So you are coming to Charleston on vacation and want to venture off the beaten path a little? There are lots of nearby small towns filled with adventures you'll only find in small town South Carolina.
Here are five that will welcome you and show you what the Lowcountry is all about.
1. Moncks Corner: You can visit a community of Trappist monks at Mepkin Abbey, 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, (843) 761-8509. Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; guided tours at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. The monks live in silence and work their farm. The abbey offers weeklong and weekend retreats for spiritual renewal.
For communing with nature, check out Cypress Gardens, 3030 Cypress Gardens Road, (843) 553-0515, open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 with discounts for seniors and children. See a black-water cypress swamp up close, get a look at all stages of a butterfly's life or walk along three miles of hiking trails.
2. Awendaw: The Center for Birds of Prey, 4872 Seewee Road, (843) 971-7474, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. This fascinating facility provides medical care for injured raptors but also gives visitors a chance to see birds of prey in a natural setting.
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, 5801 U.S. 17, (843) 928-3264, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, lets you see a variety of wildlife, including red wolves, in their natural habitat.
Francis Marion National Forest, 5821 U.S. 17, (843) 928-3368, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, is home to a variety of species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
3. Walterboro: Get a taste of the Lowcountry in Walterboro at Duke's Barbecue, 949 Robertson Boulevard, (843) 549-1446. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, until 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Duke's plays to all South Carolina barbecue tastes by offering all four major sauce types.
Get a glimpse into history at the Slave Relic Museum, 208 Carn St., (843) 549-9130. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. This museum is located a 19th century house.
And there's shopping downtown. Start at the South Carolina Artisans Center, 318 Wichman St., (843) 549-0011. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, with 250 juried artists displaying their wares in a variety of mediums. There also are a dozen antique shops, including Albert's Attic (843) 549-9221, 545 E. Washington St., Green Lady Gallery (843) 782-4569, 259 E. Washington St. and Lowcountry Antiques (843) 549-2101, 251 E. Washington St.
4. Summerville: This time of year, the best activity in "the birthplace of sweet tea" is shopping. Check out People, Places & Quilts, 129 W. Richardson Ave., (843) 871-8872, open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, for locally made folk art and old and new quilts.
Art Central Gallery, 130 Central Ave., (843) 871-0297, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and offers a a selection of paintings, photography, jewelry, pottery and woodcarving.
5. Ridgeville: More of a crossroads than a town, Ridgeville is home Givhans Ferry State Park, 746 Givhans Ferry Road, (843) 873-0692. Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from April through September; closes earlier during fall and winter weekdays. This park is part of the 56-mile Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail. And while it can be a little chilly for paddling in the winter, there is a mountain bike trail and campground. Rustic cabins are available for rent.