Beaufort County, SC –Something for Everyone
View from our "house" on Fripp Island
Each day is beautiful and each day is unique. With the sun was shining, my husband and I sipped wine while motoring silently along the narrow tree-shaded canals of Hilton Head Island in an electric boat. Another day we walked along the beach on Fripp Island with the incoming tide gently washing away our footprints. Still another day we watched young recruits at Parris Island being ordered to "Stand on those yellow footprints." Yet another day we visited Penn Center where the world seemed to have stopped generations ago. Our last day we wandered the streets of historic Beaufort admiring the antebellum homes nestled under ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Each day was wonderful, each day was different, and we never left Beaufort County. With the South Carolina Low Country’s natural beauty, mild climate, interesting mix of cultures, and slow pace no wonder it attracts visitors from near and far.
That’s all one has to say. The very words conjure up visions of luxury. Hilton Head is the "perfect" place. Everything is built in harmony with nature. No buildings are higher than the trees and there are no billboards assault one’s view. Malls are discretely hidden behind lush vegetation. Housing developments are referred to in genteel terms as "plantations." The gated plantations are planned keeping both esthetics and convenience in mind. The roads meander past well-landscaped properties that border a canal or one of the many golf courses. The hotels are some of the best in the world plus there are furnished homes for rent. Even the 12 miles of glistening sand beaches seems designed for those who want to be seen walking the beach but don’t want to get sandy. The sand is firm enough to ride a bike along. It is a beautiful place for beautiful people.
No less exclusive but not as costly or busy, Fripp Island is often overshadowed by Hilton Head. Crossing the bridge to Fripp Island is to enter the sublime world of sun, sand, sea, and golf. With miles of beaches, award-winning golf courses, plus tennis courts, fishing, and kayaking there is something to please even the most discriminating person. The best pastime is doing little or nothing: walking along the beach, enjoying a good book around the pool, watching the ever-changing ocean, spotting a Snowy White Egret catch his dinner, then taking the ubiquitous – and quiet – golf carts to one of the many restaurants for dinner.
There are a plethora of accommodation options from those located on the beach, the canal, or golf course with some suitable for a couple looking for a romantic getaway and others are fully equipped houses that accommodate dozens. The posh houses are perfect for a wedding party, family reunions, gal or guy getaway weekends, or corporate team building. One of the best perks for families is Camp Fripp where children from 3 – 12 can enjoy and learn with special programs that range from Survivor Day to Nature Day.
Offshore fishing for sailfish, mahi-mahi, grouper, and snapper along with inshore fishing for flounder, trout, and tarpon can be arranged at the marina store along with Sunset and Dolphin Cruises.
Just minutes from exclusive Fripp Island is Hunting Island State Park, one of the most popular state parks and beach areas in South Carolina. Hunting Island is not just another beach it is a nature and wildlife paradise. The pristine sandy beach, natural setting, and warm Atlantic Ocean makes it perfect for camping or renting a cabin right on the beach. With an historic 1859-lighthouse, lagoon, fishing pier, wide sweeping beach, and nature trails it is a "kick-back" place for the whole family.
South Carolina's first European settlement was in Beaufort. In French "beau" means beautiful and beautiful it is. It survived the civil war and so did the beautiful southern homes. The waterfront is designed for a leisurely stroll and for sitting in one of the swings watching the sunset. The main street is lined with trendy boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. First visited by the Spanish in 1520, Beaufort was the site of the first fort on the North American continent. A walking tour of Beaufort is a trip through history from St. Helena's Episcopal Church that traces its origin back to 1712 to the oldest house built in 1717 to antebellum mansions.
There are other quaint villages waiting to be explored. Located just across the bridge from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton sits on a bluff overlooking the beautiful May River. Antebellum homes, historic churches and unique shops line the moss-shaded streets of the historic district. Once it was the private summering place for plantation owners, today Bluffton attracts scholars, artists, musicians, writers, and tourists looking for a slow-paced ambiance. Port Royal is still a sleepy fishing port where one may dine at a restaurant while watching the boats arrive with the catch of the day.
In the words of the Gullah people—"when oonuh dey yuh, oonuh dey home"—or "when you are here, you are home." The Gullahs are the local African-Americans with their own distinctive culture. So close to Hilton Head but a whole mindset away, Penn Center is midway between Beaufort and Fripp Island. It is a place that seems stalled in a quieter and different time. Scattered under the massive live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, Penn Center is one of the most significant African-American historical and cultural institutions. It is where the first black school in America was established in 1862. The National Historic Landmark is a campus of nineteen buildings including the York W. Bailey Museum founded in 1971 to interpret the history of Penn School and to share the cultural legacy of the Sea Islands. Located in the Cope Industrial Building, the museum features an excellent video introduction and a permanent exhibition, "Education for Freedom," which tells the story of Penn School and its history.
Are you one of the few? If so you can get a free stay in Beaufort County by signing up to be one of the few – a marine where some of the first words you will hear will be, "Stand on those yellow footprints." Marines were first stationed on Parris Island in 1891, in the form of a small security detachment, and by 1915 Parris Island was officially designated a Marine Corps Recruit Depot and training center. It has continued and grown. Today about 18,000 recruits are trained at Parris Island each year including 1500 women. Visitors will find a newly remodeled museum where every artifact tells a story and a guided bus tour that explains the facility, operation, and the life of the marines stationed at Parris Island.
Water, water, everywhere… and the eatin’ is good! Local specialties include crab cakes, she-crab soup, and Frogmore Stew, a hearty Low Country concoction of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, and corn on the cob boiled together to make a one-dish meal. Great restaurants are everywhere. At the 11th Street Dockside Restaurant in Port Royal watch the fishing boats bring in the catch of day, at the Old Oyster Factory on Hilton Head Island the oyster beds are in view at low tide, and enjoy alfresco dining on the deck at Kathleen’s Grille in Beaufort watching the sunset then head inside for live music.
Quoting Pat Conroy, author of "Prince of Tides" and Fripp Island resident: "Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers, that the mind can never break off from the journey." This is especially true of Beaufort County where the visions will remain fresh in the quiet chambers of your mind.