Located at the southernmost tip of the South Carolina coast lies Bluffton, one of the last true low country villages in the South. With a 40 mile drive separating Bluffton from Tybee Island, Bluffton makes for a convenient day trip for vacationers – a relaxing afternoon break from the lively waters of Tybee.
Experiencing Bluffton means giving into the slow, easygoing pace of coastal living. Locals exhibit a sense of pride in their cultural roots, and Bluffton expertly balances a unique history with a bright artistic present. From local Southern cuisine, art galleries and boutiques, historical architecture, and waterfront views, there are attractions for everyone in Bluffton.
Visit: Bluffton has an uncommon history. Heyward House, circa 1840, is an excellent place to begin exploring Bluffton’s past. The welcome center is centrally located and offers an entertaining tour – stop by, tour the home, and grab a walking tour map when you’re ready to go. The walking tour will guide you through the town at your own pace. A couple of not-to-miss sites on the tour –Seven Oaks and the Church of the Cross.
Settled in the early 1700s but not founded until 1852, Bluffton, South Carolina is recognized as the birthplace of secession.. a significant title for such a small town. In 1844, wealthy planters and merchants met under a large oak to protest the recent tariff increase which had effectively doubled their fees. The secessionist movement was born, prompting South Carolina to become the first state to separate from the Union sixteen years later. Bluffton would pay dearly for its involvement; in the summer of 1863, three quarters of the town were burned to the ground by Union forces.
Bluffton’s present is just as engaging as its past – in fact, it is the fastest growing town in South Carolina, expanding from 1,000 to 12,000 people in the last ten years. Every Thursday afternoon from 2 to 7, Bluffton’s Old Town district is shut down to make way for a weekly Farmer’s Market. Nearby is The Store, with its sloping wooden floors and shelves stocked to the ceiling with quirky finds, and Eggs N Tricities across the street sells curated vintage clothing and housewares.
Bluffton is also home to a well-established art scene, with several galleries featuring artists inspired by the natural beauty and heritage of the South. Jacob Preston Pottery is a shop and studio specializing in hand formed ceramics and porcelain, and the Filling Station Art Gallery offers a peak at low country and Gullah-themed artwork.
The May River waters are beautiful year-round, and the best way to experience them is firsthand. May River Excursions hosts dolphin cruises along the river as well as shrimping and crabbing excursions.
Eat:Cahill’s Market (pronounced Kay Hill’s) on May River Road epitomizes Southern comfort food. Almost everything Cahill’s serves is grown fresh on the premises using natural farming methods, and the business is family-run. The fried chicken is what they are famous for, and for good reason – try it with a waffle or ask for collard greens and okra with stewed tomatoes on the side, and grab a legendary Blenheim ginger ale while you’re at it.
The Cottage is known for its delicious baked goods and lunch offerings. Conveniently located in the center of Old Town on Calhoun Street, the Cottage also serves Afternoon Tea daily from 2 to 5.
While fresh seafood can be elusive at times in Savannah, Bluffton always has the stuff in abundance. Bluffton Oyster Company, now considered a historic landmark, has been hand-shucking oysters since the late 1800s. While visitors can still buy seafood directly from the riverside shucking house, Bluffton Oyster Co. recently opened a restaurant – Bluffton Family Seafood House – to serve its fresh catch, ranging from shrimp to oysters to a dozen varieties of fish. Oysters are the main attraction when in season from September to May. The buttery she-crab soup and seafood gumbo, both low country staples, are also delicious.
Stay: If your day trip turns into an overnight stay, Rose Hill Mansion is an impressive Carpenter Gothic plantation situated on the outskirts of Bluffton, South Carolina. Built in 1858 by wealthy rice planters, the home has since been renovated as a guesthouse and event space – every overnight guest receives a free guided tour of the home. For a splurge, try the Inn at Palmetto Bluff.