Two Southern Belles – Charleston SC & Savannah GA
There’s something comforting about coming back to a place you know, and when you first start fulltime RVing that doesn’t happen right away.
For the majority of folks, the first few years on the road are the most diverse. Literally everything you see and everywhere you go is new, so it’s a time of non-stop exploration and discovery. It’s super exciting of course, but you rarely see the same place twice.
Once you’ve been roaming about for a few years however, you’ll likely find yourself driving down a few roads you’ve traveled before. Before you know it you’ll start developing a deeper fondness for specific locations along the way, and soon thereafter you’ll find yourself wanting to re-visit those fav spots over and over. It’s inevitable really, and as much a part of the fulltime RVing experience as those first few exploratory years.
Besides, you have wheels and you’ve found places you love to hang, so why not?
It’s definitely happened to us. We always make it a point to see something new each year, but we’ve also done many re-visits over the years (can you say the Oregon Coast? The Southwest Desert? Hwy 395?). Most of our return spots have been out West, mostly because that’s where we spent the first 7 years on the road, but we haven’t really had that experience out East…until now.
This is our second winter out here (can you believe it?) and now that we have a passing feel for the place we’ve started to fall in love with a few key places along the way. There’s New York City of course which we couldn’t resist re-visiting on our way South. And then there was Washington DC (also a re-visit), but there were 2 particular cities in the South that we knew we had to see a second time around if we ever got a chance. I hesitate to say these are our favorite cities in the whole South (I mean we haven’t seen them all and I know people are very passionate about such things), but I must confess they are definitely in our top 5.
Those two places are Charleston SC & Savannah GA
Similar But So Very Different
Both Charleston (founded 1670) & Savannah (founded 1733) are old cities with deep roots, and that’s absolutely part of their allure. They are charming places with no end of beautiful old buildings, incredible food offerings and fascinating histories.
But they’re also very different.
Charleston exudes old-style French charm and is rather compact, bounded on 3 sides by water, with many small avenues and hidden alleys. Old town is an exploration into history where you (or rather I) can easily get lost in the maze of streets and imposing mansions. Yet the foodie area just up the road is bustling and modern, and if you view the whole from the water you’ll be stunned by the almost inconceivable mass of Church Spires (it’s not called the “Holy City” for nothing, you know…). It’s quite the sight.
Savannah on the other hand is big and bold, its wide streets laid out in exacting English precision, generously landscaped with large green, shaded squares and impressive statues. It’s spacious and comfortable and the type of place you can never get lost (literally everything is a grid), but it’s still got tons of old cobblestone streets, a wonderful waterfront, fine old mansions and a solid offering of churches too.
We love both places, so getting the chance to return and explore a few of the areas we missed last time around was a treat and a half.
Great Places To Stay In the RV In Close Proximity
The other nice thing about these two cities is that there are two great 12-paws-up RV parks in very close proximity.
James Island County Park is only ~7 miles from downtown Charleston and is a fabulously large and green park with an amazing dog-park (really!) and one of the best Christmas Light Shows you’ll ever see.
Skidaway Island State Park lies a smidgen further from Savannah (~15 miles) but it’s a lovely, large, quiet State Park with wonderful sites and extensive dog-friendly trails.
They both rated very high for us when we stayed here last time, so we chose to stay at exactly the same places for our return. When a place is this good, it’s worth coming back to!
Charleston SC Explorations
When we came to Charleston last fall we were here with good friends and spent a happy week exploring downtown, seeing the lighthouse and enjoying lots of good food, But there were two specific things we missed during that visit which we wanted to rectify this time around.
Anyone who’s a fan of American History will want to see Fort Sumter when they come to Charleston.
For those not in the know this is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. At 4:30 a.m on April 12, 1861 Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard opened artillery bombardment of Major Robert Anderson’s small Union garrison at the Fort. A mere 34 hours later Fort Sumter surrendered and the Flag of the Palmetto Guard was raised. It was the first battle of the American Civil War and marked the beginning of the conflict that would change this land forever. Union forces would try to take back the Fort for nearly four years, and it remained a focal point in Charleston throughout the Civil War.
It’s also got a rather interesting construction history. It’s located right in the center of the harbor entrance on what was originally just a sand bar. Construction began in 1829 and over seventy thousand tons of granite were imported from New England to build up the five-sided brick structure. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun emplacements, but by the time the Civil War started it still wasn’t complete, so it actually never reached full capacity.
The only way to get out there is by ferry and you can catch it several times a day from either downtown Charleston or across the way from Mt Pleasant. We booked the first boat out during the weekday (9:30AM) and that turned out to be an awesome choice. Not only did we get to see the Fort before it got too hot, but we also got to participate in the flag-raising ceremony! It was a very special occasion to be part of and something I’d highly recommend.
VISIT & PAW TIPS: The Ferry leaves to Fort Sumter from 2 locations (Downtown and Mt. Pleasant) 2-3 times per day. Tickets cost $21 for adults ($18.50 seniors/military and $13 children). Each tour lasts just over 2 hours and online reservations are highly recommended! If you take the first tour of the day (like we did) you get to help raise the flag. NO dogs allowed on the Ferry or at the Fort, unfortunately. More visit info HERE.
Holiday Festival Of Lights
The other thing we got to enjoy here, which we only just touched on last year was the James Island County Park Holiday Festival Of Lights.
This has been named one of the “One of the Top 10 Holiday Celebrations in the USA” and I really think it lives up to that reputation. Every year they erect over 700 light exhibits across 3 acres. The walking trails are simply covered with lights and several of them are synchronized to music too. Plus there are on-site rides, food and more.
