Charleston To Savannah Road Trip: Complete Drive Guide

March 7, 2024
Scenery you can see on a Charleston to Savannah road trip

Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia are two cities in the Southern United States that are full of (a complicated) history, rich culture, good food, and beautifully preserved architecture. Because they are located within two hours of each other, you can see both cities within a long weekend.

This post will highlight everything you need to know about tackling a Charleston to Savannah road trip. Our drive takes you through the Lowcountry, at a slow meandering pace that is a hallmark of this corner of the world where salt marshes and sweetgrass fields meet large oaks shrouded by Spanish moss and palmetto trees.

We will discuss must-see things in both cities, unforgettable stops in between, mouth-watering restaurants, and places to stay!

How Far Is Charleston From Savannah?

The quickest drive from Charleston to Savannah takes two hours with no stops. This route takes you inland and covers 108 miles in a straight shot west out of Charleston before turning south toward Savannah. If your plan is to simply check out point A and point B, this is your best option.

Author Note: This route will allow you to appreciate the geographical landscape of the area, however we think it misses a few key places that are absolutely worth the extra time and mileage.

The Ideal Route To Take

The route that we suggest taking from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA is about 2 and a half times the quickest route and is best enjoyed over four to six days! Our ideal route is 4 hours and 34 minutes total (without additional pull offs that you may choose to take). The total distance between Savannah and Charleston for this drive is 184 miles.

The distance between Savannah and Charleston

We really like this road trip because you’re never spending more than an hour or so in the car per day, and you can see a ton of great things along the way!

Things To See In Charleston

While we are focused on the road trip from Charleston to Savannah and don’t want to get bogged down, there are some things to do and see in Charleston that we think you should start off with!

Historical Buildings

As the largest and oldest city in South Carolina, Charleston is a historical treasure trove. It was founded in 1670 and astonishingly some of its oldest structures still stand today for us to enjoy. There are well over one hundred of these notable buildings that were built before 1800!

A historical building you can see on a drive from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA

Here are just a few to walk by:

  • The Pink House, located on 17 Chalmers Street, is thought to have been built between the late 1600s to the early 1700. It has served not only as a private residence but also as a tavern, brothel, publishing house, and, most recently, an art gallery.
  • The Powder Magazine is now a museum located at 79 Cumberland Street. This is one of the oldest standing public buildings in the area and was built in 1713. Step in and tour a building that sold gunpowder during the Revolutionary War!
  • The Elizabeth O’Neill Verner House was built before the Revolutionary War in 1718 by a barrel maker. It is named after one of its owners, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, who was one of the most well known female artists in twentieth century South Carolina. At one time, this beautiful old three story brick house served as a candy shop. Find this building on 38 Tradd Street.

Charleston’s Alleys

A great way to get to know Charleston is by walking the streets. In particular, we suggest checking out the old alleyways that are tucked away while still offering a lovely picture of how the past has shaped the present.

An alley in Charleston

These present day alleyways were likely not planned streets; instead, they were shortcuts people took between actual established streets. Stores and houses were ultimately built on these alleys as the city grew. And while the city became much larger, these brick-clad alleys have stayed small and narrow.

This map shows 7 of our favorite alleys. Some are foot traffic only, while others allow cars. All of them are open to the public and absolutely picturesque. You can almost feel yourself fall away from the busy, modern city of today and land firmly in the shoes of someone who lived 300 years ago.

A map of alleys in Charleston, SC

All of these alleys are in what’s considered downtown Charlestons, which is made up of numerous different neighborhoods. Because of their close proximity to a lot of the historic sites, stores, and restaurants, a walk through the alleys is a good way to see this part of the city.

Fort Sumter

If you’re a military buff, you probably know a thing or two about Fort Sumter. It is now an inactive sea fortification built on an artificially made island right in the middle of Charleston Harbor. It is most famous for being the site of the first battle of the Civil War.

A twenty minute ferry ride takes you from Charleston (either from Liberty Square or Patriots Point) on the mainland to Fort Sumter. Entrance to Fort Sumter is free however the ferry tickets are not. The only company that provides boat rides to and from Fort Sumter is Fort Sumter Tours.

Places to See On Your Road Trip From Charleston To Savannah

Once you’ve gotten your fill of Charleston, it’s time to hit the road. The first three places we recommend can be done as day trips from Charleston. We suggest using Beaufort as the home base for the rest! This will minimize your time in the car and maximize all there is to see!

Here’s what we did on the drive from Charleston to Savannah.

