It's Time to Visit Daufuskie, South Carolina—the Little-Known Island Hiding in Plain Sight of Hilton Head

With remote shores, wild landscapes, and incredibly rich culture, this breathtaking barrier island is begging to be explored.

Daufuskie Island
Photo: Courtesy of Haig Point

Fans of legendary Southern writer Pat Conroy may be more familiar with Daufuskie Island than they realize. In his 1972 memoir "The Water is Wide," Conroy documents his yearlong experience teaching underserved students on Yamacraw Island. All the stories—as well as his gorgeous descriptions of the wild, largely uninhabited island, are true—and they all took place on Daufuskie Island. More than 50 years later, a lot has changed on Daufuskie Island, but its immense beauty, awe-inspiring landscapes, and relative obscurity have not.

Daufuskie is well within eyeshot of Hilton Head and Savannah, both of which draw millions of visitors each year. Nevertheless, it has maintained general anonymity. Over the past couple of decades, the world has slowly opened to the tiny barrier island. Many first-time visitors have spent their entire lives vacationing in Hilton Head and only recently thought to inquire about the little island across the Calibogue Sound. What they're discovering is a tight-knit community of some 400 locals who have found a slice of paradise in the mystical marshlands, unspoiled beaches, and secluded serenity of Daufuskie Island. A vibrant maker community and unyielding dedication to preserving the island's rich Gullah culture make the island unlike any other place on earth. Keep reading to discover the places that make it special and what to do when you go.

Sallie Ann Robinson
Gullah food. Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Tour the Island with the Gullah Diva

No one knows the island better than Sallie Ann Robinson. Known as the Gullah Diva, Robinson is dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Daufuskie's Gullah Geechee people, direct descendants of enslaved people and other African Americans who created a distinct Lowcountry culture and dialect in the area. After a number of years away, the Daufuskie native returned home to share the island's incredible heritage via Gullah history tours, private catering, and a series of cookbooks that preserve the recipes of her people. On one of Robinson's tours, you'll have the opportunity to visit several historic island landmarks including a Gullah graveyard dating to the early 1800s, the 139-year-old First Union African Baptist Church, and historic Mary Fields school where Robinson was once one of Conroy's students.

Bloody Point Beach
Courtesy of Haig Point

Have a Private Beach Experience at Bloody Point

Daufuskie offers three miles of pristine sandy beaches at Bloody Point, a historic battleground between Native Americans and English settlers. With no high-rise condos to contend with the view and only a sprinkling of private homes set respectfully back from the sandy shores, you'll feel like you've been delivered to a private beach reserved just for you. Then, see how many shells you can collect and how many types of birds and sealife you'll spot without hordes of people scaring them away.

Iron Fish Gallery
Courtesy of Haig Point

Peruse an Outdoor Art Gallery

One of the island's most visited destinations (and the perfect place to find a one-of-a-kind work to commemorate your trip) is Iron Fish Gallery. Chase Allen opened the metalworking studio on a limb in the early 2000s, and his career has slowly built since. In the backyard of a historic home, Allen creates colorful iron sculptures of fish, mermaids, crabs, and other coastal critters. Though his work has reached folks all over the world and was even honored in Martha Stewart's American Made Awards, Allen's homegrown operation has remained as humble as ever. Once you peruse the open-air breezeway turned art gallery, you're welcome to jot down a handwritten IOU, then leave with your selected piece. Allen will call you later for payment.

Daufuskie Blues
Courtesy of Haig Point

Discover New Treasures in an Old Schoolhouse

The two-room Mary Fields School was built in the early 1930s as a school for the island's Black children. It was the location where Pat Conroy lived (for several weeks) and worked during his year on Daufuskie. Today, it's home to Daufuskie Blues and School Grounds Coffee. At Daufuskie Blues, Leanne Coluter and Rhonda Davis perform the ancient Japanese art of indigo dyeing using the shibori technique. While you're fawning over their gorgeous hand-dyed scarves and shirts, pick up a coffee and sweet treat from School Ground Coffee, located in the classroom next door.

Daufuskie Island Distilling
Courtesy of Haig Point

Cheers with Island-Distilled Rum

Nothing says "island" like a little bit of rum. At Daufuskie Island Distillery, you can find seven different varieties distilled in house, from traditional Gold and Silver to Spiced, Vanilla, Fire, and coffee-flavored Kona. Owner Tony Chase moved to the island more than a decade ago and hasn't looked back since. He recently expanded the distillery's outdoor patio space so you can enjoy a frozen pina colada while relaxing in a wooden rocker overlooking his several-acre property and marshy pond.

Old Daufuskie Crab Company
Courtesy of Haig Point

Indulge in Deviled Crab, an Island Delicacy

If you're looking for a bite to eat and a good time on Daufuskie, all roads lead to the Old Daufuskie Crab Company. Located at Freeport Marina, boats flock to the expansive hangout at all hours of the day for laidback eats and live music. Be sure to try the Deviled Crab and Scrap Iron Cocktail, both of which are island specialties that more than live up to their hype. Sunsets here are especially vibrant.

Horseback Riding on Daufuskie Island
Courtesy of Haig Point

Go Horseback Riding on the Beach

Riding horseback on a scenic sandy beach is a bucket list activity if there ever was one. You can check the unforgettable experience off your list after a visit to Daufuskie. Daufuskie Trail Rides offers guided beachfront rides from October through March, which is the off season for nesting sea turtles. If you visit any other time of year, you can still take an oceanfront ride with sweeping views of the Atlantic.

Daufuskie Island Haig Point
Courtesy of Haig Point

Live Like a Local at Haig Point

Many of Daufuskie Island's 400-some full-time residents live at Haig Point, a private residential community that offers resort-style living on 1,050 immaculately landscaped acres. In addition to 29 holes of golf, a swimming pool, two restaurants, tennis courts, and a lively tiki bar, the resort is also home to the historic 1910 Strachan Mansion and 1873 lighthouse, both of which are open to guests for overnight stays. To live like a local, book one of three Discovery Visits that include everything from a round of golf to overnight accommodations and access to the community's full list of amenities.

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