From DC, the original plan was to drive through Delaware and coastal Maryland, but it was raining all day so we decided to go to Wilmington, NC instead, and spend the following day driving along the southern NC coast. We had breakfast in our room before driving 6 hours to Wilmington, stopping only for gas and lunch (a combination of groceries and McDonald’s).
North Carolina: Our hotel in Wilmington was a Suburban Extended Stay. We stopped at a nearby grocery store to stock up on food, and took advantage of our room’s kitchen by cooking dinner tonight. Afterwards we drove to downtown Wilmington, but right when we arrived it started pouring.
We drove around for a few minutes and then sat in our car. Once it stopped, we took some sunset pictures and explored the historic downtown. Wilmington is a very nice city, and we were amazed by how many churches there were, in both downtown and the suburbs – we really were in the south!
After our 6 hours on the interstate the previous day, we would mostly stick to smaller roads on our way from Wilmington to Charleston. Our first stop was Carolina Beach State Park. When I was researching things to do in the area, I found out that of all places in the world, the infamous Venus flytrap grows only within 60 miles of Wilmington! So we went to the Carolina Beach State Park to walk the “Flytrap Trail.” I made sure to keep expectations low, since most reviewers said that they were unsuccessful at spotting the flytraps. I had imagined Venus flytraps as being huge (and possibly attempting to catch humans), but they’re actually really tiny – each “lobe” is smaller than a quarter. At the visitor’s centre, they had a display with some plants, so we got to see them there. The woman working at the visitor’s center told us about a spot where we might be able to see some (there’s a small wooden barricade on the side of the trail around halfway through – go around it, then walk along the try stub steps, then look to your right). We got there and started searching, but couldn’t find anything. They don’t put a marker next to where they know the plants are, probably so it’s not too easy for poachers (which are apparently a big problem; it’s a felony in NC to take a flytrap). We gave up after searching for 5-10 minutes, but right as we were leaving I spotted a plant! It was very small, but very impressive. Evolution is pretty amazing -or should I say intelligent design? We are in the south after all.
Feeling successful, we continued south to the ferry at Fort Fisher. We got there 30 minutes before the ferry was to leave, so we walked around the beach at Fort Fisher for a few minutes before driving to the ferry terminal.
The ferry to Southport was a nice 35 minute ride, and only $5. Southport was a very pretty coastal town. It reminded me a lot of Ogunquit, ME. We walked along the streets, sat on the swings in the waterfront park, and had a picnic lunch before continuing south. We took the 17 to Myrtle Beach, where our first stop was at Broadway at the Beach, which in the pictures looked like Downtown Disney. When we got there, it looked like Downtown Disney after humans have been wiped off the face of the earth. There was virtually nobody there! I knew it would be the offseason, but I didn’t expect that there would be more employees than visitors. It was an interesting experience!
Next up was the boardwalk, where there were a few more people but not many. We found a meter spot ($1.50 for an hour) and walked along the main street and the boardwalk, marvelling at how many ice cream and fries places can fit in a mile.
We got back in our car and drove through the sprawling suburbs of Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach has suburbs?) and made our way to Charleston. We stopped in Mount Pleasant for a few refrigerated groceries and then went north to our hotel for 3 nights, the Suburban Extended Stay in North Charleston where we cooked dinner. The Suburban in Wilmington was decent, but this room was actually really nice (although the wifi didn’t work on some of our devices). A would highly recommend this hotel if you want a cheap place with a kitchen. It’s a little far from downtown (about 25 minutes), but it’s an easy drive along the interstate (we never hit traffic, except for maybe 5 minutes on a Friday at 4:30) and well worth it if you’re on too tight a budget to stay downtown.
South Carolina: To start, I’d like to point out that Charleston is the best-smelling city I’ve ever been to. All the residential streets downtown smell like flowers, which they are covered in.
Even if you ignore the smell, Charleston is probably the prettiest American city I’ve been to. Very unique architecture (take an architecture tour!), and all the houses are very old and well-preserved – it feels like you’re in the 19th century.
On our first morning, we parked on Murray Boulevard (free parking, as long as you are willing to walk a little and know how to parallel park) and spent hours aimlessly wandering the streets.