Middleton Place

Construction on this jaw droppingly gorgeous house and the manicured gardens began in the 1730s, with additions being built over the next two centuries by the Middleton family. Now a National Historic Landmark, Middleton Place has the oldest landscaped gardens in the country that span a total of 65 of the property’s 110 acres. Middleton Place is perfect half day activity and is located 30 minutes outside of downtown Charleston

Middleton Place in Charleston

The last remaining building of the family’s residential complex serves as a museum, and is a charming brick building that has perfectly mixed Tudor style architecture with Dutch design influences. A number of the family’s heirlooms are on display in this house, which originally served as an office and guest house.

The gardens were magnificent and the ponds were flanked by low hanging trees. Henry Middleton modeled his plans after the designs of André Le Nôtre, who planned the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Each generation of the family subsequently added their own contributions.

It was easy to get lost in the beauty of the place, though it is vitally important to note that none of what we see today would be present were it not for the Middleton family’s participation in slavery.

Author Note: Our visit to Middleton Place was a spur of the moment decision and we didn’t have much extra time in the day. Because of this we opted to forgo the guided tours, which include one dedicated solely to the lives of enslaved families. Instead we toured the plantation on our own, knowing that we were going to visit McLeod Plantation the next day.

We had read that the tours at McLeod Plantation are known to provide some of the best information about slavery in the area and have to agree now that we have visited. Read more about this historic site next.

  • Price: $28 for adults and kids over 14 years old, $10 for kids ages 6-10
  • Time Needed: 1 to 3 hours
  • Website: https://www.middletonplace.org/
  • Address: 4300 Ashley River Road Charleston, SC 29414

McLeod Plantation Historical Site

Established in 1851 and located just 5 miles outside of Charleston’s city center, the McLeod Plantation was once a sprawling 1,700 acre estate that rose to become one of the largest sea cotton producers, built on the backs of enslaved men, women, and children.

The McLeod Plantation

We chose to visit this historical plantation in particular because of the reviews that praised the emphasis the tours placed on the deep history, culture, and suffering of the enslaved families whose presence is still embedded deeply in the Lowcountry’s foundation.

A slave quarter on the McLeod Plantation

The guided tour takes you through the main McLeod family home where you get to enjoy its elegant Georgian-style interior that starkly contrasts the extremely rustic, one room slave houses that still stand on the property. We appreciated the attention placed on the comparison between the lives and home of the McLeod family and those of the slaves.

Admission to the grounds includes an interpretive tour that is roughly sixty minutes. The six tours offered daily are first come first serve and start at the bottom of every hour beginning at 9:30am.

John’s Island and Angel Oak Tree

Next on our list is a visit to the Angel Oak Tree which is thought to be the oldest oak tree east of the Mississippi River at 300-400 years old. What is more impressive than its age is its size; Angel Oak is 65 feet tall and shades an area of approximately 17,000 square feet!

The iconic Angel Oak Tree

There is no admission fee (yay!) and is a quick place to stop after walking around Charleston and the McLeod Plantation.

  • Address: 3688 Angel Oak Road, Charleston, SC 29402

Beaufort, South Carolina

Beaufort is South Carolina’s second oldest city, formally founded in 1711. It is a beautiful and well preserved town filled with antebellum era houses, surrounded by expansive salt marshes. It was one of the central, geographical hubs of the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War; in fact the first public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation was done at Camp Saxton situated just outside of town.

Herban Market and Cafe

We recommend stopping by Herban Market and Cafe on North Street for a morning wake-me-up. They have a full coffee and pastry menu, fresh smoothies, and some light fare for breakfast and lunch. We loved having this to start our day. Since it’s only 6 blocks west of the historical downtown, it is a good launching spot for a walk around town.

Stroll down Bay Street for some window shopping while you enjoy your coffee! After walking through downtown Beaufort, continue into the Old Point Neighborhood next. Details are listed below in the next section.

The Old Point Neighborhood

Home to a large number of the oldest and most grand houses in Beaufort, The Old Point is the picture of quintessential Southern charm. Grand porches are lined with hanging ferns that mingle with the low hanging oak trees.

An old building you can see on a drive from Charleston, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia

Some of the oldest houses are still standing, including the Thomas Hepworth House (built in 1717!) and the William Johnson House (built around 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was written and signed).

One of the more impressive houses that is still quite old is the Joseph Johnson House, also known as the Castle of Beaufort. It was built in the style of Italianate architecture and was the last house built in Beaufort before the Union occupation during the Civil War.

All of these houses are private residences, but we think it’s still worth a walk around this neighborhood.

