Charleston, South Carolina, is a fantastic place to live.
But for anyone who’s lived in a larger city, getting away from town saves you from cabin fever.
I don’t vacation in the traditional sense. Instead, I settle in an exotic locale and then explore where I’m living as well as places nearby. And my favorite way to do so is by road tripping.
Luckily, South Carolina has a lot of diverse terrain and places to visit. That makes for a lot of easy weekend road trips from Charleston, SC. There are a lot of interesting places to go that are only within a four to six hour drive.
And some make for fantastic romantic vacations, as well.
7 Great Day Trips Around Charleston, SC, in the Lowcountry
The Lowcountry in and of itself is pretty exotic, even to people from other parts of the United States. One reason I settled in the Lowcountry was because it reminded me so much of Southern Africa. In a cultural and ecological sense, this beautiful, swampy area evokes exotic, tropical locales. It has also been the muse for myriad Western writers and poets. One of the most recent (and most famous) was Pat Conroy.
And driving around is the best way to experience the Lowcountry for yourself. Everything on this list is more or less in order of distance from Charleston. Start with these for quick Lowcountry day trips.
Edisto Beach is one of the best beaches near Charleston, South Carolina. It is remote enough to keep the crowds down compared to Folly Beach. That said, it is only an hour drive away from historic downtown Charleston.
A visit to Edisto Beach is definitely more of a day trip for anyone that lives in Charleston. That is, unless you feel like camping on the beach at Edisto Beach State Park. The decision is yours.
Beaufort is beautiful, and also close enough to be a day trip from Charleston. A few hours to walk around and enjoy a couple meals could be all you need to explore Beaufort’s historic district. Which is great, because the drive is about an hour and a half from downtown Charleston.
Even if you’re going to enjoy the beaches near Beaufort at Hunting Island State Park, don’t just breeze through town. At the very least, walk around some of the historic neighborhoods to see the mansions.
Are you thinking of planning a romantic getaway in Beaufort? The Cuthbert House Inn is a beautiful bed and breakfast within walking distance of all downtown Beaufort. And a few days there should be more than enough to explore everything in the area.
How to Best Experience the Scenic Drive from Charleston to Savannah
The drive from Charleston to Savannah is beautiful. And the highway’s been expanded recently, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck behind a slow-moving truck. It takes about two hours to travel straight from Charleston to Savannah. But getting there is half the fun of a road trip.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins
On the way from Charleston to Savannah, be sure to stop at the Old Sheldon Church ruins, close to the turn-off to Beaufort. The church ruins are so peaceful, you forget about the road you have to cross from the parking lot to the ruins and how fast drivers go on it. The church was built in the mid-1700s but burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt in 1826, but torn apart after the Civil War to rebuild local homes burned by General Sherman’s army.
Historic Downtown Savannah
You can continue on to Bluffton or Hilton Head, or just go straight on to Savannah along route 17, then I-95. There, you’ll see an entire city not destroyed by the Civil War. General Sherman captured the city and gave it to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas gift rather than burn it. That saved the city from the burnt fate of other Southern cities like Atlanta and later, Columbia.
Savannah is beautiful, and has taller buildings than Charleston. Beautiful old mansions surround placid squares in Savannah’s historic district. Some of my favorite places to see in Savannah include sites from the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil novel like:
- Bonaventure Cemetery
- the Mercer House
A few other favorites include: Forsyth Park and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
That said, I would say you can fit the majority of a visit to Savannah in a full day. But I may be biased, living in Charleston.
The Best of Hipster Charleston’s Guide to Planning an Overnight Visit to Savannah
If you are planning on spending an overnight in Savannah, be ready for the prices. A romantic weekend getaway in Savannah is not cheap. But there are plenty of romantic restaurants to enjoy. One of my favorite bed and breakfast inns there, the Presidents Quarters Inn, is within walking distance of everything to experience in historic downtown Savannah.
An hour drive north from Charleston, Georgetown is up route 17 through the Lowcountry. Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina, after Charleston and Beaufort. This used to just be an unattractive factory town. Since the mill closed, though, the historic downtown is starting to revitalize. Check out Winyah Bay if you’re into fishing. I also recommend exploring
- the downtown strip
- the Kaminski House Museum
- Old Market Building
For many people, Hilton Head evokes images of golf courses, yachts, and preppy people as far as the eye can see. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Hilton Head has put a lot of effort into preserving the natural heritage of the island. They’ve even gone as far as adjusting development plans to incorporate the large live oaks into building plans.
That said, it’s still a far cry from the Gullah-dominated community it was before developers took it over.
If you feel like poking around in Hilton Head for an afternoon (again, that’s all you need), check out such points of interest as:
- Hilton Head beaches like Coligny Beach Park
- Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
- Harbour Town Light
- Coastal Discovery Museum
Yes, Myrtle Beach is well known as a tourist destination. Any period that would be considered “beach season”, this place is crawling with tourists. While Savannah is worth a day trip, I’m not sure what need there is to go to Myrtle Beach. Just go to any of the myriad beaches along the South Carolina coast.
