By Erin Laytham Lentz, Contributor
If you’re lucky enough to be spending your vacation nestled on Hilton Head Island, you will be equally enticed by some of the day trips that await in and around the region called the Low Country. There are points of interest that will enthrall any traveler’s recreational pursuits, from shopping, boating, dining, exploring and the arts. The Low Country locations of the south have a certain way of charming its’ visitors with its emblematic characteristics like the signature live oaks with Spanish Moss, sweet tea, barbecue, shrimp & grits, grand architecture and rich history. Many of these popular destinations are strongly influenced by Gullah traditions including storytelling, cuisine, crafts, farming and fishing traditions. The Gullah early ancestors were brought to the SC & Georgia Low Country through the ports of Charleston and Savannah as slaves. Here are some of the local and visitor favorites:
Just a short ferry ride from Hilton Head Island will deliver you to the unique, 2.5 x 5 mile sea island of Daufuskie, where you can spend the day exploring the historic treasure by golf cart. Steep in its’ pre-civil war Gullah history, this nearby island of Daufuskie has a vibrant culture, beautiful white sand beaches and a one- of- a -kind vibe. Visitors can opt for a guided historic golf cart or kayak tour, ride a horse, enjoy local art, and dine on fresh, local seafood at one of the island’s few restaurants. The island does not allow cars, so the primary transportation is golf cart. Seeing the island by golf cart allows you to get glimpses of the wildlife and truly explore. Music lovers will also enjoy catching popular, local bands playing at outdoor restaurants and dockside bars on the weekends. There are pottery and gift shops to browse as well as wine tours and a Daufuskie Rum distillery to tour. Though many visit Daufuskie Island with their own passenger boats, it is easily accessible by taking the main ferry from Broad Creek Marina. Daufuskie is a pet friendly island and is considered coastal living at its finest.
Only 98 miles from our barrier island awaits the old city charm and welcoming bustle of Charleston, named world’s best city, where you can spend a day that includes greeting the city by horse-drawn carriage, a walking or boat tour. Discover College of Charleston, one of the oldest colleges in the US and Charleston’s Museum Mile filled with several museums with agricultural and wartime artifacts. Shop until you drop with the endless shopping opportunities on the famous King St. amidst its’ thriving arts and restaurant scene. Charleston is a city that loves to eat and though you must choose between its extensive dining options, you really cannot go wrong. Also worth a visit is the popular, Charleston’s City Market that remains a thriving mecca for commerce, open 9:30am.-6pm daily. Sites in close proximity are: The Battery, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and Folly Beach. Few places outshine the romantic city of Charleston and one of its’ most redeeming qualities is you never need a car.
The southern belle of the Georgia coast,, named ‘Best Southern City’, awaits just 31 miles from Hilton Head. Savannah, is considered Charleston’s sister city. It is a port city, with cobblestone streets, majestic architecture and filled with an abundance of music, food and arts festivals along its’ historic River Street and Forsyth Park. Also home of SCAD, Savannah School of Arts and Design, located in the heart of the historic district. Discover the city by a charming trolley ride, dinner cruise, Segway or walking tour. The site of many well-known movies and subject of best-selling books, this gentle, southern gem has many stories to tell. Al-fresco and rooftop dining, ghost tours, beautiful gardens and eclectic shops await. Savannah is known as a pedestrian friendly city and wandering off the beaten path is easy. The entire historic district of Savannah is sprinkled with gift shops and high-end boutiques among its countless restaurants offering casual to fine dining options. The waterfront is beautiful to walk at night with its lights reflecting onto the river. Another fun way to see River Street from a distance is hopping on the free ferry that runs across the Savannah River approximately every 15 minutes. Plan on sampling pralines, fudge and ice cream at the numerous sweets shops.
Bluffton is the closest neighboring town to Hilton Head, just seven miles down the road. Similar to the infrastructure on the island, Bluffton’s points of interest are neatly tucked away to preserve the beauty of the area. When passing over the bridge, you would not ever know some of the special charm this little town exudes. Old Town Bluffton, also known as the heart of Bluffton is a section of town nestled in close proximity to the May River. It is the site of the popular, weekly state-recognized Bluffton Farmer’s Market. Up and down Calhoun Street stretching into The Promenade, a visitor can find a local, trendy coffee house called Corner Perk, an array of restaurants for any palette, wine and bourbon bars and a vibrant nightlife filled with live music, open air and rooftop dining. Known to locals as ‘Restaurant Row’, exciting new eateries are opening constantly. The Promenade uniquely integrates housing, professional business, restaurants and shops and Old Town stretch of Calhoun St maintains its historic preservation through reclaimed buildings, art galleries, boutiques and unforgettable dining. If you’d like to explore the eater, too, May River Excursions will take you out on the May for crabbing, boating and fishing trips. Check the schedule for festivals and farmer’s market hours to truly enjoy Bluffton in all its’ glory. Reserve some time to visit Palmetto Bluff just a few miles from Old Town Bluffton. It is the home of an acclaimed international resort and open to the public to explore sporting life, water adventures, conservation and dining experiences.
Hunting Island, SC
Just 52 miles off the path from Hilton Head, beyond Beaufort and Lady’s Island, the fresh produce stands, and the site where the movie, Forrest Gump filmed its’ shrimp boat scenes is a popular state park and campsite named Hunting Island. The island has over 200 campsites and the only lighthouse open to the public in South Carolina. Panoramic views of the Atlantic coast can be observed from the top which is accessed by a long, spiral staircase that may leave you breathless. The island has five miles of beach and a saltwater lagoon in addition to its marsh and ocean inlet. From the shoreline, the island’s forest makes you feel desolate and in an exotic location. It is easy to understand why Hunting Island is the most popular island to visit in the state. Visitors come every year to enjoy fishing off the pier and to enjoy the semi-tropical forest that attracts wildlife such as loggerhead turtles and many species of birds. Admission to the island is $5 per adult and $3 per child 6-15. Lighthouse admission is $2.. There are picnic shelters and a small store/bait shop but no restaurants on Hunting Island. Be sure and stop at the Shrimp Shack on St Helena for some award-winning fresh seafood on your way in or out.
Just 35 miles from Hilton Head, South Carolina’s second oldest city, Beaufort, makes a wonderful destination for a day trip. If you’re lucky you may visit during one of the many festivals hosted by this otherwise sleepy town. Anchored by restaurants and boutiques perched alongside its downtown waterfront and Main St restaurants that offer views of the alluring Beaufort River. On foot or by coach, boat tours, with or without a guide, you can easily access the major focal points of the city including the fine civil war era homes, the abundance of natural beauty and cultural heritage. The narrow roads lined with galleries and museums will keep you busy exploring for hours. You may decide to join the boats by hopping on one of the Beaufort boat sight-seeing tours conveniently located on the riverfront.t the Get a taste of southern history while enjoying gentle sea breezes in the town nicknamed “Slow Country.” Bring plenty of quarters because most street side parking is metered.