While only a bridge away from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton offers a different twist on the Lowcountry experience with a funky, let-your-hair-down attitude they proudly call the Bluffton “State of Mind.”
In this eccentric and artsy tidewater town, residents have always marched to the beat of their own drum. Once a summer retreat for wealthy area planters, Bluffton welcomed carpetbaggers after the Civil War when most small Southern towns were shunning the Northern transplants. Just 50 years after the War Between the States, they elected a Yankee as mayor.
Perched on wind-swept bluffs overlooking the pristine May River, Bluffton bills itself as “the last true coastal village of the South.” Here, shrimping is a family affair and freshly harvested oysters are still shucked by hand at the Bluffton Oyster Company on Wharf Street.
In recent years, an eclectic community of artists has set up shop in town, lured by Bluffton’s free-spirited reputation. Many of them can be found in Old Town Bluffton, the one-square-mile National Historic District featuring eight antebellum buildings, among them the 1841 Heyward House.
The museum house, which serves as the town’s official welcome center, offers docent-led tours of the historic district. You can also set off on your own with a self-guided walking tour map of the town’s most prominent historical sites. Be sure to stop at the architecturally unique Church of the Cross set on the bank of the May River.
The well-known Calhoun Street in the historic district is a destination for out-of-the-ordinary shopping with its art studios, antique stores and quirky shops. Foodies are drawn to the historic riverside village for its fantastic array of trendy restaurants offering everything from fine French cuisine to Southern barbecue to farm-to-table fare.
Calhoun Street is also the venue for the extraordinarily popular Bluffton Farmers Market and fun community events like the May River Shrimp Festival, Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival, Bluffton Boiled Peanut Festival and Taste of Bluffton.
While the vibe is decidedly casual, Bluffton offers upscale options, too. The town is home to Palmetto Bluff, a 20,000-acre luxury residential and recreational preserve that includes a Forbes Four-Star Montage resort.