The trip from Charleston to Myrtle Beach is about 2 hours, with no traffic. It only takes two and a half hours to go by train between the two cities and ditch the car.
But seriously, don’t go to Myrtle Beach if you don’t need to do so. It’s the Gatlinburg of the Lowcountry.
Columbia, South Carolina
The capitol of the state of South Carolina is about a 2 hour drive inland from Charleston. Columbia is called the armpit of South Carolina. Sometimes affectionately, sometimes not. But the name stems from the fact that the city sits in a pit where heat supposedly just stays and stews for months on end.
Keep the season in mind when you’re planning a trip there. It’s got the heat of Charleston without the breezes.
The city was burned in the Civil War by General Sherman’s army, so there’s not a ton of historic sites. But there are other cool places to see, like:
- Congaree National Park, a hardwood forest with trails and places to canoe
- Riverbanks Zoo, the closest real zoo to Charleston (though it’s just okay, as far as zoos go)
The important thing is, a trip to Columbia is easy. And pretty cheap, as it’s not swamped with tourists the way Charleston can be certain times of the year.
In case you’re wondering: no, Columbia is not in the Lowcountry. But it’s an easy day trip if that’s how you want to approach it from Charleston.
Don’t get too caught up in semantics.
Further Inland Weekend Road Trips from Charleston, South Carolina
The inland is being called the new economic powerhouse of the South. We don’t notice here on the coast, as we’re too busy working our tech jobs and sweating profusely.
But there is a lot going on throughout the South, clustered in the cities stretching from Charlotte around the mountains to Atlanta. And they’re all within a 6-hour drive from Charleston, max.
Charlotte, North Carolina
I found Charlotte to be rather lame when I visited. I’m told this isn’t actually the case, that I need to give it another try, et cetera.
But living in Charleston, you do start to miss seeing skyscrapers. And Charlotte has those in abundance.
Plus, Charlotte nightlife can be pretty wild. There are lots of recent college graduates working their first high-paying jobs after school. As such, there’s plenty of money to support a thriving bar and club scene. Some people turn their nose up at EpiCentre and Connolly’s now, but don’t be embarrassed if you visit. Especially if you’re only visiting for an overnight.
Carowinds is also a fun amusement park to check out. And the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is beautiful. I’m personally partial to a walk around Freedom Park.
I personally am jealous of the Ikea in Charlotte, though. It’s the closest one to Charleston at 3 hours away.
Greenville, South Carolina
I love Greenville. Not enough to live there, but it’s an absolutely beautiful place. The autumn leaves in the mountains around Greenville are reminiscent of the New England fall foliage that people spend a lot more money to go see.
Plus, the compact downtown is fantastic. My favorite places in and around Greenville are:
- Walking around downtown, along Main Street, stretching from Springwood Cemetery to Falls Park on the Reedy
- Falls Park on the Reedy, just a short walk from the downtown Main Street
- Paris Mountain State Park, with actual, honest to God mountains and a swimmable mountain lake for warmer months up in Traveler’s Rest (TR, locally)
Most people in Charleston either visit the mountains in the summer to escape the heat, or in the fall to see some color change. Only a fool would visit the mountains from Charleston in the winter.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is considered the other “weird” city in the Carolinas, right alongside Charleston. Both places are known for being more unconventional and for their progressive politics. Especially compared to the rest of their respective states, they’re little islands of eccentricity.
Charlestonians will have a story about witnessing topless women walking through downtown Asheville. You just need to get a drunk or two in them first if you want to hear it.
But drinks are easily had in Asheville. It’s a beer lover’s delight, with plenty of great breweries nestled throughout the city. The many Asheville breweries complement the well-known arts scene and beautiful architecture found in the historic district.
But there’s even more to see in the surrounding hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can go for a hike to see waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the Pisgah National Forest. The Biltmore Estate, while expensive, is fabulously beautiful and features an impressive art collection (especially Renoir) to match the extensive gardens.
Plus, the entrance to Smoky Mountain National Park is only a 50 minute drive away from Asheville.
All of this is only about a 4-hour drive from Charleston to Asheville.
Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina
A five hour or so drive into the Blue Ridge mountains is Boone and smaller nearby Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Boone and Blowing Rock are the closest places to go skiing near Charleston. While not comparable to skiing in New England, let alone out West, it’s pretty decent for the South. Keep that in mind when some pretentious snob lectures you about it as you ride up a ski lift at one of these places. If you want to spend that money, then go there, pal.
The nearby skiing and snowboarding slopes are:
- Beech Mountain
- Appalachian Ski Mountain
- Sugar Mountain Resort
And the winter’s not that terrible, so you can go skiing one day, then go hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway the next. Poke around downtown Boone, and you’ve got a pretty good winter weekend getaway in Boone.
