Warm Up in the Low Country

South Carolina’s seacoast region offers a different kind of Southern culture that’s always welcoming

By contributing writer Leigh Elmore

When the frigid blasts begin to get you down, where can a Midwesterner turn for a little respite from the cold and dark of our winter weather? This time of year many a wandering eye begins to focus on the Low Country of South Carolina, not only for the warmer ocean-infused air, but just as much for the friendly hospitality of the local residents, distinctive cuisine, unique Gullah culture and the lure of the southern coastal scenery—the giant live oaks laden with Spanish moss—and more than a few golf courses that lie waiting to be discovered along the Atlantic Seaboard. Whether you want to paddle a kayak on the Edisto River or sit on a large porch with your favorite beverage, the Low Country is a place you can enjoy at your own speed.

RT_islandEdisto Island
Hwy. 174 is the live oak-lined road to Edisto Island. On this tranquil island, without a single traffic light, the most visible commerce for miles might be a roadside stand run by Gullah women weaving and selling coiled grass baskets. Photos, old farm implements, and a reconstructed plantation room relate the island’s past at the tiny Edisto Island Museum. edistomuseum.org Eventually, Hwy.174 loops around a quiet beach, a favorite of shell collectors. The southern end, where the ocean meets the South Edisto River, boasts the best sunset views.

Gullah Tradition RT_sweetgrass-basket-making
African Americans on the Sea Islands and lowlands of South Carolina were isolated from the outside world before and after the Civil War and developed their own creole cultural traditions, known as Gullah, in which elements of African languages, cultures, and community life have been preserved. The Gullah Museum in Hilton Head goes a long way to explain Gullah culture, prevalent throughout the Low Country.

RT_Edisto-RiverExpore by Kayak
The Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers, along with scores of other tidal creeks, slip through the silence of forests and marshes. Many paddlers choose the Edisto, which is the longest free-flowing blackwater stream in North America. The Edisto River Canoe & Kayak Trail Commission has marked a 60-mile trail, with several put-in spots, including one each at Colleton State Park and Givhan’s Ferry State Park. The commission offers guided educational river trips.

St. Helena Island RT_penn-center-beaufort-sc

Hwy. 21 continues on to St. Helena Island and Penn Center, the country’s first school for African Americans. penncenter.com The 50-acre campus is preserved as a National Historic Landmark; a small museum displays photos, letters and Gullah artwork. Up the road is the Red Piano Too Art Gallery, its rooms brimming with a collection of paintings, sculpture, woodwork and jewelry by local artists.

Golf in the Low Country RT_Golf-Course

People come to the Low Country to relax, and that ought to extend to your golf game as well. The lineup of courses around the town of Bluffton should do nicely. Playing Eagle’s Pointe Gold Club, the Arnold Palmer-designed Crescent Pointe Golf Club, Hilton Head National Golf Club designed by Gary Player and Old South Golf Links can fill a week and provide a host of memories. Plus, all are fairly convenient to each other as well.

RT_shopping-hilton-head-islandShopping
Serious shoppers will gravitate to Hilton Head where the retail outlets, upscale boutiques, antique shops, thrift stores and markets nestled within Hilton Head Island are reflective of the town’s lure. Picturesque Main Street Village, 1500 Main St., offers shops such as Camille and Company for fashions, b for women’s apparel and accessories and The Stock Exchange, an upscale fashion consignment shop. mainstreetvillagehhi.com

Shopping in the Low Country ought to be a low-key affair in search of something you might not know you were looking for. Some specialty shops in Bluffton include The Complete Home, 41B Calhoun St., for an eclectic collection of accessories to complete and complement your home from furnishings to tabletop to original artwork, antiques and gourmet food. Gigi’s Clothing Boutique, 40 Calhoun St., is the place to find last-minute casual wear.

What To Do on Rainy DaysRT_Penny-Burke-Pottery
In Walterboro stroll through fine arts and crafts, all made by South Carolinians, in the South Carolina Artisans Center, which is housed in a rambling Victorian house. scartisans.org At Ravenel, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center houses exhibits on the rice culture and natural history of the area. ccprc.com Eight miles of interpretive trails and a boardwalk provide access to marshes and swamps.

Beaufort
Take Hwy. 21 to Beaufort, South Carolina’s second-oldest city after Charleston, and, before the Civil War, perhaps one of the wealthiest towns of its size in the country. Enjoy the antebellum plantation homes, the restaurants and pedal a bicycle around the waterfront and historic homes.

Hunting Island
Hunting Island is home to a 5,000-acre state park and Hwy. 21, the narrow road winding into the park that squeezes through a forest and opens onto a three-mile long beach. The lighthouse, built in 1859, destroyed during the Civil War, and rebuilt in 1875, is open to the public. It’s 167 steps to the top.


 

Where to Stay

The Cuthbert House
A 1790 home filled with antiques and original features. Views of the bay and of sunsets. From $189/night double.
1203 Bay St.
Beaufort, S.C.,
cuthberthouseinn.com

Inn at Palmetto Bluff
A charming collection of cottages and vacation homes nestled on waterfronts and in the woods.
From $275/night double.
1 Village Park Square
Bluffton, S.C.,
montagehotels.com

Omni Hilton Head Resort
Get your beach on at the large and pet-friendly resort on the oceanfront.
A good value at $109/night double.
23 Ocean Lane
Hilton Head, S.C.,
omnihotels.com

The Rhett House Inn
A classic Southern inn with huge verandas, centrally located.
From $210/night double.
1009 Craven St.
Beaufort S.C.,
rhetthouseinn.com

Sonesta Resort Hilton Head
This full-service resort and spa is set on 11 seaside acres with lush gardens.
From $129/night double.
130 Shipyard Drive
Hilton Head, S.C.,
sonesta.com 


Where to Dine

Claude and Uli’s Bistro
Just one of the best restaurants on the island serving French cuisine.
1533 Fording Island Rd.
Bluffton, S.C.,
843-837-3336

The Gullah Grub Restaurant
For local food, including she-crab soup, sweet potato pie and collard greens in the unique local style.
877 Sea Island Parkway
St. Helena Island, S.C.,
843-838-3841

A Lowcountry Backyard
A modern take on Southern cuisine and off the beaten path. And we said “banana cream pie!”
32 Palmetto Bay Rd.
Hilton Head Island, S.C.,
843-785-9273

Saltus River Grill
Come for the food, atmosphere and service. You might never want to leave. Seafood and meats the way you want them.
802 Bay St.
Beaufort, S.C.,
843-379-3474

Vine
New-American, chef-driven twists on the local seafood.
1 N. Forest Beach Dr.
Hilton Head Island, S.C.,
843-686-3900

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