  • Thomas Hepworth House: 214 New St, Beaufort, SC 29902
  • William Johnson House: 414 New St, Beaufort, SC 29902
  • Joseph Johnson House: 411 Craven Street, Beaufort, SC 29902

The Robert Smalls House

While not open to the public, we highly suggest taking a stroll past the Robert Smalls House located at 511 Prince Street. It is just a few blocks outside of the historic downtown.

Robert was born enslaved and grew up in this house that was built in 1840 by Henry McKee. He was hired out as a worker in Charleston at the age of 12 doing odd jobs around the city. In Charleston, he ultimately ended up working on a boat called the Planter which became used as a dispatch boat by the Confederates during the war.

After working on the boat for many years, Robert became a seasoned harbor pilot (however, was unable to hold the title due to his status as an enslaved man). As the war marched its way into Charleston, Robert ultimately devised a plan to steal the Planter.

On May 12th, 1862, he and 15 other slaves set forth out of the harbor and came face to face with a Union vessel. After hoisting up a white flag, they surrendered the vessel to the Union Navy to be used at their discretion. In doing so, Robert secured his and everybody’s onboard freedom. Robert went on to become a pilot in the Union Navy and was ultimately made captain of the Planter.

After the war, he and his family returned to Beaufort where he bought the house in which he was born and enslaved. He went on to serve two terms in the House of Representatives.

Author Note: For more information about Robert Smalls, check out the biography Be Free Or Die by Cate Lineberry.

Sheldon Church Ruins

Nestled in a lush plot of land 17 miles north of Beaufort, the Sheldon Church Ruins are a physical reminder of the turbulent history of our country. Construction of Old Sheldon Church (originally known as Prince William’s Parish Church) was started in 1745.

Sheldon Church

Not long after it was built, the church burned down after being set on fire by the British during the Revolutionary War in 1779. It was rebuilt only to be burned down again by Union General Sherman during the Civil War in 1865.

The old ruins will remind you of a Greek temple with its four portico columns that remain standing and mostly intact today. The fading brick is dappled with moss as nature slowly retakes this building that is frozen in time. The property is full of large oak trees with reaching, bending limbs. The site is particularly beautiful in the morning as the sun rays streak through the old structure.

  • Price: Free!
  • Hours: Open year round
  • Address: 948 Old Sheldon Church Rd Yemassee, SC 29945

Lost Local

This restaurant is fantastic for lunch or dinner. Lost Local focuses on fresh new dishes with inspiration from around the world. They source their food locally as much as possible, a practice which is not lost on the guests; the flavors are great!

They serve a ton of unique tacos with surprising ingredients. The tacos are also served individually so you can mix and match! The specialized drink menu has something for everyone. Note that they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Saint Helena Island

This island is one of the 65 sea islands located in Beaufort County and is known for its more rural and laid back way of life. We suggest stopping at the following two attractions:

  • The Chapel of Ease Ruins is a historic site built in 1740 and is located in Frogmore on Saint Helena Island. The church was built for the convenience of the plantation owners and their families who lived on the island and far away from the main churches in town. For over 100 years, services were given regularly in this church until it was damaged by a forest fire in 1886.
    • Address: 17 Lands End Rd., Saint Helena Island, SC 29920
  • Fort Fremont was a coastal military fortification built on Saint Helena Island in 1899 in response to the Spanish-American War and concern for the need for increased coastal defenses. The still standing, abandoned concrete ruins are a stark contrast to the lush green surrounding.
    • Address: 1124 Lands End Rd., Saint Helena Island, SC 29920

Hunting Island State Park and Beach

The last swath of coastline that separates the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean is Hunting Island. It is a beautiful, subtropical barrier island that is mostly uninhabited and serene, despite it being an extremely popular destination.

The five miles of pristine beach are a great place for shell and shark teeth hunting or for a leisurely stroll along the water. From May through October loggerhead sea turtles hatch from these beaches!

Boneyard Beach is located on the southern tip of Hunting Island and is home to an enormous collection of driftwood that has been brought in by the tide.

The whole island is dog friendly except for the most northern tip, which is done to protect wildlife.

Things to See In Savannah

Even after you’ve completed your Charleston to Savannah drive, there’s more to do if you want to make your road trip complete!

Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Ogelthorphe who sailed with a group of colonists from England to the newly chartered colony of Georgia founded the year prior. Apparently, Ogelthorphe established a friendly relationship with Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw tribe that already called this area home. Once this was done, planning for the city of Savannah began.

Streets in Savannah

Savannah is known for being a beautiful coastal, southern city filled with Antebellum-period architecture, trendy boutiques, delicious cuisine, and haunted ghost stories. Here are just a few things to see for a day in Savannah.

