If you’ve never been to the South Carolina coast, you might not have heard of Bluffton — but as South Carolina’s fastest growing town, it’s quickly emerging as the offbeat destination in the heart of the state’s Lowcountry. When you come here, you’ll see for yourself that it’s more than just a place. Blufftonians, whether old-timers or newcomers, will tell you that “Bluffton is a state of mind.”
Located on a bluff overlooking the May River, Old Town Bluffton is a little one-square-mile village of moss-draped, oak-shaded streets, lined with art and antique galleries, boutiques and eateries. And even as the arts, music, and food scenes continue to flourish in Old Town and beyond, Bluffton holds true to its identity. The town is very hospitable, a little whimsical, a little eccentric, and thriving with activity and spirit. Born as a river village, much of life in Bluffton continues to revolve around the river — with water sports and seafood as two of the main attractions.
The town’s seen every era of South Carolina history.
Bluffton history in a nutshell: About 300 years ago, the Native American Yemassee people established villages here, and they eventually migrated to Florida after wars in the early 1700s. Bluffton went on to be settled as a summer retreat by plantation owners in the early 1800s who sought the cooler river breezes and higher ground.
Unfortunately, much of Antebellum Bluffton was lost during the Civil War and the burning of Bluffton, but 10 structures from the period remain. If you’re in love with the historic homes of nearby Charleston and Savannah, you’ll want to take a tour of the Heyward House Historic Center — this Carolina-style farmhouse has been around since the early 1840s. Not only is the house museum a great way to learn about Bluffton’s past, it’s an excellent starting point for your trip, as it’s also the official welcome center. The Bluffton Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has received the Cultural District Designation from the State of South Carolina.
If you want to see these spots with a guide, check out the golf cart history tours organized and run by the Bluffton Nonprofit Housing Corporation, a great way to learn something about the area while giving back to the community. Plus, cruising around in a golf cart, Southern breezes in your hair — that says vacation to us.
You can bring the entire family…
Bluffton is a great place for kids, too. Here’s just a few ideas:
- The May River Theatre includes family-friendly shows in its seasonal repertoire, so check the show schedule as you’re organizing your trip.
- Kids can learn about growing and producing their own food at the weekly Farmers Market of Bluffton, held Thursday afternoons from 1 to 6pm in the heart of the historic district.
- Sunset Parties are held on select Fridays during the summer months at Oyster Factory Park, and they’re basically huge community celebrations of local food, vendors, and live music. If you’re a true Blufftonian, you’ve been to several.
- Dubois Park has a well-maintained playground featuring a giant pirate ship (in addition to swings, a grassy area for soccer, public restrooms, and shaded picnic tables) for the kids to wander and captain.
…or go Lowcountry luxe at Palmetto Bluff.
One and a half times the size of Manhattan, Palmetto Bluff is one of the newest and most exclusive residential and recreational communities in the Southeast. You can browse the million-dollar real estate listings for kicks, but the draw for visitors is the abundance of trails and opportunities to get on the water.
Walk the banks of the May River, take a turn on the joggling board (a fixture on many Southern porches), and learn about the Wilson House ruins. Head over to Buffalo’s for lunch (try the wings and hand-churned ice cream). You can also rent bikes, take a boat tour to nearby Daufuskie Island, or challenge your travel buddies to a game of bocce ball at the court next to the chapel. And if a day trip isn’t enough, you can spend the night at the Montage Palmetto Bluff, located right on the May River.
The local business scene is strong.
If you’re always looking for the little guy on your travels — the coffeeshops with the quirky chalkboards, the bookstores carrying local authors, the retail shops selling the work of regional artisans — you’re going to feel right at home with the complete lack of chain stores in Old Town Bluffton.
Start your day with a cold-brew coffee at Corner Perk, a coffeeshop with outdoor seating and a great brunch menu. For lunch, hit up Bluffton BBQ for the pulled pork, Brunswick stew, and homemade cornbread. Some other places to check out in Old Town: Agave Sidebar for margaritas, Captain Woody’s Seafood Bar for platters to share, and pistachio cake (a local delicacy) from The Cottage.
You’re practically already on the water.
Bluffton was made to spend the majority of your time outside. Grab a pole and head to the public dock and fishing pier at the end of Calhoun Street to see what you can catch, or settle in for a half- or full-day fishing charter — there are several local companies that run in-shore fishing tours on the May River.
You can also rent a kayak and paddle around the estuaries. If you’re not that experienced or are unsure where the best kayaking routes are, stop by Native Guide Kayak Tours, May River Excursions, or Marsh Grass Adventures for a tour. On a calm day, try stand-up paddleboarding — you can rent them by the hour at Bluffton Marine Sports and Supply.
And if you just want to chill somewhere awesome with a book, there’s Pritchard Pocket Park. It’s a tiny, intimate spot that overlooks the marsh.
The Bluffton “state of mind” is a real thing.
Even though the town is growing exponentially, its original charm isn’t going anywhere. The local government is making sure to find the balance between the Bluffton of the past and the Bluffton of new. Building restrictions mean nothing can stand taller than two stories, and all new construction has to stay true to the same standards and styles of the original homes and businesses. You won’t find boring condo towers here anytime soon.
In some other places in the South, the pursuit of pleasing budget travelers has steamrolled any innate hospitality and charm. But that’s not Bluffton — whether you visit tomorrow or five years from now, you can be assured this place and all of its individuality will still be there for you. It’s all a part of the Bluffton state of mind, and it sure is refreshing.