This is one of those topics you’re going to scoff at right now but thank us for in about a month.
No, it’s not just you. The first wave of our yellow snow, otherwise known as pollen, started far too early this year. While it wreaked havoc on ears, noses and throats all across the Lowcountry, it seems to be a non-issue now.
The good news is that your car will no longer have a coat of this sneeze-inducing hellraiser. Your eyes will not be too watery to actually see the blue skies and your nose will be unblocked enough to take a deep inhale of all the majesty that makes our corner of the world an unparalleled gem.
It feels like a bit of a fool’s errand to tackle a list of best outdoor dining spots. When I first broached the topic with friends, they gave me side eye and said, “Uh, a-doy, everywhere.” And yes, that is true, but some postcard views are better than others.
My food and beverage friends gave me a more pointed, angry scoff when I raised the topic.
“You think you have issues keeping your windshield clean, try keeping an exposed bar and 42 table tops clear of this stuff for just 15 minutes,” one FNB rock star said. “Just when you feel you’ve got a handle on that, the no-see-ums start attacking ankles and shins relentlessly.”
So when we consider outdoor dining, it is far more about the outdoor part of the equation than the dining. If an eatery is in a prime location to capitalize on sunsets and primetime people watching, nine times out of 10 they have proven that their food is stellar enough to pay the rent consistently.
So for this Hot Spots, we’re going with volume to give you options and to try to decipher what differentiates one view from the next in paradise – a guide for both newcomers and longtimers who might have taken some of the gems for granted for too long.
THE ELITE FOR ASSAULTS ON THE SENSES
The Tiki Hut, South Forest Beach, Hilton Head Island: It is iconic for so many reasons and its inclusion here will give you a sense of what we’re classifying best in show here. This iconic island locale gives you oceanside bites and that intoxicating mix of sea salts, lotions and some of the best people watching on the East Coast. Plus, you will get a steady stream of the premier musical talents daily.
Fishcamp (11 Simmons Road, Hilton Head Island; 1699 11th Street, Port Royal): I had been away from the Lowcountry for a couple of years. I drove down one weekend to make sure that with all the growth, this was still the heaven I remember. I met a friend at the Port Royal Fishcamp. It took me all of four minutes soaking in the views to know. This is one of those spots where you truly can get drunk on the scenery. These two locales are just that perfect.
Quarterdeck, 160 Lighthouse Road, Hilton Head Island: It took losing this Harbour Town legend for months which bled into years which seemed like decades to truly understand what we were missing. And then they went and built a completely reimagined version of this topic OG on Calibogue Sound, with 270-degree views and uninterrupted views of one soul-soothing sunset after another.
The Squire Pope Road Classics: There are camps here, to be sure. Though they are just a rock skip across Skull Creek from each other, Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, Dockside and Skull Creek Boathouse have their distinct fans. Whether it be the table they’ve scoped out for decades, their spot at the bar, or the signature dish or cocktail, each set of fans is equally passionate about these three locales. For me, they each check every single box I could ever create when it comes to outdoor dining nirvana. It’s like choosing between two brands of $100,000 caviars. Either way, you win.
THE SPLITTING OF HAIRS BEST OF REST
First of all, this list is dominated by Hilton Head Island locations, for good reason. It’s about prime real estate. Entrepreneurs staked their claims on the waterfront on the island and the same can not be said about Bluffton.
Some would say it’s criminal that Bluffton does not have that mainstream waterfront eatery. There are an equal volume of voices that will tell you that’s what makes Bluffton better, that we were smarter in keeping the best away from the masses. For the sake of this list, Bluffton is a one-trick pony and that’s people watching.
And all of that comes in the classic one square mile in Old Town. The best peak-season people-watching spots to scout out the sidewalk-side tables are at The Cottage and The Pearl on Calhoun Street, and Calhoun’s, Corner Perk, The Bluffton Room and Captain Woody’s in The Promenade (the latter has the upstairs outdoors bar that gives a good look down on the action.
Now, in terms of taking in the sea of humanity in Bluffton, there are two top plays.
Okatie Ale House (25 William Pope Drive): The O’Gormans have mastered the blueprint of creating a scene in areas once laughed at as a potential landing spot for the masses. They did this in the early part of the new century at Bluffton Ale House, which is now British Open Pub in Sheridan Park. And now, with their deck and manmade pond just a strong fairway wood from 278, there is a consistent mix of the Sun City crowd and an older millennial parent crowd looking for a mildly wild night out.
Old Town Dispensary (15 Captains Cove, Bluffton) is off the beaten path of Calhoun Street but is worth seeking out. It has everything you want in an outdoor dining mecca except the water.
Back on the island, there are classics like Crazy Crab (on Jarvis Creek as you come onto the island and in Harbour Town) and Black Marlin (86 Helmsman Way) and Salty Dog Café (232 South Sea Pines Drive) that will give you the textbook sunsets, musical moments and people watching wonders that make braving the bridge traffic sooooo worth it. Coast (87 North Sea Pines Drive, Hilton Head Island) is everything you could ever want in a casual beach club eatery. Fish, Big Bamboo and Skillets are your best classic plays at Coligny Plaza.
It’s not like there are hidden gems here – kind of an oxymoron for the list. But in terms of spots you might not be thinking of top of tongue, Poseidon (38 Shelter Cove Lane) is best away from the water, while Elas on the Water and Top Dawg Tavern over at Shelter Cove are the best waterway-adjacent spots on the come up. And there’s the classic you thought I forget. They are still packed consistently, so I’m not crying for them, but far too many people forget Old Oyster Factory off Marshland Road when it comes to primetime waterfront dining.
There, you should be set for a few weeks. Make sure to visit your faves before the weather gets warm and they will be overwhelmed with summer guests.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. email@example.com.