Five Day Trips from Charleston, by Carol White
Charleston is one of the most charming of our Southern cities, and you could easily spend an entire vacation exploring its culture, history and recreational attractions. But there are some great road trips within just a few hours' drive of Charleston that will give you some different glimpses of the region's famed hospitality. Don't let the mileages fool you. Most of South Carolina is not well connected by those "ungracious" freeways, so you have to slow down, amble a bit on mostly two-lane highways, and arrive "in due time." Road trippers looking for a more extended trip could easily connect a couple of these days together for a nice overnight stay between destinations.
Day 1: Savannah, Georgia
109 miles, 2.25 hours
Savannah became Georgia's first city in 1733, and much of what made it flourish over the intervening years is still visible today. Second only to Charleston in historic preservation, Savannah offers an easy day of activities centered on history and Southern culture.
I recommend that you head first to the visitors center, where you can sign up for one of the many trolley tours around town. I have been on several and find that each one has its own "hook" - there are history tours, ghost tours and tours focusing on the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," a nonfiction novel whose locales are some of the city's best-known attractions -- but any one of them will get you oriented.
Once you have a good overview, you'll probably want to explore more of the largest historic district in the country. Twenty-one of Savannah's original 24 public squares still survive, and it's worth the shoe leather to examine the lush landscaping, hanging moss and historic statues on foot. Many richly restored buildings in the district are also open to visitors.
At the Cotton Market on River Street, alongside the Savannah River, you can learn about the once-thriving cotton industry and see Factors Walk, where the cotton brokers would survey the cotton being sold below them. Today these buildings house a nice array of retail shops and restaurants, but the original use is clearly preserved.
If you tire of history, take the 20-minute trip east to Tybee Island, a beautiful barrier island off the Georgia coast. Its beach and extensive bird-watching areas offer lots to explore and do. The well-preserved lighthouse is the tallest in Georgia.
Day 2: Beaufort, South Carolina
72 miles, 1.75 hours
I have to tell you, I love Beaufort (pronounced bu-fit, not bo-fort -- that's in North Carolina). It sits on a lovely estuary and has a great little historic district with cute shops to explore, but I think it is the laid-back, friendly atmosphere that does it for me.
Beaufort has a large Marine Corps presence. The Marine Corps Recruit Training Center is located on nearby Parris Island. If you have a Marine in your family who is from the eastern U.S., chances are he went to basic training here. You'll see families around town on graduation days, and many other Marine events are held during the year. The Marine Corps Air Station, where pilots are trained for the Marines, is also located in Beaufort.
Beaufort is South Carolina's second-oldest city. Take a buggy tour around town, explore the estuary by kayak, or take a walking tour of the city's many historic buildings. As in Charleston, history abounds behind every moss-draped tree.
But if you really want to step back in time, head for Lipsitz's Department Store on Bay Street. Opened in the 1870s, it is the oldest business in Beaufort and is very much the way it has always been. The owner, Joe Lipsitz, now 88, was born in an upstairs bedroom. The store smells old, the floorboards creak, the merchandise is casually displayed, but there is something very charming about both the store and the owners -- both want to please you and tell you their stories.
Day 3: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
96 miles, 2 hours
Myrtle Beach is a famous golf mecca with more than 120 area golf courses and a well-organized marketing machine to make your every golf wish come true. The hotels, resorts and motels are all in on the act too, providing packages with a variety of amenities and prices. While many golfers come for weeks at a time, you can certainly sample one of the courses on a day trip.
But Myrtle Beach isn't all about golfing. There is also, well, the beach. Stretching for miles, the "Grand Strand" (as it is called), provides many hidden places in the dunes. The surf is gentle and there are lots of beach activities for the whole family to enjoy. As you venture further north and south of the downtown area, the beaches get quieter and less crowded. We enjoyed a nice, quiet beach weekend at Litchfield, about 20 minutes south of downtown.
If you've been widowed by the golfers and the beach isn't your deal, all is not lost. Broadway at the Beach has a good family-oriented reputation. Or try the beautiful 1,920-acre antebellum Brookgreen Gardens just south of Myrtle Beach. Live oaks draped in Spanish moss are everywhere, and the flowers, plant life and sculpture are breathtaking.
Day 4: Hilton Head, South Carolina
105 miles, 2.5 hours
Hilton Head Island, also called "Golf Island," is one huge resort community. The most famous resort on the island is Sea Pines, which is adjacent to its most famous golf course, Harbour Town Golf Links, home to a PGA event. But be warned: If you want to go to Sea Pines and Harbour Town, you will have to pay an entry fee just to drive through, and RVs are not allowed.
But, again, there is more to this great area than golf. The beach is accessible in many areas, and you can walk for miles on the unspoiled sand, playing tag with the surf. Even though there are many resorts on the island, the beaches always seem uncrowded and serene.
The Coastal Discovery Museum is worth a trip for a little history of the area and a good overview of the island's animal life, including a protection program for loggerhead sea turtles and information on local crabs (and crabbing) and alligators. The museum also has a good trolley tour around the island.
Day 5: Columbia, South Carolina
119 miles, 2 hours
If you've had enough beach, head inland to Columbia, the capital of the Palmetto State. This city was one of the first master-planned cities (and state capitals) in the U.S. and is home to the University of South Carolina. Be sure to check in at the historic horseshoe for a self-guided tour of the campus.
The South Carolina Capitol is an interesting building with park-like grounds. We find that state capitols hold a wealth of historical and architectural information about a state, and this building is no exception. Although one-third of Columbia was destroyed during the Civil War, more than 20 antebellum buildings still stand.
Columbia boasts South Carolina's only full-fledged National Park at Congaree National Park, a large swampland with a forested floodplain. A kayak or canoe ride will get you into the most interesting parts of the park. Near Charleston, you'll find two other parks that are part of the National Park system: Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and Fort Sumter National Monument. They're both worth a stop on the way back to your starting point.
Columbia is frequently on "Most Livable Cities" lists and "Best Places to Retire" lists in recognition of its small-town atmosphere and bountiful amenities. As in all of South Carolina, there is a calm, welcoming graciousness here that really personifies what most of us think of as "Southern hospitality."
A note on Spanish moss
Have you ever heard the saying "Good night, sleep tight don't let the bed bugs bite?" That came directly from the beautiful, draping, Spanish moss found throughout this area. In years gone by, the moss was used to fill mattresses - until folks discovered that it harbors tiny, biting mite larvae, commonly called "chiggers."
So be warned: Leave the moss on the trees, lest the "bed bugs" bite you. Boy do they itch!
Enjoy South Carolina.