The Holy City is known for its rich history, charm, and amazing cuisine. While there is no shortage of things to do in Charleston, SC, you may be surprised to know that some of the best-kept secrets are located just beyond the city limits! While you can always take a day trip to Savannah or Myrtle Beach, there are so many other amazing places to explore off-the-beaten-path. From ancient ruins and hidden beaches to sleepy Southern towns, here are 11 of the most unique day trips from Charleston, SC.
There are so many interesting day trips from Charleston, SC, if you know where to go. Read on to learn about the best secret spots to explore near the Holy City. Then, get ready for an unforgettable road trip through the South Carolina Lowcountry!
11 of the Best Day Trips From Charleston, SC
1. Botany Bay
Sunflower fields, crumbling ruins, petrified forests, and secluded beaches — is there anything that Botany Bay doesn’t have to offer? Easily one of the most underrated destinations in South Carolina, a trip to this 3,363-acre preserve is well worth the visit. The magic begins from the moment you arrive at the entrance of the plantation, which is a stunning avenue of oaks draped in Spanish moss. Pick up a map at the information kiosk and begin with a self-guided driving tour through the property. The 6.5-mile route will take you past salt marshes, century-old live oaks, historic buildings from the 1800s, and the remains of the Sea Cloud Plantation House. Along the way, you’re also likely to spot a variety of native wildlife. Keep an eye out for loggerhead sea turtles, songbirds, and alligators!
After a relaxing driving tour, circle back to the designated parking area and hit the beach! Botany Bay offers nearly 3 miles of undeveloped beachfront. Because it is never crowded, you’ll feel as if you have the entire beach to yourself. Enjoy sunbathing or stroll the shoreline and explore petrified trees growing right from the sand. You’ll also find an abundance of beautiful seashells, sand dollars, and starfish. Just don’t collect the shells, as this is strictly prohibited. Leave them behind and let others appreciate the beauty of this natural seascape.
Admission and parking at Botany Bay are free, so feel free to visit any time you please! The preserve is open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day of the week, except Tuesdays. After your visit, continue to Edisto beach or pick up a homemade tomato pie at King’s Market. This local roadside market is right down the road from Botany Bay!
2. St. Helena Island
If you’re interested in learning more about Gullah culture and history, then you must visit St. Helena Island. Take a step back in time at the Penn Center, which was formerly one of the first schools in America for freed slaves. Walk around the campus, browse the exhibits in the museum, and discover what life was like during that time. The cost of museum admission is just $7 per adult and $5 for students. Admission is free for children aged 5 and under.
Are you looking for authentic Lowcountry artwork? Head over to the Red Piano Too Art Gallery. This premier gallery features artwork from more than 150 local and regional artists, including many Gullah artists. Take what you learned at the Penn Center and see it come to life on canvas as you peruse the collection of fine, folk, and craft art. You’ll also discover a great selection of books and other items related to the Gullah culture.
Next, drive to the Chapel of Ease on St. Helena Island. A perfect combination of beauty and destruction, the picturesque ruins of this 1740 church will give you goosebumps! Read about the history of the parish church and the forest fire that destroyed it in 1886. Explore the remaining ruins and walk through the adjacent cemetery. Then, head back to Charleston and reflect on the amazing day you had.
3. Cypress Gardens
If you’re looking for short day trips from Charleston, SC, consider spending a day at Cypress Gardens. Fans of The Notebook and The Patriot will love visiting the exact location where famous scenes from these movies were filmed. But even beyond its ties to Hollywood, the 170-acre preserve and gardens is an enchanting place to visit. From the moment you arrive, you will feel as if you’ve stepped into a fairytale. Take a walk along the scenic nature trails and gaze out at mysterious blackwater swamps and cypress trees. Step inside the largest Butterfly House in South Carolina or come face-to-face with real alligators. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even paddle out into the swamp on a kayaking excursion. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
4. Pawleys Island
Legend has it, this South Carolina island is haunted by a friendly ghost! Locals say that The Grey Man occasionally appears on Pawleys Island to warn residents before an impending hurricane. Most likely, you won’t see him during your visit. However, what you will discover on Pawleys Island is beautiful beaches, delicious seafood, and outdoor adventure! Take a stroll along the longest wooden pier on the East Coast, cast a line into the Atlantic, or embark on a guided kayak tour with Blackwater Outdoors Center. For a truly unforgettable experience, take a pontoon boat tour along the historic Waccamaw River. Along the way, you’ll see original rice mills, trunk gates, and rice plantations that date back to the 1800s. Dive into local history and keep an eye out for wildlife!
When you start to work up an appetite, grab a bite to eat at Chive Blossom Restaurant and Bar. From she-crab soup and okra pancakes to seafood pot pie, each item on the menu sounds better than the last. After lunch, spend the afternoon browsing the specialty shops in Hammock Shops Village. And if you’re searching for fine artwork, check out Island Art Gallery or Cheryl Newby Gallery.
If you’re looking for destinations within 100 miles from Charleston, Pawleys Island is a great choice. It’s only 70 miles away (1.5 hours) – perfect for day trips from Charleston, SC!
