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In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, an hour drive from Charleston is Edisto Island. Time has virtually stood still on this small, barrier island. You won’t find any high-rises or hotels–there are none. The island has a handful of decent restaurants, a couple of beach item shops, one grocery store, a seafood market, one farm stand, and a gas station/convenience store. The only big brand name on the island is Wyndham, which runs time-share condominiums and a golf course.
The two-lane, Route 174 is the only way on and off the island. Traffic lights don’t exist and golf carts are allowed on the road. Bike lanes abound. The drive along the main road is flanked by acres of marshland with tall grass growing and the occasional egrets hidden in the grass. Massive live oak trees adorned by Spanish moss line the roads creating a welcoming canopy of branches overhead.
You will find is a quiet island with a fabulous beach, stretching from the ocean to around the horn to the sound. It’s a place where the popular mode of transportation is not a car, but a golf cart or bicycle. Kids can roam around unaccompanied on their bikes, go for ice cream or just walk around without worry. We knew this would be a perfect getaway for our family. We didn’t want the crowds of Hilton Head or the ritz of Kiawah Island. Edisto was our ideal location. We rented a house a block from the beach for a week. We packed the car, strapped the bikes to the bike rack, put the kids and dogs in the car, and started our 9-hour road trip from Baltimore. Destination: a week of relaxation mixed with some exploration.
Saltwater Eco Tours
If there is one tour you should do in Edisto, The Saltwater Eco Tour is it. Saltwater Eco Tours explores the Ace Basin, comprised of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers. Captain Philip, the owner, is well-versed and passionate about the area. A wealth of information, he is excited to share with those on his trip. His professional background is geology, and he is also a certified naturalist.
We reserved a 3-hour tour of the Ashepoo River but, due to weather, we had to change it to the Edisto River. We were in no way disappointed by our change. The trip took us through the marine landscape of the Lowcountry. Along the way we encountered dolphins swimming next to the boat, discovered some migrating birds, and learned a great deal about the flora of the region. Seeing the Lowcountry of South Carolina from the water gave it an entire new perspective. We would have never been able to see the migratory birds hiding in the grasses nor have such a close encounter of dolphins. The Saltwater Eco Tour outfitter is a great way to really immerse and learn about the river basin.
Edisto Beach Shrimp Boat Charters
We wanted to give our kids a chance to see how the wild shrimp are caught and brought to the plate. We booked a morning shrimping and fishing with Edisto Beach Shrimp Boat Charters. Captain Clif skippers the Miss Ellen, a miniature shrimp trawler built especially for tours.
We booked for a morning of fishing and shrimping. Captain Clif warned us that were a little bit early in the shrimp season and that we would, most likely, not catch a big haul of shrimp. Since we didn’t know when we would have the chance to go shrimping again, we were okay with the possibility of a lean catch. Once offshore, Captain Clif and his mate (his son) released the shrimp net (a trawl) and let it hit the bottom. The net scraped the bottom of the ocean for 15 minutes before they hauled it up.
I didn’t expect much of a catch, but what came up in the net caught me off guard. The amount of bycatch caught, other fish that came in with the net, was a bit shocking. There were rays, fish, crabs, and some jellyfish. What was even more upsetting is that instead of throwing the other fish back immediately, the captain and his son dragged their feet while the fish flopped around on the deck. They eventually were thrown back in, but it may have been too late for them to survive. It was an eye-opening experience of how much ecological impact shrimping has.
In the end, we were able to take home about 2 dozen shrimp, which I guess was good for the season. We sauteed them in butter and garlic. Because they were just caught, the meat was sweet and extremely tender. I have never had a chance to try same-day, fresh caught shrimp. It was a treat.
Botany Bay Plantation
The Botany Bay Plantation is a wildlife and heritage preserve located right outside of Edisto Beach, on the Island. Although most of the original plantation structures are long-gone, it is definitely worth a visit. Originally the area was used for farming and cotton growing; it is now a wildlife sanctuary with a 6-mile, self-guided tour.
Upon entering the preserve, we drove under massive live oaks, arching over the road. At the first parking lot, we stopped at a small stand with information about the area and a driving guide that we took along with us for the journey. The guide is numbered with descriptions and history of what you will see at each location. The entire drive takes only 15-20 minutes. The pleasant drive provides plenty to see, including the massive live oaks, plenty of birds, and some of the original plantation structures. We even saw an alligator taking in a leisurely swim in one of the swampy pond areas.
After the drive tour we went to visit the beach area, known as Boneyard Beach. The 10-minute walk to the beach from the parking lot gave us a close-up view of the Lowcountry’s grassy marsh areas. We were there during low tide and saw hundreds of oyster beds lining the area. There were hundreds of little crabs scurrying around in the muddy marsh as well.
When we hit the beach, we immediately realized why they called it Boneyard Beach. Sprawled all along the shoreline as far as were could see, were the skeletons of live oak trees. The massive branches were distorted and creeping up from the sand. It was a beautiful and somewhat eerie experience. We took a stroll along the beach, stopping to explore the dead trees and take some photos.
