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  • Historic homes on the waterfront in Charleston, South Carolina
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    Harbor Views, Stately Homes and Delicious Dining in Charleston, South Carolina

  • Couple exploring the waterfront near the Harbour Town Lighthouse in Hilton Head Island
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    Enjoy Beaches and Bicycling on Laid-back Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

  • Boy studying the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama
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    From Georgia Cities to the Riverfront Charms of Alabama’s Capital

  • Colorful roses in bloom at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama
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    Fascinating Museums and Attractions in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama

  • Piano inside the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama
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    Rockets, Fashion and Legendary Music in North Alabama

Colorful buildings line historic streets in Charleston, South Carolina
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South Carolina to Alabama Road Trip: Beaches, Historic Streets and Iconic Music

By Kelly Larson

  • Route distance:
    1,160 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Charting a course from Charleston, South Carolina, to Huntsville, Alabama, this southeastern USA road trip features eye-catching architecture, scenic beauty, delicious cuisine and rich cultural icons.

Of all the vibrant and diverse regions in the USA, few offer the type of captivating beauty, historic charm and welcoming hospitality that the Southeastern states do. From salt and sand to museums and space exploration, get ready for an epic trip through South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Along the way, you’ll explore Charleston Harbor, take a leisurely beachfront bike ride in Hilton Head Island, and tour the very same music studio where Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin cut some of their most timeless records. As your plane lands at Charleston International Airport (CHS) in South Carolina, take in sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and estuaries below – your adventure is just beginning.

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Historic homes on the waterfront in Charleston, South Carolina
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Harbor Views, Stately Homes and Delicious Dining in Charleston, South Carolina

After rolling out of bed in your tastefully appointed room at The Mills House Wyndham Hotel, kick-start the day with a stroll along The Battery. The former defensive seawall affords panoramic views of Charleston Harbor on one side and historic, stately mansions on the other. Coffee in hand, follow the salty breeze to White Point Garden. This waterfront park is one of Charleston’s most visited locations thanks, in part, to its majestic oak trees, fascinating historical markers, Instagram-friendly gazebo and stunning harbor views. Walk less than a kilometer north and you’ll find yourself at the famous Rainbow Row – 13 houses painted in an eye-catching array of pastel colors. From there, it’s off to King Street, where you can shop from a seemingly endless selection of local and regional retailers surrounded by palmetto trees and horse-drawn carriages. After your retail therapy session, rest your feet with a mimosa and croque monsieur at La Pâtisserie inside the luxurious Hotel Bennet. Want a break from the city? Drive about 40 minutes north to take a romantic paddle boat ride among cypress trees in the majestic swamps of Cypress Gardens, where scenes of the movie “The Notebook” were filmed. Head back to the historic district for some of Charleston’s best shrimp and grits at local-favorite restaurant 82 Queen. Nightcap, anyone? Back at Hotel Bennett, champagne lounge Camellias will welcome you with open arms and plenty of bubbly. But get some rest; the next leg of your road trip has you exploring laid-back and picturesque Hilton Head Island.

159 km
2 hours by car
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Couple exploring the waterfront near the Harbour Town Lighthouse in Hilton Head Island
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Enjoy Beaches and Bicycling on Laid-back Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Before checking out of The Mills House, take the elevator downstairs and fuel up with a Southern omelet and Charleston tea at the Barbadoes Room. Just two hours south, you’ll find Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in the heart of the Lowcountry region. This gorgeous island is known for its beaches, scenic beauty and world-class golf courses. Upon arrival, stretch your legs with a beachfront walk or bike ride from Coligny Beach Park, followed by lunch at The Sandbar or Skillets Café & Grill. These local mainstays are among the 60 stores and restaurants at Coligny Plaza. After enjoying the beach, if you’d like to appreciate more of the tranquil Lowcountry lifestyle, drive 30 minutes northwest to Bluffton. Explore the quaint town’s art galleries and majestic oaks before you check in at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort. Make sure you leave enough time for dinner and a waterfront sunset at The Old Oyster Factory, Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks or Ela's on the Water, all Hilton Head favorites. Next stop: Montgomery, Alabama – but not before a couple of very necessary stops in Georgia.

573 km
6.5 hours by car
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Boy studying the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama
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Jamie Martin

From Georgia Cities to the Riverfront Charms of Alabama’s Capital

After scooping up a grab-and-go breakfast sandwich at the Omni’s Palmetto Market, it’s time to check out and hit the road. Though the day’s final destination is Montgomery, Alabama, you can opt to take a detour about an hour southwest to Savannah, Georgia, to explore the historic district of this beautiful coastal city known for its cobblestone streets and historic, oak-lined squares. Make sure you stock up on road trip snacks because you have a half a day of driving ahead. An ideal to place to stretch your legs is Columbus, Georgia, thanks to attractions like the Chattahoochee Riverwalk and Columbus Botanical Garden. When you’re ready to keep moving, hit the highway for less than two hours due west, and check in to the Hampton Inn & Suites Montgomery-EastChase. To start getting to know Alabama’s historic and edgy capital, wander the many shops and attractions of the Montgomery riverfront. As for dinner, plan ahead for a reservation at Central, a casually elegant American restaurant located in the city’s entertainment district. Day four has plenty more culture and exploration in store.

163 km
1.5 hours by car
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Colorful roses in bloom at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama
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Kim Graham Smith

Fascinating Museums and Attractions in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama

After yesterday’s long drive, take your time getting ready and eating breakfast. Your first stop will be to learn about and pay homage to Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks. The Rosa Parks Museum is filled with exhibits and moving insights about that fateful and historic day in 1955 when Mrs. Parks refused to give up her bus seat, inspiring the creation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For more regional history, carve out time to visit The Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, the only museum dedicated to authors F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds lived in Montgomery in the early 1930s and each wrote parts of novels during that time. From “The Fitz,” hop in the car and make your way 1.5 hours north to Birmingham, Alabama. The state’s largest city is home to several James Beard Award-winning chefs, outstanding green spaces and interesting museums. Grab some lunch and peruse the many shops of The Summit before checking into the Valley Hotel Homewood Birmingham, Curio Collection by Hilton. But the day’s not over yet. Toss your bags in the room and set out to explore the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Vulcan Park and Museum. The latter is home to the largest cast-iron statue in the world. Finally, put a ribbon on the day with a casually elegant dinner and cocktails at downtown’s popular Roots & Revelry.

300 km
3.5 hours by car
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Piano inside the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama
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Rockets, Fashion and Legendary Music in North Alabama

What do Otis Redding, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones have in common? Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, of course, which is your next stop. After checking out of your hotel in Birmingham, drive about two hours northwest until you reach the area known as The Shoals, home to several small towns with big music history. Book a tour to go behind-the-scenes at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield and Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals to fully appreciate this region’s music legacy. After lunch in nearby charming downtown Florence, drive just a few minutes into a quiet neighborhood, where you’ll find a surprising architectural gem – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosembaum House. Considered by many experts to be one of the purest examples of Wright’s Usonian design, it is the only Wright structure in Alabama and the only Wright home in the southeastern USA that offers guided tours to the public. Soon enough, it’ll be time to hop back in your car and head 1.5 hours east to Huntsville, Alabama, for the final leg of your trip. Before this action-packed road trip comes to an end and you catch your flight home out of Huntsville International Airport (HSV), make some time to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. There, you can do anything from attempting to fly an F-18 Super Hornet in the Flight Simulator Experience to visiting the museum’s digital planetarium.