Where to vacation in the American South?
April 21, 2016 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Some friends and I are planning a trip to the South. No particular occasion. We’ll be starting in Charleston and plan to spend a few days there and in Savannah. We have another five or six days of time, but where should we spend it?

We are pretty open about the level/kind of activity, so rather than trying to nail down the exact ideal temperament of the trip, just assume that if it appeals to you, it will appeal to us.

We’ll be traveling part of the way on the Amtrak Palmetto route (https://www.amtrak.com/silver-service-palmetto-train), and it’s important that we end up somewhere reasonably close to an airport. We will not have a car for most of the trip, but aren’t averse to renting one for stretches. The ideal would be other places on the Amtrak line that would be interesting for a day or two, especially if there was near hiking or whatnot. Most of the trip will probably be spent hanging out, so places that are pleasant but don’t necessarily offer a lot to do are just fine.

posted by vathek to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I just got back from Savannah two days ago, and I would suggest not trying to rush through- there is plenty to offer (we spent 4 days just in Savannah and filled every moment up with something nice). You also won't need a car there. There's fantastic food, amazing architecture, lots of historical sites, really colorful local businesses, etc. etc. etc. I think expanding your trip to be just Savannah And Charleston, in depth, would be a way better idea.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:28 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I see you go right through Richmond - if you have any interest in the Civil War, that's a place you might want to hang out; plus it has a good food scene. I'd rent a car and take the 2-hour trip west into the Shenandoah Valley, hitting up Charlottesville and Monticello, Staunton, and Lexington, and/or the Blue Ridge Parkway.
posted by mmiddle at 12:28 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

To be clear, most of us are flying in to Charleston. We could definitely go north of Charleston and then travel south again, but not hundreds of miles north. Our range of possible destinations doesn't span the entire Palmetto route.
posted by vathek at 12:51 PM on April 21, 2016

With such a specific itinerary already (southbound from Charleston to Savannah on the Amtrak Palmetto line, no car, not willing to backtrack), your best bet is going to be to figure out what stops are between Charleston and Savannah and pick one.

Charleston and Savannah are under two hours apart by either car or train*, and to be honest aside from maybe Hilton Head (not directly served by Amtrak) it doesn't look like there's really a ton of places of real tourist interest to spend several days between the two of them. Unless you've got a pressing reason to spend six days in Yemassee, South Carolina, you're either going to need a car or open yourself up to backtracking.

A guidebook to South Carolina will probably be worthwhile if you are really actually serious about wanting to spend that long a period of time in some sleepy Carolina hamlet, way off the beaten track.

*This is a teensy tiny little nugget of the US region known as The South, which is why you're getting suggestions for places like Richmond.
posted by Sara C. at 3:36 PM on April 21, 2016

I came here to enthusiastically suggest Central Virginia as well, but seeing as that's out, I'd personally stick to Charleston and Savannah with a (2 or 3 day) trip over to Hilton Head.

If you enjoy fishing and don't mind heading about an hour north of Charleston, you might want to check out Lake Marion and stay in nearby Summerton, which is like, THE quintessential idyllic stepped-back-into-the-50s Southern town.

Have fun! It's a beautiful part of the country and this is the perfect time of year to enjoy it.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 12:37 AM on April 22, 2016

You could always take Amtrak south to Jacksonville and rent a car to explore either St Augustine or Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island. Fernandina/Amelia will put you closer to hiking and outdoor stuff (Talbot, Anastasia while St Augustine offers a bit more traiditonal tourist stuff to do.

If you aren't adverse to riding the Palmetto line farther Tampa is a fantastic city to waste a few days. The Gulf Coast beaches are fantastic, and there are a lot of great parks and hiking trails (Little Manatee River, Weeki Wachee) within an hour drive.
posted by nulledge at 5:57 AM on April 22, 2016

Don't waste your time on Hilton Head unless you're into endless condos, hotels, and golf courses. Beaufort, SC, is beautiful and interesting, especially if you can also go to the Penn Center and Hunting Island.

Seconding St. Augustine.
posted by mareli at 6:00 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in Charleston, but don't know much about the Palmetto line. Does it really only have stops in Charleston, Yemassee, and Savannah between those two cities? There's lots of interesting stuff between there if you like nature, but you'll definitely need a car to get there. Caw Caw Interpretive Center has lots of historical and natural trails along an old rice plantation in Ravenel. ACE Basin is a huge wildlife preserve along an estuary also near there. Most of the coastal islands have interesting stuff going on (Wadmalaw, Edisto, Hunting, Tybee are all between Charleston and Savannah).

Honestly I'd spend most of your time in the Charleston and Savannah areas with a couple quick day trips out to the more interesting areas that look like something you'd enjoy. If you need ideas for Charleston specifically let me know and I'm sure I can provide more details.
posted by This Guy at 7:13 AM on April 22, 2016

Since you'll be in the Savannah area anyway, I can't recommend strongly enough spending some time, maybe even a full day if it looks up your alley, at Tybee Island.

The beach is lovely and seemed to have a fair amount of shells if you're into beachcombing, the town around the beach is cute and charming as heck, and (my personal favorite part) the Tybee Island Marine Science Center is pretty tiny, but definitely worth the price of admission. They have a mantis shrimp! And everyone there is so nice!

Nthing the "maybe not Hilton Head" suggestions. I went there with my family last November knowing nothing about the place, and as far as I can tell after visiting, it's just a standard issue suburb with mostly suburban chain restaurants and franchises, albeit with pretty buildings that were planned in such a way as to blend with the natural beauty of the island. Also mini golf.

So if you want to see a beachy, beige Barnes & Noble, that's the place to go, but otherwise, Beaufort, SC is supposed to be very nice, and you can still get a lowcountry boil and some benne wafers there.
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:44 AM on April 22, 2016

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