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Road Trip: Charleston to Savannah

Road Trip: Charleston to Savannah
Written by Lia Grabowski | Illustrations by Jasmine Agosti

Traverse the Lowcountry

Stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia, the Lowcountry region is chock-full of charming downtowns and marshland vistas across a network of barrier islands. It’s also home to the Sea Island communities of the Gullah Geechee, a distinctive cultural group born of Africans brought to the Lowcountry during the slave trade to support the region’s rice, cotton, and indigo plantations.

With no more than ninety minutes between stops, you can hit all the highlights of this coastal expedition in just a couple days. But for a more authentic experience, give yourself time to linger and soak in the saltmarsh air—and slurp a few Lowcountry oysters while you’re at it.

 

Stop 1
Charleston, South Carolina

For a centrally located home base, opt for hotel newcomer Emeline. Situated on bustling Market Street, it’s a luxurious oasis in the middle of all the action. Start with a golden milk latte and flaky croissant from lobby coffee bar Clerks to fuel your day about town. Just be back in time for happy hour—cocktails under the string lights on Frannie & the Fox’s patio won’t disappoint.

Come lunchtime, venture to the upper peninsula for the best brisket and Tex-Mex outside the Lone Star State at Lewis Barbecue. Grab a tray piled high with smoked meats cut-to-order and sides like Hatch green chile-studded corn pudding inside or hop in line across the parking lot at Juan Luis, a New Mexico-inspired food trailer slinging breakfast tacos and lunch staples.

For a post-lunch pick-me-up, head back downtown for hyperlocal ice cream at Off Track. Husband-and-wife team Marc and Alissa Zera collaborate with local purveyors for flavors like Hot Honey and Biscuits made with Red Clay Hot Sauce and boozy Rye Spiked Cider using High Wire Distillery’s rye whiskey. They also cater to the dairy-free crowd with an equally impressive selection of vegan flavors and toppings.

Survey locals about not-to-miss spots and you’re bound to hear one name: FIG. Since it opened in 2003, Mike Lata’s high-end neighborhood bistro has served as a launch pad for dozens of chefs breaking onto the scene. You’ll have to plan in advance: Reservations release, and often fill up, a month in advance. But the ricotta gnocchi makes it well worth the effort.

 

Stop 2
Beaufort, South Carolina

Think of Beaufort as Charleston’s laid-back sister city: Still full of historic charm, but light on the hustle and bustle. It’s partly what drew author Pat Conroy, who called the city home from the 1960s to his death in 2016, to use it as a setting for many of his novels. Learn about his impact on the area with Beaufort Tours’ “Pat Conroy’s Beaufort” tour, which visits his former home and filming locations for the movie adaptations of two of his books.

When dining around town, opt for fresh local shrimp wherever you can: Shrimping has been the backbone of Beaufort’s economy since before the Civil War and restaurants in town have perfected recipes based on the watermen’s haul. Try them roasted with garlic and sherry at Old Bull Tavern a self-proclaimed gastropub with a well-stocked menu of wood-fired pizzas and comforting entrees.

On your way out of town, swing by Scout Southern Market for an array of refined Southern products to pick up as a memento of your visit. Don’t leave without grabbing a sweet tea float from the bar in the back of the shop—it’s the perfect treat to bring with you on the road.

 

Stop 3
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

An easygoing resort community, Hilton Head Island is known for its gated communities of vacation rentals and its prestigious golf courses. If you’re game to hit the links, schedule a tee time at one of Sea Pines Resort’s four courses, including Harbour Town Golf Links, home of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage event each April.

Hilton Head is full of casual spots serving any manner of local seafood and Southern comfort fare. But for an upscale twist, there’s Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar. Newly reopened, it boasts a menu stretching from classics—fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese—to the unexpected, like grilled fish banh mi.

If you’re looking for nightlife, snag a seat at the Jazz Corner—shows start at 6:30 and 9:00 nightly. Work your way through the menu of creative martinis as you listen to jazz, blues, swing, and more.

 

Stop 4
Bluffton, South Carolina

A good Bluffton morning begins with the shrimp boat breakfast at Cahill’s Market, an eatery, farmstand, and country store hybrid off May River Road. Before leaving, snap a photo in front of “the world’s largest boiled peanut,” a twenty-two-foot legume.

Wander Old Town Bluffton for a taste of the town’s history. Worth noting: the Heyward House, one of ten remaining antebellum homes that’s been converted into a museum and welcome center, and the Garvin-Garvey House, built around 1870 by freedman Cyrus Garvin. The circa-1857 carpenter gothic Church of the Cross, with its longleaf pine exterior, sits atop a bluff overlooking the May River. Stop in and buy a bottle of holy honey, a tradition that dates to the 1990s when forty-eight colonies of honeybees were found living in the church’s northern wall. For a decadent dinner in Old Town, get a seat at chef Brandon Carter’s FARM, a Latin-inspired haven of local seafood and fresh-picked produce. The shrimp rice, with sofrito and squash tossed with Carolina Gold, is a crowd-pleaser.

Just south of Old Town Bluffton, the twenty-thousand-acre community of Palmetto Bluff sets the standard for Lowcountry luxury. Book a room at Montage Palmetto Bluff and make use of the resort’s golf courses, equestrian trails, and several on-site restaurants.

 

Stop 5
Savannah, Georgia

While Savannah is known for its lively Riverfront shopping district, there’s plenty more to explore in the city. Browse the City Market Art Center, where more than a dozen artists have studio shops. Among them, Sabree’s Gallery showcases Gullah artist Patricia Sabree’s vibrant and minimalist prints that illustrate the Black experience in the Deep South.

Or, get out of town and wander the breathtaking Bonaventure Cemetery, a Victorian-era cemetery that was home to Bird Girl, the iconic statue on the cover of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. (She’s now on display at the Jepson Center for the Arts).

The Grey, one of the city’s most buzzed about restaurants, is well-worth the hype. Built around a once-segregated Greyhound Station, the 1930s-era lunch counter where Black people weren’t welcome is now co-owned by a much-lauded African American chef whose oysters, meat, and produce are sourced from a network of local farmers, many of whom are also Black. The menu is exceptionally simple, allowing each carefully selected ingredient to shine. It’s the perfect place to cap off your Lowcountry expedition.

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