By Sandy Lang
August 19, 2014
James Quine / Alamy

People call it “Kings Highway” or simply “17.” It’s the beach road, the road trip road, the connection to the seashore and to the islands that spans the coast of South Carolina. From Charleston, I’ve driven to all the following destinations and others nearby, over and over again, often in a convertible—a Miata or an Alfa Romeo, when I have the chance. The Lowcountry is perfect for top-down driving, especially in the spring and fall. In a couple hours or less, you can drive from downtown Charleston to a sister port city, like Georgetown or Savannah, or to somewhere a bit saltier, or greener. US-17 won’t take you directly to all, but on smaller roads, you’ll find the way. I recommend stopping at a farm stand for a peach or a bag of boiled peanuts to eat along the way, or a local-made sweet grass basket to take home.

Beaufort

About 70 miles south of Charleston on the tidal river, Beaufort’s downtown shelters a marina in walking distance of everything. On shore, the “point” east of Carteret Street is where to see huge oaks and antebellum mansions. For drinks or dinner, locals know to stop in at the Old Bull Tavern for oysters or wood-fired pizza.

Brookgreen Gardens

I first visited the bronze horses and wildcats here when I was a little kid, and I’m still amazed that the Huntingtons of New York bought about 6,000 acres of former plantation land in the 1930s, built a beachfront castle to live in, and opened a sculpture garden for public tours. It’s all still there, 70 miles north of Charleston.

Edisto Island

Within 50 miles of Charleston, this island is a favorite for its three-mile long beachfront lined with old-school houses and state park campsites in sight of Atlantic waves. Ruins of two plantations, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud, are now part of the Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area that opened to the public just a few years ago.

McClellanville

About an hour north on US-17 from Charleston (depending on the traffic in Mount Pleasant), this charmer of a fishing village is situated in the middle of the Francis Marion National Forest. We always stop to buy shrimp fresh at the docks, or for a fried seafood lunch at T.W. Graham’s, the former town grocery.

Wadmalaw Island

There are no restaurants or retail shops here, rather Wadmalaw’s draws are its farms. We go to Irvin House Vineyards for the annual grape stomps, and to taste the wine is made from fat, native muscadine grapes. On the island’s other main road, the oaks are massive and the tea is delicious at Charleston Tea Plantation. Both farms offer tours and tastings.

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