A Day on Edisto Beach
Edisto Island beach wraps around the island with two distinct parts. One is the section of beach on the Atlantic, which is filled with surf. The other is on the sound, which has no waves. During our visit, it was a bit too cold to sit and soak in the sun, but that didn’t stop us from taking the dogs and kids for some great walks along the shore. With its long coastline and few people, Edisto’s beach is a great place to relax and soak up some sun. There are no lifeguards, so make sure to keep an eye on the kids if they plan to swim.
I loved the fact that there were no storefronts or restaurants along the beach (the only exception is a single building with shops and a bar at the start of the beach). There were only dunes and homes. Since it was too cold to sit on the beach, there was no need to bring drinks or food, but I can imagine during the summer months, the beach would be a great spot to camp out for the day with a big picnic and plenty of toys and games to play.
Edisto State Park
Edisto State Park is a great place to take a break from the beach and get on some trails. A total of 4 miles of trail snake through the park, with some leading to the Edisto River. The cost for visiting the trail is $8/per person. Pets are allowed. We walked a total of 2 ½ miles of trail, starting on Spanish Mount Trail and taking Scotts Creek trail back to our car. These are easy trails, all flat; you can also bike on them. Throughout the trails, we saw plenty of massive live oaks, some shore birds, egrets, snowy egrets and some hawks. Our walk was peaceful, with only a few other people. We passed swampy areas as well as walking by some of the marshy grass areas. It’s a nice and easy walk and made us feel like we were in the wilds of the Lowcountry.
Experiencing a Lowcountry boil
A visit to the Lowcountry should not go without trying a Lowcountry boil. We love seafood and when we read about this dish, we knew we had to give it a try. A Lowcountry boil is a dish consisting of corn on the cob, mild sausage, red potatoes and shrimp, lots of shrimp and crab if in season. The dish is boiled with seasoning and water. Unlike a bouillabaisse, the liquid is drained prior to eating. It is best served while hot. Prepare to get a bit messy, we did, but it is totally worth it. Flower Seafood Company has a food truck behind its store, which serves prepared food as well as boils. Call ahead with your order.
We decided to visit the Magnolia Plantation after learning about its famous romantic gardens. The plantation is about an hour from Edisto (in suburban Charleston) and is great for a morning outing. We bought tickets which included a visit through gardens, a tour of the house, and a self-guided swamp tour. Unfortunately, we couldn’t experience the enslaved quarter tour, as it was fully booked. We walked around the gardens for a bit before our timed house tour. The gardens were wonderfully curated. Our kids quickly discovered the peacocks roaming the around which, of course, took their attention off anything but the peacocks.
The house tour, although interesting and well detailed, did not hold the kids’ attention for long. They just went through the motion of going from room to room, while staring off somewhere else.
After visiting the home, we got in the car and drove to the plantation’s swamp tour. The entire area takes about 40 minutes to walk through. A wooden boardwalk is elevated over the swamp. It was quiet and beautiful, and the only noise came from the occasional passing bird. As we went deeper into the swamp, we did come across a lake. Here we saw an amazing amount of wildlife. There were egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, turtles, alligators and some little lizards. We stopped for a while to observe before finishing the tour. I do recommend this part of the plantation, especially if you love wildlife.
A Day in Charleston
We decided to spend a day visiting to Charleston. While I researched activities, my husband planned the day around food. He also insisted on bringing the dogs, which limited the things we could do. We still made the best of our day and fit in a lot.
Our first stop was a barbeque restaurant a little bit outside of downtown, called Rodney Scott. Rodney Scott is one of the very few barbecue shops that is a James Beard award winner; here it’s for Best Chef, Southeast. We knew we couldn’t miss it while visiting Charlotte. Rodney Scott is known for his experience of cooking the whole hog and cooking it evenly and to perfection. It is a labor of love rooted in tradition and family history to cook a large, splayed hog over hot coals.
Where we live, we can’t find good barbeque. We all went hog wild (sorry, couldn’t help the pun) and ordered the whole hog plate as well as the brisket. The plate is an 8oz serving of pork along with two sides, 2 slices of white bread, and finished with a bit of barbeque sauce on the side. I happen to love the barbeque sauce for its tangy vinegar spice. My husband is from Texas and insists that barbeque is eaten without sauce. We ate outdoors with our two dogs. The meat was tender and smokey. Interestingly, the brisket was also pulled. The sides were all perfectly cooked and seasoned. We devoured our plates and finished off with banana pudding.
After our lunch, we headed downtown to explore Charleston. We booked a tour but had some time prior. To pass the time we walked through the historic downtown, looking at the beautiful and massive mansions that overlooked the water. We also stopped to admire Rainbow Row, which is a row of homes brightly painted in all colors. We shopped a little and rested at an outdoor café until our tour.
