A Charleston to Savannah Guide From the Company Curating More Inclusive American Road Trips

St. Helena Island a South Carolina Sea Island is home to the Penn Center one of the first schools in America for...
St. Helena Island, a South Carolina Sea Island, is home to the Penn Center, one of the first schools in America for formerly enslaved people. The Penn Center has preserved much of the Island's African-American history and culture through collections, historical documentation, oral histories, musical recordings and handicrafts.Photo: Courtesy of Discover South Carolina

Last year, as the walls began to close in on my work from home station and my passport collected dust, it was a wide road and exit signs that helped me reimagine possibility. The California coast that connected the dots between ocean salt and open air became my playground, a reminder that I could still find adventure in travel behind the wheel— and that never again would I take for granted how much I got to see the world before 2020. This freedom inspired what would become my biggest passion project to date: creating road trip guides with my company CrushGlobal Travel. If you’re imagining the great American pastime of a highway leading to nothing but possibility, you’re halfway there. My goal was to take that image a step further to create more inclusive road trip experiences, where Black and queer travelers could feel safe, where money was put back into the hands of your favorite taco truck, woman-owned winery, local bookstore, and farmer. Call it the great American road trip 2.0, one that recognizes that travelers are not one size fits all, and that respecting communities—from wearing masks to empowering local business people—would always be a vital part of the experience.

With the help of tourism boards, inclusive car rental companies like Drive Kyte, and insight from locals around the country, my team and I have curated customized road trips across the U.S. that included private vineyard tastings, cooking lessons, Black history walking tours, and even alleged UFO sightings to note on Route 50. Travelers can also choose from eight ready-to-use themed road trip guides, with routes up the California coast, in the Northeast, and South.

One of my favorite road trips to highlight is the drive from Charleston to Savannah. The journey between these two coastal Southern cities is roughly 108 miles and takes just under two hours to complete via Highway 17 and I-95. This is a route that speaks to the interests of a diverse range of travelers, as there are ample dining, historical, and drinking options, as well as room for outdoor adventure.

Here’s just a few options to consider along the route:

Charleston

Start in Charleston by checking into Hotel Emeline, a chic boutique hotel located on a tree-lined street downtown. Emeline has a cafe and restaurant onsite, lush courtyard to enjoy a cocktail, and the earth-toned rooms include special touches like a record player and albums.

The lobby at Hotel EmelinePhoto: Lindsey Shorter / Courtesy of Hotel Emeline

Once you’re settled, there’s a number of daytime options to explore, including boutique shopping on the more than 300-year-old King St., and strolling along the scenic, eight-acre Joe Riley Waterfront.

For lunch, Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop serves up twists on Southern comfort food like black eyed pea salad and a crispy clam wrap. If you’re thirsty, there’s rosé on tap and an impressive variety of grower champagne to explore.

No road trip to Charleston is complete without a proper understanding of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of once enslaved West Africans who continued to celebrate and preserve their rich heritage on America’s southeastern coasts, including South Carolina’s Lowcountry regions and Sea Islands. Gullah Geechee Tours, led by historian Godfrey Gullah Jack, offers walking history lessons through Charleston. Chef BJ Dennis, whose talents were recently featured in Netflix’s docuseries High on the Hog, is a proud Charleston native who took time out of his busy schedule to help me explore private catering experiences that highlight Gullah cuisine for road trip clients visiting the region. For a souvenir and taste of Charlston to take home, make sure to pick up some hot sauces from family-owned Lilliies of Charleston.

Along the route from Charleston to Savannah, there are a number of idyllic stops to consider, including the Francis Beidler Forest, which, spread over 11,000 acres, is the world's largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest. For more outdoor time, take a day trip to a Beaufort Sea Island like St. Helena, where you can have lunch at Gullah Grub and take a tour of Legacy Art Gallery. Here, Lisa Rivers tells the story of Gullah culture through her vivid paintings.

Gullah Grub Restaurant on Beaufort Sea IslandPhoto: Courtesy Discover South Carolina

Savannah

Located just blocks from Savannah's beautiful Forsyth Park, The Gastonian is a historic bed and breakfast that consists of two adjoining mansions built in 1868. For those looking for the feel of a home away from home after a day of driving on the road, this is it. At nearby Forsyth, grab a book and sit under the Spanish moss and oak trees that line this park and lead to its photographic and very famous fountain. Hotel Emiline’s sister property, The Alida, is also a good option on downtown Savannah's revitalized riverfront.

Historic Homes on Forsyth Park, Savannah, GeorgiaPhoto: Getty Images

For more open-air opportunities, head to Wright’s Square Cafe and pick up some of the sweet bites they’re known for, like bourbon pecan pie, chocolates and truffles. Then walk just two minutes to Telfair Square to enjoy the outdoor air in one of the city’s oldest squares. For a glimpse of Savannah’s history, book Vaughnette Goode-Walker’s Footprints Historic Walking Tour, which covers some of Savannah’s lesser-known Black history.

For a day trip near the water, head to Tybee Island, which is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Savannah. The small barrier island has calm waves and the oldest lighthouse in Georgia. For a snack, nearby North Beach Grill has a Caribbean-inspired fusion menu with dishes that are vegetarian-friendly as well.

Tybee Island Light Station, Tybee Island, GeorgiaPhoto: Getty Images

Our road trip guides also include a detailed route through a part of Savannah that tourists often miss: the Historic and Victorian District, located just beyond Liberty Street. There, you’ll see some of the most beautiful old mansions that the city has to offer.

For dinner, James Beard Award-winning chef Mashama Bailey is one of our favorite chefs to book an experience with. At The Grey, which occupies a 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus Terminal that’s been restored, Bailey features dishes like grits topped with foie gras and Carolina Gold Rice with sea island red peas, herbs, watercress—a nod to the culinary connection of both Savannah and Charleston, as well as the impact of Black culture that makes these recipes possible.

For a nightcap, the newly opened Peregrin Rooftop Lounge in the Perry Lane Hotel serves up brightly colored cocktails against Savannah’s skyline. It’s a nice spot to reflect on the road you’ve traveled as you look forward to the one ahead.