By Hope S. Philbrick
Bluffton is the sort of town that many visitors to South Carolina’s coast might drive through but otherwise ignore. Don’t make that mistake.
If you like history, local art or just hanging with locals more than other tourists, Bluffton has something for you. Though it’s a worthy destination in its own right, Bluffton is also a great day-trip or overnight stop to add to any visit to Beaufort or Hilton Head Island.
Situated on a high bluff—hence its name—the historic riverfront community overlooks the May River, the picturesque source of the famed Bluffton oysters. Incorporated in 1852, the first town in southern Beaufort County had its heyday during the antebellum period.
Yet today, as it has since the area was home to Yemassee Indians, Bluffton rewards visitors with authentic Lowcountry charm.
What To Do…
Begin your Bluffton visit at Heyward House, the historic farmhouse (circa 1841) in the heart of the National Historic District that serves as the town’s official Welcome Center.
One of only eight antebellum homes to survive the Civil War, this museum is the only historic home in Bluffton that is open to the public. The main house is the fourth-oldest structure remaining in southern Beaufort County and is filled with period pieces from 1840 through the 1920s. Two historical outbuildings are also on the property: an original slave cabin and a summer kitchen.
Guided tours of the house and grounds are offered daily by the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society and reveal compelling facts and legends. Guided walking tours of Old Town Bluffton are also available (by appointment), though you can also pick up maps for self-guided tours along with additional information including local menus, coupons, tickets and more.
Once you’ve toured Heyward House, stroll through Bluffton’s National Historic District and vibrant arts community. Key stops among the 26 historic sites and 27 art galleries and shops include…
Bluffton Oyster Co. is one of South Carolina’s Top 10 oldest continuously-operating businesses plus the oldest cannery factory still operating in the state. The oyster-processing building was constructed in 1940 on the same site as previous oyster factories and is one of the last oyster factories on the East Coast.
A fixture of the May River bluff for over 150 years, Church of the Cross is an historic Gothic Revival-style building and is still in use as an Episcopal parish with services on Saturday and Sunday.
A fine art gallery showcasing a wide variety of works by local artists, Pluff Mudd Art boasts five rooms filled with a selection of paintings, prints, pottery, jewelry, woodwork, sweetgrass baskets and more.
The Society of Bluffton Artists features works by more than 90 local artists, including oil and watercolor paintings, mixed media, acrylic, photography, sculpture and more.
Where To Eat…
This casual restaurant serves traditional Southern cuisine. Menu items may sound comfortable, familiar and commonplace, but these skilled preparations are above-average. Fried chicken rules, but chicken is also available grilled plus you may also be tempted by shrimp, catfish, pork and beef (all available fried or grilled). Platters let you pick two, three or four sides—encourage your dining companions to make different selections so you’ll be able to taste a variety of the options like butterbeans, black-eyed peas, creamed corn, fried okra, mac-n-cheese, sweet potato soufflé and more…all so delicious that even a die-hard carnivore might consider vegetarianism.
Where To Stay…
Holiday Inn Express
35 Bluffton Rd.
Bluffton, SC 29910
This hotel is sparkling clean and boasts guestroom layouts that must have been designed by a frequent traveler, since thoughtful, useful details like handy storage nooks in the bathroom are incorporated. Friendly staffers add to the pleasant experience of staying at this hotel.
- Odds of Encountering Children… Likely, yet with its focus on arts and historical sites rather than a beachfront, Bluffton attracts more adults than families.
- Free Internet access
- Guestrooms have bathtubs
- Hotel has been recently remodeled with all new furniture and equipment
- 32-inch LCD HD TV with free HBO
- Beautyrest bedding
- Microwave and mini refrigerator in all guestrooms
- Complimentary hot breakfast
- Fitness center
- Outdoor pool
- Located approximately 13 miles from I-95
- Near two Tanger Outlets, adjacent to Target, Starbucks, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a grocery store
-Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.