Savannah has Southern charm in spades, and when you're ready to experience more of the region's attractions, Savannah makes a great base for day trips along this stretch of the Atlantic coast.
Whether you like outdoor adventures, relaxing beach days or historic antebellum architecture, these are the best day trips from Savannah.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there may be additional travel restrictions. Check the latest guidance in Georgia before planning a trip, and always follow local government health advice.
Soak up some Southern sun on Tybee, a quirky island 20 miles from downtown Savannah, where the Savannah River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Take to the waves, which are great for kayaking, surfing and sailing, cast a fishing line at the end of the pier, or plop down in the shadow of the lighthouse at North Beach to see pods of dolphins swimming close to shore and mammoth manatees lazing in the surf, languid, the Savannah way.
Tourists and locals alike flock to Tybee Island, but few people – even Savannahians – ever make it over to Little Tybee Island, just to the south. It's completely uninhabited, and you can only get there by motorboat or kayak. Explore its forests for fascinating birdlife and camp overnight if you're feeling adventurous.
How to get to Tybee Island: It's an easy drive 20 miles east on US-80 to reach Tybee Island from downtown Savannah. The drive time is about 30 minutes.
A hundred years ago, Cumberland Island, the southernmost barrier island in Georgia, was once an exclusive playground for the wealthy elite. It's still privately owned, but now this section of coastal wilderness is managed by Cumberland Island National Seashore, which has preserved it for the ages. Visitors can explore the ancient 17-mile-long stretch of moss-covered oak forests, salt marshes and untouched beach. Wild horses roam around, sea turtles hatch here, and ruins still stand begging to be discovered. With plenty of trails to explore, it's a lovely, lonely escape, and a quiet departure from civilization.
How to get to Cumberland Island: The only public access to Cumberland Island is by ferry from the mainland town of St Marys, a 110-mile drive from Savannah, which takes about an hour and 45 minutes. Ferries leave from the St Marys twice daily, with an extra departure from March until the end of September. The crossing takes 45 minutes.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Across Port Royal Sound, tiny Hilton Head Island is South Carolina's largest barrier island and one of America's top golf spots. There are dozens of courses, many enclosed in posh private residential communities. The island was the first eco-planned destination in the USA. Founder Charles Fraser believed a resort should blend with nature, so subdued colors, strict zoning laws (no building over five stories high, signage must be low and lit from below) and a distinct lack of streetlights characterize the environment here. You can find some lush nature preserves, white-sand beaches hard-packed enough for bike riding and a whole lot of dolphins.
How to get to Hilton Head Island: Hilton Head Island is just across the state border from Savannah. It's a 35-mile drive, which takes about 50 minutes.
Beaufort, South Carolina
On Port Royal Island, darling colonial Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina, and perhaps the nation's greatest educator on the turbulent post–Civil War period. In 2017, President Barack Obama established four Reconstruction Era National Monuments within the county, and in pockets of the city and neighboring islands, Gullah culture still thrives.
The streets of Beaufort are lined with gorgeous antebellum homes, restored 18th-century mansions and twisting magnolias that drip with Spanish moss. Unsurprisingly, Beaufort is often used as a backdrop for Hollywood films, and it's best explored either on foot or from the perch of a horse and buggy. The riverfront downtown has plenty of linger-worthy cafes and galleries, and Southern hospitality here is at its finest. Expect to be invited by perfect strangers to hop on a boat and drink beer at everybody's favorite sandbar in the middle of Port Royal Sound.
How to get to Beaufort: It's a 43-mile drive from Savannah to Beaufort, which takes just over an hour.
Amelia Island, Florida
Just 13 miles from the Georgia border, Amelia Island is a moss-draped, sun- and sand-soaked blend of the Deep South and Florida coast. It is believed the island's original inhabitants, the Timucuan tribespeople, arrived as early as 4000 years ago. Since that time, eight flags have flown here, starting with the French in 1562, followed by the Spanish, the English, the Spanish again, the Patriots, the Green Cross of Florida, the Mexican Rebels, the US, the Confederates and then the US again. Amelia is sometimes called Eight Flags Island.
Vacationers have flocked to Amelia since the 1890s, when Henry Flagler converted a coast of salt marsh and unspoiled beaches into a vacation spot for the wealthy. The legacy of that era is evident in the central town of Fernandina Beach, 50 blocks of historic buildings, Victorian B&Bs and restaurants housed in converted fishing cottages. Dotting the rest of the island are lush parks, green fairways and miles of shoreline.
How to get to Amelia Island: The drive from Savannah is about 130 miles and takes a little over two hours.
Jacksonville has a lot going for it, but it requires careful planning. That's because it's big. At a whopping 840 sq miles, Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the contiguous United States and the most populous in Florida. The city sprawls along three meandering rivers, with sweeping bridges and twinkling city lights reflected in the water. The city's museums, such as the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the Museum of Contemporary Art, are excellent. The Five Points and San Marco neighborhoods are charming, walkable areas lined with bistros, boutiques and bars.
How to get to Jacksonville: Jacksonville is 140 miles south of Savannah, and the drive takes about two hours.
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