(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – July 2016.)
I am a traveler, I am an adventurer…both to the truest extreme. I often close my eyes and ponder the sights, scenery, and people in distant places that are on my horizon of travel plans. The search for unfamiliar roads leading to new adventures is ongoing. Yes, I’ve pretty much had a bad case of “wanderlust” all my life. The curious part about that to those who have known me for over ten years is that now my wanderlust is only extremely gratifying when I’m on two wheels. Go figure, but I know I’m not alone here in that sentiment.
One day as I was trekking around the place I call “home” and immersing myself in the historical aura that permeates the air here in Conway, South Carolina, I realized the hidden gem that I was unintentionally hiding from my fellow BMW riders. And with that thought, two other noteworthy areas near Conway came to mind – Georgetown and Charleston. Isn’t it funny how we look so far into the distance to find interesting places to visit, yet take for granted the treasures right in our own backyard? So, allow me to share my little piece of paradise…
Known to the locals as “Rivertown,” and the seat of Horry County (pronounced O-ree – it’s the largest county east of the Mississippi), Conway was founded in 1732 as the village of Kingston. The downtown historical area is located along the banks of the winding, picturesque Waccamaw River, which is lined with large and very old native oak and cypress trees, draped heavily in long strands of antique Spanish Moss. This city feels ancient and sweet, still intact with all its Southern splendor. The people are friendly and the offerings for visitors are plentiful.
Conway is approximately 55 miles from Interstate 95 (Exit 170), and the main thoroughfare to “Rivertown” is a four-lane highway (Hwy. 501) that is fairly scenic and flows well for the most part. Accommodations once you arrive in Conway are not abundant, but I must recommend one choice that will surely add to your experience of old Rivertown. The Cypress Inn is located directly in the heart of the splendor of this town (16 Elm Street, www.acypressinn.com – a discount will be extended by mentioning this article). Overlooking the Waccamaw River, this B&B has charm and location as its strengths. Motorcycle parking is easy, and once you’re settled, put on your walking shoes and enjoy the plentiful offerings all very near.
The Riverwalk is a MUST. It is approximately one mile total in length, and I promise you will find yourself snapping photos every few steps. As you make your way to historic downtown Conway, you will find many quaint shops and dining options, most of which are located in charming historic buildings. I must mention my Conway “office” where I write many of my articles for this column – Rivertown Roasters on Main (337 Main Street). If you enjoy really good coffee like me, be sure to stop in and have a cup, enjoy some local baked goods, and see where the magic happens!
Whatever your appetite and style, I have some great recommendations sampled many times by yours truly. Located riverside, Bonfire – touted as a “Smokin’ Taqueria” (110 Main Street), is quite a gem! It’s actually my favorite casual spot to dine and features delicious “fusion” food (BBQ + tacos), with an unpretentious and lively atmosphere and gorgeous views of the Waccamaw River. When I’m in the mood for something a little more upscale, with a classy-casual atmosphere, The Rivertown Bistro (1111 3rd Avenue) is my choice. The menu is filled with seafood entrees prepared “Lowcountry” style, but with a truly clever approach, as well as delicious cuts of beef, pork and poultry. Looking for a nice lunch/Sunday brunch spot? Crady’s Eclectic Cuisine on Main boasts an “eclectic menu and atmosphere that has earned accolades in national publications such as, Southern Living Magazine.” Thirsty for a nice craft beer? The Crafty Rooster, just doors down from the Rivertown Bistro (1125 3rd Avenue), has been one of my favorite spots from the day I moved here. It has a classic sports bar/college vibe, with a large blackboard menu full of craft brew drafts from all over the country. How about a nice glass (or bottle) of wine in a classy-casual setting? Located in the historic Quattlebaum House (c. 1890), Encore (225 Kingston Street), “where the traditional encounters the unexpected,” is a lovely two-story shop full of fabulous selections of wine, craft beer, gifts, estate items, home interior furnishings…and you can even purchase a floral arrangement to go! On Fridays (seasonal) beginning at 6:00 pm, Encore hosts their evening under the stars with live music and your favorite libation. The historic district is full of many quaint offerings.
The best part about a visit to my roost here in Conway is that it’s a park-and-walk destination. A stop by the Conway Chamber of Commerce will provide you with loads of information, and when you visit, be sure to let me know…I’d love to meet you for a meal or coffee and hear all about your wanderlust!
Located 45 miles south of Conway via a quiet, scenic two-lane highway (US 701S to Front Street), is the city of Georgetown. It was founded in 1729, although some historians believe it was the first European settlement in North America (c.1526). Situated along the waterfront where Winyah Bay, the Waccamaw River and the Great Pee Dee River meet and then connect to the Atlantic Ocean, Georgetown remains the second largest seaport in South Carolina. There are several little shops, museums and restaurants dotting Front Street and along the waterfront, and old southern homes and mansions can be found throughout the neighboring streets.
I suggest riding the 45 miles from Conway and then enjoying a couple of hours in Georgetown. My go-to for a great lunch along the waterfront is the Big Tuna Raw Bar (807 Front Street). The seafood is fresh, local and delicious, and the atmosphere is super laid-back. Also a visit to the Georgetown Rice Museum (633 Front Street) is highly recommended.
