few moments of peace. While you’re meditating in a pew, look around and observe the neo-gothic architecture and stained glass windows.
Colonial Park Cemetery
I did not make it to the Bonaventure Cemetery this trip, the famous one from “the Book”. Instead, we poked around the historic city-center burial grounds, first consecrated in 1789. Some founders of the city and the country are laid to rest here. This cemetery is supposedly one of the most haunted places in what is already a haunted city. They close the cemetery at night because of so many strange occurrences that freaked-out tourists.
Waving Girl Statue
Walk down River Street to a waterfront park on the eastern side, and you’ll find the Waving Girl Statue. This honors a woman who lived with her brother, the lighthouse keeper, at the entrance to the Savannah River. Night and day, she made a point of greeting ships with a sheet during the day and a lantern at night.
Sailors throughout the world spread the story of the Waving Girl in the port of Savannah.
When she “retired” from her profession, the city installed this statue to honor her.
Farther Afield from Downtown Savannah
If you’ve got a car, a friend with a boat, or preferably both, you can head farther away from Savannah and explore the natural beauty of the Lowcountry.
Wormsloe Historic Site
The Wormsloe Historic Site features an original island fortification used to defend colonial Savannah from potential Spanish invasions from Florida. The architecture is a style largely lost in Savannah, though it was common at its founding: tabby. Tabby is a crude form of concrete made from oyster shells and lime.
While the views of the marshes are beautiful, the main draw to the site is the long allee of oaks leading to the old fort ruins.
Ossabaw Island and Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge
If you’ve got a friend in the area with a boat, or feel like renting one yourself, you can cruise through the marshes out to Ossabaw Island. One of the largest barrier islands near Savannah, it’s inaccessible by any bridge or causeway.
But that makes it a perfect place for wildlife. The beach closest to the Savannah River fills-up with other boaters looking for a more secluded beach than Tybee Island. But there are long stretches on the ocean side where you won’t see a soul.
Be sure to walk over to the boneyard on the ocean side. There, trees that have been slowly exposed and left to die by the erosive waves still stand, bleaching in the sun.
Like the dead trees, you will experience a lot of exposure to the sun. Plan accordingly.
Where to Eat and Drink in Savannah
Like every other city in the South, Savannah’s food culture is becoming a destination in and of itself.
I was visiting a friend who lives in Savannah, so I got to take advantage of his knowledge of his hometown.
The Public Kitchen and Bar
Located on East Liberty and close to Chippewa and Madison Squares, the Public Kitchen and Bar has mid-century modern decor. But I wasn’t there for the decor: their cocktails and eclectic menu were fantastic. I had a Rhubarb & Tonic, and the Stuffed Chicken Breast; both of which were amazing.
Congress Street Up
Congress Street Up is a unique experience to Savannah. This bar is decorated like a 1920s speakeasy. Visitors are expected to dress to impress as they drink Prohibition-era classics, including big punch bowls that are way stronger than you realize while drinking them.
You’ve been warned.
Foxy Loxy Cafe
Equal parts coffee shop, bakery, and Tex-Mex cantina; Foxy Loxy Cafe on Bull Street between 35th and 36th streets is perfect for breakfast. Especially if you’re close to a sour mood due to caffeine withdrawal. This place will be packed, though, so feel free to wander around looking throughout the house and the outdoor area in back for seating. The walls are covered in local art, as well.
Just stay within earshot of the counter for when they call your order.
Part of the Treylor Park consortium of restaurants, Hitch offers some unique variations of American standard bar fare. My favorite thing we ordered was Avocado Fries. That said, the PB&J chicken wings (tossed in a butter/pecan butter sauce and served with peach jam dipping sauce) were delicious as well.
This is a bit of a drive away from downtown Savannah, but it’s worth the trip, especially at sunset. The Wyld offers casual waterside dining with a focus on seafood. The fish tacos were the perfect amount of food, and we weren’t even disturbed by bugs at prime biting time of the evening.
The Painkiller Slushie was yet another mixed drink that didn’t taste anywhere near as strong as it was.
Loc’s Chicken and Waffles
A local Savannah restaurant, this place knows what it’s famous for, and knows how to serve them well. Be careful about coming on Sundays, as this place can get pretty packed with church-goers. Be sure to have Loc’s chicken and waffles, obviously.
Where to Stay in Savannah
The best area to stay in Savannah is without question the historic downtown area. Seriously, things go downhill the minute you move past the most heavily-trafficked areas of Savannah. But downtown is safe, as the police are busy making sure nothing happens to the goose that laid the golden egg that is tourism. Anywhere between the river and Forsyth park will be perfectly safe, and easily walkable to anything you’re looking to experience downtown.
