While often grouped together in a region known as the Lowcountry, South Carolina’s coastal towns and cities each have their own unique blend of history, culture, and reasons to visit. Charleston’s beaches and ever-growing restaurant scene are particularly noteworthy. Beaufort’s architecture is fascinating, and Edisto Island is unrivaled in its peaceful nature and dedication to preserving its history. If you keep driving further South, you’ll come across Bluffton, another waterfront destination to add to your must-visit list.
“Bluffton is this lovely little pocket nestled in the Lowcountry,” says Brandon Carter, executive chef of Farm. “Live oaks and Spanish moss line the streets. The smell of salt and pluff mud fills the air. It’s a place where community still exists, and there’s a true sense of place.” Bridgette Frazier, a local official and owner of the highly anticipated Ma Daisy’s Porch, is one of the Bluffton residents actively working to elevate and grow the area’s focus on its history and community as a whole. Her new restaurant, bar, and open-air market — which is set to open in late 2024 — will be “a sanctuary for everyone to explore, enjoy, taste, see, feel, smell, and hear Gullah.” The project is named after her grandmother, Daisy Eustace Pinckney Frazier, whom she describes as “resilient, resourceful, assertive, empowered, and welcoming.”
It’s some of those same qualities that have led Bluffton to earn the nickname “the heart of the Lowcountry.” Situated along the May River and across the bridge from Hilton Head Island, it’s a special place that allows visitors to soak up all of the magic of the region — one oyster, bike ride, and slow afternoon on the porch at a time.
Keep reading to discover the best places to stay, eat, and explore in Bluffton, South Carolina.
Best Hotels and Resorts in Bluffton
Montage Palmetto Bluff
For many travelers, Montage Palmetto Bluff is their first introduction to Bluffton. The five-star resort has frequently been featured in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards, and, yes, it’s also where Justin and Hailey Bieber got married in 2019. “The accommodations are top tier… the food is amazing, and the staff there create a one-of-a-kind experience that’s truly unforgettable,” says Frazier. From sunset yoga and a world-class spa to leisurely strolls under the live oaks and days spent by the pool, activities at the 20,000-acre resort are numerous — and relaxing.
Old Bluffton Inn
If you want a more intimate experience, book one of the 14 individually decorated rooms at Old Bluffton Inn, a family-owned boutique hotel recommended by Chef Carter. Owners Vince and Danielle Harrison created a thoughtful, welcoming property grounded in its desire for guests to feel relaxed and completely at ease. After a long day exploring, kick up your feet in the front parlor, or retreat to your room for a restful night’s sleep.
Best Things to Do in Bluffton
Get out on the May River.
“The May River is one of the heartbeats of our town; it’s a pastime for some, a way of life for many, and a place of refuge for all,” says Frazier. “There are many different self-guided and tour-guided kayak, paddleboard, and boat tours — all of which are great ways to get out on the water to spot some incredible wildlife including dolphins, fish, oysters, and more,” says Montage Palmetto Bluff’s naturalist, Cassie Beato. If you prefer to take in the picturesque river scenes by land, Frazier recommends Wright Family Park or Oyster Factory Park. “Our waterfront parks are the most scenic places to access our beloved May River,” she says.
Explore Old Town Bluffton.
“Guests are constantly asking about the history of the Lowcountry and where they can go to see some historic sites, so I always send them to Historic Bluffton. The historic houses blend in so well with our modern coastal theme… most don’t notice they’re passing by houses from the 1800s,” says Beato. Commonly referred to as “Old Town,” this area of Bluffton features several noteworthy sights, including The Heyward House and the Church of the Cross. “The Church of the Cross, constructed back in 1857, is a stunning and significant church situated on ‘The Bluff’ of the May River,” says Jill Dollahan, the director of reservations at Montage Palmetto Bluff.
Sign up for the Hidden Treasures Tour.
“The Bluffton Hidden Treasures Tour run and operated by the Pringle family is also a must,” says Frazier. As you make your way through Old Town via golf cart, your tour guide will detail Bluffton’s history and the culture of the Gullah people. Stops include the Garvin Garvey House, Old Post Office, and Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage.
Play a round of golf.
Nearby Hilton Head Island is a destination for golfers around the world, but Bluffton also has several of its own courses. Visitors can book tee times at either May River Golf Club or Old South Golf Links — both offer 18-hole courses that seamlessly fit into the live-oak dotted landscape.
