Hello! My wife and I are in the early stages of planning a 6 day adventure which will include flying into Charleston SC, renting a a car, and traveling down to Savannah before flying back home. We were hoping for some advice on top excursions, day or 1/2 day trips, must sees, and top restaurant recommendations during our stay. At the moment we are thinking of splitting the 6 days between the two cities. We love touring historic homes, walking tours and good food so we're hoping this trip will be a winner!
I personally think there is more to do in Charleston than Savannah, so I wouldn't give them equal weight. I could enjoy Savannah in one full day (or two), whereas the plantations outside Charleston (Magnolia, Middleton, etc) would keep me busy for multiple days in addition to the historic center. There is also Mount Pleasant next door, which is also lovely (as is James Island, which has the very old Angel Oak tree which is worth seeing). For those reasons, I would consider giving more time to Charleston. Also, there is a wonderful and charming town called Beaufort on the drive over, and a smaller one called Bluffton. I would stop by and check them out. Some folks also like Hilton Head although it's a planned development, but with good restaurants. Edisto Island is, in contrast, undeveloped so it has a different vibe altogether.
This is a good website to see what attractions may spark your interest in the general area:
We loved our ferry ride (with cooling breezes!) from Charleston out to the Fort Sumter National Monument, with the incredible views of the Charleston Bridge.
I would also spend more nights in Charleston than in Savannah.
Another nice day out for us, an easy half hour by car from Charleston, was Boone Hall Plantation. You can tour the historic home, plantation, gardens and quarters.
After our day out, we wanted to have a meal and put our toes in the water. We did both at Coconut Joe's Beach Grill in Isle of Palms, SC - with unobstructed ocean views and a huge stretch of sandy beach.
Speaking of your interest in historic homes, we stayed in the historic Kings Courtyard Inn on King Street, Charleston - though pricey, we split a 2-room family suite. It has lovely rooms and reception area and is immediately across the street from a free downtown trolley stop, which was a welcome way to get around the (otherwise very walkable) downtown in the heat.
If you want authentic southern cooking, check out Mrs. Wilkes in Savannah. A truly unique place for lunch, and you'll probably not eat the rest of the day. They have a web site https://mrswilkes.com/ you can check ahead of time and see if you're interested.
We did a similar trip about three years ago. I think we spent one more day in Charleston than Savannah--it was during the spring garden tour so we toured several gardens, went out to Fort Sumter, and went to just one plantation, as well as visiting two of the historic homes in Charleston. In Savannah, we did a trolley tour, toured one or two historic homes, and walked and walked so we could get to all of the squares. We liked them both a lot, as well as our stop in Beaufort. In Savannah, consider the Old Pink House Restaurant--the Crispy Fish is an unusual and delicious entree. We stayed at the Eliza Thompson house in Savannah--it has a good location near Mrs. Wilkes (although we didn't get there to eat) and is on a very charming historic street. All in all, a very enjoyable trip. You might want to consider reading South of Broad by Pat Conroy--it takes place in Charleston.
I can recommend the King Charles Inn on Meeting Street in Charleston. Got to stay there on a girls' trip (sharing rooms, thus halving the cost) and loved it.
We just got back from Charleston and used to live in SC so have been there many times(but not enough!)
I would skip Savannah and go to Beaufort which is between Charleston and Savannah.
Charleston is my favorite place to eat(I confess that I haven't been to New Orleans or San Francisco).
It is cheaper to eat lunch: Blossom, Magnolias(not the plantation), Poogan's Porch, Jestine's and in Shem Creek(near Mt Pleasant) Water's Edge.
The best dinner thing to do is to make a dinner reservation at the restaurant at Middleton Place and go early so you can walk around the grounds without paying the entrance fee.
There are two house museums run by Historic Charleston --the Edmonston Alston House and I forget the name of the other one. Drayton Hall is not furnished.
You must do carriage tours in Charleston and Beaufort.
If you like history, go to the Dungeon and Fort Sumter. Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island is also interesting.
If you like birds, there is a great bird walk at Kiawah Island, but it's expensive.
If you go to see Angel Oak, the road will have the live oaks dripping with moss that you expect to see in Charleston. The road to the plantations used to look that way, but that area has really been developed in the past 45 years.
