There are few regions in the United states more family-friendly than the Southern East Coast. With incredible destinations such as Orlando, Savannah, Charleston and Wilmington, there are so many reasons to take a Southern East Coast road trip with your kids.
Our Southern East Coast road trip started to take shape when our 5-year old daughter was going through a huge Disney princess phase. As we started to plan a family vacation to Disney World Orlando, we began to look at potential road trip options. The possibilities for a Southern East Coast road trip were endless – places I’d always wanted to go were all so close by!
We knew we had to take our kids on an epic family road trip through the Southern East Coast USA during their summer vacation.
Below we share the details of our 10-day Southern East Coast road trip with kids itinerary. We developed a well-balanced family road trip with stops for the kids (Disney World) and destinations for us (Savannah, Charleston, etc.).
The possibilities for an amazing Southern East Coast USA road trip are nearly endless. We hope you find inspiration within our family road trip itinerary and use it as a launching pad for your Southern East Coast road trip with kids!
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Planning a Family Holiday in the Southern East Coast with Kids
When to do a Southern East Coast Road Trip with Kids
The Southern East Coast USA is a huge place, ranging from Maryland all the way down to Florida. With such a large land mass, it’s a bit hard to give generic advice on the best time to do a Southern USA East Coast road trip with kids.
High season for Southern East Coast road trips tends to be in July and August, with warm sunny days across the region. Being high season, it generally means that places will be busier and hotel prices higher.
Our Southern East Coast road trip we describe below was in late-July to early-August – the heart of high season. We enjoyed hot, sunny weather nearly the whole time, with the exception of a few rainy days here and there. We sometimes found it difficult to find affordable accommodation in the Southern East Coast during high season, so book your hotels and vacation home rentals as early as you can.
Shoulder season for a Southern East Coast road trip tends to be April & May or September & October. If you can schedule your Southern East Coast family road trip during the shoulder season, you will be treated to milder weather, less crowds and more affordable accommodations. You’ll enjoy wildflowers in the spring or beautiful fall foliage in the fall.
Once you narrow down where you’d like to go on your Southern East Coast road trip, we recommend a little extra research to ensure the weather is suitable for your family vacation.
How Long to Travel in Southern East Coast USA
Coming up with the best Southern East Coast road trip itinerary will depend entirely on how much time you have. We created our 10-day Southern East Coast family road trip itinerary considering driving distances and using those times strategically. We wanted to limit our driving time in the car or use it strategically to give our kids some down time.
With 10 days for our Southern East Coast road trip itinerary, we were able to fit in destinations which appealed to the adults plus find plenty of destinations and attractions for the kids.
If you’d like to extend your family vacation, see below for how we turned this into a four week Southern USA family road trip itinerary.
Where to Stay on your Southern East Coast Road Trip with Kids
One thing we’ve learned from our family road trips around the USA, is that there is a huge variety of family-friendly accommodations. We’re sure you will have no problem finding the perfect place to stay for your family.
When we traveled along the Southern East Coast, our kids were younger so our priority was to have kitchen facilities to ensure we had food our kids could eat. Because of this need, we found vacation rentals to be the best option for our family.
We also appreciate the other family-friendly amenities in vacation rentals such separate bedrooms and laundry facilities. When traveling with kids, don’t underestimate the value of having separate bedrooms. Not only can parents have some privacy at night, but well-rested kids are much better travelers.
On our East Coast road trip with kids, we rented hotel rooms for a variety of purposes. If we only had a 1-night stay somewhere, it’s just easier to sleep at a hotel, enjoy their free breakfast and get back on the road.
We also stayed at a Disney Resort Hotel for four nights to help make our kids visit to Walt Disney World more special. When booking hotels for our family, we always start with Booking.com and their excellent “Top Picks for Families“.
Aside from the Disney hotel, whenever we stayed longer in a particular location, we got ourselves a 2-3 bedroom vacation rental.
Southern East Coast Road Trip Itinerary Summary
Here is our self-drive Southern East Coast road trip with kids itinerary.
- Days 1-4 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Days 5-6 – Savannah, GA
- Days 7-8 – Charleston, SC
- Days 9-10 – Wilmington, NC
10 Day Southern East Coast Road Trip Itinerary
We loved our family vacation in the Southern East Coast and couldn’t be happier with spending 10 days on a family road trip. Our road trip gave us sufficient time to explore each area and find some of the best things to do in the American Southern East Coast with kids.
Days 1-4: Walt Disney World & Orlando, FL
Day 1: Walt Disney Resort Hotel
It was a short 3-hour drive from our Valdosta, GA hotel to our Walt Disney Resort hotel. We checked into our Little Mermaid room at the Disney Art of Animation hotel. We chose this Disney Resort hotel in Orlando as it was affordable (by Disney standards anyway) and it was themed on some of our kids favorite Disney movies such as Little Mermaid, the Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars. Plus, the Art of Animation has the biggest swimming pool of any Walt Disney Resort hotel in Orlando!
