So you're coming to Charleston on vacation and want to venture off the beaten path a little? There are lots of nearby communities filled with adventures you'll only find in small-town South Carolina.
Here are five that will show you another side of the Lowcountry.
Moncks Corner is home to Mepkin Abbey, the monastery of a community of Trappist monks who live in silence and work their farm. The beautifully landscaped grounds, located at 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road, overlook the Cooper River. The gardens are open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the church is only open for guided tours at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdaay and Saturday. For more information, call (843) 761-8509.
Another great place to commune with nature is Cypress Gardens, 3030 Cypress Gardens Road. It's open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 with discounts for seniors and children. See a blackwater cypress swamp up close, get a look at all stages of a butterfly's life and walk along 3 miles of hiking trails. Details: Call (843) 553-0515.
Experience the area's wildlife at these three Awendaw destinations:
The Center for Birds of Prey, 4872 Seewee Road; (843) 971-7474. Open 10 a.m. to 1 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.
Francis Marion National Forest, 5821 U.S. 17; (843) 928-3368. Located in the coastal plain of South Carolina, the forest is home to a variety of species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
Get a taste of the Lowcountry in Walterboro at Dukes Barbecue, 949 Robertson Blvd; (843) 549-1446. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Duke's plays to all South Carolina barbecue tastes by offering all four major sauce types.
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, with 300 juried artists displaying their wares in a variety of mediums. There also are a dozen antique shops, including Antiques & Collectibles of Walterboro, (843) 549-7219, 220 E. Washington St., and Washington Street Antiques, (843) 549-5527, 322 E. Washington St.
Shopping is truly a pleasure in downtown Summerville, "the birthplace of sweet tea." Check out People, Places & Quilts, 129 W. Richardson Ave., (843) 871-8872. This quaint shop, featuring locally made folk art and old and new quilts. is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
More of a crossroads than a town, Ridgeville is home to Givhans Ferry State Park, 746 Givhans Ferry Road, (843) 873-0692. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours during Daylight Savings Time. Overlooking the Edisto River, this park offers access to the 56-mile Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail. There's also a mountain bike trail and campground. Rustic cabins are available for rent.