Last weekend I turned 30 years old. To help me celebrate, my sister met me in Charleston. From there, we worked our way through South Carolina’s lowcountry to Savannah, Georgia, and back. The weekend could not have been the same without recommendations from friends with local knowledge. Now, I will pass these tidbits on to you with the lowdown on the lowcountry.
Day 1- Charleston
With a polar vortex in the Midwest, we’d been worried my sister would have trouble escaping Chicago. But, she arrived without a hitch and we kicked off the trip on King street in Charleston. Having recently gone wine tasting in Asheville, I was feeling confident as we stepped into a wine bar. But, when I couldn’t even get the menu right-side up, it was clear that I am still no sommelier. So I cheated and got one of the only possible cocktails there, a yummy sangria-like concoction. No swirling or sniffing required. Maybe I’ll nail that in the next decade.
It’s already obvious I’m going to talk about food in this blog post more so than any other. So I ought to point out that for two whole decades, I was a strict vegetarian. A couple months ago, however, I started adding seafood into my life. Maybe this was my mid life crisis. I mean, I am 30 now. Being in the lowcountry, seafood was of course on every menu. Beginning with a paella on this first night at Barsa lounge. Mostly I wanted to go here because they had live jazz music playing. But the paella was certainly tasty.
We decided to use Airbnbs on this trip and the best part of our first one was making friends with the dog. My poor cat, by the way, got left behind in the camper further inland. I adopted Olive way back on my 17th birthday. So I felt kinda bad that she was spending our anniversary alone, but I did enlist a cat-sitter.
Day 2- Island hopping
Mature, moss draped oak trees are iconic for this part of the south. Our first stop out of Charleston was the Angel Oak. It’s hard to get the scope of this beast in the frame of a photo, so I’ll quote the internet and tell you the shade cover produced by just this tree alone covers 17, 200 square feet.
We got a tasty brunch at Beaufort Bread Company on our way to Hunting Island State Park. Here, you’ve got three different habit types within strolling distance of each other. There’s marsh, maritime forest, and of course the beach. If you are a bird watching nut, then you probably would have had a ball here. Cardinals and tweety birds, herons, egrets, duck thingies, cormorant thingies, and bald eagles were all easy to spot on the island. Squint, and you might see one of each in the lagoon picture below.
The sky cleared and the sun came out at the perfect moment for my beach combing goal to be achieved. My friend had advised to look closely for fossil shark teeth. If I hadn’t known what to look for, these would have blended in to the surrounding shell fragments. We found 17!
Just over the bridge from the state park was Johnson Creek Tavern. This was the real deal. We ordered a bucket of do-it-yourself oysters. Generally, I refuse to take pictures of my plate of food. I don’t want to be that kind of blogger. But since our oysters came in a bucket, not a plate, I’m making an exception. I think you need to get a sense of the authenticity here.
While we ate a lot of fancy foods on the other days of our trip, I don’t think anything could quite compare to this meal. You’d think, being very freshly pescatarian, you would think I would have been squeamish. Actually, I had great fun wrestling the blobs out of their shells. I felt like a raccoon.
Day 3- Savannah
Upon waking up in Beaufort at our second Airbnb, we got breakfast at the Carolina Cider Company. We then took our time on the scenic route travelling south through more of the lowcountry. We stopped at the Heyward House in Bluffton. The docent told us not only about the former inhabitants of the household and plantations, but about her own Gullah heritage too.
Before entering Savannah itself, we had one more stop at Wormsloe Historic Site. This said to be the oldest (1745) standing structure in Savannah, but I think that’s a pretty loose definition of “standing structure”. The walls, in ruins, are made of a cement-like mixture called “tabby”. You can see the main ingredient, oyster shells, sticking out. These were sourced from heaps of old shells discarded by Native Americans. We could still see these heaps near the site. Wormsloe is also famous for it’s mile long entry shaded by rows of more of those iconic moss-draped oaks.
In Savannah we walked into downtown for “afternoon tea” at the Gryphon. This venue was an old time pharmacy, then a library, now turned tea room. So the vibe inside was almost Harry Potter-esque. Especially since its staffed by students in uniforms (from the art college across the street).
I just heard on Georgia Public Radio that tourism in the state is a six billion dollar industry. I am curious how much of that is from Savannah alone. Downtown Savannah allows open containers, and it’s very walkable and dotted with pretty parks. Needless to say, we saw several bachelorette parties. We even made friends with some girl-scouts-turned-bridesmaids in front of the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace. The city is chock full of more famous places.
Somewhere around here is the bench Forrest Gump sat on to contemplate life and chocolate. We probably walked right past it, because we walked everywhere. Eventually, we walked ourselves into happy hour at a prohibition inspired bar. There my sister managed to persuaded me to try an oyster that was still raw…. what is wrong with me…
Day 4- Back to Charleston
Our Savannah Airbnb was my favorite. We had the third floor of an 1870’s Victorian house. Our room had a bonus- a turret! I enjoyed my cup of coffee in here watching the rain in the morning. But, we had to seize the day and head back to Charleston. This time we took the more direct route inland instead of island hopping.
At our breakfast destination, The Hominy Grill, parking and seating were cutthroat. For good reason, as the food was excellent. As we waddled around downtown Charleston afterwards, we thought we may have overstuffed ourselves. Or maybe we were just tired from a full plate of activities. In any case, we lost steam for traipsing the old neighborhoods and admiring architecture and secret gardens. Instead, we went into another museum.
This was the Old Slave Mart Museum. While it was extremely depressing to read the interpretative displays about oppression and exploitation of millions of people, I thought this was an important part of the city’s history to understand. Charleston was the main entry point for slave ships. After foreign trade halted in 1808, it remained a center for the slave trade then in place in the country. Without writing an essay on this, I’ll just point out that this went on to influence the economic and political events of the entire nation. South Carolina was, afterall, the first state to secede from the union.
Right nearby this museum, we passed a house that had been in the same family for 10 generations. That’s a lot. My family has some “lore” but I don’t think I can say anything with certainty beyond 5 or 6 generations. On a side note, I received a “23 and Me” kit for my birthday, so maybe I will end up digging into my own history more. But my point is: From this old house and slave mart in Charleston, the shell middens in Savannah, and the still thriving Gullah/Geechee culture throughout the lowcountry, basically this area is loaded with history.
10/10 would recommend
While the weather wasn’t quite peachy, we couldn’t complain- what with a polar vortex happening elsewhere. The sun did pull through for me at the most crucial time- on the beach. I felt like we certainly accomplished the bucket list and had a nice balance of activities. And good eatin’ of course. All the attractions we visited, all the Airbnbs we stayed in, all the food we ate, I would recommend it ALL. My only regret is not taking more/better pictures. But I’ll leave you with one more, featuring a cat.