The charming town of Bluffton, South Carolina, hugging the banks of the May River, is rapidly growing in population and popularity. In 2000, just three thousand people lived here; today, over twenty thousand call it home. But an unshakable sense of place, responsible leadership, and affable welcoming natives, eager to educate newcomers on the region’s history and traditions, have allowed the hauntingly beautiful Lowcountry village to safeguard its pleasing small-town appeal. Add to that dreamy coastal good looks, historic architecture, an abundance of locally owned shops, restaurants, and galleries, as well as the world-class resort Montage Palmetto Bluff, which is so thoughtfully integrated into the pristine landscape, and Bluffton makes for an ideal couple’s escape.
Join G&G as we tag along with photographer Olivia Rae James and her husband, Blake, seeking out a little Lowcountry R&R.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Though this Old Town white-tablecloth restaurant is one of the town’s most formal establishments, dining at a table in the cozy forty-eight-seat dining room makes you feel like you snagged an invite to the liveliest dinner party in town. Go light and try the bucatini with clams along with plates of seasonal veggies. Or if you’re really hungry, there’s a thirty-two-ounce porterhouse for two.
Pull up a seat on the wide shady porch at this charming nineteenth-century home turned café for a hearty breakfast scramble and a house-roasted coffee. Or swing by post-lunch for full afternoon tea or a grab-and-go pastry.
A local favorite, this family-owned May River Road coffeehouse stays packed and is beloved for its pour-over coffees that are roasted in-house daily as well as the all-day brunch menu. Try the bacon basil biscuit sandwich—you won’t regret a single bite.
Owners Leah and Ryan McCarthy recently relocated this Bluffton favorite to May River Road, adding an indoor/outdoor event space to the old-school deli. If you rent a house instead of going the resort route, ask about the private chef services.
This contemporary take on the classic meat-and-three serves lunch and dinner. It also maintains a masterful cocktail menu. Feeling adventurous? Sip on the tangy Wild Shiso & Strawberry Shrub made with Nolet’s gin, kombucha, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, and cucumber.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
At the end of Wharf Street on the May River, the Toomer family still operates the last hand-shucking oyster factory in South Carolina and sells more than a dozen species of local fish, caught daily—flounder, red snapper, golden tilefish, mahi-mahi, grouper. The nearby restaurant is no-frills but serves heaping plates of peel-and-eat South Carolina shrimp and oysters on the half shell.
Make your visit a long weekend, and browse the Thursday Farmers Market in Old Town along Calhoun and Lawrence Streets. You’ll find seasonal produce from local growers as well as provisions such as Rio Bertolini’s fresh handmade Lowcountry pastas.
Built circa 1870 by freedman Cyrus Garvin, this beautifully restored Old Town home, which sits on a bluff overlooking the May River, is an expertly preserved example of nineteenth-century Lowcountry vernacular architecture and one of the oldest remaining freedman homes in the area.
Kayaking on the May River
You haven’t really experienced life in Bluffton until you get out on the water. If you’re staying at Palmetto Bluff, the folks there can hook you up with a guide from Outside Palmetto Bluff outfitters to kayak the May River salt marshes and tidal creeks. There are also plenty of guide services in town.
WHERE TO STAY
Situated on 20,000 largely undeveloped waterfront acres, this world-class conservation-minded resort offers several ways to explore the Lowcountry landscape—on foot or by boat—and is less than a twenty-minute drive from Old Town. Or check out May River Excursions, which runs a water taxi between town and the resort.
You can book a charming room at this remarkable inn or reserve an entire house on the sprawling property—both perfect options for your next weekend getaway.