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Trip Report Road trip south to Beaufort, NC, Charleston, Savannah, and Asheville

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I found some useful info here on fodors when I was researching our recent trip two weeks south. Thought I’d give back with a trip report in case others find it helpful. This was our first “road trip” in a while. Since we’ve been retired we’re in the habit of doing two month trips in the winter to some place far afield and exotic. . . . The impetus for this trip was to use some time at a North Carolina house that was part of a nonsimultaneous houseswap we did when we went to Argentina last winter. These folks came to our DC place for the inauguration. They have a lovely house with pool and water view near Beaufort, NC. Once we arranged our days there and decided to drive 6 hours south, we thought we’d add some time and other destinations south.
So basically our itinerary was: Beaufort 4 nights, Charleston, SC 3 nights, Savannah, Georgia 3 nights, and Asheville NC 3 nights. Despite a lot of “unsettled” weather, it was a great trip.

We were two 60s couples at the NC house. Of course we were dreading the slog out of DC on 95 and with good reason. We left just after rush hour on a Friday and inched along with everyone else between perhaps Occuquan and Fredericksburg or maybe even Richmond. This route is notoriously horrendous, but there are almost no alternatives. Oh well. Not including stops our drive was perhaps 6 ½ hours to 7 hours or so . . . .
It was a gorgeous day on our drive down. Just as we reached our destination, the skies blackened and it poured for awhile. We stopped and bought food for a grill out/porch dinner our first eve. Delightful weather later that eve. Warm, low humidity, and full moon on the water. We spent our next few days relaxing on the porch, swimming in the pool, and exploring the area – Beaufort, Emerald Isle, Fort Macon State Park, Maritime Museum. Had the weather been more “settled” we’d have planned a picnic and whole beach day, but every day alternated between sun and threatening thunderstorms. . . .so a little hard to plan. Had a really nice lunch at the Front Street Grill at Stillwater and a decent dinner and lunch next door at Spouter Inn. Ate outside on the water at Spouter. Shrimp (and I’m not even a big shrimp fan) were fabulous in both restaurants and from a local seafood market.

After 4 nights we reluctantly left our very fine digs, bid goodbye to our travelling companions who were returning to DC, and headed down to Charleston. I’d been there only a single afternoon years ago on a work trip. Husband had never been. Easy enough and reasonably interesting 5 ½ hour drive. I had researched Charleston hotels – looking for something convenient that wasn’t ghastly expensive. Just hate paying more than $200 to sleep. Settled on the Best Western Historic area, which turned out to be great. Besides a less than $200 price tag, it offers free parking, real value here. We had I’m sure one of the smallest rooms, but it had a great bed and bath. Hotel has a small pool and inside/outside café next to the pool, where we ate all our breakfasts and stopped by one eve for discounted drinks and cheese at happy hour. All hotel staff were terrific.
Manager even stopped to chat with us one day as we sat in café. Desk staff was very helpful in giving spot on
Restaurant recs – as did bellhop.. . . . This hotel is very central in the historic area, so we parked the car and never left. Walked everywhere for two days. Enjoyed the South Carolina Aquarium, the Charleston Museum and related restored house across the street. Admired the nicely done waterfront park. Hung out there briefly one eve and people watched. Visited the small but nice art museum, and I cruised the market. Passed by and went in the beautiful old Methodist Church. Admired other churches. Walked all the way down to and beyond the tip of the Battery. Fabulous houses. Really enjoyed looking at the architectural details. Had a fun chat with a local on the street about house prices and the current controversy regarding the cruise ship port location. Ate 3 nice dinners out. First was at nearby Low Country Bistro – recommended by hotel staff, when we asked for a casual, good food restaurant that wouldn’t break the bank. Though warm outside, we ate on the balcony, had good service, and good food. Next night we went to The Grocery, a big warehouse like space just outside? the historic area. We really enjoyed our server, who was fun and extremely knowledgeable about the food. We shared a whole roasted black bass that was delicious. We both had excellent salads and split an order of delicious roasted potatoes. Final night’s dinner was at Cru Café, a small house down Pinckney Street 5 blocks or so. Rain threatened again, but held off, as we ate on the porch. A lovely night. Great food, so so service. Next day we visited Patriot’s Point, walked around on the aircraft carrier (man, those things are BIG), and checked out the Viet Nam campsite (nostalgia moment for the husband who spent some time in similar camp on a beach during Viet Nam war). Then we drove to Audubon Swamp that is part of Magnolia plantation. We walked around the plantation grounds a bit (very hot!) and then walked the paths of the swamp park (also hot).
We like to look at birds on trips, so really enjoyed the trees that made up the rookery – full of nesting anhingas, egrets and herons. Saw a couple gators too. Then drove on to Savannah. . . .

