A State of Mind: Discovering Old Town Bluffton
Author: Elisabeth Reed
An island, by definition, is a secluded piece of land; separated from the mainland by water. People often escape to an island to get away from their hectic and busy lifestyle. Just to hear the word, “island,” evokes visions of sun, fun and relaxation. Unfortunately, though, even when you live on an island, the needs of the everyday can catch up with you. When residents of Hilton Head Island must venture to Bluffton to take care of such necessities as shopping at Home Depot or Target, the complaints about “crossing the bridge” can be heard throughout the Lowcountry.
As a previous resident of Hilton Head Island, I can attest to the feelings of distress about driving to Bluffton. The seclusion of living on an island had gotten the better of me, and I not only barked about driving to Bluffton but, like other islanders, I even complained about traveling from the north end of Hilton Head to the south end. Perhaps the ocean breezes or too many hours in the sun had gone to my head. We all know that Hilton Head Island is home to people from all over the country and even the world. Why don’t we find it humorous that those of us who commuted an hour to our jobs in Chicago or New York, are now complain about going all the way to Lowes?
Fortunately for me, though, after months of therapy and hundreds of trips back and forth over the bridge, I have seen the error of my ways. I have since moved to Bluffton and must travel this treacherous route every day. As one of the only Celebrate Hilton Head employees living in this faraway land, I feel it is my duty to defend my choice to live off-island.
Making the move
While living on Hilton Head Island a few years ago and talking with a friend about our search to buy a home, she told us about the historic district of Bluffton. “It’s so charming,” she said. “You will love it.”
Unenthused by the long drive ahead of us, nevertheless, my fiancé and I thought we would give “Old Bluffton” a look-see. Prepared for our long trek, we armed ourselves with snacks and water bottles, loaded up the car with a full tank of gas, and headed over the bridge for our adventure to Bluffton. After we recovered from the shock that it took us only 15 minutes to get there, we were thrilled about what we discovered: Behind the 278 corridor of big-box retailers and outlet malls, there was a charming, small town with antique shops, art galleries, historic antebellum homes and local eateries. There was even a majestic, picture-perfect river (with dolphins and all) as the backdrop. Looking for a place to start our life together as husband and wife, we thought, “This is perfect.”
The character of the old town had us sold, but we also liked the idea of living in Bluffton for other reasons—one being the convenient (yes, convenient) location between Hilton Head and Savannah. We thought our weekends would include evenings out in Savannah and days at the beach on the island. To be honest, though, since moving to Bluffton, we rarely find the need to leave. We spend our weekends walking to breakfast, boating on the May River, perusing the local galleries and reading a good book on our front porch swing. We have since discovered what long-time residents of Bluffton have known for years. Bluffton is simple, yet eclectic, relaxing, yet lively, and has a southern charm unfound on Hilton Head Island.
Now, instead of complaining about my drive, I take the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The waterway never loses its novelty as I cross the bridge. Even when stuck in traffic, I think about being stuck in traffic in Ohio, and I realize this isn’t too bad. It is my hope that those islanders reading this will brave Highway 278, head west and discover a different state of mind.
You are bound to have a good time in a town that is home to restaurants and shops with names such as Pepper’s Porch, Squat n’Gobble, Nickel Pumpers and The Store.
Places to eat:
A former herb drying plant, this charming restaurant features not only fabulous Lowcountry fare, it has the best atmosphere in Bluffton with outdoor dining under a towering live oak and a horseshoe pit out front. Meet Simba (the local feline) and grab an ice cream cone at Lickety Split for dessert.
Local Favorite: Carolina Jambalaya or the Crab-Stuffed Grouper
The Bluffton Coffee House
Step into this eclectic coffee shop and you are bound to see a neighbor or friend. Recently expanded, this is a great place to relax and enjoy a cup of joe.
Local favorite: Load up your Bluffton Coffee House card with $ and leave your wallet at home.
The Sippin’ Cow Café
Located along May River Rd. (across from the Piggly Wiggly), Sippin’ Cow food is a staple in any Blufftonian’s diet. For breakfast or lunch, this café is an all-around favorite. Count on running into friends and catching up on the talk of the town.Local favorite: Grilled turkey wrap (key word: grilled!)
Located on Lawton Street (off of Calhoun), this café is a bit hidden—just how we like it—featuring great daily specials, fresh baked breads, cappuccinos and coffees in a quaint Parisian atmosphere.
Local Favorite: While the food is great, locals are most excited that Café Rebecca’s recently acquired its liquor license! What a great place to have a glass of wine.
Bluffton Oyster Company
Residents of the Lowcountry travel from Beaufort and beyond to purchase the freshest catch around. Larry and Tina Toomer have been running the oyster company for years and have perfected the art.
Local Favorite: Yes, there is an “R” in October. Bring on the oysters!
Places to go and things to do:
The Bluffton Sandbar
If you don’t have a boat, find a friend who does; pack up your cooler and head out to the sandbar on the May River. Otherwise known as the “Redneck Riviera,” this strip of sand that appears when the tide goes out, is a Lowcountry experience not to be missed.
Local Tip: Pick up a sandbar bucket o’ chicken from the Squat n’ Gobble to take out on the water.
Calhoun Street and the new Calhoun Street Promenade:
The heartbeat of old Bluffton, Calhoun Street, is home to the third-Friday block parties, Mayfest, the Seafood and Arts Festival and countless parades throughout the year. At the end of the street is the historic Church of the Cross and a panoramic view of the May River—a perfect place for a picnic lunch.
Art galleries: Preston Pottery, Hummel Studios
Shops: The Store, The Complete Home, Sassy Girl, Eggcentricities, Another Store
The new Calhoun Street Promenade is an exciting addition to the historic district. Still under construction, this new area will feature local HHI favorites such as Captain Woody’s and the Plantation Café.
The Heyward House
Built in 1841, the Heyward House is the only house museum in southern Beaufort County open to the public. Enjoy docent guided tours of this historic home and walking tours of old Bluffton.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Saturdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Native Guide Kayak Tours
Go Native! Year-round custom eco, birding kayak tours available. Educational and fun on the beautiful May River, Bluffton SC.
TGI 3rd Friday Block Party
Oct. 13—Beer and Brats Festival
Lots of food and, of course, plenty of beer!
October 23-28—Seafood and Arts Festival
A week of events
For more information, visit www.oldtownbluffton.com.