Experience The Best Of The Southern East Coast On This Road Trip Route

If you're looking to take a road trip into the heart of America, there's arguably no better route than from St. Augustine, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina. St. Augustine is America's oldest city, and Charlottesville is where the Civil War began at Fort Sumter back in 1861. A road trip between these two cities will also take you through Savannah, Georgia, which tourists recently ranked as the most friendly U.S. destination.

The total driving time for this trip, one-way, across three states on the Southern East Coast, only amounts to about 4 hours and 45 minutes. That's if you're following the shortest route, straight up I-95 most of the way. However, you may want to make a long weekend out of it and spend at least one night in each city. And since I-95 is the most dangerous U.S. highway, you may want to avoid it as much as possible in favor of the Coastal Highway, U.S. Route 17.

This highway runs parallel to I-95 in places — and you'll need to veer off onto it anyway to get to Savannah and Charleston. Taking it will push your total driving time up over 6 hours, but again, if you're breaking up your trip with hotel stays, you may not notice that as much. On a round trip from St. Augustine to Charleston, favoring U.S. Route 17, you'd only need to set aside about half a day for driving. Whichever road you take, you're in for a rich dose of American history.

America's Oldest City: St. Augustine, Florida

The Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565, over four decades before settlers established America's first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia. While most of the city was destroyed during a British attack in 1702, you can still visit the star fort of Castillo de San Marcos, built in 1695. As America's oldest masonry fortification (and one of only two in the world constructed with the coquina limestone), it's now a National Monument.

Only a 10-minute walk from there is downtown St. Augustine's main pedestrian thoroughfare, St. George Street. It's just a block away from Flagler College (originally, the Hotel Ponce de Leon), a 135-year-old National Historic Landmark. Tickets for a one-hour campus tour are available through the college's website if you want to admire its beautiful Spanish Renaissance architecture up close. Down the street from it is the Lightner Museum, another impressive Spanish Renaissance Revival building where you can see everything from shrunken heads to an Egyptian mummy on display.

One convenient way to get around St. Augustine is via Old Town Trolley Tours. The trolley will take you around to all these places, along with other sightseeing stops like the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine (America's oldest Catholic parish), and Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. Before you leave for Savannah and the beaches of Tybee Island, you'll also want to hit up St. Augustine Beach and the allegedly haunted St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Savannah to Charleston

In Savannah, Georgia, with the cannons of Old Fort Jackson and the Gothic spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, you'll start to notice some recurring types of places that you're visiting on this road trip. (An equally ornate cathedral of the same name awaits you in Charleston.) Here, you'll find America's oldest Black church, the First African Baptist Church, which was involved in the Underground Railroad. The Savannah African Art Museum and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters put the city's relationship with Black history into further perspective.

From taking a riverboat cruise to strolling among the mossy live oaks of Bonaventure Cemetery, there are any number of ways to explore Savannah. Since the beach haven of Tybee Island is only a 25-minute drive away, it could be a good last stop before you hit the road again, bound for South Carolina's biggest city. Among other things, the Parisian-inspired fountain of Savannah's Forsyth Park has an interesting counterpart in the pineapple-inspired fountain of Charleston's Waterfront Park.

Elsewhere, Charleston's 65-foot Angel Oak is reputed to be the biggest such tree east of the Mississippi River. You can also enjoy the continuity of live oaks in White Point Garden before you take a seaside stroll along the city's Battery seawall. It will take you by the famous pastel-colored homes of Rainbow Row. Across the water, accessible via tour boats, stands Fort Sumter, where National Park Service rangers can walk you through the site's Civil War history.