Is Charleston, South Carolina a "car city"?

Forgive me for asking a non-Europe question, but I remembered the thread about southern cities and know there are a number of experts on here! I have asked this question on TripAdvisor and figured two forums are better than one. My friend and I are planning a road trip in March from Charleston to Savannah and St. Augustine. We'd like to rent a car to see former plantations and other areas of interest between the 3 cities. Do we need a car in Charleston? The guidebooks I've read say you need a car if you leave the historic center. I'm happy to park the car at our hotel and leave it until we depart for Savannah, but if we have to pay a lot per day for parking, is it better to pick up the car on the day we go to Savannah? Does Charleston have good mass transit? Thanks for any advice!

Posted by Susan
Atlanta, Ga, USA
1463 posts

The historic center can easily be explored on foot. C'ton does not have good mass transit. Middleton Place Garden and Drayton Hall are located fairly close to each other- (car needed) there is at least one other one (Magnolia Hall I think) on the other side of the Ashley River near Point Pleasant. Parking is tight but most hotels have it or will arrange for it- maybe $10/15 per day. Don't know if hotel could arrange any sort of tour but never heard of one. We were in Savannah last spring and parking was $12 or so per day-stayed in the historic district and there was a parking deck that most hotels in the area used-hotel valet parked & retrieved our car. March will be a great time for your visit!

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

For Charleston: There's a free shuttle with three or four routes that will get you within a few blocks of anything you can think of. The regular bus system pretty much sucks. You'll need a car for the plantataions or anything else across the bridges. Swing through Beaufort enroute to Savannah.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Sarah, Sounds like a great trip you have planned. The guidebooks are correct when they say you need a car if you leave the historic center. However, you can see the plantations outside of town using a small mini bus tour which leaves from the historic district. There are several that operate a package deal that usually includes 3 plantations. Here is a very useful site that will have them all listed; it's the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau website: http://www.charlestoncvb.com/ There is enough to do in Charleston for your whole vacation, but your other destinations are fantastic, too. Historic district hotels are convenient for walking around, but pricey. One hotel I've gotten a good price from is The Francis Marion, and been very happy with the room and breakfast. There is a trolley that goes up and down the main streets, and you can get off and walk a couple of blocks to anything in the historic district, which is actually fairly small. Parking is scarce, but there are 2 city garages with parking, and some of the hotels have parking (not all). I'd wait until you were leaving town to drive to Savannah to pick up the car.

Posted by Tom
Easley, SC, USA
268 posts

There are three good plantations along Ashley River Road, State route 61: Middleton Place, Magnolia Gardens, and Drayton Hall. Even though they are all within about 5 miles of one another, they are also 5-10 miles out from the city center, so some sort of transportation would be required. When my wife and I are in Charleston, we always stay with our daughter, who lives less than a mile from Drayton Hall, so we have a car, but it's unlikely you could use public transportation to get to any of them easily. Getting around downtown Charleston is much easier, esp if you're willing to walk a bit or take one of the horse and buggy rides to see the nice 1800s vintage homes near the waterfront. There are tours to Fort Sumter in the harbor that obviously don't require a car once they leave the dock! Sorry...I couldn't resist that.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1562 posts

We did not use car in visit to Charleston as we're staying downtown in historic district. Had a car in Savannah as we drove there and seem to remember it was about twelve dollars a day to park at hotel which was right on the canal. We only used the car in Savannah to drive to the water for the day, other than that we went on a trolley tour. If you are driving there, be sure to see Eighth Air Force museum, it is right on Route 95, can actually see it from the road. Has a replica of a POW barracks, a hanger where the crew stayed and many more artifacts, interesting facts. Enjoy.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1972 posts

We made the same trip in reverse 18 mos. ago, and found a car very desirable if you want to take in all the tourist sights. For example, you might want to run out to Tybee Island from Downtown Savannah to eat some seafood. In the U.S., unless you're staying in the center city of a very large city, automobiles are a necessity. Note: We picked up a Hertz car in Orlando for $7.50 per day rental, as their winter season was over and they wanted their cars returned in The North. We turned the car in at the Baltimore Airport after visiting Disneyworld, Daytona Beach, Savannah, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Washington, DC for a long weekend. It was a great budget trip.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Prince of Tides looked like it used a lot of the Beaufort area as well. Tk's probably talking about Hwy 17 out of Charleston which cuts through the best of the ACE Basin. If you look real closely as you go through the marshes just short of the Ashepoo, you can see bits of wild rice still growing that's left over from the Low Country rice plantations. This is God's country - - tread lightly and speak softly. After 17, Hwy 21 into Beaufort ain't no slouch either. Nor is 170 heading out toward Savannah. Hwy 95 is unremarkable until you get into Georgia.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2609 posts

If you do venture out to Beaufort be sure to watch a few classic films that were done there and check out the locations... ie The Big Chill and parts of Forest Gumpp were filmed there as well as a number of others. If you want little history but some nice hotels, restaurants , etc. you could spend a some time on Hilton Head...nice beaches. I would definitely want a car to be able to explore and drive around the Lowcountry. There is also a sort of side road that will take you from Hilton Head area to Savannah and kind of fun to drive off the freeway. If you venture even further south you could visit Jekyll Island on the coast in Georgia...great place.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

