The southernmost sea island off of South Carolina’s coast that’s home to just over 400 people, Daufuskie Island remains a mystery to many. Perhaps the secretive nature of the island is part of the allure. That, and the raw, natural beauty that feels untamed and completely forgotten in time.
Daufuskie Island can only be reached by boat, barge, or ferry. Without a bridge connecting it to the “real world,” it’s a perfect sea island escape from reality. And yet, just beyond the Calibogue Sound, Hilton Head Island can still be seen–the Harbour Town Lighthouse’s red and white stands out against the greenery, while the amount of beachgoers at South Beach will make you savor the isolated quiet of Daufuskie’s pristine waterline.
Hardly crowded during the Lowcountry’s peak summer season, Daufuskie makes an ideal day trip any time of the year. You might even prefer taking the trip in cooler temperatures as most activities primarily take place outdoors–the closest thing you’ll get to air conditioning when you’re out and about is the breeze you’ll catch on your golf cart or boat ride.
For those who want to explore the island at their own pace, renting a golf cart is highly recommended. Truly the best way to explore the island, you can easily reserve a rental cart ahead of time from Tour Daufuskie, and find it waiting for you as soon as you arrive at the dock. As fun as navigating the island on your own golf cart can be, first-time visitors might end up missing must-see locations partly because of the island’s layout, as well as not having the full understanding and story behind key landmarks.
The Daufuskie experience becomes very different when you’re shown around by the island experts. Tour Daufuskie offers tours that cover all interests from history, culture, local artisans, or wildlife in the area. You’ll get the most out of your visit without worrying if you’ll be back at the dock in time to catch your ferry or water taxi back to Hilton Head.
Whatever you do, please don’t be fooled by the small-town atmosphere–the island isn’t exactly walkable. The amount of unpaved roads and the distance between landmarks will leave your group exhausted and your shoes full of sand.
Depending on how much time you have to see the island, your day on Daufuskie can be as laid back or as action packed as you’d like it to be. Most people want to stop at some of the better-known landmarks, like the First Union African Baptist Church. Built in 1884, this historic church is also the only active church on the island. Just up the road, you’ll be able to find the Mary Fields School, the very same school house that legendary author, Pat Conroy, taught at and included in his first best-selling book, The Water is Wide. Make sure to walk behind the school for a delicious cup of coffee, chai latte, or frozen lemonade from School Grounds Coffee, now operating out of the old cafeteria.
From there, you’ll have some decisions to make. If you’ve brought along a beach towel and have some time to spare, head over to Turtle Beach for the most secluded beach time during your entire trip to the Lowcountry.
History buffs will want to continue on to the Lighthouse Museum or the Billie Burn Historic Museum to learn more about the Gullah culture and influence on the island.
Those wanting to take home a piece of Daufuskie made by local artisans will definitely want to visit Iron Fish. You’ll also want to make time to tour the distillery for a tasting of the island’s finest rum, bourbon, or vodka. Families will love a trip to the community farm, Melrose Rookery, or a horseback ride on the beach.
Once lunch time comes around, you’ll have an even harder decision to make–where to eat!
From hot chicken to fresh seafood, there are a handful of restaurants that offer al fresco dining under beautiful live oaks or overlooking the water.
At the end of the visit, comfortable boat seats and exciting accounts of the day from fellow visitors await you on the return trip. Consider taking a water taxi or a private charter from Hilton Head Boat Charters for a more personal experience. Their knowledgable captains will give you recommendations of what to do in the area, and will point out interesting sites and wildlife along the way–and yes, that includes dolphins!