For Savannahians making summer plans with social distancing in mind, a day’s drive makes all the difference.
311 miles from Savannah sits Asheville, North Carolina, where national parks, state forests and scenic Blue Ridge Parkway offer endless opportunities to get out and stay safe. Here, it all starts with one of the oldest rivers in the world: the French Broad River, which helped to shape the Appalachian Mountains. The river runs from south to north (as locals like to say: it’s a little quirky, just like Asheville!) and weaves itself into many facets of Asheville life — from fun in the sun to perfect spots to dine and sip with a view.
• Try stand-up paddleboarding with Wei Mauna guided tours.
• Catch a drive-by waterfall view at Looking Glass Falls.
• The peaks of Southern Appalachia are known for their lush greenery and misty blue skies, but don’t miss the mountain balds — open spaces with rolling grass and blooming rhododendrons.
• Ever heard of the sea of clouds? The technical name for this atmospheric phenomenon is thermal inversion, where low-lying clouds rest in the mountain valleys and undulate with a wave-like motion. Get above the cloud line at Black Balsam or East Fork Overlook early in the morning for the best view.
• When night falls, tuck in at Hyatt Place, the historic Omni Grove Park Inn, or the Village Hotel on the Biltmore Estate, right across from the French Broad River.
• In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Asheville’s award-winning indie restaurant scene has pivoted to provide an array of gourmet takeout offerings perfect for a multi-course picnic. Be sure to check out pop-ups from James Beard-nominated chefs including Brian Canipelli (Cucina 24, Forestry Camp), Katie Button (Cúrate), Jacob Sessoms (All Day Darling, Table and Tacos El Gallo), John Fleer (Rhubarb, The Rhu).
• Asheville is a craft beer town — grab a brew and a bite at New Belgium Brewing, Wedge Brewing Company and Zillicoah Beer Co. (all three host a rotation of food trucks) or flip the script and head to Duck Taco Shop, which offers beer, wine, cocktails and adult slushies from its upcycled “beer bus.”
256 miles from Savannah, Greenville, South Carolina is the perfect place to explore the outdoors on foot, by bike or by boat. From stunning waterfalls and lakes to the centerpiece of downtown, the Reedy River, here it’s entirely possible to wrap up a boat day with dinner at an award-winning restaurant. Locals and visitors alike love Greenville (yes, that Greenville) because there’s always something new to discover.
• Climb Rainbow Falls, a 140-foot waterfall deep in the heart of South Carolina’s 40,000- acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Preserve.
• Cool off with a dip in the Middle Saluda River.
• Hike through Caesar’s Head State Park to the overlook, an outcropping above the Blue Ridge Escarpment with stunning views of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
• Hop on the 4-mile Raven Cliff Falls trail, which includes the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls and a suspension bridge over the creek.
• Enjoy the 22-mile Prisma Swamp Rabbit Trail — perfect for a leisurely bike ride.
• Just 7 miles from downtown, Paris Mountain State Park offers more than 15 miles of hiking trails and lakes for fishing and swimming.
• Set your alarm for a breathtaking sunrise at the Fred W. Symmes Chapel, also known as “Pretty Place.”
• Pack a picnic lunch with takeout from a downtown restaurant and sit by the Reedy River in Falls Park overlooking the beautiful falls and Liberty Bridge.
• Dive into some of the cleanest and clearest waters in the Southeast at Lake Jocassee, located at Devils Fork State Park.
• Head to Gather GVL, Greenville’s first food hall, which is entirely outdoors and features 13 delicious concepts, from German cuisine and Mexican fare to burgers, pizza and poke bowls.
• With restaurants, bakeries, breweries and retail outlets, mixed-use (and largely outdoor) spaces The Commons and Hampton Station are the perfect place to wile away an afternoon.
• Pack it in for the evening at The Westin Poinsett downtown, or stay further afield at the Red Horse Inn in Landrum, SC, or Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest.
207 miles from Savannah, Gainesville, Florida, is known for its college-town charm, delectable cuisine, hoppin‘ craft brewery scene, art and culture. Here, unique geography and a temperate climate pave the way for outdoor activities — and when it comes to fun on the water, the options are endless.
• At O’Leno State Park (built on the banks of the Santa Fe River in the 1930s), take a hike along the riverbank to the “sink” where the river disappears underground, and catch plenty of wildlife and bird sightings along the way.
• Santa Fe Canoe Outpost is an ideal entry point for a relaxing day on one of Florida’s most beautiful and pristine rivers — by all means, float on by.
• Try the local custom dubbed “spring and chill” — in other words, kick back and relax at the natural spring pools at Poe Springs Park, which pumps 45 million gallons of cool, refreshing water daily.
• If water creatures are your thing, explore the wonders of Ginnie Springs, featuring some of the clearest water in the world. Jacques Cousteau once described this springs and caverns system as having “visibility forever.”
• Calling all fishermen! Don’t miss the prize-winning bass fishing at Orange Lake.
• Drift down the Santa Fe River from the Beaver’s Landing river access point, catching all the sights from the comfort of a tube or raft.
• If you’re a certified scuba diver, spend the day exploring world-renowned underwater caves at the Ginnie Ballroom or the Devil’s Spring System.
• Once you’re off the water, head to the award-winning Great Outdoors in High Springs, a restaurant and tavern serving elevated classics in a historic and restored opera house.
85 miles from Savannah, the Golden Isles encompasses four islands and a mainland city — which means plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from. Whether you flock to this sunny stretch of sand for a swim, a moment of solace or a delicious meal, visitors often find that being in the Golden Isles feels like coming home.
• It’s sea turtle season! Schedule a guided beach walk or spend a day at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where you can even take part in a rehabilitated sea turtle release.
• Catch a sunset from St. Andrews Beach — the west-facing vantage point makes it the perfect perch.
• Stroll down the St. Simons Island Pier, then cut through Neptune Park to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum, where the former keeper’s quarters has been converted to an exhibition space and gift shop.
• Hop on a rented bike and hit the St.Simons Island trail system, made up of more than 30 miles of picturesque paths.
• Hungry yet? Head to local favorites Marcie Hunter Echo, Brogen’s South or Palmer’s Village Cafe for a memorable bite.
• When it’s time to call it a day, opt for the King and Prince Beach & Gulf Club or Jekyll Ocean Club — or book a stay at one of Sea Island’s three luxurious hotels for private beach access and five-star service.
17 miles from Savannah, Tybee Island offers plenty of ways to get on the water — just head out early to beat the crowds. Earn your chill with an East Coast Paddleboarding tour or charter a boat through Compass Sailing, stop at Tim’s Beach Gear to stock up before you hit the sand, and try local favorites Sundae Cafe or Bernie’s Oyster House for a bite before driving back over the bridge.