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Classic Southeast: A Road Trip From Atlanta to Charleston

Georgia, South Carolina

Classic Southeast: A Road Trip From Atlanta to Charleston

By: Amy C. Balfour

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  • States:
    Georgia
    South Carolina

History, culture and excellent food scenes are highlights in Atlanta and Charleston, two standout Southern cities.

AtlantaAtlanta, the capital of Georgia, is a high-energy host, with interactive museums and upscale shopping malls added to the mix. South Carolina’s Charleston, offers a more personal experience, revealing its charms on carriage rides and strolls down cobblestone streets. Combine the two cities on a road trip that shows off both the region’s historic and modern attractions.

Start Your Trip in Atlanta

Downtown Atlanta sits about 20 kilometers north of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Pick up a rental car and drive north on Interstate Highway 85. The top destinations are clustered in three areas in the heart of the city: downtown, Midtown and the Sweet Auburn Historic District. Take two to three days to explore them.

Start by celebrating local icons, from Coca-Cola and CNN to Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter. Sample Coke products from around the globe at the World of Coca-Cola in downtown. Next door, the Center for Civil and Human Rights spotlights freedom and equality movements in the United States and abroad. The sites are across from Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Olympic Games.

The Inside CNN Studio Tour explores the headquarters of the first 24-hour cable news channel, while fans of the television show The Walking Dead can visit set locations with Atlanta Movie Tours. For local and international art, pop into the galleries dotting Castleberry Hill, which is southwest of downtown, or wander gallery-packed Midtown.

You can sample soda from around the globe at the World of Coca-Cola, an Atlanta icon.

You can sample soda from around the globe at the World of Coca-Cola, an Atlanta icon.
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Where to Eat in Atlanta

The dining scene is bold and global in its reach, but Atlanta never forgets its Southern roots. In Midtown, Mary Mac’s Tea Room serves up Southern favorites like pimento cheese, fried chicken and peach cobbler. Barbecue and live blues music draw crowds to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

For Southern classics with gourmet flair, try South City Kitchen in Midtown, while cocktails, small plates and lofty views are the draw at the revolving Polaris atop the Hyatt Regency Atlanta downtown.

Getting to Charleston

Towering images of three U.S. Civil War figures — Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson — are carved into the granite face of Stone Mountain northeast of downtown Atlanta. From there, drive east on Interstate Highway 20 to the State House in Columbia, South Carolina. Bronze stars mark the six spots where cannonballs hit the building during the Civil War. Continue east on Interstate Highway 26 to Charleston.

Just outside of downtown Atlanta lies Stone Mountain, site of an amusement park and a monument to the Confederate States of America.

Just outside of downtown Atlanta lies Stone Mountain, site of an amusement park and a monument to the Confederate States of America.
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Where to Start in Charleston

Perched where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet to form Charleston Harbor, Charleston has been a busy seaport and trade center since the 1700s. With its narrow streets and high-spired churches, the compact historic district looks much as it did before the Civil War. Museums and guided tours delve into the city’s colonial, antebellum and Civil War history. Learn about pirates and the Revolutionary War at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. The Old Slave Mart Museum examines the city’s role as a slave-trading hub.

In the walkable historic district, horse-drawn carriages await passengers beside the Charleston City Market. An easy loop takes in the colorful houses of Rainbow Row, the Battery walkway and White Point Gardens. From downtown, tour boats travel across Charleston Harbor to Fort Sumter. Confederate forces shelled the federal island fort on April 12, 1861, sparking the Civil War.

Boutiques, gift shops and antique stores line King Street. Look for art galleries on Broad, Queen and Church streets.

Charleston’s history comes alive in the section of the city known as the French Quarter.

Charleston’s history comes alive in the section of the city known as the French Quarter.
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Where to Eat in Charleston

Charleston has an innovative and high-profile dining scene, with restaurants jostling for attention up and down King and East Bay streets. Southern coastal specialties like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits are found on menus across the city.

A splash of sherry adds kick to the she-crab soup at Fleet Landing, a local favorite for its seafood and views of Charleston Harbor. Locally sourced fare fills the menu at Fig an upscale eatery that favors the bounty of the Lowcountry. Savor shrimp and cheesy grits at Hominy Grill, a delicious spot for breakfast.

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