You will have a wonderful time.
hey hey peter
You will love the area. Flew into Charleston, rented car and drove to hilton head where we had a condo. Drove to savannah twice. ate at Mrs Wilkes family dining room, yummy, go hungry and wear elastic waist pants. Was a few years back and Paula deen’s “two ladies and sons” restaurant was there. walked in shop but didn’t eat there, buffet was no to my liking. Ride trolley around town, walked thru forsythe Park, walked thru river street marketplace, local souvenirs, drive out to bonaventure cemetery.
friend about about old remodeled railroad station in the town of yemassee. Very small town, shocked to see Chinese restaurant, stopped at carolinas cider co shopon hiway, frampton plantation house. found a alligator swamp place and walked the planks around the park(about 2 miles) can’t remember name. stopped on old country road to see all the plants of cotton, never seen that before.
drove thru small town of Beaufort, in the 70’s my brother stationed with marines there, onto tybee island on the coast.
onto Charleston for the night, walked the cute area, ate the best friend green tomatoes at hyman seafood restaurant. Never heard of the but so good.
drove across bridge to wadmalaw island to firefly distillery where they make sweet tea vodka and other flavors, passed the famous big oak tree.
met a couple in Quebec City for a fall color cruise from Charleston. invited us to their 16 acre ‘compound’ on jones island. took us riding in the ‘mule’ to show us then down to where they docked their boat. had a lunch buffet all set for us. it was so much fun, we are still friend with them today.
see if a food/bbq tour with the city. hope this helps with some ideas for you guys.
I also would suggest an extra day or two in Charleston over Savannah. There is just more to do and see there. For plantations, the list is long and varied. Very few actually survive that are truly antebellum. Drayton Hall is the best and most historic. But it is not furnished and has been left in a state of "arrested decay." The authenticity cannot be beat, but if you are looking for gloriously furnished mansions, look elsewhere. Boone Hall has a beautiful setting, live oak alley and original slave quarters, some of the few built from brick and that survived. The house however, is from the 1930s.
We live on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, about 80 miles south of Savannah. Charleston and Savannah have been rated as two of the top scenic cities in the USA. Love them both.
The Pirates House in Savannah is the age old favorite restaurant. I haven't been there in a few years, but it may still be good. There are other restaurants on the wharf.
Ft. Sumter in Charleston and Ft. Pulaski near Savannah are historical places to visit. There is a nice trolley tour in Savannah you might want to take.
Charleston was great and my nephew lives there so we had a great guide and some rowdy family fun. Also some seriously outstanding food, although for the amazing places 30 days out is when you make the reservation. Also, amazing barbeque.
But we were astonished by how much we loved Savannah. I though it was less tourist filled. The parks, the walks, the people. We stayed at the Marshall House and give them 10 thumbs up. They have a little wine and cheese thing every evening with, often, some sort of a presentation. Our first night, the guy was a local historian and his presentation was so terrific that we approached him and signed up for a 3 hour tour the next day. And that too was wonderful. And he was full of great suggestions about things to do, like peach ice cream at Leopolds Ice Cream Parlor. Maybe a food tour, Garden of Good and Evil Tour, Green-Meldrim House, and SCAD. We had 4 days in each city and it was all good.
Thank you so much for all your comments! I don't think we will have any problem filling up 6 days and will now add Beaufort to our list of stops. I should have mentioned I'm a fan of the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" so we will certainly be spending a few hours touring places like Bonaventure Cemetery and Mercer House. And now my wife says definitely some peach ice cream from Leopold's!
I love Savannah. Be sure to reserve dinner at The Olde Pink House!
You have a lot of good information form other posters so I will just add a few things on Charleston from my perspective. You don't mention your budget, but lodging downtown is usually significantly higher than staying in Mount Pleasant or West Ashley. If you can swing being downtown, try for something that is closer to Broad Street than Calhoun Street. Most of the restaurants and historic sites are in that area so you can walk. Parking on the streets can be tough (some require permits and almost everything is metered) but there are plenty of parking garages. There is a nice park along the Battery with great views of the harbor and plenty of old mansions to ogle. Uber is probably the easiest way to get around downtown. Charleston also has a lot of local breweries if you are into craft beer...and Uber is the best way to hist some of them!
Lodging in West Ashley: SpringHill Suites and Residence Inn, just over the Ashley River, are next door to each other and have a shuttle service downtown.
Lodging in Mount Pleasant: Lots of options just over the Ravenel Bridge. Check reviews for good hotels. Some are dated, some are new.
Someone mentioned the Angel Oak...it IS incredible (I live about 8 miles away towards Kiawah) but you have to WANT to see it (admission is free, parking can be tight). It's not close to anything (30 minutes from downtown). If you plan to go to Kiawah Island, you can fit the Angel Oak in on the way there or back. Another thought just occurred to me - there are several good restaurants on Maybank Highway that you go by to get to the Angel Oak. They are Wild Olive (Italian), Fat Hen (French) and the Royal Tern (seafood). You will likely need a reservation for any of those. Stop by Low Tide Brewing Co. for a fine craft beer (my neighbor owns the place). They usually have a food truck there also.
Restaurants in Charleston - Get the Resy and Open Table apps and make reservations. The reviews are pretty spot on and you should make reservations as soon as you can because some places book up well in advance. You can always cancel the reservation if you change your mind. If you are looking for a laid back restaurant/bar, go to Red's Ice House on Shem Creek. They have outdoor seating overlooking the water. Always boat traffic going by. There is another restaurant close by on Shem Creek called The Wreck of the Richard and Charlene. Seating is on a screened in porch so it may be a bit warm depending on when you go but it's a good option for locals seafood. PM me if you have any questions or need advice on something.
