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Bluffton & Hilton Head
August 1, 2003
The Low country area of coastal South Carolina is full of wonderful surprises, one of them the community of Beaufort - pronounced Bee-u-fort - an exceptionally pretty town, mid-way between Charleston and the Hilton Head. Beaufort is perfect to use as a home-base while exploring the area. The town is located on one of a number of interesting sea islands in the estuary formed by the Coosaw and Broad Rivers and Port Royal Sound. The area is separated from the mainland by Whale Branch and known for gorgeous sand beaches, golf courses, inter-coastal waterway, salt marshes with their unique eco-systems, hospitality and local foods. To place Beaufort in geographical perspective, it lies approximately 60 miles - by sea - north of Hilton Head.
The Beaufort area has seen settlement by the Spaniards in the early 1500's, the French and the British. Earliest buildings in Beaufort date to the latter part of the 1700's with three exceptions - the 1717 Thomas Hepworth House at the corner of Bay and New Streets, the C1720 Elizabeth Hext House at the corner of Hancock and Pinckney and the early 1700's John Cross Tavern on the waterfront at Bay and Carteret Streets.
You can learn all about Beaufort architecture and history by taking an informative carriage tour around the historic area. One of the best purveyors is Southern Rose Buggy Tours. “Gilbert” the horse, accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, does a leisurely tour around charming streets - past fine examples of architecturally significant homes in Federal, Georgian and Greek Revival styles, old oaks hanging with Spanish moss and covered in Resurrection Fern, formal gardens, former dependancies and kitchens tucked away in extensive back yards. Some of the most interesting buildings are constructed of Tabby, a mixture of crushed sea shells and sand, among other things and overlaid with stucco.
To compliment the information garnered on the carriage tour, consider a candlelight walking tour - Ghosts of the South - which usually ends up in the cemetery at St. Helena’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity. This cemetery is worth a daylight visit as well to see the grave of two British Revolutionary war soldiers and also to view the above- ground crypt of a gentleman who insisted on being buried with a week’s supply of provisions and tools for digging himself out if the need arose.
Beaufort’s main area of commerce includes a number of restaurants, coffee houses, an old-fashioned hardware store and specialty shops such as The Craftseller and The Chocolate Tree. Eateries in the heritage area that come highly recommended include the Firehouse Books & Espresso Bar, a great place for lunch and book browsing. The character of the firehouse has been retained through use of the building’s huge elliptical doors that have been made into windows. In good weather, people like to dine on the patio. Their Crab Quiche is excellent.
Ollies By the Bay with its large glassed-in dining room and outdoor patio overlooking the harbor area, serves up tasty local specialties. Their Frogmore Stew is a fragrant and generous portion of large shrimp, small whole potatoes, spicy sausage, corn on the cob, celery and onion. Chef Jack’s soup is thick and mildly spicy. Hush puppies are served with honey butter. For dessert, try a house speciality, chocolate-covered banana cheesecake.
Craven Street Inn, an elegant c1870 Bed and Breakfast, is one of the nicest places to stay in town. Delicious breakfasts are served on the sun porch. The Inn is centrally located, one block from the main area and Marina. The house shared the street with other fine examples of heritage architecture so an evening walk-round is an absolute must for history buffs.
Like boats? Check out Port Royal Marina, located on the Intercoastal Waterway at Beaufort. The Waterway is a boater’s equalivent to #I-75 or I-95. Enjoy lunch while you watch the yachts go by. The on-site restaurant serves reasonably-priced food, including local specialities such corn & wild rice soup and banana pudding.
Parris Island near Beaufort, is home to a U.S. Marine Recruit Training Station. The site houses an excellent museum that is open to the general public - admission is free - which depicts the history of the island from the landing of the Huguenots in 1562. The museum’s prime focus is the story of the Marines from 1915 to the present.
One day should be devoted to visiting St. Helena and Hunting Islands. St Helena Island was once the home of freed slaves from the West African coast whose culture became known as Gullah, one of the richest and most colourful in America. The island’s Corner Community - situated along #21, The Sea Island Parkway and Martin Luther King Drive - boasts a number of interesting shops.
Red Piano Too Art Gallery, an outlet for South Carolina folk art, is housed in a c1940's community co-operative building while just down the street, from Martin Luther King Drive, on Sea Island Parkway, Alluettes Restaurant and Art Gallery beckon. The restaurant's famous Chicken Salad and full menu of holistic soulfood featuring foods that are in season, will woo you back for more. Alluettes walls are lined with art. Live musical entertainment includes jazz, blues and R&B performers. Watch for signage - it can be unobtrusive - along The Sea Island Parkway, for a number of other unique arts and crafts shops such as Lunarian Moon Store Gallery and Gifts, Ms. Natalie’s Workshop.