There are also some delightfully tacky tourist attractions, such as the Tweetsie Railroad and Hickory Ridge Homestead.
It seems like most Atlantans come to Charleston when they’re looking to get out of their town. But that doesn’t preclude Charlestonians from invading their home turf once in awhile.
The last trip I made to Atlanta was when the state government encouraged a Lowcountry evacuation due to a hurricane in October 2016. It was the same weekend as Atlanta Pride, so it was a fun time to be there.
But even if you’re not there for an event, Atlanta can still be a fun place to be for a few days. Some of my favorite places in Atlanta are:
Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Atlanta Botanical Garden is beautiful. Plantings are interspersed with art by local and international artists. And exploring the 30 acres of gardens and forests can take a few hours. There are some fantastic views of the Atlanta skyline over the trees at certain spots.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden is part of the Piedmont Park. It’s big, beautiful, and free to explore.
World of Coca-Cola
Yes, this is just a giant pantheon to Coca-Cola. But this place is fascinating if you have any interest in marketing. After all, how did this company make an inexpensive product into such an intrinsic part of people’s lives all over the world? It’s bubbly sugar water with a fantastic marketing campaign, after all. The miracles of marketing make looking at the World of Coca-Cola worth a visit.
Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site
Atlanta was an important location in the Civil War, as well as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthplace, this is worth visiting for anyone interested in America’s sordid past and its continued efforts to make amends.
This is supposed to be one of the best aquariums in the world. But I didn’t want to spend the money going to the Georgia Aquarium when I was visiting.
Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta
I love walking around Grant Park and the neighborhood surrounding it. It’s the ultimate Atlanta hipster neighborhood. And I love zoos, so this would likely be the place I’d live if I were to ever live in Atlanta. Not that I have any desire.
6 Unique Places to Visit in South Carolina for an Hour
There are plenty of places to stop in and poke around for an hour throughout South Carolina. They’re perfect for stopping while driving between places, or just to extend your road trip for a few more hours.
Newberry, South Carolina
This is between Columbia and Greenville, just off I-26. It feels like a town that time forgot, trapped in the 1950s. Go check Newberry out to see what I mean.
Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel
The Stumphouse Mountain Tunnel is an incomplete railroad tunnel built for the Blue Ridge Railroad. It was built by wealthy Charlestonian prospectors with the hopes of getting more direct access to the Ohio River Valley in 1835. It didn’t go anywhere, obviously, but is still a cool place to check out.
Mars Bluff Crater
The American military accidentally dropped a nuclear bomb on US territory in 1958. There was no nuclear warhead, and it was in rural South Carolina, close to Florence. But it’s still crazy to think about. And you can still see the hole to mark the location of the drop (though the bomb didn’t set off). But visit soon before nature swallows-up Mars Bluff Crater.
This is back in the Upstate, near Traveler’s Rest and Greenville. The Poinsett Bridge was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett was a prominent South Carolinian when this bridge, the oldest in South Carolina, was built in the 1820s. It was built to connect South Carolina cities to Tennessee. The quaint gothic architecture seems out of place in the woods, and to this day no one knows who designed it. Many suspect it was Robert Mills, who later designed the Washington Monument. I’m not sure, but the Poinsett bridge is quite bucolic.
Thelma and Louise Elephants
Two giant elephants, one grey, the other pink, sit by the highway outside Hardeeville near Savannah. They were put-up to beckon passersby on Highway 17 to stop and purchase fireworks at Papa Joe’s Fireworks.
Dorchester State Historic Site
This is pretty close to Summerville and Charleston. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site marks historic Dorchester. Dorchester was settled at the first crossing point of the Ashley River inland from Charleston.
Dorchester, named by its Puritan settlers that arrived from Massachusetts in 1696, was prosperous for a time. It was abandoned after the British burned it and the nearby fort during the Revolutionary War. The town never recovered, though the ruins are still cool to scramble around.
Places to Stop on South Carolina Road Trips Just to Say You’ve Been There
With only one (decent) thing on this list so far, I’m still adding to it. Let me know if you have any recommendations from your wanderings.
North, South Carolina
This town is in central South Carolina, south of Columbia. There’s not much here of interest except the name. Especially because it’s not even in the northern part of South Carolina. But feel free to just drive through North, SC.
Fine, whatever. Just go once if you need proof why everyone looks down on it so much.
Come Back to Charleston, Happy to Be Home
The best part about a weekend road trip is that Charleston is always waiting for you. The next time you’re not feeling like a weekend warrior, you can plan a staycation in Charleston. There are some fantastic vacation packages for romantic weekend getaways in Charleston. Regardless of where you like, many of the best boutique luxury hotels are within walking distance of the best things to do in Charleston.