Places to Visit on a South East Coast Road Trip (North Carolina – Florida)

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Are you planning a South East Coast road trip? Let us help you with our top suggestions on places to visit on the East Coast between North Carolina and Florida.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

While we haven’t been everywhere, over several years of exploring the USA we’ve been to quite a few places on the East Coast. It’s one of our favorite regions in the US.

Of course, we now live in Raleigh, North Carolina, so obviously we love it.

Living in North Carolina gives us easy access to the best east coast road trips and places down South which we adored and loved spending time exploring.

An east coast drive will offer you diversity of culture, history, food and stunning natural scenery. In this post, we’ll share with you our favorite places to visit on an East Coast road trip.

These are the destinations we return to again and again and take family and friends too. So you know if we do that, they must be something special!

If you need a rental car for your east coast trip, click here for prices.

In a few weeks, we will be exploring more coastal towns along the Carolina’s, Georgia coast as well as some quieter areas of Florida.

Keep checking back to this post as we’ll update it with more places to visit, plus new additional content. Join our private VIP email tribe here, so you don’t miss any updates.

Places to Visit in North Carolina

Raleigh, NC

Raleigh - a local's stopover on your East Coast road trip
Raleigh – a local’s stopover on your East Coast road trip

Whilst Raleigh is on our list of 11 Places We Could Live Around the World, it’s not a destination of big tourist attractions.

However, we think over the years it has grown to be one of the coolest places in the US to visit.

It’s incredible food and local brew scene, live music, unique festivals and laid back vibe make it a worthy stopping point on your road trip on the east Coast USA.

And hey, we live here so it has to be good, right? Out of all the 50+ countries in the world we’ve traveled to, including the 5 countries we’ve lived in, we chose Raleigh. That’s a clue!

We also have another website dedicated to it – ThisIsRaleigh.com

The Outer Banks, NC

Outer Banks. North Carolina east coast travel
Sunrise at Nags Head fishing pier

The Outer Banks are wild and untouched with only a few small towns here and there.

The rugged North Carolina coastline is dotted with lighthouses and pirate history and barrier islands that are home to wild ponies.

Kitty Hawk is the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the very first airplane. The museum is worth a visit for the fascinating insight into the history behind a traveler’s much-needed transportation.

Beaufort is a small fishing town, most noted for one of its most infamous dwellers, Captain Blackbeard. My father enjoyed walking the streets to discover one of his childhood pirate heroes buried treasure.

Shackleford Island is home to wild horses and definitely worth the short boat trip from Beaufort to spend a few hours.

There is nothing on Shackleford Island save beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise water and wild horses eating among the sand dunes.

Wilmington & Wrightsville Beach

Wilmington riverfront NC
Wilmington River Front

America’s third largest movie and TV production town, Wilmington is a quaint historic town on the banks of the Cape Fear River.

Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach is a favorite weekend destination for us, and we highly suggest them both for your East Coast road trip itinerary!

We recommend eating at Elijah’s which is located near the end of the Riverwalk towards the bridge. Be there for sunset drinks, it’s magical.

You can also take a tour of the Studios while there or visit the Battleship North Carolina across the river.

Here are a couple of posts on Wrightsville Beach – it’s our favorite beach town in the USA.

We recommend staying at the Blockade Runner Resort on Wrightsville Beach – we loved it! Here’s our in-depth review.

Asheville (and the Smoky Mountains)

Sunset at Morton Overlook in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the best places to visit in Tennessee
Sunset at Morton Overlook in Smoky Mountains National Park.

This may be too much of a detour on your road trip from the coast, but just in case you want to experience some North Carolina mountains adventure, Asheville and the Appalachian mountains is worth the visit.

Asheville has a somewhat eclectic hippy, alternative lifestyle.

Near Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, home to America’s once wealthiest Vanderbilt family and the largest estate in the country. It is really impressive and I loved hearing the stories behind the warm and welcoming family who lived there.

The Biltmore house and estate, north carolina
Biltmore House

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most famous scenic drives along the mountain top and is close by.

And a few hours drive further west will bring you to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of my favorite places to camp, horse ride, hike, explore by bike, and river tube.

This US national park shares a border with Tennessee.

Don’t miss the Cades Cove Loop bike ride.

Cades Cove bike ride Smoky Mountains National Park (5)
Cades River bike loop, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

There is also my favorite lake in the USA, Lake Lure, only a 40 minute drive from Asheville.

Best things to do in Lake Lure NC
Paddle boarding on Lake Lure

I’ll let you read our post on things to do in Lake Lure, NC to see how special it is including our favorite place to stay, The Lodge on Lake Lure. That’s where the photo above was taken!

Places to Visit in South Carolina

South Carolina is a state we can’t wait to explore more of on future East Coast vacations. We have plans to travel through more coastal towns on our upcoming road trip down to Florida.