Penn Center, on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, a former school complex founded in 1862, for the education of African Blacks, presents of African culture and heritage in pleasant surroundings. The former campus has eighteen on-site buildings, all original to the property, one of them the Cope Library and Museum. Before visiting the museum’s displays, you should first view the excellent video on Gullah heritage and culture, as it is especially preserved through song. Indigo and sea island cotton played a major role in early island history. At the Ibile Indigo House, located in Cedar Cottage at Penn Centre, the story of Indigo dye is portrayed in a hands-on situation. Penn Center offers a variety of cultural programs that include lessons, lectures, demonstrations and Heritage Days. For a more in-depth look at the history and African-American cultural traditions of St. Helena and the sea islands, consider a well-presented, entertaining and informative guided tour by the folks at Gullah ’n’ Geechee Mahn.
Travel down Sea Island Parkway to Hunting Island State Park. Hunting Island, a 5,000 acre barrier island that offers four miles of gorgeous sand beach, salt marshes and maritime forest with among other things, slash pine, live oak, cabbage palmetto, wax myrtle and holly. The park has 200 campsites, 14 cabins, a fresh water lagoon, gorgeous sand beaches and an 1873 lighthouse that you can climb - 170 stairs, 134 feet to the top. A sub-species of white-tailed deer, alligator, great white egret, painted bunting, blue heron, brown pelican, osprey and bald eagle all call the area home.
Traveling north or south on Highway #17 near Beaufort, be sure to see the ruins of Old Sheldon Prince William’s Church which are located several miles off the highway. First built in 1745-55, the church burned and was replaced by 1779 by a second church which burned in 1826. Named after the ancestral home of the Bull family in Warwickshire, England, the grounds have a number of moldering, moss covered tombs. Today, the ruins are popular for weddings.
While in the Beaufort area, there is so much to see, and do that you should plan to spend at least three days. Be prepared to take lots of pictures as the town is a photographer’s dream. During busier seasons, it’s a good idea to reserve accommodation in advance. When you arrive, follow signage to Beaufort’s Visitor Centre where you can purchase tickets for attractions and tours, get detailed maps and brochures. Knowledgeable staff can assist with all your needs. To maximize your time, you should really contact the Chamber of Commerce before leaving home.
After leaving the Beaufort area - assuming that you’re traveling north to south - be sure to stop at the Low Country Visitor Center and Museum at Exit #8, I-95 for travel information on Bluffton and Hilton Head Before attempting an assault on Hilton Head, be sure to visit the small community of Bluffton, on Highway #46, just off busy #278. If you go over the bridges into Hilton Head, you’ve gone too far.
Bluffton’s unique arts and craft shops are tucked along tree-lined streets. Check out “Eggs ‘n’ Tricities”, “The Store” and “Red Stripe Gallery with its amusing metal sculpture and signage. Be sure to visit the Church of the Cross, a c1857 wooden masterpiece with gorgeous pink glass paned windows. Also check out Bluffton Oyster Company for a glimpse of their huge oyster shell mounds. Lunch at Bess’s Delicatessen includes delicious soups, sandwiches, cookies, muffins and cake.
For first time visitors, Hilton Head is best seen from a seat of a Trolley bus. Trolley Tour tickets are available at the Coastal Discovery & Welcome Center on the right side of the highway just past the bridges to Hilton Head. Aim for the flags! Leave your car at the Welcome Center and enjoy a 2- ½ hour tour which covers the most interesting aspects of the island. By taking the tour, you don’t have the hassle of driving congested roads and negotiating through, or around, gated communities.
The Trolley Tour’s knowledgeable guides give an informative tour after which, if you so desire, you can explore on your own. Hilton Head has a large number of restaurants but one in particular stands out for excellent reasonably- priced seafood, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Dock. You can’t find better oyster soup followed by large plates of boiled shrimp. Hudson’s hush puppies are as good as stated on the menu. Key lime pie is a house favourite and ends a meal on just the right note.
If planning to stay around Hilton Head, be aware that accommodation is cheaper the further inland you go along Highway #278. The closer you get to the bridges and Hilton Head, the more congested roads become. If you plan to drive onto the island, plan your “assault” for very early in the morning - or late at night. Always write for a comprehensive package of travel information before leaving home.
IF YOU GO:
P.O. Box 910
Beaufort, S.C. 29901
Beaufort, S.C. 29092
Parris Island, S.C. 29905
St. Helena Island, S.C. 29920
St. Helena Island, S.C. 29920
P.O. Box 126
St. Helena Island, S.C. 29920
St. Helena Island, S.C. 29920
Hunting Island, S.C. 29920
Hilton Head Island, S.C. 29938
Hilton Head, S.C.
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