After a long couple of days traveling from our home near Banff, Canada to Orlando we treated ourselves to a fun & relaxing afternoon at the Art of Animation pool before heading out for a feast at a nearby Mexican restaurant – one of the many kid-friendly Orlando restaurants we discovered.
Day 2 & 4: Magic Kingdom Orlando
We spent days 2 & 4 of our Southern USA road trip at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Our daughter had just turned 5 years old and was in the middle of a huge Disney princess phase. At home, she’d wear her Disney princess dresses for days on end. Our desire to take her to Magic Kingdom Orlando to have a Disney Princess Experience was one of the catalysts to take our family road trip through Florida.
We had an amazing two days with our kids at the Disney Magic Kingdom park. In addition to the Disney princess themed activities (such as Cinderella’s Royal Table and meeting Belle), we also found a ton of Disney activities for our 2-year old son to enjoy. During our 2-day visit, we learned the best gear to bring to Disney World as well as a bunch of useful Magic Kingdom tips and tricks.
Day 3 – Everglades Airboat Tour
During our off day from Disney World, we restored our spirits and recharged our batterie with an incredible day in nature. Wild Florida operates Everglades airboat tours on Lake Cyprus, just 50 minutes south of Disney World.
The Everglades airboat tour was a ton of fun and was the perfect antidote to the wonderful madness of the Magic Kingdom theme park. Lake Cyprus was beautiful, and we saw tons of wildlife, including a bald eagle, a great blue heron and plenty of alligators.
After our Everglades airboat tour, we visited the Wild Florida exotic animal zoo. The kids loved it – especially the petting zoo which had baby cows, baby goats and even baby ostriches! There were all kinds of exotic animals there, including lemurs, longhorn cattle, zebras, parrots, raccoons, giant tortoises, porcupines, sloths, etc.
Days 5-6: Savannah, GA
Day 5 – Wormsloe Historic Site
After a wonderfully exhausting 3 days in Orlando with kids we checked out of our Disney hotel early and drove 4 hours north to Savannah, GA. We arrived early afternoon, went grocery shopping, checked into our Savannah vacation rental house and threw a much-needed load of laundry in the wash.
After so much time at the Disney Magic Kingdom and Downtown Disney, we drove to the Wormsloe Historic Site for a healthy dose of nature.
Chances are that if you’ve looked into visiting Savannah, GA, you’ve seen pictures of the majestic row of towering oak trees found at the Wormsloe Historic Site. The visual effect of these ancient oak trees, whose massive limbs stretch over and cover the roadway for as far as you can see is incredibly special.
After taking tons of pictures of the famous Savannah oak trees, we went hiking with the kids around the Wormsloe Historic Site. Our kids love exploring new forest environments, especially Southern USA forests which have more exotic plants than we have back home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Day 6 – Savannah Walking Tour
Day 6 of our Southern East Coast USA road trip with kids began with a self-guided walking tour of historic Savannah. We walked through beautiful Forsyth Park, enjoying the towering majesty of the large oak trees. The kids had fun running around Forsyth Park, talking to friendly locals and petting their dogs, while we enjoyed the beauty of the park and its amazing fountain.
After leaving Forsyth Park we traveled north on Bull Street, enjoying the historic Savannah architecture and the five amazing public squares along the way to the waterfront. Each Savannah public square is well-treed with a statue or monument. Bull Street in Savannah I one of the nicest city streets I have ever seen.
Upon reaching the Savannah River, we stopped in the Visitor Center to ask for some local hiking recommendations. We walked along the riverfront until we could no longer resist the tempting smells wafting from the many candy shops. We stopped in River Street Sweets for some freshly made Pecan Praline. So delicious!
We finished our Savannah walking tour with a visit to the City Market. Our kids loved running free on this pedestrian-only street. We stumbled across a splash park in Ellis Square, so we let the kids strip down to their underwear and run free in the water. They walked nearly 3 miles / 5km in the Georgia heat, so they deserved the opportunity to cool down while having a ton of fun.
Day 6 – Skidaway State Park Hike
For our last afternoon in Savannah with kids we went hiking at Skidaway State Park. The Sandpiper Trail was a fun Savannah hike for kids.
It begins with a long wooden boardwalk over a long stretch of salt flats, where you can see lots of little Fiddler Crabs scurrying about – you’d better be quiet though as the crabs are skittish and will scurry down their hole if they hear a loud noise. The kids made a ton of noise, scaring the crabs, which the kids thought was hilarious!