Myrtle Beach, SC

Things to do in Myrtle Beach with kids
Island Vista Resort – Myrtle Beach

We recently discovered some fun things to do in Myrtle Beach. It’s one of the most popular East Coast destinations and our highlights were Myrtle Beach State Park and kayaking through a salt marsh at Huntington Beach State Park.

Brookgreen Gardens was also nice, and we also enjoyed exploring Murrels Inlet and watching a show at the Carolina Opry.

Read More: 16 fun things to do in Myrtle Beach with kids

Charleston, SC

What to do in Charleston
A popular east coast destination: Charleston

Charleston in South Carolina is one of our favorite places to visit in the USA for it’s fascinating American history, in particular the civil war.

We enjoying seeing the city and learning more about it on an informative horse and carriage tour of the city, which we have now done 4 times now.

Each time I learnt something new, mostly thanks to the four different routes this tour takes.

Apart from the carriage tour, walk from the main market area around the waterfront to the Battery and back through the tree-lined streets to explore the gorgeous historic homes with their famous Southern piazzas (porches) along the way.

Or do this popular walking tour!

Several of the historic homes are open for viewing for a small fee, so choose which one you want to view wisely. You can tour the gardens for most for free.

charleston south carolina east coast usa
Preserved plantation slave homes in Charleston

Whilst in Charleston, you might as well take a tour of a plantation home.

There are several in the area to choose from, but we always took our guests to Boone Hall Plantation. You may recognize this from films such as The Notebook.

It is the most photographed of the Plantation homes and once you see the Avenue of Oaks you’ll understand why.

There is a great display here of the homes the slaves used to live in as well as entertaining Gullah Culture shows daily in the outdoor theater.

Fans of the Netflix show Outer Banks take note, this show was filmed in the Charleston area. So if you love that scenery, this is where you want to come.

Feel duped? Don’t worry, it looks very similar to the real Outer Banks so keep it on your places to visit on the east coast bucket list.

Beaufort, SC

Hunting Island State Park Beaufort South Carolina
Hunting Island State Park

Beaufort was another of our favorite places to go in South Carolina on our east coast road trip we did with my parents. We traveled from North Carolina to Georgia.

We just returned from a 3 day getaway to Beaufort. We loved exploring this beautiful southern town and the surrounding region more in-depth.

Most of the filming for Forest Gump was done in the marshlands and islands of Hunting Island State Park. It’s intra-coastal waterway setting is stunning and the town is cute and charming.

We ate at Luther’s along the waterfront which is a nice spot for a sunset walk. Don’t miss Dockside and Fish Camp for delicious seafood and sunset views.

My Mum just told me Fripp Island near here is top of her list when she returns for more east coast travel.

Read More in our post: Essential Things to do in Beaufort, SC on a short break

Places to Visit in Georgia

Georgia is another state we want to explore in more detail, in particular the Georgia mountains, which we’ve heard are beautiful. And we are in love with the scenery in the hit TV series Ozarks, which was actually filmed in Georgia!

Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia

Historical Atlanta is worth visiting to get a greater understanding of eras such as the civil war and the Civil rights movement.

I didn’t really like downtown Atlanta much but there were several things we enjoyed and some of the outer suburbs, such as Buckhead are well known for their restaurants and nightlife.

We camped at Stone Mountain Park which is approximately 25-minute drive from downtown and has a variety of attractions such as a light show and a cable car that goes up the mountain.

Camping is available and well worth it to make your stay cheaper and more enjoyable.

We found the park really beautiful with plenty to explore. Don’t miss a hike to the top of Stone Mountain for some great views of the city.

Stone Mountain Park Atlanta
Stone Mountain Park

A highlight of our time in Atlanta was the Martin Luther King walking tour. It was incredible to learn more about this great man’s life and his fight for equality for all people. You can visit his childhood home and neighborhood on the tour.

We also found the behind the scenes tour of CNN fascinating.

While in Atlanta, why not sample some good old Aussie food. We were excited to discover the Australian Bakery Cafe.

We decided to undo all our hard work climbing up Stone Mountain to sit for a couple of hours gorging on meat pies, sausage rolls and pastries.

We were full-on meat eaters back then and it had been a long time since we had eaten some of our Aussie favorites.

There are two stores, one located in Marietta and the other in East Atlanta Village.

Read More:

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah Georgia cool places to visit on the east coast, USA
Forsyth Park. Savannah

We absolutely love this Southern city and it should have been placed on our list of places to live around the world and cool places to visit in the USA.

I mean, our youngest daughter is called Savannah!

I could spend days ambling around the Savannah streets overhanging with Spanish moss, exploring every square, and cycling around the busy, yet strangely slow and quiet streets.

And then there is the cobble stoned River Street, one of the top East Coast places to visit where you can find restaurants, bars, peanut shops, artisan stores, markets, buskers and a buzzing atmosphere.

We love taking all our loved ones visiting from Australia to Savannah on an east coast trip.

River St Savannah Georgia
River Street, Savannah

Eat at Lizzy’s Burger Bar & Grill for lunch or dinner and ask to get the table on the upstairs balcony. It is like your private balcony and if you can hunt down an elderly lady walking up and down the strip outside before you go in, she will hand you some coupons for $1 lime margaritas.