Lost Stories of Black Charleston
Charleston has many wonderful, historic tours both on foot and on horse and carriage. Many tell stories of Charleston’s past, take visitors through hidden alleyways, and point out historic homes. The Lost Stories of Black Charleston, a truly unique tour, tells the stories of black Charleston that are typically left out of the books. Damon Fordham, the tour guide, is a writer/author, historian, teacher, and licensed tour guide. His tour tells the history of heroes and heroines both pre and post-reconstruction. He also traces his family back to Charleston’s beginnings, weaving his ancestors in and out of some of his stories.
Professor Fordham walks throughout the city relating his stories to locations throughout the city. In total, it is a 2-hour tour with a bathroom break. I recommend this for older children. Our youngest is 11 and was fully engaged. Younger kids may lose attention rather quickly. These stories keep alive a past that has not received enough attention and acknowledgment.
We finished our day in Charleston by eating outdoors at The Ordinary. The Ordinary dedicates its menu to serving local, fresh, and high-quality seafood. We definitely took advantage of this by starting off our meal with the largest seafood platter they had. Our daughter devoured the oysters, our son ate the lobster in seconds, and we enjoyed with clams, mussels, smoked fish pate, and snapper ponzu. Everything was fresh and well-crafted.
I really wanted to visit the McLeod Plantation. Its focus is on the enslaved people and descendants who lived there, worked the fields, built the houses, and managed the property. Up until 1990, some of the descendants of the freed people still lived in the tenant homes on the property. The day we went, there was a storm headed towards Charleston with the potential for tornadoes. The plantation decided to close early. We managed to get in for the 30-minutes before closing, but we were not able to do the tour. This is a prime example of how things don’t always go as planned while traveling, but you make the best of it.
Bicycling on Edisto
Edisto Island is the perfect place to take a bike out for a ride. The island even has bike paths throughout. Most people on the island are either riding a bike or taking a golf cart out to get around. We brought our bikes and felt completely comfortable sending the kids out to ride their bikes to get ice-cream. They rode bikes the entire time without worry about busy roads and lots of traffic. It was a great way for them to discover the island and have that sense of independence.
Looking for more small beach town ideas, then you may want to check out 8 Awesome Family-Friendly Small Beach Towns In The USA for inspiration on where to go for your next beach vacation.
Where to Eat on Edisto Island
Don’t expect Michelin star restaurants on Edisto or a great variety of places to eat. You won’t find it. What you will find are a handful of local eateries serving up good, comfort type food. We ate at a couple restaurants but did many meals at the rental home. Some were not open, and some did not have outdoor seating. It was Covid, we were only eating outdoors at the time.
McConkeys Jungle Shack
We ate lunch at this small, friendly, beach shack restaurant. The kids met us there on their bikes; we walked and we brought the dogs along. The deck was small and comfortable with plenty of room for the dogs.
The service was great, and the food came out quickly–important when you have young kids. McConkeys is a burger/sandwich place also serving fried seafood. Kids ordered seafood and we ordered sandwiches. It was a solid meal, and the portions were on the larger side. Overall, it’s a great place for an easy, quick, but good meal.
The night we ate at the SeaCow seemed to be an off night for the place. Maybe they weren’t ready for the amount of people during the off-season. The SeaCow is another restaurant that offers sandwiches, an array of seafood, both grilled and fried as well and entrees. Although pleasant, the order was messed up and food came out slowly. The deck wraps around the restaurant with plenty of seating. I can imagine in the summer it is a great place to eat outdoors. However, when we went it wasn’t so great.
Whaleys seems like a local, neighborhood bar/restaurant that has been on Edisto Island for years. Our rental home was across the street from Whaleys. The night we arrived, we were tired from driving 9 hours and wanted to grab a bite to eat.
We sat outside, but quickly were informed they weren’t serving the outdoor tables. They offered us indoor seating. It was Covid. It was packed inside. We decided to order to go. We put the order in and went to our house to wait. They never called. After an hour, I went to check. They forgot to put in our order. That was my first impression of Whaleys.
We gave Whaleys another try after our shrimping expedition. We were tired and hungry and wanted to go back to the house. My husband was a bit sick from the shrimp boat and the kids were hungry. I went to Whaleys to put in a lunch order to go. Second time was a better experience. We ordered a shrimp BLT, burger, and more fried shrimp. It was ready within 15 minutes, and the food was rather good. The seafood fresh, my BLT was large with large shrimp and the burger was solid and cooked to order.
Ella & Ollies
This is one of the nicer restaurants on Edisto Island. The interior of the restaurant was set with candles, nice tableware and comfortable wood chairs. We however were eating outdoors. The outdoor patio was not quite as nice. It was bare, plastic chairs, and not very spacious. A bit surprising after seeing the interior of the restaurant. We had to wait a bit for service. Once someone did come, the service was consistent and good. We split some pizzas to start followed by an array of entrees. Overall, the food was good, but no wow factor.