From Charleston to Savannah: the ultimate Lowcountry road trip

Think Spanish moss-draped oaks, stately manors looming in grassy fields, swampy marshlands and roadside farm stands – a Lowcountry road trip promises the kind of southern charm you won’t soon forget. You’ll experience it all in addition to the undeniable promise of a Charleston to Savannah trek: incredibly friendly locals that welcome you at every turn.

Visitors often feel torn when it comes to choosing between two of the South’s most iconic cities. So, why not experience ‘em both and all the historical, cultural and culinary magic in between (spoiler alert: there are ghost tours, wineries and native ruins to tantalize all the senses)? Here’s what you need to know about how to do it and where to go.

What is the Lowcountry?

The exact geography of the Lowcountry can apply to different states and is open to different interpretations. It generally refers to a coastal region that is at or below sea level – for this road trip we’re encompassing the entirety of Charleston to Savannah’s coastal region, extending west to the Midlands or Sand Hills portion of the state. In its simplest form, Lowcountry refers to the lowest elevation points in the state.

When is the best time to go?

It’s easy to argue that Charleston and Savannah are always in season, with year-round happenings for history lovers and foodies alike. Even so, the spring months (March through May) are primed with pleasant temperatures regionwide, reaching highs in the upper-60s to low-80s range. The cities are in full bloom, with annual events like the springtime Charleston Festival showcasing its most pristine residences and gardens.

At night, lows can dip to the 40s and 50s, so you should pack a light jacket. If a beach excursion is in the mix (Tybee Island outside of Savannah is a wonderful option), the summer months (June through August) are peak sea island season. While the Atlantic Ocean temperatures will have a refreshing chill, there are larger crowds and higher lodging prices.

Tybee Island’s beach is very popular with Savannah locals © Getty Images

Where to start and rent a car

We’re taking a north-to-south adventure here, so Charleston is your starting point. Odds are you will arrive at Charleston International Airport, which is about a 20-minute drive north of the city. The airport has a rental car pavilion at the end of its principal terminal, just past the baggage claim. Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz and more all have offices here. If you arrive via Amtrak train, the Charleston station is a 10-minute drive east of the airport.

What to pack

Don’t be fooled by those oaks in the cities and cypresses in the swamps, the sun is strong here and you’ll need sunscreen and sun-protective clothing year-round. For outdoor adventures, spanning winery to estate tours, bug spray will come in handy. If you’re a golfer or are even remotely interested in the sport, take your clubs – the golf courses in this region are top-tier.

Despite a generally laid-back vibe, the cities and towns are quite stylish. For guys, a colorful button-up or polo, khakis, loafers and – if you’re feeling ultra-fancy – a bow tie are the norm. For ladies, think pops of pastel colors and patterns. If a nicer dinner is in the works, you’ll fit right in with the aforementioned garb.

And perhaps most importantly, bring a cooler. You’ll inevitably want to keep all of your local culinary leftovers and purchases on ice, such as pimento cheese, Brunswick stew and she-crab soup.

Angel Oak tree on St. Johns Island near Charleston, SC
Make a detour to see the incredible and ancient Angel Oak Tree © Dale Dudley / Shutterstock

Start your road trip in Charleston

Duration: 2.5 days/2 nights

Vibes: Known as ‘The Holy City,” the Charleston skyline is as dotted with church steeples as its streets are with cobblestones. This is South Carolina’s most prized coastal gem, renowned for Southern cuisine, intimate boutiques and horse-drawn carriages ushering folks about to gawk at the architecture.

Do: Stroll along King Street, hitting shops like Blue Bicycle Books for rare book finds, Worthwhile for designer garb and Candlefish for city-inspired candles. Snap a selfie in front of the Rainbow Row pastel-colored houses before heading south to the waterside White Point Garden Park. You’ll be able to see the Fort Sumter National Monument on an island in the harbor.

Eat: Second State Coffee is Charleston’s top specialty coffee shop and roaster, tucked in a house on Beaufain Street. Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is a Charleston icon – order its biscuit sandwiches piled with pimento or goat cheese. For no-frills soul food, Bertha’s Restaurant has the best sauce-doused pork chops in town. On the finer dining front, The Ordinary dazzles with a white marble-clad ambiance and towering fresh seafood offerings.

Stay: Hotel Bennett is a five-star option on the super-central Marion Square, with a spa and rooftop pool. Charleston is loaded with historic inns; opt for a stay at Wentworth Mansion, with 21 unique rooms, marble fireplaces and an on-site restaurant – Circa 1886 – with one of the best breakfasts in all of South Carolina.

The drive: Heading out of the city to Kiawah Island, pitstop on Johns Island at Angel Oak Park to see – you guessed it – an angelic oak tree. The park’s centerpiece is thought to date back nearly 400 years, has a whopping 25.5-foot circumference and is the largest living oak tree east of the Mississippi River.

A father and daughter riding a bike on the sand at Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Beachwalker Park has countless family-friendly activities on offer © Ash Lindsey Photography / Getty Images

Take a swing in Kiawah Island

Duration: 1.5 days/1 night

Vibes: South Carolina is a golf lover’s dream. Hilton Head may get a lot of love, but this secluded island is coastal luxury in its prime. Its Ocean Course hosted the PGA Championship in 2021 and will again in 2031 – the dramatic ocean vistas throughout are like nowhere else. Beyond golf, there’s a 10-mile stretch of private beaches as well as a charming shopping and restaurant area, Freshfields Village. If the South Carolina Sea Islands are your vibe, here’s our guide to planning your perfect trip.

