By Debi Lander
Charleston and Savannah rank among the top tourist destinations in the United States and fortunately, they are within driving distance from Jacksonville. Visit these Southern gems if you’ve never been, but unfortunately, they are pricey. It is possible to find some less costly but equally fabulous cities and Lowcountry attractions nearby.
First up, Beaufort, S.C., pronounced as the locals say, “Like beautiful – Beaufort.” Beaufort lies just 40 miles from Savannah and 70 miles from Charleston. The city, founded in 1711, was overtaken by Union troops during the Civil War. The soldiers found the place so lovely, they spared it from destruction. Many of the mansions acted as hospitals. Take a scenic walking or carriage tour past some of the antebellum homes including sites from the iconic Hollywood movies: “The Big Chill,” “The Great Santini” and “Forrest Gump.” Literary fans will enjoy the Pat Conroy tour. The Arsenal looks like a castle with gothic church windows, and the downtown restaurant scene oozes southern hospitality and excellent seafood.
Georgetown, close to Pawleys Island, became one of the most interesting small towns I’ve visited. Main or Front Street offers five museums, including a Gullah Museum and the elegant Kaminsky House, circa 1769, on the banks of the Sampit River.
Rice plantations flourished in the area and by 1840, the region produced nearly one-half of the total rice crop of the United States, and the port exported more rice than any port in the world. The local variety called “Carolina Gold” was in demand worldwide. This labor-intensive crop provided great riches for the planters. Rice plantation workers in the South Carolina Lowcountry afforded their masters the highest per capita income in the American colonies, and they continued to earn huge profits up to the Civil War. Eventually, saltwater infiltrated and halted production. Today, Georgetown delights shoppers and its boardwalk/wharf area brings scenic dining opportunities.
Head on to Huntington Beach State Park where Atalaya Castle — not really a castle, but more a folly — is the star. The wealthy and eccentric couple, Archer and Anna Huntington, built the one-story brick structure on more than 9,000 acres. A most unusual construction, the floor, walls and ceiling are all brick. Cool in the summer, but in February when I visited, the place was damp and chilly. Take a guided tour to learn about the Huntingtons and their monkeys and dogs.
Anna Huntington was a famous sculptor, and many of her works are displayed across the highway at Brookgreen Gardens. Brookgreen’s immense property contains more than 2,000 works by 425 artists, and in the words of Wayne Craven, author of the book, “Sculpture in America,” it is “unequaled in its size, focus on figurative works, visibility of the sculpture to the visitor, and integration within a garden setting.” Anna’s Don Quixote is a must-see, modeled from a dying horse she purchased for the project and then nursed back to health.
A visit to Pawleys Island brings you to the southern end of the Hammock Coast and one of the oldest resort areas on the Atlantic Coast. Pawleys Island offers unique waterfront lodging and no mundane trappings or distractions. No businesses dot the island other than its two historic inns that stand alongside a collection of beach homes. Staying on Pawleys Island is indeed a getaway.
Make the drive to the Lowcountry and take time to relax. Enjoy some seafood, a Lowcountry boil and perhaps a praline and tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation, the only one in the United States.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photos courtesy Debi Lander