As you can imagine it’s a BIG DEAL here. The Festival typically sells out as soon as it opens and folks often book up to a year in advance to get an RV site to see it on-site. Last year we enjoyed the set-up and testing (the week before), but not the event itself, so this year we wanted to see if we could catch the whole enchilada. By pure luck we managed to get an RV spot (from a cancellation no doubt) and enjoyed the FULL experience with doggie in tow (it’s 100% dog-friendly) right from our RV site.
And IT WAS AWESOME!
It’s hard to convey this experience in either pictures or words, but suffice to stay that it is a light-filled wonder of seasonal delight which would make even The Grinch burst with joy. My Christmas-loving heart was overflowing with wonder every evening we walked the trails, and both Paul and Polly enjoyed it too. If you ever get the chance to do this, definitely DO!!!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The Holiday Festival Of Lights runs from Nov 10 – Jan 1, every evening after 5:30PM. Admission is free if you’re staying at the RV park (it costs $20 per vehicle if you’re not). If you’re coming by RV however make sure to BOOK WELL AHEAD as this is a super popular event. All trails and light shows are 100% dog friendly, so feel free to bring pooch along!
EXTRA NOTE/ Before we leave my Charleston summary I have to give a quick shout out to Our Odyssey. I’ve been following Sean & Louise’s blog since they roamed around the USA in a 40′ Neoplan bus, and I kept on following them when they moved into their 52′ trawler. After years of mutual reading we finally met in Charleston!!! I have ZERO pics unfortunately (totally forgot) so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Suffice to say they are great folks and we had an awesome time. Hi Guys!
Savannah GA Explorations
It was a mere 2-hour drive from Charleston to Savannah, and when we got there we were in for another treat.
Savannah was one of the first stops we made on our late(ish) route North this year, so it was both HOT and crazy humid when we came here last time. Nevertheless we had a blast of a week in the area and enjoyed walking around all the squares and churches, visiting the lighthouse on Tybee Island and even catching up with some RV friends.
This time around was different. The weather was blissfully cool, in fact it was even downright chilly (!) and as an added bonus our old RV friends Todd & Russ (AKA The Wanderlodge Boys who we RV’d with for several months in 2015) came down from their stix & brix to spend the week-end with us. So we loaded Polly into the car, met-up with the boyz (and their super-cute doggie Frances, of course), and sought out a few of the spots we missed last time around:
The Riverfront Walk
We did a lot of walking in Savannah in Spring, but for some reason we just never made it down to the actual waterfront.
River Street is one of Savannah’s top tourist spots and has been at the center of its history since the city was founded in 1733. The street is a throw-back to Savannah’s days as a major trading port with multi-storied buildings (formerly warehouses) and a heavy cobblestone road made from (interestingly enough) ballast stones that were used to weight stabilize cotton-filled ships that crossed the Atlantic Ocean back in the day.
These days there’s a trolley, plenty of tourist shops (River Streets Sweets is a popular candy stop, and YES we stopped!) and restaurants. I can’t say it’s my fav part of Savannah (a tad too touristy for my tastes), but it was fun to walk along with the dogs, and it’s definitely got beauty and charm.
Savannah is well-known for it’s food and we already had a nice intro to that last time we were here. But rather than re-visiting some of the tasty stops we made last time (it was veeeery tempting, mind you) we decided to try a few new ones to see what other gems we could discover. I can’t say we hit the jackpot on every spot we tried, but two of them were delicious enough that I had to pass them on.
- Best Breakfast: The Collins Quarter. This Australian-inspired place has a great atmosphere, good food and absolutely AWESOME Mochas (I personally recommend the Lavender Mocha). Outdoor area is dog-friendly, but get here early ‘coz it fills up fast!!
- Best Beer: Service Brewing. This superb little outfit serves up a nice selection of good quality brews in an open, airy and entirely dog-friendly (even inside!) warehouse-style setting just outside of downtown. They’re a little walk to get to, but well worth it. No on-site food, but you can order-in food from a few nearby food trucks.
Much like last time we were here, one of the most enjoyable things we did was simply to stroll around downtown and admire this beautifully laid-out city.
Savannah is SUCH an easy walking town and from hip & artsy SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) to the many historical churches it’s just a visual pleasure to be here. Since we had dogs along we especially appreciated the many large, green squares, as well as the multitude of dog-friendly shops along the way. We didn’t really focus on seeing anything particular in our walks, but we discovered a few new corners and many new photo angles. All just part of a great day in this beautiful town.
PAW NOTES/ We generally found Savannah to be super dog-friendly. There’s lots of good places to walk around town (dogs love the many shaded, green squares), some good doggie stores (Woof Gang Bakery seems to be on almost every corner!) and when you need a refreshment just about any restaurant/bar/cafe with an outdoor seating area will be happy to accommodate you.
We Finished With Some Good Old-Fashioned RV Time
The remainder of our time in the two Southern Belles we simply hung out in our spacious (and blissfully quiet) RV sites, worked (as we always do) and enjoyed many walks around the park(s).
All in all it was really fun to re-visit two towns that have so much to offer, and the cool winter weather only made it all the better. As usual there’s still more stuff we missed (amongst other things we didn’t take a ghost tour! plus there are so many more fooooodie spots!), so there’s always a good reason to come back, but our second time around only confirmed what we already knew. These are some FINE Southern towns and they’ll undoubtedly call us back again and again.
This was our last stop before Florida, but not our last before hitting our current winter digs. I’ve got ONE more (new!) city to share before we settle down. That’ll be coming up next…