Best Shopping in Bluffton
Bluffton Farmer’s Market
The Bluffton Farmer’s Market sets up shop every Thursday on Calhoun and Lawrence Streets in Old Town. Here, vendors and growers sell produce, baked goods, herbs, flowers, and other local creations. Part farmers market, part community get-together, the weekly event is the best place to go if you want to experience the beauty of small-town living.
Bluffton General Store
You can’t leave the Lowcountry without a souvenir or two. From candles made in nearby Beaufort to mugs, hats, cookbooks, and snacks for the road, Bluffton General Store has a variety of keepsakes and grab-and-go items to browse and buy. You’ll find it on Calhoun Street in Old Town, next to several other boutiques, specialty stores, and galleries.
The Society of Bluffton Artists (SOBA)
Upon exiting Bluffton General Store, head to the Society of Bluffton Artists next door. The SOBA gallery hosts workshops and exhibits and features works from more than 100 local artists. Stop in to admire the watercolors, acrylics, photography, and jewelry — among other mediums — and see if anything catches your eye.
Best Restaurants in Bluffton
Roasted May River oysters, brown butter cornbread, fried okra, and fried chicken are just a few of the delicious dishes you’ll find on the Farm menu. Chef Carter mixes regional influences with local produce and global touches to develop an unforgettable culinary experience in the Lowcountry.
Burnt Church Distillery
“Every visitor must stop in and take in all of the magnificence of Burnt Church Distillery,” says Frazier. Here, visitors can experience the distilling process, learn about Bluffton’s history, and spend some time in the tasting room, The Sanctuary. “The food is divine, and every detail creates an experience that keeps folk coming time and time again,” she adds. Tasting reservations aren’t necessary, so you can pop in whenever best suits your schedule.
Red Stripes Caribbean Cuisine & Lounge Bluffton
“Bluffton is so rich with culture, and stopping over at Red Stripes for authentic Jamaican cuisine is a must; their jerk chicken and cool vibes transport you to the irie vibes of the Caribbean,” says Frazier. Owned by Ezron and Lakesha Daley, the laidback eatery has two locations — Old Town Bluffton and Hilton Head — both of which aim to give “the Lowcountry some Caribbean flair.“
Bluffton Oyster Company
“Bluffton Oyster Company is a family-owned enterprise that has been running for more than a century,” says Dollahan. Fresh seafood is the star of the show at both the market and the restaurant, Bluffton Family Seafood House. While you have to try the fresh oysters, of course, soft-shell crab, shrimp, and fish are also on the menu.
River House at Montage Palmetto Bluff
Special occasions often call for fine dining experiences, and in Bluffton, there’s nowhere better than the River House. The menu features premium steaks and seafood, but the setting is the real selling point. The building, which was once the main inn, features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the May River and a porch that beckons travelers to stay just a little bit longer.
Best Time to Visit Bluffton
Early fall is the best time to visit Bluffton (and avoid peak South Carolina humidity). “October is my favorite month here! The Spartina grass is green, flowers are still in bloom, [and] it is still warm enough to go swimming and walk the beach,” says Beato. “It’s also our off-season, so it’s a little bit easier to get around since there’s less traffic and people,” she adds. Chef Carter also notes that temperatures this time of year are “perfect for enjoying a cold glass of whatever you like, grilling out, and roasting oysters over a fire.” April is another option for good weather, although it does coincide with school breaks, resulting in more families visiting the area.
How to Get There
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) is the closest major airport to Bluffton; the drive typically takes around 45 minutes. American Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines also serve Hilton Head Island Airport (HHH), although flights are limited. Driving from Charleston is also possible; it’s pretty much a straight shot — two hours total — on Highway 17 and SC-170. Plus, you’ll get the chance to stop at Carolina Cider Company, a roadside market with every Southern treat imaginable, on your way there.
How to Get Around
A car is necessary to explore all of Bluffton — 54 square miles in total — but you won’t need it the entire time. “I recommend driving your car to the heart of historic Bluffton and walking around,” says Beato. If you’re staying at Montage Palmetto Bluff, you’ll have the option to traverse the expansive property by bike or golf cart.
The town’s public transportation, the Bluffton Breeze, is also available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The bus costs $1 to ride, and you can even prepay with the BreezePass app before you hop on. There are around 60 stops along the route, including Old Town, Publix, and the Tanger Outlets Hilton Head.