On Edisto Island: Beach bums for a day

August 2, 2011 

If you are looking for a place where time not only stops, but the hands on your watch seem to move backward, then you need not travel very far from home.

The beach community of Edisto Island has long been a staple of fun in the Lowcountry sun, and a visit will remind you why. In an age when it seems that progress is measured in cleared ground and wi-fi penetration, Edisto Island seems to be enjoying a brisk business in the opposite. Not that the marvels of modern life are not present and accounted for, it is just that they do not seem to matter as much as the feel of sand between your toes or whether the fish are biting. Edisto is a place where you can start your day with a quiet walk on the beach and end it eating ice cream in a video store. A video store. With ice cream.

Edisto Island is another world.

Edisto Island is a neighbor to the north, guarding St. Helena Sound and resting halfway as the crow flies between Bluffton and the city of Charleston. Like most islands in the Lowcountry it has been inhabited for thousands of years with each century bringing its own changes. Native American shell middens are hidden in the maritime forest. Spanish explorers and then English and Colonial ventures made Edisto a home. The plantation south made its mark with magnificent settlements like Botany Bay Plantation and others. But from the earliest days Edisto Island became what it is today: a beach retreat.

For more than 200 years people have come to the island for rest and relaxation. In 1935 a CCC Camp was established that later became Edisto Beach State Park, one of the most popular camping and daytrip destinations in the state. Beach homes sprang up and a vibrant seasonal business has thrived to this day with visitors the world over coming to enjoy a quiet place at the seashore.

Most visitors seem to be of a more local bent, and this is what seems to give Edisto its unique flavor. Recently my family and I enjoyed a daytrip to Edisto Island and were amazed at the relaxed local feel of such a popular beach destination. After a morning of lazily exploring the island and the state park, we enjoyed lunch at the Sea Cow Eatery. The summertime crowd was in full swing as a screen door constantly banged on the porch and the air conditioning roared inside the comfortable dining room. We enjoyed po-boy sandwiches and other coastal fare and quickly fell into conversation with locals who seemed ever ready to talk and share the enjoyment of the day. Proprietors Doug and Lisa White have owned the Sea Cow for six years and said this has been the best year they have ever had. Even in a slower economy and penny-pinching times they are finding success by just being where they are.

"People are driving shorter distances for vacation," Doug says. "We are getting more local people, people from South Carolina and beyond. They are traveling less and visiting places like here that are closer to home." Indeed, the Sea Cow Eatery and other businesses seemed to be hopping. After an afternoon on the beach, my family and I went in search of ice cream and found it at the Island Video and Ice Cream shop. This unlikely combo seemed to play well on Edisto as the crowds flowed in for movies and cool treats on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Edisto is a unique place, but the pace soon gets to you and you learn to go with the flow.

When you visit Edisto Island there will be much to see and do, but mostly it is about relaxing and enjoying the island life. Edisto Beach State Park has camping and cabins for overnight stays and beach houses for rent abound. The Edisto Island Serpentarium will thrill kids of all ages with its collection of reptiles in a well-maintained zoo-like environment, and the Edisto Island Museum will enrich you with the history of the island.

Edisto is bicycle-friendly and family-oriented and well worth a short visit or a long-term stay. After fun on the beach and life on the island, you may wish to stop and take a quiet walk through the historic Edisto Presbyterian Church cemetery and be sure to wave to the curious spectacle of the "Shady Lady" on your way home. This roadside oddity of a hula-girl dressed oak tree can't be missed, and is just one more reason you will remember your visit to Edisto for years to come.

Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@yahoo.com.

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