A growing number of people are choosing to retire in South Carolina, whose appeal reaches beyond its milder winter temperatures. The state also has loads of history to retrace, nature to explore, artistic talent to discover, polo matches to witness, and mouthwatering cuisine to sample. Those same characteristics make the Palmetto State an ideal road trip destination. This trip takes you from the salt-tinged air of the coastal Low Country to the Midlands, an area steeped in Thoroughbred culture, with a hearty dose of Southern hospitality served along the way.
You’ll start in Charleston, and end inland, near Augusta, Georgia — about a two-and-a-half hour drive back to Charleston, if you’d like to loop back.
Day 1: Charleston
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Begin your road trip in this picturesque port city, where eye-catching homes displaying pastel colors in shades of blue, pink and yellow line East Bay Street along the downtown waterfront. Church spires dominate the cityscape, hinting at Charleston’s nickname — the Holy City. Belgian draft horses clip-clop along cobblestone streets, pulling carriages filled with visitors earnestly listening as guides from the Old Carriage Company Tours unveil layers of history.
If you’re comfortable walking on uneven cobbled streets, Bulldog Tours leads two-hour guided walking tours with notable highlights, including the Historic Waterfront Battery, antebellum mansions and secret gardens. For spine-tingling tales of the dearly departed, opt for an after-dark tour through cemeteries, back alleys and even a dungeon.
At the Charleston Market, stretching four blocks along Market Street in the city center, local artisans sell accessories, art, jewelry and more. Check out the sweetgrass baskets crafted by the Gullah ladies, descendants of enslaved African Americans who toiled in the South Carolina rice fields. If you’re a military history buff, take the relaxing 30-minute boat ride from Charleston Harbor to the impressive fortification of Fort Sumter National Monument, where soldiers fired the Civil War’s first shots. Or cross the cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Mount Pleasant, where the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier now serves as a museum.
When hunger strikes, insiders recommend two downtown eateries: Cru Café for a shrimp BLT with truffle fries, and Basic Kitchen for its Cauli Wings (tempura cauliflower tossed in buffalo sauce).
Where to stay: Consider Bijou Charleston, a boutique inn with five guest rooms located two blocks from the Charleston Waterfront Park. For budget-friendly options, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects downtown Charleston with Mount Pleasant, where you’ll find recognizable brand names, including Holiday Inn and Springhill Suites by Marriott.
Day 2: Charleston to Walterboro (64 miles)
Start the day with a true taste of the South at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits in the Charleston Market. Try the sausage, egg and pimento cheese buttermilk biscuit sandwich.
Take U.S. Route 17 S for 27 miles, turning left at the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge marker. From there, pick up Mauss Hill Road for about eight miles to the refuge entrance and Grove Plantation House. Built in 1828 on an 842-acre rice plantation, the Grove Plantation House is one of the few antebellum mansions in this basin area to survive the Civil War. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, it serves as the office for the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. With its intricate network of marshes, tidal creeks and wetlands, the refuge covers roughly 12,000 acres with a vast array of wildlife. Meander along miles of trails and boardwalks overlooking the old rice fields, keeping an eye out for alligators, bald eagles, deer, foxes and waterfowl.