The perfect place to spend your afternoon watching the world go by.

We also highly recommend taking a Historic Savannah Trolley Tour in order to learn the stories behind the city and the famous historic homes. I found it fascinating and informative.

Take time to sit on the bench in Chippewa Square where Forest Gump sat while he told his tale to passersby.

Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island in Savannah Georgia is a great place for an east coast beach vacation
Tybee Island Pier

Take a short drive from Savannah out to Tybee Island.

We really enjoyed the low-key, casual atmosphere of this beach town. It had not been destroyed by high rises and flashy resorts, the water is perfect for swimming, and it has a great big pier.

Read More: 27 fun things to do on Tybee Island

Places to Visit in Florida

Clearwater Beach Florida A warm winter vacation for families
Clearwater Beach, Florida

We’re excited to visit Florida a little more over the next year and beyond. We have some fun East Coast road trip ideas planned. Craig and I did an in-depth Florida road trip back in 2005.

Since then we have visited just a few places in Florida with the girls.

There are Sightseeing Passes available for several Florida destinations mentioned in this east coast road trip post. These passes can save you money on big attractions. Click here for more details and to see how you can save.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine holds the claim to being America’s oldest city and is a completely unique Florida experience.

Its delightful historic district, with its cobblestone streets, quaint cafes, bars, and unique shops is perfect for strolling and exploring the forts and monuments that make this a charming US city.

Daytona Beach

We loved the long hard expanse of Daytona Beach when we visited way back in 2005.

If you have a 4wd you can drive your car along it, or if you are into NASCAR racing then the Daytona International Speedway race track is probably where you want to be.

Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center is a definite must see and one of the top East Coast attractions.

We learned so much about the history of space exploration and walked out of their with tremendous respect and admiration for astronauts and just how much they have done to help improve all of our lives–at considerable risk.

Get a skip the line ticket in advance here.

Orlando

Islands of adventure
Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Universal Studios

Our kids really love going to Orlando, FL.

Not only does it have the excitement of Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, it’s a buzzing, clean, and well laid out city with plenty to do.

Everyone in Orlando is happy and having a great time, you can really feel this energy in the air. Besides all the theme parks, hit the outlet malls for some great shopping discounts.

Get your 4 day Disney theme park ticket here.

And your 3 day Universal park hopper ticket here.

Read More:

Fort Lauderdale

We highly recommend taking a boat tour around the canals of one of America’s wealthiest enclaves. Gaze open mouth at multi-million dollar mansions, with even bigger yachts parked out front.

Miami Beach

Best Florida vacation spots
South Beach, Miami

Miami Beach really surprised us with how crystal clear and spectacular the water was. We were not expecting that for a city beach.

We only spent a day exploring South Beach but really enjoyed the vibe and people watching and get the appeal of it for East Coast summer vacations.

Tip:

If you want to experience eating out at South Beach with all the rich and beautiful people, go out just before 6pm and you will find many great specials at the restaurants such as two for one dinners or free appetizers.

We recommend visiting Everglades National Park too while you are in this region.

Read More: 24 hours in Coconut Grove, a cool Miami neighborhood

The Florida Keys

Key West Florida
Key West

We weren’t too fussed on the Florida Keys road trip we did back in 2005. It’s so hard considering we grew up in Australia and have so many awesome island and beach destinations downunder!

But we did have fun and there were some highlights on our first visit, and I’m sure we’d appreciate it much more the second time around!

A sunset boat tour off Key West is a fantastic way to spend the evening. For the one small price you have all you can drink beer and wine included.

There are plenty of cheap cocktail specials, live music, and pub crawl options along Duval street. This was where I first developed a taste for Mojitos.

We also really enjoyed a snorkeling tour in the keys. Key Largo snorkeling holds claim to the first underwater state park, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

There were plenty of fish to be seen out in the reef off the deep waters.

Tampa Bay

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in this city and loved the beaches only a short drive over the bridge.

Named America’s Top Beach by TripAdvisor in 2008, Fort De Soto County Park’s pristine North Beach features soft white sand, clear waters and great shelling.

Clearwater Beach was also worth a visit and we had one of the most beautiful sunsets to experience.

St Andrew’s State Park

St Andrew’s State Park was the pick of Florida for us. You can camp here and it is a truly wild and natural beach to play at.

You can take snorkeling trips to nearby islands and just swimming in the waters off shore is certain to bring you close encounters with dolphins, sting rays and even the odd shark – I’m sure I saw the shadow of one swimming under my feet.

More Florida Tips:

Plan Your East Coast Road Trip

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has 700,000+ hotels, apartments and hostels worldwide. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

Tours

  • Find the best tours available for the South East with our partner, Get Your Guide. They offer skip the line passes and cancellations up to 24 hours in advance. See what is available here

More Posts on Travel in the South

Have you taken a road trip along the East Coast of the United States? What were some of your highlights?

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