Ode to the Ocean

These coastal road trips are worth it

By Jenny Peterson

Grab your sunscreen and shades and head to an idyllic coastal town this summer, where the beach comes standard. We’ve rounded up some worthwhile road trip vacation destinations, all a mere half-day jaunt from Decatur. In just a few hours, you can feel the sand between your toes and catch the sunset from a pier…so, what are you waiting for? Get inspired by these picture-perfect shoreline destinations, suitable for any occasion—a girls trip, a couples getaway or family vacation.

Charleston, South Carolina
Driving Time: Approximately 5 hours

The most historic—and picturesque—city in South Carolina, Charleston continues to win over visitors with its cobblestone streets, historic mansions, romantic courtyards and brightly-colored houses on Rainbow Row. The award-winning food and beverage scene includes waterfront dining, rooftop bars, neighborhood cafes and fine dining options that serve up the staple shrimp and grits, she crab soup and oysters all year long.

With three popular beaches—Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms— all attracting sun-lovers and surfers on the East Coast, Charleston also has a bevy of water activities, including kayaking and standup paddleboarding in nearby rivers and salty marshes, fishing charters and sunset cruises. Add world-class museums and art galleries to the mix, and you’ll find there’s plenty to do in the “Holy City” this summer.

Hilton Head, South Carolina
Driving Time: Approximately 4.5 hours

For a quieter change of pace, Hilton Head is the ultimate relaxing retreat with 12 miles of pristine beaches, more than 60 miles of winding bike paths and plenty of oceanfront resorts, including six AAA Four Diamond award winners and luxury spas. Several resorts are kid-friendly with pools and on-site restaurants and bars. Plenty of activities and exploration opportunities abound in this friendly, welcoming town: golf, guided dolphin and nature tours, great shopping and the red-and-white striped Harbour Town Lighthouse, 104 steps to the top and open to the public.

Shelter Cove serves as an unofficial town center and includes waterfront shopping, a marina, plaza, parks and entertainment. In addition to its bike-friendly community (and you’ll find plenty of bike rental companies), enjoy the free trolley, The Breeze, which shuttles passengers  throughout the downtown, making getting to and from popular destinations, well, a breeze.

Savannah, Georgia
Driving Time: Approximately 4 hours

Ultra-romantic Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia, is also the most walkable in the country: there are 24 public squares — the first four laid out in 1733 — interspersed among the moss-draped oak trees downtown. A cobblestone street on River Street leads visitors to a striking river view along the Savannah River with a public riverwalk—home to many bars and restaurants overlooking the water. The city’s storied history and robust arts and culture scene includes the Telfair Museum of Art, established in 1819 as the first art museum in the South.

Enjoy a leisurely brunch at a number of charming Bed & Breakfasts or knock back a few at the Pirate House, first opened in 1753, which served as an inn for seafarers and eventually became a meeting point for pirates and sailors. Just 20 minutes away, dip your toes in the sand in Tybee Island, where Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse still stands near the pier and pavilion.

St. Simons Island, Georgia
Driving Time: Approximately 5 hours

St. Simons Island is the largest of Georgia’s four “Golden Isles,” which from an aerial view look like island “hammocks” between the ocean and marshlands. The unspoiled beauty of St. Simons Island and its fellow barrier islands make for a distinctively charming beach destination. Despite measuring just 18 miles long, there are a number of activities both on land and water, and a stunning lighthouse near the St. Simons Pier is a popular destination.

Biking along paths underneath towering ancient oak trees can uncover a special surprise. About 20 oak trees have “tree spirits” carved into the bark, a present-day artistic nod to mythology and legend that images would be carved of sailors’ faces who sailed aboard ships built from island oaks. Visitors can choose between historical hotels, quaint Bed & Breakfasts, resorts and more on this tip of paradise.

Rosemary Beach, Florida
Driving Time: Approximately 5 hours

A picture-perfect seaside town, Rosemary Beach is a close-knit and thoughtfully-planned community that mixes New Urbanism—a design style that situates everything within a short walk of a town center—and island-like Dutch West Indies style with a bustling town square and inspired architecture, co-mingling with a collection of sculptures from artists around the world. And let’s not forget its pristine Gulf Coast beach! Rosemary Beach has been deemed one of “America’s Most Romantic Small Towns” and its winding paths, cobblestone streets and outdoor dining on patios, courtyards and rooftops—some with views of the Gulf of Mexico—have charmed visitors near and far.

The expansive public greenspace is also home to public art. In the summer, there are a number of events, movie nights and concerts on the green and a year-round weekly farmers market. The Pearl Hotel is a true stunner: a beachfront 55-room hotel and spa, walkable to everything the quaint coastal town has to offer.

Destin, Florida
Driving Time: Approximately 5.5 hours

Sugar-white sand and glistening green waters await visitors at this popular beach destination on the appropriately-named Emerald Coast. High-rise condominiums and hotels along the beach allow you to drop your bags, ride down an elevator and find yourself steps from the sand and the calm waters of the Gulf. Many companies offer beach chair and umbrella rentals. The bustling city has exciting shopping and dining destinations, including Baytowne Wharf, home to a great nightlife scene for adults, numerous food and beverage options and Baytowne Adventure Zone, a memorable destination for kids of all ages that includes a zipline which glides you 300 feet across a lagoon.

The HarborWalk Village on the Destin Harbor is another waterfront shopping stunner and entertainment plaza with boutiques, restaurants and an exquisite view at sunset, often accompanied by live, local music. Watersports and activities abound on this stretch of the Gulf, including charter fishing, jet ski rentals, parasailing and much more.

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