The Sandpiper Trail continues alongside tidal creeks with a wide variety of trees and lots of Spanish Moss flowing in the wind. The kids loved all the beautiful butterflies, dragonflies and bugs along the hiking trail.
The Avian Loop hiking trail is short, but is a good chance to see an Osprey and perhaps even a dolphin. We saw a huge bird of prey, which we think was an Osprey – but can’t confirm.
Incredibly, we saw a dolphin swim past us as the hiking trail neared the Skidaway Narrows River. The dolphin surfaced several times as it slowly swam upstream. It was going slow enough and staying up long enough that even our 5-year old saw the dolphin – a very exciting moment for her!
Day 7 – Bonaventure Cemetery
We began Day 7 of our Southern USA road trip with kids with a walk around the famous Savannah Bonaventure Cemetery – featured in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
We were immediately impressed by the stately oak trees and Spanish Moss, but without knowing where to go in the Bonaventure Cemetery, we got bored and left. If a visit to the Bonaventure Cemetery intrigues you, we highly recommend joining a tour.
Read more on our time in Savannah with kids in this post.
Days 7-8: Charleston, SC
Day 7 – Walking Tour of Charleston, SC
We’ve had some long drives on our Southern East Coast road trip so far, so the short 2-hour drive from Savannah to Charleston was a pleasure. We checked into the Homewood Suites by Hilton around noon and grabbed lunch at a nearby southern food restaurant. A shrimp po’ boy sandwich, deep fried shrimp, pecan pie… Mmmmm!
After lunch we went on a self-guided walking tour of Charleston, SC. We began with a stop at the indoor/outdoor Charleston City Market where the kids had a great time looking at all the fun toys, colorful clothes & hats and souvenirs for sale.
Our next stop was Waterfront Park, which is filled with beautiful trees and fountains. There is a large fountain at the entrance of the Waterfront Park which kids can run and splash around in. The kids ran wild in the nearby lawn on their way to another beautiful fountain.
Day 7 – Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Our final activity of the afternoon was the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. This Charleston attraction is probably called a “museum” as there is an educational bent to it, but it’s really just a super fun play place for kids.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry has 5 different playrooms, play areas outside, plus one additional room especially for kids aged 0-3. Our kids loved the play room full of water tables, the huge pirate ship, and the realistic grocery store (where they could play as a shopper or cashier).
Day 8 – Walking Tour of Charleston, SC – Part 2
For our second morning in Charleston with kids, we continued our walking tour in the residential neighborhood south of Broad Street. We both agreed that it was one of the nicest neighborhoods we have seen anywhere in the world.
We finished our self-guided walking tour of Charleston with a stop at Rainbow Row, a strip of brightly colored homes, before returning to Waterfront Park. This time the kids had bathing suits and had a ball playing in the Pineapple Fountain and the splash park. Charleston got this one right – a splash park doesn’t have to be just for kids, it can be beautiful and fun!
South Carolina Aquarium
We finished our morning with a quick visit to the South Carolina Aquarium. It’s not a huge aquarium, but they pack a whole lot of fun into it. The kids loved the playful sea otters, the jellyfish, the seahorses, the frogs and most of all the touch pool where they picked up starfish, sea urchins and petted a few small striped sharks.
No visit to Charleston, SC is complete without a visit to the Magnolia Plantation, a beautiful place for a family walk. The Magnolia Plantation walking trail winds through stately, magnificent trees, past lakes, across charming bridges and along the river. Our kids were super excited when we spotted an alligator swimming ever so slowly down the river.
After our family walk, the kids loved the Magnolia Plantation zoo. The zoo houses a surprising number of animals, many of which are found naturally in the plantation but are sometimes hard to see in the wild.
Southern BBQ Feast
We LOVE southern barbeque food! After such a busy day in Charleston, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at the Swig & Swine. It was incredibly good, especially the ribs! For dessert, we devoured orders of bourbon chocolate pecan pie and peanut butter pie. The food at Swig & Swine was among the best meals we had on our Southern East Coast family road trip!
Day 9 – Charleston Kayaking
Before leaving Charleston on Day 9 of our Southern USA road trip, we joined a kid-friendly 2-hour kayak tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. We were really hoping to see dolphins on our Charleston kayak tour, and our wish was granted within minutes when a pair of dolphins swam right past our kayaks!
Our Charleston kayak tour guide was knowledgeable about the local sea and land-based wildlife and gave us a great appreciation for how this amazing, delicate ecosystem works. In addition to the dolphins, we also were lucky enough to see a wide variety of birds including osprey, wood storks and great blue herons.
Read more on our time in Charleston with kids in this post.