Do: Hit Kiawah Beachwalker Park, which has a boardwalk, hard-packed sand and, if you’re lucky, you may see a dolphin or five swimming about. For a round of golf or a spell on the driving range, Osprey Point Golf Course and Turtle Point Golf Course are great options.

Eat: Make a beeline to the Ocean Course even if you’re not a golfer – its on-site seafood restaurant, The Atlantic Room, serves up some of the freshest catches in town. Jasmine Porch specializes in Lowcountry cuisine within a brick and oak-layered environment – order the shrimp and grits.

Stay: The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is as lux as it gets, with 255 guest rooms, two pools and ocean views. On the more casual side, Andell Inn has a freshwater pool and is located within the Freshfields Village complex.

The drive: En route to Beaufort primarily via Routes 17 and 21, tea lovers must detour on Wadmalaw Island at the Charleston Tea Garden – the only tea garden in North America, with a trolley ride available around its grounds. The landscape is generally open, untouched and serene with 125-plus acres of fields growing nine varieties of tea.

Street with houses in historic district. Beaufort, South - Carolina, USA.
Beaufort has a much more relaxed vibe than its big city counterparts © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Make a spirited stop in Beaufort

Duration: 2 days/1 night

Vibes: Slightly scaled down from its big-city counterparts, Beaufort is loaded with coastal vibes and homages to history, perhaps best accentuated by the 2024 unveiling of a long-planned Harriet Tubman monument in the heart of downtown. Consider this the “slow country,” where folks stop you on the street to chat and the lifestyle is as laid back as the vibe.

Do: As you walk around the Historic District, you’ll notice many porch ceilings painted blue – a Gullah tradition for warding off evil spirits. The Gullah are descendants of enslaved Africans who worked on plantations throughout the sea islands. Reserve a tour with Gullah-N-Geechie Mahn Tours to learn more about Gullah culture.

Eat: Old Bull Tavern is a gastropub with a neighborhood vibe offering comfort foods like ricotta gnocchi with shrimp and duck with a butternut squash puree. For a change from Lowcountry fare, La Marmota is a local no-frills supermarket with a taco counter, serving up a phenomenal birria offering.

Stay: Anchorage 1770 is a lux, manor-like establishment feet from the downtown marina and Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. The Beaufort Inn is a Victorian-inspired, 1800s-bred inn with select cottages, also in the heart of the historic action.

The drive: It’s around a 50-minute drive to Bluffton next, a route that takes you on the 1.7-mile Broad River Bridge over its namesake stretch of water. Shortly thereafter, stretch your legs within the Altahama Town Heritage Preserve, containing burial grounds and artifacts related to the Yemassee tribe. The preserve spans more than 100 acres, with centuries-old oaks towering above.

Take a well-deserved breather in Bluffton

Duration: 1.5 day/1 night

Vibes: With a population of 35,000, this small town sits on the May River and is dotted with quaint churches, historic markers and local art galleries. Bluffton is approximately 15 minutes west of Hilton Head Island, providing seamless access to world-class golfing and shopping.

Do: Beyond perusing the shops and boutiques throughout Bluffton’s Old Town, check out a local market for some true local personality. Lowcountry Made is housed in Burnt Church Distillery and Root and Bloom Market is every Wednesday at Martin Family Park.

Eat: Bluffton Oyster Co. dates back to 1899 and remains a regional fresh seafood stalwart today. Order some oysters, which come either baked (Rockefeller-style), steamed, fried, on the half shell or as part of a sandwich.

Stay: Montage Palmetto Bluff is a true Southern-infused escape, with broad marsh vistas, cottages, village homes and more. It’s a refined resort ambiance with stately bridges, a white-column-clad entrance and nine on-site dining options.

The drive: It’s time for the homestretch – a 40-minute drive south to Savannah. We recommend slightly extending that drive with a coast through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Within the refuge and along the 4.5-mile Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, you’ll see alligators, turtles and dozens upon dozens of bird species.

River street, Savannah
Stunning Savannah is the perfect end to your Lowcountry road trip © Darryl Brooks / Shutterstock

A sweet Savannah farewell

Duration: 2.5 days/2 nights

Vibes: The click-clack of horse-drawn carriages, an abundance of square-shaped parks and often bumpin’ bars and eateries along the Savannah River – ah, there are few things quite like it. Atlanta may be Georgia’s capital, but Savannah is the undeniable epicenter of coastal charm. For a great itinerary in this picturesque city check out this ultimate weekend guide. 

Do: Book a tour to fully grasp Savannah’s spark, be it a wander around Bonaventure Cemetery where American songwriter Johnny Mercer rests or a walking ghost tour – Hearse Ghost Ride Tours will take you around in a funeral hearse. SCAD Museum of Art showcases contemporary pieces year-round and is part of one of the most prestigious art schools in the country, Savannah College of Art & Design. If you’re looking for a souvenir or just love to check out the shops, here are our five favorite places to shop in Savannah according to a local. 

Eat: PERC Coffee is the town’s hip coffee roaster and specialty spot. Cotton & Rye is an increasingly popular gastropub that makes its own bread and also has some killer homemade sausages. Husk does Southern dinner to perfection daily from 5-10pm and has sister spots in Charleston and Nashville. 

Stay: The Alida is tucked on Savannah’s riverfront, providing a seamless stroll to a handful of bars and music venues. The hotel provides also provides bikes for guests. Perry Lane is a top lux option, with fun accents like in-room cookie jars and a rooftop deck with bocce ball and cornhole.

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