The Lowcountry is the coastal region along the shores of South Carolina, where Atlantic Ocean channels weave through barrier islands. Further south, the Georgia shores take over, but the same wild Spanish moss hangs from the gnarled oak trees while waving sea grasses greet visitors who approach. And though the Lowcountry is notoriously rustic, that doesn’t mean you can’t find luxe experiences among turtle nests and wild horses. Here are six places that might convince you to take a trip down I-95.
Amelia Island, Florida
This barrier island on Florida’s northeastern coast offers a lot for the eyes to take in —golden sands, horseback rides on the beach, the occasional dolphin sighting — but few sights are as awe-inspiring as the area’s jewel of a resort, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. This Four-Star stunner captures the essence of its surroundings with guest rooms flanked in floral prints and pastel shades, and a docket of activities that includes shelling expeditions, historic bike tours and seaside stargazing. Fernandina Beach, a quaint Victorian area with specialty boutiques, is just down the road, but thankfully, Salt, the resort’s signature seafood restaurant, is mere feet from your room.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
North of Charleston, halfway to Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island is home to the cotton rope hammock, designed by famed riverboat captain Joshua John Ward. And if you’re looking for a place to stretch out and swing, look no further than The Pelican Inn, a family-friendly, 1800s clapboard mansion-turned vacation escape, outfitted with several sun-soaked hammocks: one near the crab trap on the marsh, two on the breezy wrap-around porch and one in a wooden dock, overlooking the sands of a private beach. The inn’s daily gourmet breakfasts and midday dinners highlight the best of local fare: from a Lowcountry boil, to fried chicken drizzled in honey, meals are served family-style promptly at 1:30 p.m., with sides and homespun desserts such as key lime pie and hand-cranked strawberry ice cream. There’s plenty of other unique dining and shopping opportunities in the island’s famed Hammock Shops, too.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Home to popular author Pat Conroy, Beaufort is a historical and architectural gem, perfect for any high-end excursion. Since it is more residential than many of South Carolina’s barrier islands, Beaufort is best explored by bicycle or on foot, so you can admire the former Union hospital, where Harriet Tubman cared for wounded black soldiers, or the home of Robert Smalls, an ex-slave who became a multiterm U.S. Congressman. The Rhett House Inn, located just a block from the marina, offers guests complimentary champagne upon arrival, a daily gourmet breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres, access to the private Sanctuary Golf Club at Cat Island and many other amenities.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Just north of Savannah, Georgia, Hilton Head is a golf and shopping mecca — perfect for a dreamy getaway or a family break. This summer, Hilton Head’s only Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel, Inn at Harbour Town, is offering guests treat-filled packages with a romantic (welcome bottle of champagne), golf (complimentary afternoon rounds) and tennis (12 hours of instruction and play) emphasis—depending on your current whim. The hotel overlooks the famed Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the RBC Heritage golf tournament, as well as two other championship courses, Heron Point by Pete Dye and Ocean Course. For an unforgettable night with your sweetie, take a ferry from Haig Point Circle to Daufuskie Island. (Ferries leave every hour on the half-hour; the last one back to Hilton Head departs Haig Point at 11:40 p.m.) Whether you rent a bike or small golf cart, it’s easy to explore restaurants and art galleries that feel a world apart.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
An hour north of Jacksonville, Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia, and the last of a breed that is quickly disappearing. A designated National Seashore, Cumberland Island is wholly untouched by commercial development and rich in natural wildlife. Visitors are transported by ferry from St. Marys, Georgia, to an island with more than 50 miles of hiking trails, droves of wild horses and few distractions outside of pristine ocean views. The Greyfield Inn, a lodging retreat built in 1900, is an elegant hideaway in an otherwise quiet place — complete with a culinary team that prepares gourmet breakfasts, picnic-style lunches and a nightly dinner party that includes a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres before the meal. Turn-of-the-century furnishings at the inn provide the utmost luxury for Lowcountry visitors looking for a step back in time, but not in comfort.
Sea Island, Georgia
Further south, Five-Star jewel The Cloister at Sea Island awaits guests who value the kind of attention to detail that put this resort on the global map — in 2004, The Cloister hosted the G8 summit, bringing the likes of President George W. Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the same room. At the beach club, which spans a beautiful stretch of the Atlantic, servers don’t just put out chairs and umbrellas upon request — they also water the sand at regular intervals, so you don’t have to burn your feet while walking back and forth from the hotel pools. From an ice cream and candy shop, to a kid-friendly theater, The Cloister has thought of everything to make a family trip one to remember. If you need a moment off the property, though, check out the nearby Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. Though it’s a museum committed to education, GSTC is also an advanced hospital where sea turtle patients recover to full life.