When it comes to the best day trips from CHS, Beaufort, SC, should be on your list! South Carolina’s second-oldest city is filled with beautiful churches, museums, historic sites, and antebellum homes. However, you’ll also find an abundance of art galleries, antique shops, and charming boutiques on Bay Street. With so much to see and do, you may have trouble fitting it all into one day! History-buffs will love exploring the old Sheldon Church ruins or the Beaufort History Museum. Epicureans, on the other hand, might enjoy taking a Gullah cooking lesson at Gullah Grub. And for the young (or young at heart) there is always The Kazoo Factory! Before you drive back to Charleston, make sure to catch the latest flick at the Highway 21 Drive-In Theatre. Order a funnel cake or a root beer float. Then, settle in and watch a movie beneath the stars at this nostalgic drive-in movie theater.
6. Wadmalaw Island
If you’re looking to take mini vacation near Charleston, SC, head down the road to Wadmalaw Island. Just a short drive away, this beautiful and rural barrier island is home to winding country roads, gorgeous mansions, and sprawling plantations. If you’re visiting for the day, there are two attractions you must see: The Charleston Tea Planation and Deep Water Vineyards. Begin your day at The Charleston Tea Plantation. As the only tea plantation in North America, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Learn how tea is made and produced, take a tour of the factory, taste complimentary tea samples, and see hundreds of tea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see. Admission is free, however, they also offer a trolley tour of the plantation for just $14 per adult.
Next, head over to Deep Water Vineyard. Charleston’s only vineyard and winery offers tastings, farm animals, gardens, a gift shop, and 50 acres just waiting to be explored. See the chickens, goats, and bunny rabbits. Swing on the tire swing or take a self-guided tour of the vineyards. Of course, the main draw is the wine tasting. Here, you’ll sample sweet Muscadine wines, dry reds, and everything in between. Tastings include 6 samples for $10. Cheers!
7. Congaree National Park
If adventure is what you seek, you’ll surely find it at Congaree National Park! The 26,276-acre national park is one of the oldest and tallest forests east of the Mississippi. It is a prime destination for canoeing, hiking, fishing, and wildlife-viewing all year round. But for a truly special experience, plan your visit during the synchronized fireflies season. For a short time each spring, millions of fireflies light up the night sky in a magical display that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The lightning bugs all flash in sync, a rare phenomenon that only occurs in a few places on Earth — and Congaree just happens to be one of them! Come solo, bring the family, or plan a romantic date night with your significant other, and enjoy the light show.
Admission to Congaree National Park is free. However, please note that advanced reservations are required to see the fireflies in 2020. The nightly limit is being enforced to prevent overcrowding of the event and provide an enjoyable experience for everyone. Come see for yourself why this is one of the best day trips from Charleston, SC!
8. Kiawah Island
With 10 miles of pristine beaches, 5 championship golf courses, and great shopping opportunities, a day trip to Kiawah Island from Charleston is the perfect way to relax and restore. Beachwalker County Park is the only public beach access on the island. Soak up the sun, search for shells, or cool off with an afternoon swim. Afterward, check out the coastal-chic stores and boutiques in Freshfields Village. Here, you’ll find all the top brands like Lilly Pulitzer, Las Olas, Lululemon, and Southern Tide.
And when it comes to dining on Kiawah Island, the hardest decision you’ll have to make is where to go first. Wine-enthusiasts will love the amazing selection at FortyEight – Wine Bar & Kitchen. From bold Cabernets to refreshing Chardonnays, there are there 48 delicious options on the menu. Pair your wine with light bites like marinated olives, warm crab dip, or cheese and charcuterie boards. Looking for something more casual? Check out Salty Dog Cafe in Bohicket Marina.
9. Hilton Head
Are you considering a day trip from Charleston to Hilton Head Island? This popular resort town is famous for its beautiful beaches and world-class golf courses. In fact, it’s consistently voted one of the top vacation destinations in the country. But beyond the awards and accolades, Hilton Head offers an experience that can’t be beat. Get there early and being your day with brunch at Harold’s Diner. This no-frills eatery is one of the best-kept secrets on the island. Next, head to Harbour Town to do some shopping and sightseeing. Browse the boutiques for gifts, souvenirs, and unique coastal treasures. Make sure to take a photo by the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse. Finally, hit the beach!
With picture-perfect landscapes, antique churches, and pristine antebellum mansions, this quaint Southern town looks like something out of a magazine. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a historian, or simply looking to reconnect with nature, there is something for everyone in historic Bluffton. Climb aboard a boat charter and enjoy a relaxing cruise along the picturesque May River. Then, head inside the Maye River Gallery and browse beautiful works from the Lowcountry region. Are you interested in learning more about local history? Head to Old Town Bluffton and visit historical landmarks such as the Church of the Cross, the Heyward House Historic Center, and the May River Theatre. No matter what you decide to do, you’re sure to enjoy your time in Bluffton, SC.
It would be remiss to exclude Charleston’s sister city from this list! Savannah, GA, is perhaps one of the most popular day trips from Charleston — and for good reason. Here, you’ll discover mouthwatering Southern cuisine, historic parks and squares, and enchanting cobblestone streets. Indulge in a hot praline at River Street Sweets, take a stroll beneath the oaks at Forsyth Park, or have a beach day at Tybee Island. If you’re looking for something unique to do, take a tour of Wormsloe Historic Site or enjoy a signature “rolled” ice cream at Leopold’s. The possibilities are endless, so hop in the car and have an unforgettable day trip from Charleston to Savannah.
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Are you looking for more travel inspo? Check out our blog for recommendations about the best weekend getaways near Charleston, SC, fun day trips from Savannah, GA, and other unique Lowcountry day trips. We’d love to help you plan the ultimate getaway!