Initially known as "Charles Towne," this 17th-century port city has plenty of museums, historic buildings, restaurants, galleries, and parks to keep visitors occupied for days or even weeks. But the rest of the Low Country, from nearby cities like Savannah and Beaufort to beaches like Hilton Head Island are worth a visit as well. From the sculptured beauty of Brookgreen Gardens and manicured golf courses of Kiawah Island to the quaint historic coastal Georgetown and tea fields of Wadamalaw Island, these are the nine best day trips from Charleston.
Savannah, Georgia: Scenic Strolls
From its oak-covered public squares and historic architecture to its museums, restaurants, and riverfront views, Savannah is an ideal day-long getaway. Explore 2018 Editors' Choice award winner Forsyth Park, stroll galleries and restaurants that occupy the old warehouses of River Street, tour historic houses of worship like Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the First African Baptist Church, dine on Southern cuisine at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House, and and visit Savannah’s Telfair Museum, the Southeast's oldest public art museum.
Getting There: Driving from Charleston to Savannah takes a little more than two hours via US-17 S and I-95 S.
Travel Tip: Park your car and use the free Downtown Transportation (DOT) shuttle, which makes 24 stops in the Historic District, including River Street, the Savannah History Museum, City Market, and Forsyth Park.
Beaufort, South Carolina: History and Movie Tours
This second oldest town is South Carolina is full of small-town charm. Take a boat tour to scout for local wildlife, visit historic Antebellum homes like the Robert Means House, walk or bike along the Woods Memorial Bridge made famous in the film Forrest Gump, and then cap your day with seafood at the Saltus River Grill.
Getting There: Beaufort is a 90-minute drive from Charleston via US-17 S.
Travel Tip: Book a historic walking or van tour of local spots featured in films like Forrest Gump with Beaufort Tours.
Hilton Head Island: Hanging Out on the Beach
Escape to the beach for the day. This resort town has something for everyone: sandy beaches, shopping, dining, and plenty of recreational activities like biking, golf, and more. Park your car for free at Coligny Beach, which has bike rentals, as well as umbrella and chair rentals, plenty of walking paths, and a shopping plaza with more than 60 restaurants and retailers.
Getting There: Hilton Head Island is about two hours from Charleston via US-17 S.
Travel Tip: Traffic jams can occur during the height of tourist season (spring and summer), so plan your trip accordingly.
Kiawah Island: Beautiful Golf Courses
This tiny barrier island just 30 miles south of Charleston is home to seven golf courses, the most famous of which is the Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which offers 18 holes of oceanfront golf. Not into the links? Indulge in a facial or massage at the resort's onsite spa at The Sanctuary Hotel, explore the island's nature trails or 10 miles of beaches.
Getting There: The drive from Charleston to Kiawah Island takes approximately 50 minutes via State Rd S-10-20.
Travel Tip: Plan extra time for your trip during more popular times of year, like spring and summer.
Brookgreen Gardens: Sculptures and Wildlife
Located just south of popular beach town Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens is part pristine sculptures garden and part wildlife preserve. The 1,600-acre park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Highlights include a butterfly garden, 250-year-old oak trees, and the largest collection figurative sculpture in the United States: 2,000 works by 425 artists interspersed throughout the gardens as well as indoor gallery space.
Getting There: The drive to Brookgreen Gardens is approximately 80 miles and an hour and 45 minutes from downtown Charleston via US-17 N.
Travel Tip: The Gardens also have an onsite zoo, featuring native species like grey foxes, bald eagles, river otters, and white-tailed deer, and are adjacent to Huntington Beach State Park.
Georgetown: Historic Attractions and Waterfront Views
One of the oldest cities in South Carolina, this quaint waterfront town is just 60 miles north of downtown Charleston. Explore the area's history at the Gullah Museum, the South Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Georgetown County Museum, then stroll the scenic Georgetown Harborwalk, which starts at the Visitor's Center and ends at the Kaminski House Museum.
Getting There: Georgetown is a straight shot from downtown Charleston via US-17 N and takes about 80 minutes by car.
Travel Tip: The Visitor's Center offers free parking as well as information about local attractions.
Edisto Island: Nature and History Along the Coast
Just 50 miles south of Charleston, this sea island is less commercially developed than its peers and offers a more low-key and unpretentious beach experience. Learn about the area's history at the Edisto Island Museum, hike or bike the trails at the oceanfront Edisto Beach State Park, and see snakes, frogs, alligators, iguanas, and other reptiles at the Edisto Island Serpentarium.
Getting There: Edisto Island is about an hour southwest of Charleston via US 17-S and SC-174.
Travel Tip: The Serpentarium is only open in late April through late September. Check the website for exact dates, as they vary by year.
Wadmalaw Island: Local Tea and Spirits
This small island 30 minutes southwest of Charleston is home to North America's only tea growing facility. Charleston Tea Plantation produces nine tea varietals and offers 45-minute trolley tours through the fields and on-site greenhouse as well as a factory tour for an inside look at the tea making process.
Getting There: From downtown Charleston, take SC-700 W. The facility has free parking.
Travel Tip: Visit the nearby Firefly Distillery and adjacent Irvin House Vineyards for tours and tastings on select days.
Columbia, South Carolina: Museums and Historic Sites
Located about two hours from Charleston, South Carolina's capital city has a bit of everything: historic sites, museums, the arts, and a thriving nightlife. Families will enjoy the EdVEnture Children's Museum and 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, while history buffs will want to check out the state capitol building and the South Carolina State Museum, which includes a 4-D theater, planetarium, and four floors of exhibit space dedicated to art, technology, history, natural history, and science. The Columbia Museum of Art, with one of the Southeast's largest International collections, is also worth a visit.
Getting There: Columbia is a two-hour drive from Charleston via I-26 W.
Travel Tip: Consider purchasing a CoolPASS, which costs $32 and includes admission to the EdVenture Children's Museum, the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, and the South Carolina State Museum.