Fly-fishing, Parish Ruins, and Vintage Bikes: The 4-Day Weekend in South Carolina’s Lowcountry

Rural southern road in the South Carolina lowcountry near Charleston
Rural southern road in the South Carolina lowcountry near Charleston  DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images


The novelist Pat Conroy once summarized the Lowcountry and its legendary allure—which has captivated everyone from conquistadores and colonists to cultural lions such as Edgar Allan Poe—as a place that “can rise up and steal your soul with a moment so magical it seems like an exorcism.”

 

Today, the region continues to live up to its near-mythical hype, with white-sand beaches, backwoods cypress forests, antebellum architecture, and enough comfort-food joints in between to fill a lifetime. Its anchor cities, Charleston and Savannah, draw visitors from around the globe, and you can easily make a four-day excursion in each, and perhaps have. Yet taken together, they showcase the best of what the Lowcountry has on tap—and can bookend an adventurous, 100-odd-mile afternoon road trip, filled with wild landscapes, offbeat pit stops, good grub, and gone-era charm, for an entirely new southern experience.

Before you go, some local wisdom: Plan a Wednesday through Saturday trip, since many Lowcountry businesses are closed on Sundays. The beaches, though, are always open, including serene Sullivan’s Island, outside Charleston.

Folly Beach, SC, United States
Robert Loe / Getty Images

Folly Beach, SC, United States

Day 1: Cruising Charleston

There’s no better base camp from which to explore Charleston, South Carolina, a peninsula port city founded in 1670, than the Dewberry. Located on Marion Square, a 10-acre downtown park, the hotel is a mid-century modern jewel in a city best known for colonial mansions. It occupies a converted JFK-era government building with a handsomely restored brick facade, and its spacious, wood-paneled lobby looks straight out of Mad Men. Be sure to snag a piña colada at the Citrus Club, on the rooftop terrace, the highest commercial perch in town. And for city cruising, make use of the hotel’s French-style touring bikes to navigate the live-oak and palmetto–laden historic core.

Daps pancakes in Charleston
Daps pancakes in Charleston Courtesy of Daps

 

But first, breakfast. Charleston rises early, and Daps, on Ashley Avenue, is a welcome newcomer to the morning-dining lineup—and not just because it’s in the emerging cultural hub north of the Crosstown; Daps serves up one of the best stacks of pancakes in the South.

For shopping, you can’t beat Oobe Brand, a menswear staple on lower King Street that specializes in classic American cuts (field coats, fisherman sweaters, trim chinos, selvage denim) and is run by a pair of former Clemson University roommates. From there, it’s on to lunch at 167 Raw, a luxe seafood joint whose Nantucket roots mix perfectly with the fresh catch from local waters. The restaurant’s signature lobster roll is one New England import that locals have near unanimously embraced.

Menswear staple Oobe Brand
Menswear staple Oobe Brand Courtesy of Oobe Brand 161 King

 

Offset the indulgence with an obligatory spin through White Point Garden—at the end of the Battery, a Civil War defensive seawall—which boasts views of Charleston Harbor. Wander the surrounding neighborhoods, to marvel at the 17th-century mansions and old-school row houses, before rounding out the day at Melfi’s, the pizzeria just opened by restaurateurs Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink of Leon’s and Little Jack’s fame. Head a few blocks down to Uptown Social for a nightcap. Along with rotating cocktail specials and local beers, the two-story New York City offshoot features live music and a rooftop bar—a rarity downtown.

Day 2:  Fishing + Folly Beach

After checking out of the Dewberry, fuel up with brunch bowls at Basic Kitchen, then head down to Folly Beach, a half-hour outside Charleston, for a day on the water with Capt. John Irwin of Fly Right Charters. He’s been fishing the Lowcountry flats and marshes for decades and can help even the most novice of fishermen land a serious trophy. The fall “is ideal for hooking trout and redfish on the fly,” he says, since both school up near shore. Fly Right will have just about everything you need to hit the water, but swing by Charleston Angler if you’re looking to score a new rod or reel, or some meaty saltwater flies.

Odds are you’ll be exhausted and grimy after a day of wrangling reds, but no one will care at Folly Beach’s Bowens Island Restaurant, a beachside plywood shack that’s arguably the state’s best seafood joint, where you can grub on crab cakes, fried fish, and fresh oysters. Afterward, check in at the nearby Water’s Edge Inn to avoid rush-hour traffic out of Charleston toward Savannah in the morning.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins
Old Sheldon Church Ruins Daniela Duncan / Getty Images

 

Day 3: Pit Stops + Parish Ruins

Take Highway 17 south toward Georgia. Make your first pit stop in Yemassee, South Carolina, at Caroline Cider Company, to stock up on deep-fried peanuts (to be eaten shell and all) and peach cider—two Lowcountry staples. Next, continue to the nearby Old Sheldon Church Ruins, the remnants of a chapel built in 1745, burned during the Revolutionary War, and burned again during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Located in a grove of Spanish moss–draped oaks, among scattered graves, it’s beautiful, spooky, and totally worth exploring. Then cruise down to Beaufort—a waterfront city known for its antebellum mansions and stroll-worthy downtown—and stop by Old Bull Tavern for a drink before finishing the day trip.

Once in Savannah, check in at Perry Lane Hotel, a brand-new modern retreat in the historic district. There you’ll find Emporium Kitchen, a food hall with locally sourced fare, and Wayward Bar, an old-school haunt with Skee-Ball and arcade machines. Before you try either, though, check out Wyld, a dockside eatery with uber-fresh fish and shellfish, or its sister restaurant, El Coyote, a downtown taco spot.

A bike gets a tune-up at Coastal Empire Moto.
A bike gets a tune-up at Coastal Empire Moto. Courtesy of Coastal Empire Moto

Day 4: Savannah Sights + Vintage Bikes

Savannah is centered around aristocratic urban parks that are best explored by bike. For a convenient rental, the Perry Rubber Bike Shop is just a block away from Perry Lane. And, speaking of bikes, once you have a set of wheels, swing by Coastal Empire Moto, to see the beautifully restored vintage hogs, before heading to the Starland District, a 35-block shopping and hangout hub north of Forsyth Park. And don’t miss V & J Duncan, which stocks rare books, old maps, and other paperbound gems. Finish the trip at Sorry Charlie’s, an oyster institution and a good metaphor for the Lowcountry in general: long on ambience, short on pretense, and filled with adventure and surprising flavors for which you’ll return again and again.