Days 9-10: Wilmington, NC
After the Charleston kayak tour, we immediately drove 4 hours to Wilmington, NC. After settling into our Wilmington vacation rental house, we enjoyed a delicious southern meal at The Basics. Our entrees were delicious, but the star of the show was the Hummingbird Cake – a three-layer spiced cake with very generous cream cheese icing.
Day 10 – Venus Flytraps at Carolina Beach State Park
We had one full day in Wilmington, NC on our Southern USA road trip. We began with a visit to Carolina Beach State Park, where Venus flytrap plants grow in the wild. I always thought Venus flytraps were some exotic Asian plant, but in fact they only grow in the wild within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington, NC!
The Carolina State Beach Park has an easy walk called the Venus Flytrap Trail where, if you know where to look, you can see these special carnivorous plants in the wild. Venus flytraps like to grow in the transition zones between dry land and wet land, so watch for these areas and you’ll improve your chances.
Venus flytraps are typically quite small making them a little hard to see, but I found it was helpful to look for the “teeth” – they are a pattern which stands out in the randomness of the wild plants.
We thought these little carnivorous plants were so cool, that we started our own website all about Venus Flytraps!
Fort Fisher Recreational Area Beach
There was a heat advisory in effect for Wilmington, so we decided to skip the highly rated aquarium and spend the whole afternoon playing at the Fort Fisher Recreational Area beach, recommended by our vacation rental host. This Wilmington beach was very beautiful – it’s deep and wide with super soft sand. Our kids loved looking at all the pretty seashells scattered amongst the waves.
Day 11 – Masonboro Island Eco Tour
Before leaving Wilmington, NC we joined a kid-friendly Eco Tour with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. Our catamaran boat tour took us to nearby Masonboro Island, a protected nature preserve. Our guides took us for a short, informative walk through Masonboro Island on our way to a beautiful beach. We were given 90 minutes of free time to enjoy the natural beauty of this North Carolina island.
The Masonboro Island beach was very beautiful and stretched for as far as the eye could see in both directions. There are not many visitors to this island, so there was an abundance of treasures on the beach for the kids to find like seashells, etc.
Read more on our time in Wilmington with kids in this post.
Southern USA Road Trip – 4 Week Itinerary Overview
Our 10-day family vacation to the Southern East Coast was actually part of a larger 4-week family road trip through the Southern USA. We started in Nashville, then drove to Orlando to begin this Southern East Coast road trip, and finished up with a 2-Week Appalachian Mountains Road Trip. In case you are looking for a longer family road trip with your kids, here is our full 28 day Southern USA Road Trip itinerary.
- Day 1 – Nashville arrival
- Days 2-5 – Orlando, FL – Walt Disney World
- Days 6-7 – Savannah, GA
- Days 8-9 – Charleston, SC
- Days 10-11 – Wilmington, NC
- Days 12-15: Shenandoah National Park
- Days 16-19: Blue Ridge Parkway
- Days 20-22: Asheville, NC
- Days 23-26: Gatlinburg, TN
- Days 27-28: Nashville, TN
The majestic oak trees in Savannah, Georgia.
Looking for more family road trip ideas? Try a family road trip to Utah!
What to Pack for a Southern USA Road Trip with Kids
We are minimalists when it comes to packing for family road trips, but here’s our must-haves for a road trip to the Southern East Coast USA with kids:
- For your driving days, you simply can’t beat giving your kids an iPad or tablet for entertainment. We try to balance this screen time with some of our favorite road trip podcasts for kids!
Downloading TV shows and movies on the Netflix app is always good to keep the kids entertained, but if you are looking for something a little more cerebral, we are huge fans of giving our kids the Epic! reading app on travel days. Find out why we love the Epic reading app for travel, or at a minimum, we recommend you sign up for a free account with Epic to access a reduced library of online kids books for your Southern East Coast road trip.
- The days in the Southern USA can get quite hot, so we recommend staying well protected from the sun. Sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses and plenty of water are a must for a Southern East Coast road trip with kids.
- Our Southern East Coast family road trip with kids was in August, so it was mostly hot during the day, but we did have some cool mornings and rainy days. It was easiest to bring packable rain jackets that didn’t take a lot of space, especially since we only used them on occasion.
- We knew we’d be spending quite a bit of time hiking in the Southern East Coast, so we had proper hiking boots for us and for the kids. We’ve summarized our favorite hiking gear for kids in this post.
- The other must-haves for us were hiking day packs for carrying everything we needed for the day, complete with hydration packs for the adults and kids.
- We also packed two toddler carriers with us. These were so useful if we wanted to do an extra-long hike or if one of our kids needed a small break from hiking.
- If you are traveling with a potty training toddler (like we were), those emergency pee breaks might have you worried. One of these toddler travel potties can easily be stowed in the car!
We hope you found some inspiration for your Southern East Coast road trip with kids! Have a great time!!
Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.
When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).