“Low country”, refers to a distinctive geographic area, culture, and cuisine that is unique to the South Carolina Coastal region, but sometimes extends to Sea Islands and coastal regions of Georgia and Northern Florida. Known for its shrimp boats, intricate estuaries, sweet tea and sweeping verandas. The region is originally known for rice, indigo and cotton fields, as depicted in the blue indigo state flag with the Palmetto tree and crescent. Most of the region became rich through the slave trade and as a result roughly 40% African-Americans can trace their heritage back to ports around Charleston. Many blacks in the area consider themselves Gullah (known as Geechee in Georgia), both a culture and an English-based Creole language spoken by the people formerly enslaved from West African. A historical highlight for me was the Penn Center on St. Helena’s Island outside of Beaufort, SC.
South Carolina Coastal Towns
My list includes mostly idyllic towns with the southern charm that South Carolina is known for. Spanish-moss draped oak trees are in abundance along the shores, providing refuge for animals and humans alike.
- Beaufort, SC and the Sea Islands
Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina and frequently on the list of best/quaintest small cities in the US. Situated on the curve of the Beaufort River,and on the Port Royal Island. Due to the location, you can see ethereal sunsets AND sunrises. The historic district, plush with large inviting front porches on antebellum mansions, dates back to 1711 when the British chartered the town. Many of the homes were built with wealth from the cotton, indigo or rice industry. This is an absolute must see for southern charm.
Start your morning off in St. Helena’s island with a coffee at Lowcountry Cider Co. (507 Sea Island Pkwy, St Helena Island, SC 29920), lighthouse at sunrise, walking through Hunter Island State Park ( $8 entry fee), which has pristine and uninterrupted shores of the Atlantic and ten miles of hiking trails. Then Penn Center (16 Penn Center Cir E, St Helena Island, SC 29920), Ruins of Chapel of Ease Ruins (St Helena Island, SC 29920), and Gullah Grub (877 Sea Island Pkwy, St Helena Island, SC 29920) for lunch.
Head back to the adorable and history laden downtown Beaufort. I love walking around the town, and Janet’s Walking History Tours offers a great historical background for anyone interested in learning more while they walk. I enjoyed a little window shopping at NeverMore Books and the many quaint stores on Bay Street. I personally love a sunset drink with a view to unwind from the day. I recommend waterfront sunset views from either Lady’s Island Dockside or Fishcamp on 11th street. After, consider dinner at Old Bull Tavern!
- Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island
I adore Shem Creek. I recommend getting a coffee from Vintage Coffee (219 Simmons St, Mount Pleasant, SC 29464-4347) or Brown Fox Coffee (307 Simmons St, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464). From there you can either rent kayaks or paddle boards from Coastal Expeditions on Shem Creek (514 Mill St, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464) or walk around the boardwalk. Make sure to get reservations beforehand. The Mount Pleasant Historic District gives many vistas of the Charleston Harbor and historic Antebellum homes. I adore the walk or run down Pitt Street through the Historic District to the Pitt Street Bridge from Shem Creek. After all this working out, head. For those who have worked up an appetite, Page’s Okra Grill (302 Coleman Blvd) and Post Inn (101 Pitt St) are both local favorites for brunch.
After all your walking, head south to Sullivan’s Island to enjoy some much needed beach time.Some friends recommended parking at Beach 25. They have a beautiful long boardwalk to get to the sandy beaches. For those who may need a beverage, The COOP (2019 Middle St, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482) offers fun frosé and delicious sandwiches. The Obstinate Daughter (2063 Middle St) and Home Team BBQ (2209 Middle St) offer great food. Those looking for a little more upscale, and amazing fresh fish can head back up to NICO Oysters and Seafood (201 Coleman Blvd) which is closer to Shem Creek.
- Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head, SC was the only area that I had heard of before actually venturing to the South. Located 40 minutes north of Savannah and 2 hours south of Charleston, SC. Hilton Head is a beach and golfing paradise for locals and travelers alike. I would call this the Cape Cod of the South. The original area was just the location of a few plantations, and as such does not have a geographic historic center like many of the other towns on this list. Often catering to family vacations, at first I did not like this destination. Developed and charged a price to drive into certain sections of the island. Once I switched my means of transportation from a car to a bike, I was in paradise. I loved all the outdoor activities that you can do on Hilton Head Island. Yet, the whole island has been built up more than the other locations on this list. It feels like they have nearly endless miles of beach, which are all worth exploring.
I started my time at Hilton Head Social Bakery (Harbourside Ln Building 1) for a delicious harborside breakfast. It is worth it to take a brief walk around the area, which is called Shelter Cove.Then I recommend renting a bike to get around the island. Hilton Head has over 100 miles of public bike paths. Harbour Town is iconic with the candy cane inspired lighthouse, and worth it to park the bike and walk around. Many of the compact sand beaches are great for morning bike rides, but can become crowded and should be avoided (on two wheels) in the afternoon. Similar to the other lowcountry locations there are a few wildlife locations: Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge and Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Delicious dinner can be had all over the island, but some highlights include Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte (8 New Orleans Rd), known for their lunchtime fried oysters (normally runs out!). Sage Room (75 Pope Ave), ELA’s On the Water (1 Shelter Cove), Bistro 17 (17 Harbourside Ln D) and lowkey Fishcamp on Broad Creek (11 Simmons Rd).
- Georgetown, SC and Pawley Beach
Known as “Little Charleston”, Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina. This is a known quaint gem of the newly named “Hammock Coast”, which refers to the South Carolina Coastal region between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Situated on the Winyah Bay, similar to other Low Country towns, this has much nature to offer with estuaries, salt marshes, and miles of beaches. I highly recommend renting a kayak in Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center (1 Yawkey Way S) and relaxing at Huntington State Beach. For those interested in history, the area has both Hopsewee Plantation (494 Hopsewee Rd) or Hampton Plantations (1950 Rutledge Rd, McClellanville, SC) in nearby fisherman’s village of McClellanville. Hopsewee Plantation also has a restaurant that offers lunch options. If you want to offset your price of admissions to these Plantations consider a donation to the NAACP.
Another quaint seaside town, with small and local businesses along the waterfront. Paley Beach is still untouched by the crowd and tourism of nearby beach destinations.
Georgetown’s waterfront walk is a beautiful activity. The town center offers a few good restaurants, mostly all are casual and locally owned.
- Bluffton, SC and Daufuskie Island
Start your day at the quaint and peaceful town of Bluffton, which is located on serene May River. For those who need a morning cup of joe, like myself, I recommend Corner Perk (1297 May River Rd). There is a water taxi from Bluffton to Daufuskie Island, which is worth the extra cash to get a private tour through the intricate river ways.
Daufuskie Island is distinctively underdeveloped as compared to the other locations. This island gets you back in touch with the natural beauty of the region. The serene setting has drawn many artists to the island, and as a remote has a couple galleries. a school house turned coffeehouse aptly named School Grounds Coffee (201 School Rd) which is run by two former social workers from North Carolina who relocated to the island a few years ago. You can get some great food at Lucy Bell’s (111 Benjies Point) run by partners in business and life, James and Brad. During the summer months it can get some tourists, and the Daufuskie Crab Co (256 Cooper River Landing) always stands to have a laid back beach bar vibe. Go for a drink, the food still leaves room for improvement.
All of the ~400 residents seem to know each other. The cooperative farm was purchased on a ten year loan for $1, and the Daufuskie Island Helicopter landing was also loaned for $1 for 100 years. I happened to forget to order a Golf Cart, and ended up getting a tour by the local Fire Chief, quite a treat!
When you return to Bluffton, I recommend dinner at upscale, FARM Bluffton (1301 May River Rd), which uses all locally focused seasonal food.