We drove to the Gnome Cafe (great vegan place) for lunch, then back to our hotel for a break. We drove back downtown in the evening (meter spots are free after 6:00 pm) and walked around for another hour before heading to Swig & Swine for a great BBQ dinner.
For our second day, we had a small breakfast in our room, and then drove downtown (parked in a meter spot) for some more walking around before driving to Bon Bahn Mi for a great Vietnamese lunch.
Back to our hotel for a break, then we drove back downtown, parked on Murray, and had a picnic lunch at White Point Gardens.
After lunch, we had a 2:00 pm Architecture tour with Free Tours by Foot. Our tour guide was Scott, and he was great! We learned a lot, and it really brought the city to life. I can highly recommend it; even if you don’t trust me, it’s pay-what-you-want (tips only), so it’s risk free.
To reward ourselves, we got dessert at Peace Pies, an ice cream shop we had noticed the previous day. The have ice cream sandwiches with pie fillings inside! They’re expensive ($6) but worth it.
By this point we were pretty tired, so we drove back home for a break. For dinner we went to the Greek Festival, which was taking place this Friday. We had seen a billboard ad so we decided to check it out (admission was $3 if you have a student ID). It was small but fun, with live music and dancers, as well as a few shops and a gyro stand where we got dinner.
We had an amazing time in Charleston, and we’re happy we stayed for two full days. It’s a great city with lots of restaurants to try out (although that did cause us to go over budget today…).
The next day we had a short drive between Charleston and Savannah, with a detour to Beaufort. We expected to get to Savannah in around 4 hours, but there was lots to do so we ended up taking much longer.
Other than a stop at the Carolina Cider store (free cookie samples!), our first stop was at the Old Sheldon Church ruins.
It looked great in pictures, and it looked even better in person. It’s such a peaceful, almost magical place, completed surrounded by beautiful willow trees. Not only is it worth the stop on the drive from Charleston to Savannah, it’s worth a trip in itself. If you’re staying in either Charleston or Savannah, it’s worth driving an hour each way just to visit the ruins.
Next up was Beaufort, SC. The plan was to have a picnic in the waterfront park and a quick walk around before continuing to Savannah. But there ended up being a festival happening in the park! There was lots of seafood (which we’re not fans of), artists’ stands, and a great band (“The Brewer Band”). We had a picnic while listening to the music and ended up staying awhile before going on a quick walk around the nice downtown. Finally, we were on our way to Savannah, which we reached in the late afternoon.
Georgia: Our first dinner was at Treylor Park, a great restaurant on River Street (but somehow not a tourist trap). After dinner we walked around the historic district, getting a first look at all the squares.
We also walked along River Street, where there was a festival happening. Overall, Savannah seems much more “touristy” than Charleston. There are many more (uglier) chain stores, and River Street wouldn’t be out of place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It’s much better when you walk inland a few blocks, but Charleston is “unspoilt” everywhere in the downtown area.
We only have one full day in Savannah, so we have a lot planned. Our first stop was Tybee Island. After spending an hour walking around the beach and the nearby shops, we drove to Captain Mike’s dock for our 11:00 am dolphin-watching trip! The 90-minute tour was amazing. We saw way more dolphins than I had expected – 90 minutes of dolphins after dolphins after dolphins, of all sizes, some within feet of the boat.
My only complaint was that the seats were a little too small and uncomfortable, but it was well worth it. Best of all, the tour was only $16 each, including tax. If you like dolphins (i.e. you’re not a monster) and you don’t live near them, this tour is a must-do.
From Tybee we drove to downtown Savannah, where we parked (free on weekends) and had a picnic lunch in one of the squares before our 2:00 pm walking tour with Free Walking Tours Savannah. Our guide was great and very animated (clearly a former stage actor) who entertained us with a bunch of interesting and fun stories.
After the tour we were pretty tired, so we went back to our hotel for a break. Later, we got dinner to go from the buffet at Whole Foods (we don’t have Whole Foods where we’re from, so we were excited to try it and their food is great!) and ate it in a square downtown.
We spent some more time walking around before saying goodbye to Savannah and the coastal south.