Coastal South Carolina is infamously known as the "Redneck Riviera," especially the area around Myrtle Beach. But it also boasts the South's grandest antebellum city, Charleston, and one of the great playgrounds along the East Coast at Hilton Head. Along the way are towns of charm and grace, especially Georgetown, as well as a favorite with kids, Tybee Island (although this is just across the South Carolina state line in Georgia).
Days 1 & 2: Myrtle Beach & the Grand Strand
If you went along with us on the first week's tour of the Outer Banks , you can pick up where we left off in the city of Wilmington and continue south for 75 miles into Myrtle Beach, where we recommend a 2-night stopover.
At times the entire 60-mile string of beaches, aptly called the Grand Strand, seems to have been designed expressly for children, with kid-friendly facilities and amusements as well as dozens of resorts serving kids' menus. Family rates at many of the hotels are yet another enticement.
The Strand stretches from the border with North Carolina in the north all the way south to Georgetown. At the hub is Myrtle Beach itself. Most families like to organize their time between the beach and man-made amusements. Parents may want to sneak away for some serious golfing.
On the first day, allowing time for the beach, families can visit the Myrtle Waves Water Park and Ripley's Aquarium, the most visited attraction in South Carolina.
While still based at a hotel along the Grand Strand, you can spend the morning of Day 2 exploring Myrtle Beach State Park, with its sandy beach and pavilions, picnic tables, and a swimming pool. It's riddled with nature trails. In the afternoon, drive down to Murrells Inlet, 11 miles south. It's called the Seafood Capital of South Carolina. While in the area, you can pay a call on the beautiful Brookgreen Gardens. Back in Myrtle Beach, attend one of the many variety shows in the area, including the Alabama Theatre for family fun.
Day 3: Georgetown
On the morning of Day 3, head down the coast along Route 17 until you see the turnoff for Huntington Beach State Park, 3 miles south of Murrells Inlet and across from Brookgreen Gardens, which we've already visited. The 2,500-acre park offers a completely different experience from the gardens, and it opens onto one of the best sandy beaches along the Grand Strand. We suggest you spend the morning here and also enjoy a picnic under one of the shelters and a stroll along the boardwalk.
After lunch, continue the rest of the way to Georgetown, a distance of only 28 miles south of Myrtle Beach. After checking in to a hotel, we suggest one of the river cruises aboard the Carolina Rover or the Jolly Rover that set sail from Georgetown Harbor. Georgetown has more than 50 historic buildings that date back as far as 1737.
Days 4 & 5: Charleston
From Georgetown on the morning of Day 4, drive southwest along Route 17 for 62 miles into the historic seaport of Charleston, the highlight of most visits to South Carolina and a very kid-friendly town. Check into a hotel for 2 nights and begin your adventure.
For a lesson in history outside the classroom, kids can see where the Civil War began at the Fort Sumter National Monument. Later the whole family will be fascinated by the H. L. Hunley Confederate submarine, which sank one fateful day in 1864 but was later raised. A good 2 or 3 hours can be spent at Charles Towne Landing enjoying its 663 acres; for kids, this is one of the highlights of a visit to Charleston. Wind down the afternoon with a visit to the South Carolina Aquarium.
For Day 5, you should try to hit one or more of the following four major attractions in the Charleston environs. The most Mercury-footed families manage to see all of them in 1 day. If that's too fast a pace for you, skip one or two. In order of importance, they are Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, Cypress Gardens, and Drayton Hall.
Day 6: Hilton Head
It's a 100-mile drive to our next overnight stopover at Hilton Head, so you should leave as early as you can in the morning. Follow the signs out of Charleston to Route 17, heading southwest until it reaches Route 21 going west to I-95. Follow this until you come to the junction with Route 278, which will take you east into Hilton Head.
The most fun place to stay for families is Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. Devote the day to romps along the beaches and taking one of the boat cruises. In the afternoon, you can take your kids to the nature preserve of Sea Pines Forest Preserve for walks among the wildlife, including white-tailed deer. There are several picnic areas here for lunch. Overnight in Hilton Head.
Day 7: Savannah
You have a choice. You can stay yet another day on Hilton Head, enjoying its beaches and outdoor activities, or you can drive across the Georgia state line for a visit to Savannah, 120 miles south of Charleston. Should you choose the latter, drive west once again to I-95, which you follow south until you see the exits for Savannah. I-95 lies 10 miles west of Savannah. Just follow the signs leading to the Historic District, where you can overnight.
Savannah is packed with attractions the entire family can enjoy, including the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum; the Massie Heritage Interpretation Center, geared to children; a tour of the Civil War forts; and Savannah riverboat cruises.
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