Even though other scenic coastal parts of the United States have amazing road trips, the Southeastern Coast should be considered a “must see”. Taking a road trip through the coastal towns and cities that are near the seaboard from Maryland to Florida offers an entirely different experience. Along the way, you’ll find white sand dunes, expansive beaches, and warm water most of the year. Couple the landscape with southern hospitality and delicious cuisine and your trip is complete.
Although some parts of the Southeastern seaboard are closed during winter while summertime is usually quite busy, the best time for a visit is spring or fall when the crowds are more manageable. Below are eight (8) stops you should not miss on the approximate 1,000-mile-long journey along the Southeastern Coast.
1. Annapolis, Maryland
Annapolis is home to the U.S. Naval Academy as well as Maryland’s capital city. The Maryland State House has the honor of being the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use. It was once the nation’s capitol building. George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the same building in 1783.
After a visit to the Naval Academy, be sure to spend some time walking along the City Dock. Stroll past art galleries, pubs, fashion boutiques, and gift shops. The highlight is “Ego Alley,” named for the parade of incredibly expensive yachts that sail past this waterfront walkway. You can’t leave Annapolis without feasting on world-famous Maryland blue crabs, either steamed, fried soft shell, or crab cakes.
2. Ocean City, Maryland
Head east out of Annapolis on Highway 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and you’ll in find yourself in Ocean City which is a stunning beach town with a three-mile boardwalk. Have a blast on the historic Trimper’s Amusement Park rides, sample candy from iconic candy stores, and sip a craft beer at Backshore Brewing Company.
If you are searching for a more serene experience, go about eight miles south on Route 611 to the north entrance of Assateague Island National Seashore. Famous for its herds of wild ponies and beautiful beaches, this 37-mile-long island’s ecosystem is very well-preserved. Wild horses have lived here for hundreds of years, purportedly descended from shipwrecked horses in the late 17th century. This 48,000-acre island that spans into Virginia is a birdwatcher’s dream come true, with a large number of sea and land birds.
3. Virginia Beach, Virginia
As you drive across the 20-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on US-13, be certain to stop at the scenic overlook where you can view the Chesapeake Bay combining with the Atlantic Ocean. There is an opportunity that you might see harbor seals, whales, dolphins, and dozens of bird species. As you approach the Virginia mainland, off to the left you can see the two Cape Henry lighthouses. George Washington authorized the first lighthouse’s construction in 1792. Interestingly, it was the first construction project and lighthouse authorized by the U.S. government. In 1881, a second one was built about 350 feet away. You can tour the original lighthouse and enjoy spectacular 360-degree views from the top.
Virginia Beach also has a bustling, three-mile boardwalk during the summer months. You’ll find plenty of enjoyable, water-based activities from surf lessons to dolphin kayak tours to touring an oyster farm where you can sample fresh oysters harvested almost immediately.
4. Outer Banks, North Carolina
Drive about 90 minutes south on US-158 to the Wright Memorial Bridge and cross over to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a 200-mile-long string of barrier islands that run along its eastern coast. You’ll be traveling on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, which passes through 21 coastal villages along 138 driving miles and 25 ferry-riding miles. Once across the bridge, you can stop in Kill Devil Hills and visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which honors the famous brothers’ first successful powered airplane flight in 1903. Continue south to Nag’s Head, where you can walk out on the 1,000-foot Jennette’s Pier and try your luck at one of the best fishing piers on the East Coast.
You could spend an entire week exploring the Outer Banks, so if you have the time, visit Roanoke Island for a look at what life was like for the first English settlers in 1585. Learn about the Lost Colony, a group of settlers who vanished without a trace around 1560, at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. South of Roanoke is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a 70-mile-long shoreline with breathtaking, undisturbed beaches. Beach driving is permitted here, with similar rules and permit requirements as in Maryland. Lighthouse buffs will love a chance to climb the 257 steps in the black-and-white-striped, 208-foot tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built in 1868.
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Once you leave charming, history-filled North Carolina behind, Myrtle Beach offers a very different atmosphere. If you enjoy a round or two of golf, you can choose from more than 100 courses across the region, designed by renowned architects such as Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Greg Norman. If speed is your calling, drive a real NASCAR race car at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. Amusement park fans will get a thrill out of riding the SkyWheel, a Ferris wheel that towers almost 200 feet above the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.
If you’re looking for a more tranquil experience, it’s definitely worth your time to visit Brookgreen Gardens, a 9,100-acre National Historic Landmark garden, preserve, and zoo. In addition to splendid native flora and fauna, the garden and its three galleries house more than 2,000 fascinating statues and sculptures which are the largest and most comprehensive collection in the United States. Brookgreen offers tours, programs, and exhibits for all ages.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
A trip to South Carolina is not complete without a stop in Charleston which is the historic center of Southern culture. The best way to explore this historic city is by foot. To get the most out of what you’re seeing, consider taking a private or shared guided tour. Oyster Point Historic Walking Tours offers a two-hour “Highlights of Charleston Tour” that introduces you to the city’s neighborhoods, architecture, economics, and geography. Plan to tour at least one of the many plantations such as Middleton Place or Magnolia Plantation.
Even if you’re not into military history, taking the ferry over to Fort Sumter National Monument is worth the time. Additionally, you will get a scenic tour of the harbor. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, and the fort played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. Regardless of the time of year that you visit, Charleston’s culinary delights should be on your list because it is home to some of the best restaurants in the country. Lowcountry dishes that you must try include shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, oysters, and Frogmore stew. Find out more about your stay in Charleston in this comprehensive guide to the city.
7. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah offers enormous old oak trees covered in Spanish moss, spectacular fountains, historic mansions, public squares, and the purportedly haunted River Street are just a few of the things that make this beautiful and intriguing city such a site to behold. Built by General James Oglethorpe in 1733 on a Native American burial ground, it’s known as the nation’s first planned city, laid out in a series of grids that allowed for plenty of public squares and parks.
8. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is the United States’ oldest, continually-occupied settlement which was founded by the Europeans. Spanish explorers founded the city in 1565, and it served as the capital of Spanish Florida for more than 200 years. Visit the nation’s oldest masonry fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, which was built beginning in 1672 for a fascinating look at 300 years of constant warfare between Spain, France, and England. Another historical series of buildings worth exploring is Flagler College, built by American industrialist Henry Flagler as the Hotel Ponce de León in 1888.
St. Augustine has wonderful pedestrian-friendly streets where you can shop, dine, visit art galleries, and historical sights. Unlike most Florida beach towns, St. Augustine has a distinctive European feel, and attracts musicians and artists. If you need another beach excursion, you can drive on the wide beaches of St. Augustine Beach.