The “Lowcountry” is the 200-mile stretch of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Composed of tidal marshes, rivers, estuaries, and the Atlantic Ocean, this is an area with a tight bond to the waterside lifestyle. And, when it comes to experiencing this area and its many towns and cities, you have a drive on your hands that should be made slowly, in true summertime Southern style. Set aside your vacation days, pack up the car, and head down the Carolina coast.
From Charlotte, head south, connecting with Highway 17, to land first in Pawleys Island. Located on the end of the Grand Strand, this picturesque seaside destination is beloved by locals and visitors alike. Pawleys boasts pristine marshland, palmettos, and Cypress cottages, and the food on the island is phenomenal, from the quaint Chive Blossom cafe to the fresh seafood dives. If you’re looking for nightlife, catch live blues at the Island Tavern or the Clubhouse Pub.
On your way to the next overnight destination, pass through McClellanville, a quaint, Spanish moss-draped fishing town just far enough from the buzzing city of Charleston to provide guests with a quiet, relaxing experience. McClellanville was established in 1706 as a portion of St. James-Santee Parish, and today, its history of rice plantations, grand architectural homes and buildings, and rich culture remains woven throughout the area. With a population of less than 1,000, guests can enjoy a peaceful stroll through the fishing docks and piers, where bodies of water promise bountiful fish. The nearby Francis Marion National Forest offers even more beautiful scenery.
Isle of Palms
After soaking in Bluffton, make the wide stretches of beach in Isle of Palms your next outpost for a few nights. Rent one of the many beachfront offerings, and stake out your sandy spot for the day. Grab dinner at Coda del Pesce for traditional, upscale Italian, or try the Southern-centric Lowcountry Kitchen for something more casual. During the day, head over to the neighboring Sullivans Island for a change of scenery: Bonus points if you get there by boat.
Nestled at the mouth of the Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island (at just 3.3 miles in size) is an inviting mix of peaceful beaches and plentiful watersports, local restaurants and shops. Visit Fort Moultrie for family-friendly sight-seeing, and grab lunch at Poe’s Tavern.
Consider your tolerance for the city versus your penchant for the beach. Then, either make a few day trips into downtown Charleston, or book a night or three at one of the Holy City’s many well-located, beautifully-appointed downtown hotels. We love Zero George, The Dewberry, Vendue, and Hotel Bennett, to name just a few. Charleston allows you the best of both worlds: slow, scenic strolls through its colorful, historic streets with relaxing, luxurious accommodations, coupled with a vibrant food scene, bustling nightlife, and on-trend King Street shopping.
A short drive outside the city of Charleston, this barrier island, often nicknamed “the Edge of America,” is equipped with everything you’re looking for out of a beach vacation, from the pier to deep sea and river fishing, and the surfing, kayaking, and dolphin watching. There’s good food, fun bars, and plenty of sightseeing on Folly. The weekend brunch at Lost Dog Cafe keeps us coming back year after year. Pack your bags and head south again, this time for a two-hour drive down Highway 17 to Bluffton.
Before Bluffton, stop for a few hours in Beaufort. Founded by the British in 1711, Beaufort, South Carolina boasts the amazingly conserved Gullah culture of Beaufort’s African-slave-descended citizens, and the various related historical sites that populate the quaint coastal town. Although Beaufort now offers exciting opportunities to golf, fish, bike, kayak, and soak in the rays of the sun along its ocean waters, the city’s defined history and its dedication to preserving the diverse wildlife make this unlike your typical coastal town. Refuel with Blackstone’s Cafe.
Call Bluffton home for what’s nearing the last leg of your trip. In the South, time simply moves slower, and that couldn’t be more true for Bluffton. A staple of the Carolina Lowcountry, Bluffton is perched directly above Savannah, Georgia on the mouth of the May River. This is a town that has a tight bond with the water, the beaches, and their accompanying way of life. Although a recent surge in development has made it the fastest growing town in South Carolina, Bluffton still has history to show, and in spades. Old Town in particular weaves the modern face of a long standing town with the strong, weathered churches and homes that have anchored the town since the mid 1800’s. Rent a local home. Or go all out and stay at Montage resort, for what’s arguably the best luxury lodging experience in the area.
Finally, end your trip in its southernmost spot at Hilton Head Island, a classic vacation destination for good reason. It offers 12 miles of pristine beaches, 24 world-class golf courses, forest preserves, and moss-draped trails. As far as dining goes, Hilton Head has some 250 restaurants, plus bakeries and farmers’ markets, to choose from. Plus, fresh, local seafood is always in good order. Enjoy your last few days lounging beachside, exploring the area by bike, and soaking in a few more sunsets.