The Lowcountry is legendary for its swaying marsh grass of blue, green and purple, teeming sea birds, and shallow calm bays leading to historic coastal towns. This magical waterway connecting South Carolina and Georgia pays tribute to its tragic and triumphant past from plantation life where sea cotton, rice and live oak were harvested in the hot sun, to civil unrest and battlegrounds, to gentile oceanfront retreats. The fascinating stories, the flavors and landmarks, lure you to go slowly to explore the lifestyle, taste the sweet tea and eat succulent shrimp along the way.
In Charleston, you have the modern Ravenel Bridge juxtaposed with enduring forts Sumter and Moultrie. Get off the boat to wander time-revered Rainbow Row's antebellum homes and venture out to historic Middletown Place or Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens. Stroll King Street's glam boutiques with brunch at Halls Chop House, especially on Sunday with live gospel music. On charming Queen Street, Poogan's Porch serves precious she-crab soup amid colonial homes.
Beaufort has a delightful waterfront park right on the ICW leading to Bay Street where you will likely splurge in the upscale local shops before feasting on fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits at Saltus River Grill on the water. To dig deep into Beaufort's past, Janet's Walking History Tour is outstanding, as Janet is ebullient and informative.
Onward to Hilton Head Island, which is well populated but still holds dear Gullah cuisine and traditions from neighboring Daufuskie Island. Harbour Town Yacht Basin at the base of Hilton Head's classic candy-striped lighthouse is an ideal marina with Sea Pines Resort amenities of golf, tennis and the beach club as a bonus. The Salty Dog is the place for happy hour on the docks. Savor the buttery Lowcountry Boil loaded with shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes. Hilton Head's bike paths are perfect with no hills and plentiful shady trees. You can even ride on the hard-packed sand of the 12-mile Atlantic beach.
Savannah is a bustling commercial port but a treasured city to explore on foot. Or better board a trolley tour from River Street to Forsyth Park where moss-draped live oaks provide a delightful canopy. Jones Street is among the prettiest anywhere architecturally. If Charleston epitomizes southern sophistication, then Savannah is her wild stepsister, with livelier bars and a liberal to-go cup drink policy. The 1776 Pink House serves up superb soul food. Evening ghost tours, especially at Halloween, evoke spooky stories along Savannah's spirited (polite word for haunted) avenues.
Slipping deeper south in Georgia, Skidaway, St. Catherine's and Sapelo are lovely low-lying islands surrounded by thick salty sea grass. It can be serene with a soothing ocean breeze or so sticky you long for a tall iced sweet tea.
The Golden Isles are Georgia's famed strand of barrier islands, a boaters' haven just off Brunswick. St. Simons, Sea Island and Jekyll are each unique with gracious hospitality and heaps more legend and lore. The Cloisters is the poshest placed to stay; this elegant exclusive 1928 resort on Sea Island still garners five stars from its fine clientele.
Jekyll Island, just below St. Simons, is a gorgeous island-wide park, with a marina poised right on the ICW, Jekyll Harbor Marina. Designated coquina shell bike paths tour all around Jekyll through live oak forests to plantation remains and the fishing pier, to seemingly endless broad sand beach on Jekyll's oceanside. Roll up your sleeves and feast on yet another Old Bay Lowcountry Boil at Zachry's Riverhouse just off the marina dock. Or sip cocktails at sunset at The Wharf enjoying oysters and fresh snapper. Stay on property at the palatial 1886 Jekyll Island Club, one of the most sophisticated resorts from the gilded age. Play croquet in whites on the sweeping lawn and take a horse-drawn carriage around the splendid campus of impressive old cottages.
The South has soul. Like its Lowcountry cuisine, the land, the sea and the locals are sweet and salty. Their history is proud, their spirit is perseverant, and their hospitality is genuine. With a keen eye and an open agenda, you can witness dolphin, turtles, forts and magnificent mansions, and meet cool people as you pass through this haven of America's southeastern seaboard.
Charleston MOJA Festival
September 30-Oct 10, 2021
Revel in a celebration of African and Caribbean culture.
Beaufort Shrimp Festival
October 1-2, 2021
Join the annual shrimp feast and fest that toasts the region's culinary traditions.
Savannah at Halloween
October is a wicked time in this spirited city with ghost and graveyard walks and haunted plantation tours.
Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival
October 16-24, 2021
Experience the regional cuisine, local history and culture of the area.
Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival
September 14-18, 2021
Sample the regional wines and creations of the area's top culinary talents.
Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance Motoring Festival
November 5-7, 2021
Rev up for an annual gathering of car aficionados.
RSM Classic Golf Tournament
November 15-21, 2021
Join the fun at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons.
Brunswick Fall Festival
The Saturday prior to Halloween every year. Celebrate autumn's best at Waterfront Park and Liberty Ship Plaza.
Holly Jolly Jekyll
November to Christmas
Witness the island-wide celebration of holiday decorations, caroling, lights and sights.
Editor's Note: Several Lowcountry fall events are cancelled in 2021, to return in 2022: Savannah Food & Wine Festival, Gullah/Geechee Seafood Festival on St. Helena Island, and Jekyll's Shrimp & Grits Fest.
Photos by Greg Burke.