And be sure to try the shrimp and grits!
Peter, My husband and I really enjoyed Patriots Point near Charleston.
These are great suggestions, some of which I second. Charleston...take a carriage ride for good commentary and history lessons about Charleston. Visit the slave market museum and listen to the recordings made by former slaves many years ago. Visit Boone Hall plantation. The slave quarters and a woman talking, in grillot, about life as a slave, and the ride around the working plantation make this far more interesting than just visiting a fancy house with fancy furniture like the other plantations. Also, shop in the big market in Charleston for some fun souveniers.
In Savannah, we stayed at the Planters Inn, which was very nice and we found reasonable rates online. Check their website for packages. The photo gallery reflects what it really looked like. In Savannah, you can walk around many of the squares, and one day we visited the Congregation Mickve synagogue and had a docent give a great history of Savannah and it's Jewish roots. St James Catholic Church is also worth a visit, as is a walk along the waterfront (in spite of the souvenier shops everywhere). And it's worth the wait in line for the Mrs. Wilkes restaurant experience. Go earlier than we did and your wait will be shorter.
On our drive to Savannah to Charleston we stopped at Beaufort for lunch and a walk around, but in my opinion it is not worth an overnight stay, but each to his own. Bon Voyage!
Charleston does have the plantations but I want to give some love to Savannah!
Savannah is full of historic homes. Here is a list of some good ones all within walking distance of downtown:
- The Davenport House
- The Owens-Thomas House (This one is connected the Telfair and Jepson Museum so you can see all three. Don't be scared tho: the museums are small and can be seen within 2 hours tops.)
- Andrew Lowe House
- Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
- Green-Meldrim House
- Mercer Williams House (if you've ever read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)
If you haven't decided on where you want to eat, the tour guides and shop keepers at the home will 100% know where a good, local place to eat is. After all they're locals themselves!
I didn't fully read every single recommendation above - you have so many good responses. A trip that starts in Charleston, stops in Beaufort and ends up in Savannah is a great plan. I was born in Charleston and now live near Savannah - lucky me!
In Charleston, you can make a pretty full day out of down town by starting at Drayton Hall Plantation (never burned in the war) which has been preserved rather than restored which is fascinating, then head over to Middleton Place Gardens for a nice lunch and an afternoon of walking in the gardens and barnyards and touring the home there (a dependency which was restored after everything was burned in the Civil War). You can get a combo ticket for Middleton Place Gardens and the Edmondston-Alston house which I highly recommend. I also love the Heyward-Washington House. Try to get out on the water for a Harbor Cruise of some sort even if you don't go to Fort Sumter. The view of town from the water is a don't miss! My favorite Restaurants: Magnolias, 82 Queen, SNOB (Slightly North of Broad), Fleet Landing - you can be on the water at Fleet Landing without leaving downtown. Maybe grab a biscuit from Callies Hot Little Biscuits. On highway 17 leaving Charleston for Beaufort, if you need a meal, Bessengers Barbeque is where I grew up eating pulled pork with their original mustard-based sauce and you can get it with steak fries and giant, almost doughnut-like onion rings. And a newer but delicious option is Boxcar Betty's for a great fried chicken sandwich.
As you drive from Charleston to Beaufort, be sure to make a small detour to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. They have recently fenced them off - so sad they had to do that, but they are still lovely and you can contemplate the mystery of whether they were burned for the second time (1st time was during the revolution) during the Civil War, or if they were just torn up (a letter alludes to the latter.) The carriage tours are fun here. Also walk the graveyard at the Episcopal church in town and go inside if they are open. You can get a Sweet Tea Float at Scout Southern Market. I like lunch at the Lowcountry Produce Market. If you want to spend more time in Beaufort, you could spend the night and also visit the Penn Center on St. Helena's Island and/or Hunting Island State Park and climb the lighthouse.
While in Savannah, even if you are not huge Civil War Buffs, I recommend a trip to Fort Pulaski. Everyone has heard of Fort Sumter and goes out there, but Fort Pulaski is an even better preserved 3rd System fort and has great history. Walk all the way around the exterior of the fort and all the way around inside. It's amazing and the views from on top are great too. On the way back, it's convenient to make your visit to Bonaventure Cemetery - also a can't miss in my book. These two together will fill most of a day for you. You can break it up in between by having lunch - just across the bridge to Tybee Island, near Fort Pulaski, is Cocos, which makes a convenient lunch break. Restaurants in Savannah: The Pink House, Vics on the River, Mrs. Wilkes, Bella Napoli, and of course an ice cream at Leopolds. If you miss Leopolds on Broughton St., or if you just need more, they have one in the Savannah Airport now.
We are also planning a trip to Charleston, thank you all for great tips.