March 2006 Issue
Sun Soaked Serrenity
The Carolinas are a cure for cabin fever.
With a combination of warm ocean breezes, scenic seaside golf courses and endless opportunities for adventure, the Carolina coast holds the cure for any lingering winter blahs. So, pack your bags and point the compass southeast. From North Carolina's Outer Banks to South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, you'll find a reason to escape the mundane and reinvigorate your spirit. Whether it's swimming and shelling or sightseeing and shopping, you'll find the perfect escape along the Carolina shore.
Many happy returns
For several years, Delaware County resident Michelle Gatchell has traveled to the Carolina coast to recharge her batteries. For her, South Carolina's Edisto Island is the ideal destination to experience peace and solitude.
"It's a very cozy island; not a lot of commercialization," Gatchell says. "It's where people from the Carolinas go to get away."
Gatchell says Edisto offers plenty of affordable beach-house rentals with views of the Atlantic, where you will often spot bottlenose dolphins breaking the water's surface. In addition, strolls along the shore can be quite profitable for beachcombers who enjoy collecting shells and fossils, including the occasional shark's tooth. At the north end of the island, you'll find Edisto Beach State Park - an unspoiled 1.5-mile strand lined with some of the tallest palmettos in South Carolina.
To satisfy the appetite you'll work up slogging through the sand, Edisto offers a handful of pizza shops and seaside restaurants with relaxed and unpretentious ambiance.
While Edisto has that remote feel, it's less than an hour away from one of the most vibrant, historic and beautiful cities in the country - Charleston. In Charleston, you can shop for everything from antiques to fresh produce as you make your way through the Old City Market, where descendants of West African slaves work magic with their hands to weave durable and decorative baskets out of sweetgrass. Once you've loaded up your basket with goodies, hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage at the Old City Market to embark on a tour over the cobblestone streets of Charleston, where more than 70 buildings constructed prior to the Revolutionary War still stand.
Speaking of the Revolutionary War, Charleston's Fort Moultrie is the site of the first Patriot victory over the British - a nine-hour battle that played out on June 28, 1776. Fort Moultrie is now part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. No matter how you look at, this is one of the most historically significant sites in the United States. It's a must-see for any American who appreciates his or her freedoms.
At Charleston's Magnolia Plantation, you'll find the oldest garden in the country - the Barbados Tropical Garden, which was first planted in the 1680s. You can get lost in Magnolia's horticultural maze, which features a quarter-mile of intricate pathways that wind through more than 500 camelia sasanquas. The late Charles Kuralt, who hosted "CBS Sunday Morning" for many years, called Magnolia his "greatest Charleston pleasure."
Just minutes from Charleston, you have your choice of three resort communities where great beaches are only outshined by fantastic fairways - Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island and Wild Dunes. Head a little farther south, and Hilton Head Island's more than 20 public courses await. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye and many other iconic names in golf-course design have put their signatures on tracks in this region.
The Kiawah Island Golf Resort features five championship courses, with the Ocean Course leading the way. With panoramic ocean views on every hole, this aptly named course's beauty should pacify you even as your strokes add up. Consistently rated as one of the best and toughest tracks in the nation, the Ocean Course is already gearing up to host the 2012 PGA Championship.
If you want to take your swings at Seabrook's Crooked Oaks or Ocean Winds, plan to stay at the resort, because the two courses aren't open to the general public. Because that's the case, these courses are typically not crowded, allowing you to concentrate on your game and not the guys standing with their hands on their hips in the middle of the fairway.
Known for the humpbacked sand dunes that line its fairways along the Atlantic Ocean, the Links Course at Wild Dunes is another visual stunner. And, if you ever hoped to lose that slice, the course's 17th hole would be a good place to begin. With ocean and dunes on the left and a world of trouble to your right, a straight drive down the narrow fairway is your only option.
Of course, South Carolina doesn't have the market cornered on spectacular golf destinations; its neighbor to the north boasts its share of tantalizing tracks. One of North Carolina's newest gems is the Fred Couples-designed Carolina National Golf Club, located between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, N.C. This course's 27-hole layout offers five sets of tee placements on each hole, allowing you to match the distance to your ability. Don't feel bad if your ability changes during your round and you opt for a closer tee; this course can be a bit challenging.
If you plan to bring the clubs along on your Carolina vacation, you'll have plenty of options. Throughout the two states, there are nearly 1,000 golf courses waiting for your best shots.
Any trip to a coastal region is certain to arouse a natural curiosity about life below the water's surface. Up and down the Carolina coastline, you'll find several aquariums certain to satisfy your desire to learn more, not to mention the fact that your kids will think they're pretty cool.
The North Carolina Aquarium system is comprised of three facilities - Roanoke Island in Manteo, Fort Fisher at Kure Beach and Pine Knoll Shores.
