Charleston Stories and Tips

I Can't Drive I-95 (AKA, Driving Down Interstate 95)

Charleston Suspension Bridge Photo, Charleston, South Carolina

I don’t know what wild bug possessed us to decide to drive from Virginia to South Carolina, rather than flying, but seven hours in a car makes me a bit bonkers. So, to entertain myself, I began taking note of the exits and sights along Interstate 95 so that other hapless travelers might benefit from my boredom.

Keep in mind that I’ve written this in the southerly direction on I-95, coming from Virginia. So if you had the mind to drive from South Carolina north, everything would be backwards.

I also haven’t written about every exit and every gas station along the way. There are already books for that. I’ve just mentioned the highlights – and lowlights – that I had along my own journey.

Make sure to stop at the first rest area across the North Carolina border, if for no other reason, than to get a picture with the "Welcome to North Carolina" sign. (I have a picture of me with every state sign of every state I’ve visited.) The bathrooms here are immaculate – possibly the nicest I’ve ever seen. There are snack machines, plenty of grass for the pets and benches to just sit on and sip your soda.

Once you get back on the road, you’ll see signs for the Premium Outlets and the J.R. Outlets, though they’re still about an hour away. You’ll find the Premium Outlets at exit 95, featuring stores like Hilfiger, Coach, etc. You’ll also find a good selection of restaurants to chose from – we picked Texas Steakhouse for a good meal (and clean bathrooms – I have a thing about nasty public bathrooms.) The exit just before, exit 97, is where you’ll find the J.R. Outlet, featuring cigarettes for cheap (save money while you kill yourself slowly), and other less-name-brand-y kinds of stores. Pick your poison, I guess.

The next big stop is about 2 or so hours later, when you cross the state line into South Carolina. There, at exit 1, you’ll find the gaudy, neon South of the Border, calling you in like a lure calls a fish. It’s like you lose all brain function when you see the twinkly neon lights that call out "Shopping! Mini Golf! Game Room!" You think you’d be numb to their charms after seeing a billboard every 20 feet announcing that Pedro and his South of the Border were coming up in 100 miles. However, your sense of fun and love of all things gitchy make you stop. Resist the urge if you possibly can. The stores are cheap, the bathrooms are horrible and it’s nothing but a drain to watch your money go down. The gas is even more expensive here, but we’d already stopped, so why not?

Instead, consider locking the doors until you travel a mere two more exits to the South Carolina Visitor’s Center. Here, you can have a photo op with the "Welcome to South Carolina" sign, visit a much nicer South Carolina gift shop and tinkle in a well-maintained bathroom. However, I will note that the bathrooms that are inside the nice visitor’s center are closed after 5 p.m., so you’ll have to make to with the ones around back after dark, which seemed kind of backwards to me.

From there, unless you have a nervous bladder, it should be a straight shot to Charleston. Make sure to cross the suspension bridge – it’s gorgeous!

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