After departing from Front Street, head south on Highway 17. Once you travel over the bridge near the steel mill, you will want to watch for a left turn onto South Island Road. As you glide down this two-lane, sweeping road, you will be transported to an area that is highly concentrated with Lowcountry rice plantations. Approximately 7.5 miles down the road, watch for Estherville Drive on your right. The scenery on this road oozes the old South from its pores. You will come to a stop sign (right turn only) and find the area chock-full of old rice plantations (N. Santee River Road). As you gently cruise down this road (it can be a little rough in some areas), be sure to take note of the many plantations, mansions and old structures still standing. The last time I traveled this road and was crossing one of the canals used for irrigating the rice fields back in the day, I happened to look up and saw a majestic Bald Eagle fly right overhead. Honestly at that moment, the experience couldn’t have been any more meaningful.
As you exit N. Santee River Road back onto US 17 South, Hopsewee Plantation will be on your immediate right (www.Hopsewee.com). This is a MUST SEE! I visited Hopsewee recently on my R1100 RS to be sure it was accessible. The road is dirt, as is the parking lot, but I had no problems navigating, whatsoever. This plantation was the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and has only been owned by five families since 1740. Exploration of the grounds and then the mansion (worth the small fee) was breathtaking, and I highly recommend a visit to The River Oak Cottage Tea Room on premise for a lovely lunch or an authentic “Full Southern Tea.” I enjoyed the Full Southern Tea while visiting, as it truly compliments the experience of touring through the Lowcountry South. The owner and gourmet chef, Raejean Beattie, was an impeccable hostess, and spent time answering my questions and making me feel right at home.
Exiting out of Hopsewee, take a right turn back onto US 17 South towards Charleston. The ride to your next suggested destination will be approximately 45 miles on a four-lane highway, pecked with plenty of saltwater marshes to admire in passing. My favorite thing to do while crossing the marshes and tributaries on the way to the Charleston area is to breathe deeply…that thick, salt water air is absolutely intoxicating!
While the city of Charleston is brimming with lovely, historic Bed & Breakfasts and other accommodation choices (prices are steep!), the thoroughfares in the “Holy City” are full of vehicles, pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and Pedi-cabs making their way through the narrow streets that wind though this charming, and extremely busy, peninsula. I strongly suggest a detour to Old Village in Mount Pleasant, just across the Charleston Harbor, where there is an extremely, over-the-top, lovely accommodation available – Old Village Post House Inn (oldvillageposthouseinn.com – mention this article for a discount). The rooms are extraordinary, but maintain a very historical and quaint feel, with the surrounding neighborhood of Old Village holding the same special character. The staff is very friendly and gracious, and parking is simple around the perimeter of the building. During my stay at this wonderful property, my two-wheeled steed stayed safe, and even enjoyed being the subject of several photographs from passers-by.
Once you’re parked, unloaded and you’ve enjoyed a little downtime in your well-appointed room, a sightseeing trip to Charleston is as easy as a very short Uber ride to the super-convenient Water Taxi (charlestonwatertaxi.com – $10/all day) at the Charleston Harbor Marina that will deliver you one block from the City Market, where you can begin your day in this distinguished city steeped strong in Southern history. The water taxi ride across the harbor is very relaxing, and a great way to get some really nice photographs of the many sights in the area. You may even get an escort by a dolphin or two!
Upon arrival at the City Market, I recommend a horse-drawn carriage tour to start your experience. The tour will provide a worthwhile glimpse of the city and history before setting out on foot to explore this grand dame of the South. You could literally spend several days exploring Charleston and not see, taste and experience it all. I would suggest at least two full days here.
Fashionista recommendations? My favorite “go-to” restaurants on the peninsula include: Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen Street); Hank’s Seafood Restaurant (10 Hayne Street); Coast Bar and Grill (39-D John Street); Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room (495 King Street); Magnolias (185 E. Bay Street); Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (476 King Street); and Jestine’s Kitchen (251 Meeting Street). My favorite adult beverage stop is The Rarebit for a refreshing, Moscow Mule. It’s the best I’ve ever had, and during Happy Hour, they are only $5! (474 King Street). Also be sure to stroll along The Battery where the grand Southern mansions are plentiful and where you will spy Fort Sumter across the harbor. This was where the first shot was fired beginning The Civil War.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Charleston for the day and head back to Old Village of Mount Pleasant, be sure to have dinner at least once at the restaurant in Old Village Post House Inn. It was one of my top dining experiences, to date. You won’t be disappointed! The chef is top-notch, and very clever with his dishes. After a fantastic meal and following an amazing day touring around Charleston, you can simply walk out the door and give your mighty two-wheeled steed one last check and then saunter up the stairs to your immaculate room for the best night’s sleep you’ve had in a while. You’ll be sure to dream of the stately antebellum mansions, the gas-lit lanterns burning endlessly, church steeples dotting the skyline, ancient cobblestone streets, and a bygone era that remains preserved within the perimeter of the picturesque peninsula of Charleston.
While gathering my thoughts to begin this article, I looked up the word “wanderlust,” and the definition states that it is “a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.” Pretty much sums me up. But it also occurred to me that by keeping the treasure in my backyard to myself, I have, in essence, blocked someone else’s wanderlust opportunity. How rude of me! So, I leave you with this proverb: “A joy that’s shared is a joy made double.” Enjoy, and travel on! 💋
(Note: Upon departure out of Charleston, I-26 is the fastest way out, and eventually crosses I-95, I-20, I-85 and I-40, although there are many scenic backroads to depart from as well. And a trip to my trio of treasures would be best enjoyed in Spring and Fall. For additional information, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)