We just got back from our recent visit to the southern part of the US, and it was incredible. Our trip started from Los Angeles, California to Orlando, Florida via plane. We then had a two-week road trip and drove north through Northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and ended in North Carolina.
We traveled along route I-95 and hit some of the major cities in the South including Orlando, St. Augustine, Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Georgetown, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Whilmington and Cape Fear.
We planned our trip to be as easy as we could for the sake of the kids. A two-week road trip can be overwhelming but we also do not want to just “grab ‘n go” every time we start driving. It would not be fun for kids. The longest daily drive we had this trip was 3 hours crossing Florida to South Carolina (from Palm Coast FL to Hilton Head Island).
To save money on our accommodations, we booked hotel rooms that were cheap but decent. We would then splurge and get the family to a nicer places at the end of the week through AirBnB.com.
Here is the Southern US family vacation itinerary that we used for our travels through the South with kids.
Day 1: Arrive in Orlando, Florida
There are so many things to do and see in Orlando, Florida most especially with kids. Disney, Universal Studio, water parks and beaches are just a few of the things that you will find interesting here. But for this trip, we decided to skip the attractions and crowds. Our flight from LA to Orlando took us 4-5 hours. When we arrived in Orlando, it was already dinner time, and we had dinner at Sonny’s BBQ . We booked our stay at a Ramada Inn which was couple minutes away from the airport.
Day 2: Grocery Day / Travel to St. Augustine
There are 2 things that we set aside for this day driving to St. Augustine. And that is to find a close grocery or Walmart and to visit the B-52 Memorial Park first thing in the morning.
B- 52 Park is a 10 minute drive from Orlando International Airport and one of the free things that you can do or visit while in Orlando, Florida. If you are a plane enthusiast, then this park is worth to stop by. It is a great display to remember the people who served over the years and how this weapon helped keep the peace around the world.
It is about 2 hours of driving from Orlando to St. Augustine, Florida. We got to visit our relatives in the afternoon and celebrated Mother’s Day.
We stayed at Days Inn at the heart of St Augustine Downtown. It might not be the best hotel in town but it helped with the budget for this trip. Also, it was much cheaper because we booked rooms weeks in advance. The room was decent, and the location was great just minutes away from many of the must see local sites.
Day 3: The Historic District in St. Augustine, Florida
Our tour the following day was on the St. Augustine Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley and it was fun. Is it worth doing? Yes, it is. This was a great way to see everything without worrying about the parking. The guides were informative. Being able to get on and off makes sightseeing easier especially with the kids. We were able to see the entire town in 2-3 hours while enjoying some of the spots we wanted to see up close.
We had lunch at Columbia Restaurant and it is a must visit place to eat. You will not regret it. We also took the kids for a quick ice cream break at MayDay Ice Cream in Historic St. Augustine. It was a day of activities. Visiting and learning the oldest town in the US – St. Augustine was an incredibly enjoyable learning experience. We would go back again in a heartbeat next time and visit the places we did not yet see up close.
READ MORE : How to travel with a toddler
Day 4: Vilano Beach Day
While visiting St. Augustine, we also got to visit Richard’s family at Vilano Beach. This was my first Atlantic beach experience and it was amazing. It is a go-to beach for the locals and was not very touristy. Coquina shells are the tiny shells you will see here. They are the same shells that were used in building the ports in Castillo de San Marcos. The kids of course enjoyed the beach the boogie board.
Day 5: Daytona Beach
A little over an hour away from St. Augustine, we thought it would be nice to experience Daytona Beach. So, we rented a beach front condominium for a couple of days. Our place was just a walk away from everything and we had easy access to the beach as well as the pool. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from and the ones we went to were great.
Lunch: Sloppy Joe’s
Dinner: Bubba Gump’s
Day 6: Kennedy Space Center
Heading over to Cape Canaveral to see a bunch of space exhibits at Kennedy Space Center. My son is so fond of anything about space and wants to be an astronaut someday. So, this visit was one of the major highlights of this trip.
One tip when going to museums or parks is to get there once as it opens. As the crowds usually start at 11 am. KSC showcases different exhibits and tours. If you want to make sure you have time to see everything, check out the website before the visit. Wear comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of walking and running (if you have a toddler). Also, don’t forget to pack water or/and bring lunch.
Overall, the kids had a blast and so did we. My favorite of the visit was the Atlantis Shuttle where they have the movie and 3D presentation before checking it out in person.
After visiting the center, we drove over back north to Palm Coast to visit a friend and at the same time we get a little closer for the drive to SC the following day.
Day 7: Travel to Savannah, Georgia / Visit to Hilton Head Island
Today, we started our day early. Packed our suitcases again, had a free breakfast at the hotel and drove around 3 hours on our way to Hilton Head Island. We stayed in another hotel in Hardeeville area. It is 30 minutes away from HHI and 20 minutes away from Savannah Georgia.
Hilton Head Island is beautiful. The whole crew loved the coastal excursion. We went to Coligny Beach Park. Such a great place to take the family and kids. The park was well-maintained. It was also nice to see that they have lifeguards on duty.
