Life is simple on Edisto Island, and that's just how they like it.
On this laid-back barrier island, a porch swing and pitcher of sweet tea are an afternoon's entertainment. Getting dressed up means slipping into your flip-flops and playing bingo at the Lions Club is a big night in town. Such is life in a place affectionately known as "Edi-slow." For visitors seeking a break from the rat race, it's nirvana. But that doesn't mean you won't find plenty to do here.
Understanding that most people want to spend time sitting on the beach and swimming in the ocean, we've put together an itinerary that includes one activity each day, along with places to eat lunch and dinner.
Welcome to Edisto Island
Located in the pristine ACE Basin, one of the largest wetland ecosystems on the East Coast and one of South Carolina’s most significant and diverse habitats, Edisto Island is a gently developed beach destination. While there are no hotels on the island, visitors will find a selection of beach homes, condos, townhouses and RV parks to choose from.
The renovated cabins at Edisto Beach State Park are another great lodging option. They have all the modern amenities you’d find in a hotel room, including heating and air conditioning, microwave, coffee maker, satellite TV and even wireless internet service. Each cabin has a screened-in porch overlooking the salt marsh, plus a picnic table, fire ring and grill so you can dine al fresco.
Your Edi-slow experience begins along the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway. This beautiful 14-mile long drive will take you through tunnels of ancient live oaks covered in Spanish moss and past expansive marsh vistas with meandering creeks. Keep an eye out for a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, hawks, storks, egrets, turtles, alligators, deer and more.
On your way onto the island, stop at King's Farm Market and pick up a seafood casserole, crab cakes and apple praline pie for dinner. They are ready to pop into the oven and will make your first night at the beach so much easier. They also have fresh produce, eggs, homemade bread and a variety of local products, including fantastic barbecue sauce made on nearby John's Island.
Explore Edisto Island on Bike
Treat yourself to a wonderful brunch at the Waterfront Restaurant and then spend the day getting to know the island on two wheels. If you didn't bring a bicycle, head over to Island Bikes and Outfitters and rent a beach cruiser.
The Edisto Beach Bike Path runs along Jungle Road and will take you through the back side of the beach town past quirky shops, funky restaurants and shaded residential neighborhoods. "Bike Route" signs mark the path at all the turns, so you won't need a map to find your way. It's a great way to scope out things to check out later in the week.
As you explore the island, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that calls Edisto Island and the surrounding waters home, including deer, pelicans, egrets and dolphins.
All Things Reptile
You can't vacation on Edisto Island without visiting the Edisto Island Serpentarium. May through August, you can view every manner of slithering, scaly reptile in outdoor observatories designed to resemble their natural habitats. The menagerie includes snakes, alligators, lizards and turtles.
An indoor, climate-controlled gallery allows visitors to observe the snakes up close behind the safety of low-walled enclosures. Among the featured guests are rattlers, water moccasins, anacondas and a reticulated python—the world's largest snake.
Depending on your point of view, it's either the coolest or creepiest place on the island.
If you're still up for more, the Edisto Historical Museum is just up Highway 174. You can learn about the island's old plantations, cotton farming and blended history of Native Americans, Spanish pirates, English settlers, enslaved African Americans and others who made their lives along the area's marshes and creeks. The museum also has a neat gift shop.
Hungry? Stop for lunch at Flowers Seafood Co. on Highway 174. The family owns several shrimp boats and sells their daily catch from a small roadside building. If you don't feel like cooking, you can buy dinner from their food truck and eat it in the shade of beautiful live oak trees. The fresh-off-the-boat fare includes fried oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp.
The Serpentarium offers several educational programs that allow visitors the chance to ask questions and learn the importance of these reptiles in their natural ecosystems.
Trails, Turtles and Take-Home-Worthy Shells
Breakfast at SeaCOW Eatery will set you up for a day of exploring. Located at 145 Jungle Road, this island institution has perfected the art of casual. Take your time and enjoy the Lowcountry vibe.
Pack a picnic lunch to keep you fueled for a full day of activities at Edisto Beach State Park.
Before you begin exploring the park, check out the Edisto Beach State Park Interpretive Center. Along with interactive displays and touch tanks, the learning center offers a variety of regularly scheduled presentations on the basin's sensitive ecosystem and the wildlife that make their home in the area's marshes, maritime forests and creeks. Among the most popular programs is the sea turtle night walk.
Behind the building is the trailhead for the Bache Trail, a short wooded path to a granite monument erected in 1850 by land surveyors measuring the U.S. coastline from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. The baseline at Edisto—the oldest intact baseline—was the third of seven lines measured by survey director Alexander Bache, great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
On the other side of the learning center is the start of the Big Bay Trail. It leads to the 1.7-mile Spanish Mount Trail. At the intersection of the two trails, take a right to view the namesake 4,000-year-old shell midden. The Spanish Mount Trail also connects to the Scott Creek Trail, offering stunning views of the marsh. Boardwalks allow you to cross the wetlands and walk through a hammock visited regularly by egrets and herons.
After your morning hike, head to the beach section of the park. Shaded picnic benches by the parking area provide a nice spot for lunch. Spend the afternoon swimming, sunbathing and exploring the 1.5 miles of shoreline, known for its take-home worthy seashells and historic fossils.
Loggerhead sea turtles nest along South Carolina’s coastline every year from May to October. Edisto Beach State Park offers educational night walks allowing participants the chance to witness nesting turtles.
See Dolphins on an Ecotour Cruise
If you've been spending any time on the beach at all, you've probably already seen a few dolphins splashing around. Today's the day to see them up close.
Set out on an adventure with Botany Bay Ecotours for a chance to see bottlenose dolphins and learn about the salt marsh habitat of the ACE Basin. It's amazing to watch Lowcountry dolphins swim and feed in the creeks. You're also likely to see herons, pelicans and other wildlife native to the area. These fun and educational tours are a great way to see the Lowcountry in all of its natural glory and learn about the area's history, wildlife and native species.
They also offer Beachcombing—an hour-long walk along the beach learning about shells, how to find fossilized shark’s teeth and identify frequently found mollusks.
For dinner, make a reservation at the Old Post Office Restaurant on Highway 174. The shrimp and grits and "Firecracker Flounder" are a couple of their tried-and-true specialties.
Love being out on the water? Botany Bay Ecotours' sunset cruise is the perfect way to end the day.
Explore Edisto Island’s Botany Bay
Reserve the morning for a visit to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. Located just off Highway 174, this stunning 4,600-acre property has been left undisturbed, providing coastal habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including loggerhead sea turtles, the state-threatened least tern and neotropical songbirds, such as the painted bunting and summer tanager.
Pick up a driving tour guide of the property at the information kiosk near the entrance. The 6.5-mile route starts along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree.
You'll want to make several stops along the self-guided tour to view historic buildings, salt marsh vistas and Boneyard Beach, a unique stretch of coastline featuring the eerie remains of trees that were the victims of erosion.
Enjoy a late lunch at McConkey's Jungle Shack, an island favorite with its painted picnic tables and beach-themed porch. Visitors rave about the shrimp and chips, fish tacos and their famous "fat burger."
It may be the last day of your stay, but that also means it's your last chance to wake up early to watch the sunrise. Spend a little time on the beach before packing up. As you start to make your way off the island, pick up some last-minute souvenirs at some of the local shops, including the Edisto Bookstore and Marsh Hen Mill, a gristmill that makes some of the best grits you’ll ever cook.
Stop back by King's Farm Market on your way off the island to pick up dinner to cook when you get home. You'll be oh-so-glad you did, and it'll make it seem like your vacation lasted just a little bit longer.