And if you go to Jeykll Island, be sure to go to St. Simons Island. Go hungry, and go to Barbara Jean's for the best crab cakes and she crab soup ever! If you can't get to St. Simons there are a few other Barbara Jean's along the coast. You could see where they are located. I HIGHLY recommend it!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7211 posts

I can't recall exactly where I parked but found a place with free parking that was a block from the shuttle route, took the shuttle in, then walked the center from there. There are sights outside of center that you will want a car for.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Thank you all so much for this great information! I will plan to pick up the car on the day we leave Charleston. We'll probably fly from STL to Charleston and out of St. Augustine (perhaps the reverse itinerary if the ticket pricing is better). We have limited time, 7 or 8 days, since my friend from Germany is coming to visit me. He has 2 weeks off but I get only 5 days. :( It takes 14 hours to drive from here to Charleston and I'd rather spend most of that time IN Charleston. So my last two questions on here are: Is Savannah a "car city"? Is St. Augustine a "car city"?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7978 posts

Savannah is more compact than Charleston as far as the tourist interest goes. You'll need the car to get out to the islands. I don't know squat about St Augustine.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Andrea, I can't believe you know about Barbara Jeans!! Great crab cakes and seafood. The last time we were in Beaufort, they were building a Barbara Jean's on the road out to Fripp Island. Ed, you are right; the movie Prince of Tides was shot around Beaufort and some locations in Charleston. Barbara Streisand stayed in both towns during the shooting of the movie, and a restaurant in Charleston was her fav for seafood. Hyman's Restaurant, 215 Meeting Street. Sit upstairs by the front window, in the right corner, at the table that has her name on it (a small bronze plaque on the table). It was always reserved for her while she was in town. We were told about this by the manager, and had a great view of the street below from our table. Sarah, Do watch out for alligators if you are walking around near a marshy area or pond. You won't encounter them downtown Charleston or Savannah, but if you drive outside of town to get a look at some of the tidal marshes and scenery, be careful when you are out of the car walking in those areas. Don't even think of going for a swim in any of the rivers. They are not on the beaches.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Is Savannah a "car city"? No and yes. Savannah is a city with a bit of a parking problem. One city garage, 3 blocks from the waterfront. Many hotels and B&B's have no parking and refer you to this multi level garage ($15 per day, I think). Do not leave valuables visible in your car in this garage; they've had a problem with breakins in this garage. Once you are in Savannah, everything in the historic district is walking distance, or take a carriage tour. What you'll need a car for is if you drive out to Tybee Island. Is St. Augustine a "car city"? Yes. You have two separate historic districts here. One is downtown near the Castillo de San Marcos Spanish Fort (the best sight in town!). The historic fort has a parking lot. Otherwise, park on the street and take the trolley around the historic district. Then get in your car and cross over the bridge going to the beach. On your left, you'll see St. Augustine Lighthouse. A couple of blocks off the main drag, park at the lighthouse's visitors center and walk to the top for an amazing view. Get great shrimp for lunch a couple of blocks away at O'Steen's Restaurant (closed on Sunday and Monday; cash only, no credit cards).

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Rebecca, I spent 4 nights on St. Simons with friends who had bought property in the area. They took us to Barbara Jean's and I was hooked. I have eaten and loved Dungeness crab my entire life and was pleasantly surprised to experience how tasty blue crab is. Not only did we eat at BJ's 3 of our 4 nights on St. Simons, we stopped there again as we were traveling from Savannah to Jacksonville to fly home. I even ordered some crab cakes and soup online, but shipping is as expensive as the food.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Andrea, Lucky you, having friends that have a place on St. Simon's! Very cool that you got to spend time there. That's the first place I ate at Barbara Jeans. Have you been to the Barbara Jean's in Jacksonville? It's actually in Ponte Vedra in a neighborhood on the Intercoastal Waterway; hard to find. We have been going to that one for years and years. Have friends in Ponte Vedra Beach we stay with. St. Simon's, Charleston, Beaufort, Savannah; Agree with Ed..."This is God's country."

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Our friends bought property near St. Simons, but decided not to build there. They have now bought property in Jacksonville, on the Intercoastal Waterway. You can be sure that once they build their house we will be going for a visit!!

Posted by Linda
Seattle, WA, USA
432 posts

Thank you Sarah for posting this question. I have been "hitching a ride " on the thread because I am planning almost the exact same trip but in May. I too wondered about where to pick up a rental car and parking issues. I hope you have a great trip and I wouldn't mind hearing about it when you return. Happy travels, Linda

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Thank you all again for this great info. I'm looking at flights from STL - Charleston and Jacksonville to STL, or vice versa. whichever's cheaper. We'll pick up the car when we leave Charleston (or drop it off when we arrive). How good is the transit from the airport to the city?