Where to go: Coligny Beach Park
Where to eat: Wiley’s Championship BBQ
Day 8: Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is beautiful. It has a lot of photo spots and pretty places. It was Sunday when we were in Savannah so, we went to the most beautiful Basilica I have ever been to. The Basilica of St. John de Baptist Cathedral is one of the historical icons of Savannah. We attended mass and spent the day at Forsyth Park with the kids.
Forsyth Park traverses over 30 acres and is a gorgeous place to spend a day with your family and kids. While it is famous for its fountain, the park has a lot to offer to enjoy a lazy day.
Where to eat: One Hot Mama’s, and Waffle House (of course 🙂 )
Fun Fact: Savannah’s Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor Moss
Day 9: Visit the SC Aquarium and Sightseeing at Charleston
Charleston is one of the most beautiful towns in the South. Some of the landmarks to look out for are Ravenel Bridge, Lighthouses, Fort Sumter, fountains, and the SC Aquarium which has the deepest tank in North America.
The day was beautiful in Charleston when we visited the aquarium. While it is home to more than 4500 animals, the Great Ocean Tank is a marvel. The kids enjoyed petting the sting rays and were in awe of the exhibits.
South Carolina Aquarium may not be the biggest aquarium, but I think it is the right size for kids to visit. You can finish the whole visit in around two hours. The price is also a little high but it is also understandable that this is a nonprofit and the admission are important to funding the animal care and educational opportunities. We loved it and the kids enjoyed the visit. It is worth the time and money.
After visiting the aquarium, we were able to see a little bit of the Charleston downtown. Honestly, you could spend two weeks exploring the iconic sights of Charleston. With fascinating architectures, marvelous fountains and the downtown charms are just a few that makes visitors in awe. Too bad we didn’t have more time there….
READ MORE : Tips for Visiting Santa Barbara Zoo
Day 10: Georgetown, South Carolina
The historical Georgetown where Indigo and rice used to be the main crops. While the beautiful architecture and monuments are preserved, it is the locals that truly steal the show.
The best way to explore Georgetown is on foot downtown. They have a harbor walk marina where you can start strolling at the 4-sided clock tower. Enjoy the serenity of the Winyah river and be sure to spot the alligator and turtles under the Buzz’s restaurant.
If you want to meet some of the locals, check out the Thomas Café. It is one of the oldest diners in the area. They serve breakfast and lunch. Our experience at Thomas’ was warm. While the food was great, the server and even the customers were warmer. A southern charmer indeed.
After taking a walk at the harbor, check out Sweeties. This store has the sweetest heaven smell that will welcome you as you enter the shop. Their homemade ice cream is highly recommended, and the pralines are to die for.
Day 11: Myrtle Beach and Family Visit
In summer, thousands of people including tourists flock to the southern coast beachs. Myrtle beach is wide, sandy, clean, and with 60 miles of endless coastline sand, there are plenty to choose from.
Where to stay: The coolest AirBnBs in Myrtle Beach
Where to Eat: Pier14, Carolina Roadhouse, Carolina Pancake House, Waffle House
What to do: Hit the Beach, Relax and float at the ocean front lazy river, Boogie Boarding, Coffee shops, Shop at the local grocery store Piggly Wiggly or Souvenir shopping
READ MORE : Things to do in Pismo Beach, California
Day 12: Sailboat Day at Georgetown, SC
Today was amazingly easy. I basked into the serenity of sunrise that I watched for an hour early in the morning while the kids and hubby are still sleeping. Later the day, we went back to Georgetown which is 45min away from Myrtle Beach.
Two days ago, we met the friendliest couple in Georgetown on our stroll at the wharf. Today, Captain David and his wife Laura took us for a sail at Winyah Bay with their Wallace Sailing Charter. It was a beautiful day to sail. Another highlight for the Hendy boys. An adventurous sailing afternoon and memories to last a lifetime.
Day 13: Beach Day at Myrtle Beach
We spent the entire day enjoying the water. The sun was full so we went to the beach followed by an exciting float by the lazy river with the kids. We ended our day to a fantastic dinner at Pier14 overlooking at Myrtle Beach.
Summer is high season in Myrtle beach which means that the restaurants are going to be terribly busy. If you want to dine at Pier14, I recommend you to get there early around 5. Otherwise, the wait can take an hour to get a seat.
Day 14: North Carolina
Our flight back to California was in Raleigh, NC and we had a day to spare. So, we had to squeeze in one last coastal city. We stayed the night and then checked out the downtown Wilmington on the wharf. Another quaint little town with old buildings and cobble stones. Again, wish we had more time but we did enjoy a beautiful spice shop and an Ice Cream..
Where to eat: Mission BBQ, Bojangles
We love the South Coast!! Richard and I were talking about how I should conclude this post. What points should we highlight? The History? The Food? The perfect beaches? How about the mellow pace and friendliest people you will ever meet?
Well, we maybe we should just conclude by saying that we LOVED this trip and 17 days was definitely not enough.. There is something so appealing that it is drawing us back…
To be continued…..
Have you traveled the south? What is your favorite trip?