In Savannah we stayed in a fabulous rental condo that I’d found on vrbo. Like Charleston, even basic blah hotels in the historic area cost an arm and leg. For virtually the same or less we had a thousand square foot condo – high ceilings, huge windows - in a historic house with a porch! Great location. One of the highlights of our Savannah visit was a Sunday morning walk with Dirk Hardison of Savannah Rambles (found rec here on fodors, thanks). His is not a chatty, gossipy, ghostly walk, but rather a nonstop serious history/architecture tour of Savannah. He was wonderful. Really knowledgeable. We learned so much. . Also enjoyed seeing the 155 foot sail boat “Hyperion” docked at the harbor. (not invited on board unfortunately). We were reduced to googling it for more info. Discovered it’s owned by Netscape developer Jim Clark. Quite a boat. Riverfront in Savannah was busy with cargo and tourists. Enjoyed watching it all. Hadn’t realized Savannah was such a busy port. Took an early eve dolphin viewing trip on a smallish boat. Fun being out on the water as always and we did see some dolphins. . . . Foodwise we passed on the big names (we do a lot of eating out in DC) and went for neighborhood or small places. First night we fell into the Distillery brew pub close by our condo.
I had some good catfish and sweet potato fries – not to mention good beer. Next night we went to Crystal Beer Parlor, which we both loved – for its historic atmosphere, people watching, and, yes, food. We both had great shrimp. . . Last eve we ate at Public Bar and Restaurant near our condo. Sat outside - despite threatening weather (a continuing theme). An ok place. Also had great sandwiches and small beers (a nice touch for $2)
for lunch at B. Matthews, which we loved. Drove out to Tybee Island late Sunday afternoon. Walked along the beach a bit and then came upon a great music group playing outside at the North Beach(?) bar near the lighthouse. Got a beer and listened to the music. We really loved Savannah –its beautiful squares and trees.

Then we drove another 5 hours or so to Asheville. Feeling in the vrbo groove, decided to rent a small cabin 6 miles outside Asheville (West Asheville). It was sparsely furnished, but had a good bed, equipped kitchen, good shower, porches, hot tub and a lovely landscaped yard. Afraid we didn’t do Asheville justice because of
the torrential downpours we had almost daily during our stay. Fortunately we got tickets for Biltmore for our first day – which turned out to be the day with some sun. Found Biltmore fascinating, hadn’t known much about it before. . .. really loved the gardens too. Visited the Folk Art Center in the afternoon. Some beautiful things there. Sorry we didn’t get to the River Arts District (see torrential downpours previously). We drove over to Brevard, primarily to take a look at the college my nephew attended. Also drove through Warren Wilson College in Asheville (another friend is an alumnus). Clearly didn’t do justice to Asheville’s great restaurants. Had dinner at Biergarten on arrival (thinking we’d go fancier on other eves). Grilled steaks and ate on our porch another, and at Café Azalea on Tunnel Road for 3rd night. Rained so hard on our cabin two nights it was almost scarey. . . We decided to scrap our plan to stop somewhere on Blue Ridge Pkway on return (why hike in the rain?) – or to stop in Charlottesville or elsewhere – and just barrel back to DC on the fourth. Mostly a lovely drive without much traffic – mostly sunny – with only occasional downpour. .. . But things sure looked green!!

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