Roanoke Island is located along the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk, where Dayton's Wright Brothers made their famous first flight. Each day at 10:30 a.m., scuba divers jump into the Roanoke aquarium's 285,000-gallon "Graveyard of the Atlantic" tank for all to see. They even wear communication devices that allow them to hear and respond to your questions, such as, "What's that big striped fish swimming around your head?"
Located just south of Wilmington, Fort Fisher's newest attraction is "Exotic Aquatics" - a gallery of four exhibits that includes a 1,000-gallon cylindrical tank filled with venomous sea snakes and another tank loaded with squid-like fluorescent cuttlefish from the Red Sea. Fort Fisher also offers canoe and crabbing exhibitions in its adjacent salt marsh.
Pine Knoll Shores, located along North Carolina's central coastline, is set to reopen in May after undergoing a $25 million expansion. Its new exhibits will include a 306,000-gallon ocean tank, which will showcase the wreckage of a pirate ship and a German sub.
Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach will thrill you as a moving path guides you through its "Dangerous Reef Tunnel," where sharks and other sea creatures dart around you in the 750,000-gallon water-filled tank outside of the tunnel's glass encasement.
Head south to Charleston and you'll discover the South Carolina Aquarium, which claims to be the city's most-visited attraction. Located along the Charleston Harbor, the aquarium features more than 60 exhibits covering the various aquatic animals that call South Carolina home. With two stories and multiple viewing areas, the aquarium's 300,000-gallon "Great Ocean Exhibit" definitely makes a splash with visitors.
Leave a light on
The Carolina coastline is lined with beacons that shine on the region's rich maritime history. They also lend themselves to fantastic photo ops for you and your family.
It took approximately a million bricks for the Currituck Beach Lighthouse to rise 160 feet above the Atlantic along North Carolina's Outer Banks in 1875. Located in the town of Corolla and open daily for tours, this lighthouse's unpainted brick pattern sets it apart from others in the region.
After you're finished touring the lighthouse, make the short trip north to Knotts Island, where you can choose to take a peaceful hike through the Mackay Island Wildlife Refuge or sit back and tempt your palette at the Martin or Moonrise Bay vineyards.
Recognized by its unique barber-pole stripes, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton, North Carolina, is probably the most famous lighthouse in the country. Built around 1870 at height of 208 feet, it's believed to be the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. While you're there, you will learn all about how the Cape earned the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic." But don't let that deter you from riding the waves along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. According to the National Park Service, you'll find the best surfing on the East Coast here.
Bald Head Island - one of the Brunswick Islands along North Carolina's southern coast - is home to "Old Baldy," the oldest standing lighthouse in the state. Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson and completed in 1817, Old Baldy still stands tall, remaining open to tours daily from dawn until dusk. If you wind your way up the 108 steps to the top, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the entire island.
Located near Beaufort, South Carolina, Hunting Island State Park is where you'll find another 19th-century lighthouse open each day for tours and scenic views down the coastline. Hunting Island also is a 5,000-acre nature preserve, which is marked by ancient sand dunes and a semi-tropical maritime forest. There's even a lagoon where seahorses and barracuda reside. And during the summer months, the island is a great place to spot the fascinating loggerhead turtles nesting on the beach.
While Charleston's Magnolia Plantation boasts the nation's oldest garden, Brookgreen Gardens near South Carolina's Pawleys Island certainly has to be one of the country's most spectacular. Best described as a 9,200-acre horticultural extravaganza, Brookgreen features several unique gardens spread out over a property accented by marshes and swamps.
Celebrating its 75th anniversary this spring, Brookgreen's Huntington Sculpture Garden is the oldest public sculpture garden in the country. More than 900 American works, dating from the early 1800s to the present, are beautifully coordinated with the flora throughout the 50-acre display.
While exploring the beauty that lies within Brookgreen's lush gardens can keep you busy for hours, the children may get a bit antsy. It's a good thing Brookgreen is home to a wonderful zoo filled with animals roaming in their natural habitats. Bald eagles, foxes, wild turkeys and alligators are just some of the creatures that call Brookgreen home.
Historic Wilmington, North Carolina, is home to Airlie Gardens, where more than 250,000 azaleas are just about ready to bloom. With 67 acres of southern gardens and 10 acres of freshwater lakes, Airlie bursts into a colorful display right about this time each year. If you visit in late spring or summer, you're likely to hear sweet music in the air from one of the periodic concerts scheduled on the grounds.
The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina, serves as a living memorial to the original English colonists who came to America in the late 1500s. As you wander through the property, you'll find the Shakespearean Herb Garden in the courtyard filled with healing, culinary and aromatic herbs. When you're ready to take a break from your tour, grab a seat in the garden's thatched-roof gazebo and gaze out over the Roanoke Sound as any lingering winter memories melt away.