The Atlantic shoreline of South Carolina and Georgia is made
up of a series of islands known collectively as the Sea Islands. They offer
visitors everything from uninhabited marshlands and protected state and federal
parklands, to historic ruins and friendly fishing communities. For foodies
seafood is the best bet, and throughout the islands you can enjoy this local specialty
at gourmet restaurants and funky waterside hideaways alike. Whether you're
looking for barefoot-on-the-beach or playgrounds for the rich and famous,
you'll find it here. From north to south, a few of the highlights include:
Edisto Beach State Park has a campground right on the beach,
along with many multi-use trails. Exploring by bike is a great way to see the
Spanish Mount. Not an actual mountain, and certainly not Spanish, this huge
shell midden was left behind after hundreds of years of oyster eating by the
Two of the area's most renowned landmarks are on this
island. The Penn Center is committed to preserving the unique culture of the
Sea Islands through its History and Culture Program. In 1862 philanthropists,
abolitionists, and missionaries from Pennsylvania opened the Penn School to
educate the Sea Island slaves who were freed during the Civil War. The Center
operated as a school for nearly one hundred years, but now has shifted focus to
other services such as child care and health training.
Just down Lands End Road from Penn Center, through a thick
growth of live oaks heavily draped with Spanish moss, stands the ruins of a
Chapel of Ease. Built by the plantation owners because the churches in the
cities were too far away, this particular example dates back to the 1740s.
Off to one side of the chapel there are several unkempt
graves and an open, empty mausoleum that is key to one of the many ghost
stories that circulate in these parts. Legend has it that the tomb was broken
into and raided by Union soldiers, but when repairs were made it refused to
remain shut. By morning the bricks had all been removed again and neatly
stacked next to the broken entrance. Another spooky legend has a eerie orb of
light traveling down Lands End Road after dusk, reportedly a spirit in search
of a lost love.
For golfers Hilton Head means one thing, championship
courses. For over fifty years the PGA Heritage Classic has been played at the
Sea Pines Resort, and there are over twenty other courses on the island to keep
even the most die-hard duffers busy for weeks.
The West African descendants known throughout the Sea
Islands as Gullah are deeply connected with the island as well. It is home to
the Gullah Museum and the annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration. While
investigating the stories and traditions of the Gullah people, make sure to
indulge in some down-home home cooking. There's no better way to connect with
the culture than through food, so dig in to some she-crab soup, hoppin' John,
fried okra, or shrimp & grits.
Legend has it that a Loch Ness Monster-type sea serpent
swims the Atlantic waters around the mouth of The Altamaha River. Known as
Altie, short for the native name Altamaha-ha, tales of the creature go back
hundreds of years. Sightings have been few and far between so be sure to have
the camera ready.
For more of a sure thing, check out Fort King George across
the river in nearby Darien. Georgia's first colonial British garrison served as
the colonies' southernmost outpost to defend against the advances of the
Spanish and French and helped give the state its name.
The Jekyll Island Club is now a hotel, but was once an
incredibly exclusive getaway. Back in 1910, some of the world's richest men
gathered here under strict secrecy to plan a central bank for America, which
became The Federal Reserve. At the time Forbes magazine called it "...this
strangest, most secret expedition in the history of American finance." It
may have been the most pivotal point in the entire economic history of the
country, yet the secrecy remains. There is not one word mentioning the meeting
at the state park that is home to the club today.
Which island would you visit first?
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