Forsyth Park

The beautiful Forsyth Park is 30-acres of green space situated in the middle of the city. It has well maintained paths that wind throughout the fragrant flower beds. The park was named after Georgia’s 33rd governor, John Forsyth and features a large majestic fountain in the center. We suggest starting your morning here to take a stroll in the cool morning air, taking in the sites of the park and the surrounding grand houses.

Collins Quarter

A very popular brunch spot right in the park itself is Collins Quarter. I loved the mushroom toast and Pierce really enjoyed the french toast. The menu has a huge southern influence so it’s on the heavier side (great for a big day of exploring though) but delicious. We got coffee to go before checking out the surrounding neighborhood.

Broughton Street

Walk the six blocks north to Jones Street that is also lined with some gorgeous houses along brick sidewalks. Continue along away from Forsyth Square towards the Savannah River.

Forsyth Park

Walk down Broughton Street, also considered historic Savannah’s ‘Main Street’. Here you will find plenty of unique shops.

City Market

The City Market has been a main commercial hub in downtown Savannah since the 1700s and continues to thrive today. It sprawls across four city blocks and encapsulates the soul of the city. Check out the numerous shops, boutiques, bars and speakeasies, art studios, and bakeries!

Author Note: When you’re done, end your day walking down River Street for some beautiful photo opportunities and a chance to grab a bite to eat along the river.

Places To Stay When Driving From Charleston To Savannah

Depending on your choice of vehicle (car vs camper) there are a number of places we suggest checking out for lodging.

Charleston Stays

If you’re into history and want to stay in an upscale mansion turned bed and breakfast, we suggest the John Rutledge House Inn. Originally built in 1763, the Rutledge House exudes southern charm and elegance. It is a 4-star hotel and rooms start at $400+, which appears to be competitive with many of the other hotels in the downtown Charleston area.

The rooms are beautiful! As a guest, you are welcome to enjoy their complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening drinks in their sun-filled courtyard.

Most of your brand name hotels are located within 5 to 10 minutes of the heart of the city and are much cheaper than staying downtown. We’ve always had good luck with Home2 Suites, and the Charleston location didn’t disappoint. We think the twenty minute drive into downtown is worth the cheaper price per night of $150-250.

If you’re traveling in a camper but want to stay in a hotel to be close to the city, we suggest Home2 Suites because it has a much larger parking lot.

  • Website: www.hilton.com
  • Address: 1963 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407

Beaufort Stays

The Anchorage 1770 is an extraordinary, upscale hotel. It’s located right across the street from the Beaufort Harbor and walking distance from the delicious restaurants in the historic downtown. Nightly rates seem to average out around the mid $300 range.

A more affordable hotel is Home2 Suites (yet again). It’s a quick 10 minute drive into downtown.

  • Website: www.hilton.com
  • Address: 3658 Trask Parkway, Beaufort, South Carolina 29906

If you’re camping and looking for a unique place to stay, we suggest checking out Hipcamp’s website. For a tranquil stay, check out booking a night or two at Lott Farms on Coosaw Island. Just 16 minutes from downtown Beaufort, Lott Farms has two 30-amp sites and one 50-amp site. All three sites offer water and sewage hookups along with free wifi.

The sites sit among the oak trees on this three-acre property, are well leveled, and can accommodate vehicles up to 35 feet.

Savannah Stays

The Marshall House on iconic Boughton Street is centrally located and within walking distance of most things in Savannah’s broad historic district. This hotel is one of the oldest in Savannah and has served many different purposes over the years. During the Civil War it was occupied by Union Troops and served as a hospital for wounded and sick soldiers. It has also been used as a private residence.

If you’re traveling with a camper, we suggest you stay at Creekfire RV resort located about 25 minutes west of Savannah. They offer full RV hookup sites and resort amenities such as gold, a lazy river, and dining options.

The Best Time Of Year To Road Trip From Charleston To Savannah

This Charleston to Savannah road trip can be done during any part of the year, but we recommend spring or fall because of the moderate temperatures that accompany these seasons. Unless you love hot and humid weather, the months of March-May and September-October are the most ideal for sunny but moderate temperatures.

Wrapping Up

Road tripping from Charleston to Savannah can be a wonderfully rich experience. It is full of history and the beautiful landscape of the Lowcountry.

The distance between Charleston and Savannah is doable over a day but can be stretched over many. We prefer the latter, so allow yourself to travel at a meandering pace to get the most out of your trip!

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