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6/1/2010 Charleston Magazine: Edisto Beach, Easy Does It
Written by Sandy Lang
On the dock behind the Edisto Marina, guitarist Jeff Houts played and sang folky-rock songs while a red-headed toddler danced and a crowd of about 20 people stood near a couple of oyster roast tables. It was a Saturday night an hour or two before sunset at Edisto Beach, and dockmaster Dan Warren was in charge of steaming the oysters. (In the summer, they change up the Saturday night dinners: they might grill fish, have a shrimp boil, or serve up Frogmore stew. ) He chatted with guests between batches. Turns out, he used to live on Folly Beach and says Edisto is “a lot more laid-back, without so much traffic and the bar scene. It’s quieter on this island, much quieter.”
Like, one grocery store quiet. No hotels quiet. And just a handful of restaurants quiet. Edisto is the kind of place where you can sit on the beach near a jetty with little else to do but count the pelicans flying just over the waves—I spotted 17 one morning. Or you can read a paperback, nap on a hammock, or fill your pocket with seashells. Rental houses old and new line the streets of Edisto Beach, and families come back year after year to fill them.
On the drive in along two-lane Highway 174, the anticipation to get there builds, and you can enhance it by slowing down for the Sea Island scenery. At the Hollings National Wildlife Refuge, the Grove Plantation House is one of the few antebellum mansions in the Lowcountry that survived the burning and ransacking of the Civil War. Like a movie set, the house really does have a wide, river-facing porch with tall white columns and is surrounded by moss-draped oaks. Birders treasure the refuge. I talked with a man there who said he’d come to watch the Mississippi kites that swoop and soar overhead. Through his field glasses, he’d also seen indigo buntings, redhead ducks, orioles, and tanagers.
A few miles closer to the beach, visitors can pick up maps in a box at the entrance of the 4,700-acre Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area and take a motor tour—or park and see the place by bicycle. The property includes the ruins of two former plantations, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud. There’s a garden shed with thick oyster tabby walls, a brick beehive-shaped well that’s said to have been built by enslaved Africans in the 1700s, and a tall Gothic Revival-designed ice house. The land itself is naturally stunning with marsh views, freshwater ponds, and deep forests of saw palmetto, pine, and oak.
On the way to weeklong vacation rentals, people often stop at King’s Farm Market for a casserole or a tomato pie to pop in the oven later at the beach house. (Edisto is known for its tomatoes. A few years ago, I watched a young woman be crowned “Tomato Queen” during a festival down near Whaley’s, a tavern on the south end of the beach.) There’s also George & Pink’s, a vegetable stand with dirt floors and local produce and art for sale, including birdhouses painted to look like some of the island’s most historic churches.
Fishing charters leave daily from the marina; and there’s fresh shrimp, crabs, and fish for sale at Edisto Seafood. When I stopped in, huge slabs of fresh snapper gleamed in the refrigerator case, and the staff was cooking up a pot of blue crabs for the rush of customers who, they say, always shows up just before closing.
Then someone suggested going over to Whaley’s for beers at the wooden tables outside, near the old gas pumps. (The former filling station is now a favorite watering hole, complete with pool tables and bacon-wrapped local shrimp.) Why not? The air smelled like salt, there were seashells in my pocket, and like I’d heard a woman say earlier at the island’s tiny post office, “It’s not fancy; it’s Edisto.”
The 68-square-mile island with three miles of beach is known for its family atmosphere, beach house rentals, camping, fishing, and fresh seafood.
Follow Hwy. 17 S about 25 miles, then turn east onto Hwy. 174 and follow it for another 21 miles to Edisto Beach. The final stretch is lined with antebellum plantations, national wildlife refuge land, vegetable farms and produce stands, white-painted churches, and unpaved lanes that dip off into the pinewoods.
Sights & Stops
Along Hwy. 174, there’s the Hollings National Wildlife Refuge and Grove Plantation, Botany Bay Plantation, and the Edisto Island Serpentarium. Po Pigs Bo-B-Q is in a shopping center along the way, and the Old Edisto Post Office (open for dinner) is about five miles before you get to the beach. Fresh produce markets include King’s and George & Pink’s. And once on Edisto Beach, you can pick up necessities at the sole grocery -- a Piggly Wiggly—or head to locals’ favorites like Whaley’s and the Thirsty Fish for drinks, burgers, and seafood or the Sea Cow Eatery, known for its breakfasts.
There are no hotels on Edisto Beach, so beach house rentals or camping at the Edisto Beach State Park is the way to go. The Atwood Agency lists more than 150 rental properties, including many that allow pets. There are also condo and house rentals on the golf course in the Wyndham resort available for weeklong stays.