As far as safety goes, don’t be foolish.
If you’re walking long distances at night, take an Uber or cab. And definitely don’t wander around alone after dark.
But that said, some of the midtown sections of Savannah are quite cute. And unlike Charleston, they’re an easy walk from the historic district.
Within the historic district, there are plenty of options for both Airbnbs as well as hotels. Having been brought-up in the bed and breakfast industry, I’m regularly obliged to support a local innkeeper’s business.
Best Time to Visit Savannah
The best time to visit Savannah is whenever you have the time off.
If you’re looking for a less smart-ass answer, you have a couple times to pick:
Springtime in Savannah
March to July is the best time to visit Savannah. The warm weather helps make the air heavy with the scents of flowers, though not yet heavy with heat and intense humidity of later summer. Because it’s prime time to be here, hotel rates are typically at their highest.
Autumn in Savannah
The best time if you’re looking to save a buck or two is mid-September through mid-November. The weather’s cooling off again, yet hotel rates are likely not as high as in the spring.
Tybee Island: A Coastal Detour
While visiting Savannah, consider taking a day trip to Tybee Island, a popular coastal destination just 18 miles away. Known for beautiful, unique beaches, Tybee Island offers a refreshing detour from the historic charm of Savannah.
Easily accessible from Savannah, Tybee Island is a perfect day trip that allows you to experience a different side of the East Coast. From its stunning beaches to its fascinating maritime history, Tybee Island is a coastal gem you won’t want to miss.
Activities and Attractions on Tybee Island
Tybee Island is home to several beautiful beaches, including:
- North Beach
- South Beach
- Back River
- Little Tybee
- And Mid Beach
While the beaches are the main draw, Tybee Island also boasts attractions for history and lighthouse buffs. Fort Pulaski National Monument and Tybee Island Lighthouse are worth a visit.
Fort Pulaski, a historical landmark and museum, offers a glimpse into the Civil War and the island’s military history. The Tybee Island Lighthouse, has guided mariners safely into the Savannah River for over 270 years.
On Tybee Island, you’ll find a variety of dining options that showcase the region’s fresh seafood and local flavors. From casual beachside restaurants to upscale eateries, there’s something for every palate.
Some popular restaurants and eateries on Tybee Island include:
- The Crab Shack and Sting Ray’s Seafood for seafood lovers
- Spanky’s Beachside and Fannie’s on the Beach for beachside dining
- And North Beach Bar for a laid-back atmosphere and refreshing drinks
Discovering Charleston’s Rich History
If you’re reading this, you already know that Charleston, South Carolina, is a popular tourist destination. Its cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, and centuries-old churches add to the elegant charm of the Holy City.
Must-Visit Sites in Charleston, SC
A visit to Charleston from Savannah wouldn’t be complete without exploring iconic historic sites, like:
- Rainbow Row, a line of 13 pastel-colored antebellum houses that make for a perfect photo opportunity
- The Battery and White Point Gardens, a beautiful seawall and promenade lined with antebellum homes and palm trees
- And the Ravenel Bridge, a 2.5-mile-long bridge that offers stunning views of the city and is popular for walking and biking
- Historic Charleston City Market, a market complex dating back to the 1790s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places
- Waterfront Park, a great place to relax by the French Quarter
Stroll through the historic district. The mansions, churches, and public buildings showcasing Charleston’s history are worth marveling at.
- Middleton Place
- Boone Hall Plantation
- Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
- McLeod Plantation Historic Site
- Fort Sumter
- Magnolia Plantation
- And the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Culinary Experiences in Charleston, SC
Charleston is famous for its Southern cuisine, making it a food lover’s paradise. Indulge in local favorites like:
- She Crab Soup
- Shrimp and Grits
- And Fried Green Tomatoes
For a truly immersive culinary experience, consider joining one of the many food tours available in Charleston. These guided tours take you to some of the city’s best restaurants and eateries. You’ll get a taste for the flavors of the region while learning about Charleston’s rich culinary history.
Where to Stay in Charleston, SC
The best places to stay in Charleston depend on what you want to experience while you’re here.
The historic downtown Charleston is all about luxury now, but you also get to enjoy being walking distance from everything. Check out our guide to historic downtown Charleston district hotels.
Or check out some of our other guides for:
Or, road trip from Charleston to Savannah planned, why not check out some other day and road trip from Charleston ideas?
A few more options include Charleston to Myrtle Beach, north up the coast.
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