Front Street, the main drag through town, charms visitors with an array of stores and attractions. The most obvious architectural feature--the clock tower--makes a good place to start.
"The Greek Revival town hall clock was built in 1845, and there used to be an open-air market on the first floor," says James Fitch, director of the Rice Museum, which occupies the second floor of the building attached to the tower. "The museum was opened in 1970, during South Carolina's tricentennial." Inside, you'll learn how the Lowcountry rice culture became the economic backbone of the state.
You have to see Augustus & Carolina Importers and Purveyors of Fine Art and Antiques, if only for shock value. Some of the big-ticket items in this 30,000-square-foot store include an 1840s-era French server for $10,000 and a 1750 French armoire for $35,000. Other shops and antiques malls along Front Street offer more affordable pieces but without as much wow appeal.
Back to the real world. How about some lunch? Step across the street to Thomas Café, where Eddie Fesperman serves bowls of thick and shrimpy gumbo ($4.25), baskets of fried green tomatoes ($4.50), and crab cake sandwiches ($7.75). Thus fortified, step over to enjoy the Harborwalk and admire the assortment of small boats tootling around the Sampit River.
Kudzu Bakery, tucked in a little nook off Front Street, is a must-visit, either for breakfast, lunch, or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Where else can you get a fresh-baked cinnamon roll as big as a grapefruit for only $1.75?
Have dinner tonight at the Rice Paddy restaurant on Front Street, across the street from The River Room. This converted brick bank oozes with atmosphere, from the bar to the warm lighting and picture windows. Start with the rich shrimp-and-corn chowder ($3.75). Our favorite entrée was the sautéed salmon with grits and tomato-basil butter ($19). Dessert has to be the crème brulée, crunchy on top and decadently rich inside ($5). Reservations are suggested; (843) 546-2021.
Head up U.S. 17 North to Huntington Beach State Park, one of the prettiest and least developed areas along this stretch of coast ($5 adults, $3 ages 6-15). A causeway crosses over a freshwater lagoon, and there are nature trails, a parking area for beach access, and several places to picnic at this 2,500-acre park. The real find here is Atalaya, a huge, Moorish castle-style ghost of a mansion built in the 1930s and now abandoned.
This is the perfect time to explore Brookgreen Gardens, just across the highway on the land side. Patterned theme gardens and dramatically placed outdoor sculptures make for an exciting visit. Have lunch in their Pavilion restaurant, and enjoy browsing through their gift shop. Admission is $12 adults, $10 ages 13-18 and seniors; 1-800-849-1931.
This article is from the March 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.