There’s much more to the South Carolina Lowcountry than just beautiful beaches and championship golf courses. Experience the beauty of this coastal treasure and learn about its history and heritage on a winter road trip to two of its most unique towns—Bluffton and Beaufort.
Located just 45 minutes apart, the two communities offer their own distinctive brand of Southern hospitality with historic downtowns ideal for exploring on foot, especially in the winter when average daytime temps are in the 60s.
Here are some ideas to get you started planning your winter vacation to the Lowcountry.
First Stop: Bluffton
With its breezy setting on the high bluffs overlooking the pristine May River, Bluffton once served as a summer retreat for wealthy area planters. These days, it’s best known for its quirky, laid-back vibe, often referred to as the “Bluffton State of Mind.” A vibrant arts community and burgeoning culinary scene have made it one of South Carolina’s trendiest getaways.
Where to Stay
Old Town Bluffton Inn – Located in the historic city center, this boutique hotel captures the flavor of the tidewater town, from its inviting balconies to its haint blue ceilings.
Where to Dine
FARM – Taking inspiration from the local bounty of fresh seafood and produce, this farm-to-table restaurant lives up to its name.
The Cottage – The quaint and cozy cafe serves up scrumptious food with a side of Southern charm. Inside the restored 1868 cottage or out on the porch, it’s the perfect spot for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea.
The Bluffton Room – For an elegant dinner, you can’t go wrong with the intimate and vibrant atmosphere of this Old Town restaurant. The menu includes table-side preparations graciously served by its well-trained staff.
Roasting Room – In addition to featuring the largest selection of bourbons in the area, the Roasting Room offers live shows performed by local and nationally touring musical acts.
Bluffton Seafood House – Expect some of the freshest seafood in town at this casual restaurant operated by the owners of Bluffton Oyster Factory.
What to Do
Burnt Church Distillery – Billing itself as the “Spirit of the Lowcountry,” this historically minded establishment has a story to tell, along with an exquisite collection of bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka and moonshine.
Bluffton Oyster Company – For more than a century, they’ve been shucking fresh-off-the-boat oysters by hand at this family-run business.
Bluffton Arts District – The unconventional lifestyle that earned Bluffton its reputation as a place you can let your hair down also has lured a growing community of artists.
Grace Motor Tour – Take a drive to Montage Palmetto Bluff and board this 60-foot vintage motor yacht for a tour of the area’s stunning waterways.
Historic Bluffton Walking Tour – Sign up for a guided tour at the Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center to learn about the town’s colorful history and get an up-close view of some its most notable antebellum homes and historic churches.
Second Stop: Beaufort
You’ll be charmed the moment you step foot in this picturesque riverfront city, where the entire downtown is designated a National Historic Landmark. Lined with beautiful antebellum homes and shaded by century-old oaks, Beaufort has retained its old-world sensibilities while evolving into a vibrant community with smart shops, inviting sidewalk cafes and foodie-favored bistros.
Where to Stay
Anchorage 1770 – Overlooking the Beaufort River, this restored tabby mansion has been transformed into a stunning boutique inn with expansive front porches and an open air-deck offering views of the waterfront.
Where to Dine
Blacksheep – You’ll need to book your reservation weeks in advance to snag one of just 14 seats in this intentionally small restaurant everyone is raving about these days. The menu, created by owner and chef Matt Wallace, features 10 items or less and changes every two weeks.
Blackstone’s Café – Serving breakfast, brunch and lunch, this Beaufort institution has been delighting patrons for decades with Lowcountry favorites like shrimp and grits.
Wren Bistro & Bar – Relax in the upscale setting of this hip neighborhood restaurant featuring delectable dishes created with locally grown ingredients. Along with a carefully selected collection of wines, you’ll find unique micro brews on its menu.
Old Bull Tavern – There’s nothing pretentious about this friendly neighborhood gastropub known for its classic American and European comfort foods. While decidedly understated, the atmosphere is sophisticated and cozy.
Q on Bay – You can’t make a trip to South Carolina without indulging in some of its famous barbecue. This spot offers some of the most creative renditions of the classics and the requisite sides, along with spectacular views of the river.
Things to Do
City Tours – Before you set off on your own, get a lay of the land and learn about the area on one of the many tours offered in the downtown district. Go for the quintessential horse-drawn carriage history tour or opt for a walking tour with stops at the film locations of movies like “The Great Santini” and “The Big Chill.”
John Mark Verdier House Museum – As beautiful as they are from the outside, Beaufort’s impressive antebellum homes need to be seen from the inside to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into building them. One of the best examples of Beaufort’s residential architecture is this 1804 home built by a prominent cotton plantation owner.
Gullah Geechee Visitor Center at LyBensons’ Gallery – The original artwork, rare collections, antiques, books, documentaries and exhibits in this little shop offer visitors an introduction to the Gullah culture and lifestyle developed by enslaved West Africans brought to the South Carolina sea island to grow cotton and rice.
Spanish Moss Trail – Rent a bike and take a ride on this 10-mile paved pathway to experience what makes Beaufort so unique among South Carolina’s coastal communities. Set on a peninsula, the town is surrounded by sea islands and vast expanses of salt marsh, creating a spectacular setting for outdoor recreation.
Pat Conroy Literary Center – Beaufort’s favorite adopted son, Pat Conroy fell in love with the seaside town and made it his home until his death in 2016. This intimate museum explores every facet of the life of the best-selling author, acclaimed for books like “Prince of Tides,” “The Great Santini” and “The Water is Wide.”