Our unobtrusive beach vacation spot Edisto Beach, S.C By Jeanne A. Stoner

Miranda Rife, 10, and her sister Casey, 5, sift through shells with their aunt Holly Bielewa, and her daughter, Ryan, 4.  

He was waiting for us. He must have known we were coming. As we pulled into Palmetto Breeze, our resident mocking bird burst into a welcoming cadenza as he kept a bright, black, shoe-button eye on us from atop the palm tree next to the driveway. This was our fifth year at the beach house. For 51 weeks of the year, our whole family looks forward to week 52, the week we spend together at our rented beach house, Palmetto Breeze in Edisto Beach, S.C.

If you are looking for a lovely beach vacation in a family oriented, uncrowded, totally laid-back, safe environment, consider Edisto Beach, which is just halfway between Charleston (50 miles to the north) and Hilton Head (50 miles to the south).

Our house sleeps 10, but there are houses of all sizes lining the entire length of the miles-long public beach. Rents range from $825 to $4,000 a week, according to Edisto Realty. For slightly less-from $710 to $2,900 a week-other houses are available along the beautiful shady streets near the beach. Paths spaced about every block or so along Palmetto Boulevard give easy access to the sun, sand and sea.

The beach itself is deep and beautiful. The waters are calm and shallow for quite a distance. When the high tides recede, tidal pools remain here and there, full of fiddler crabs and shells and other wonderful stuff. Children of all ages-in our family the kids range from 3 to 66-love to play in the tidal pools.

Edisto Beach has found a formula known to very few dedicated vacation towns. Everything you need is there, but unobtrusive. The Piggly Wiggly for groceries, a broad selection of restaurants with menu offerings ranging from the zany Lizardman Alligator Bites to wonderful seafood dinners. No dressing up, no how, no where, unless you head off the beach and into Charleston. We found no fast food establishments, but we did avail ourselves of delivered pizza on the first night as we unpacked.

(We had a real treat this year. We found a school fund-raiser where they served Frogmore Stew, a delicious melange of shrimp, sausage, potatoes, onions, corn and bell peppers. Sides of coleslaw, bread and butter were included. It was beyond delicious and less than $6 a dinner.)

There are lovely gift shops-look for the sea glass jewelry, it is so beautiful and very inexpensive-galleries, specialty shops and outfitters where you can rent absolutely anything you might want for land or sea: kayaks, bikes, boats or kites.

The merchants are friendly and helpful, no matter how busy. Tony Spainhour of Island Outfitters, took time to explain in detail when my daughter, Gwynne, asked if he knew how to find fossilized shark's teeth on the beach:

"You are walking on top of thousands of them when you are on the beach," he explained. "Look for the high-tide scurf line where there are little collections of shells mounded together. Dig a hole until water starts to come into it. Then use your hand to swirl the water around and if a tooth is there it will just pop up."

Gwynne found four teeth. Our other daughter, Holly, found two. Ron, our paterfamilias, actually found a not-quite-perfect tooth of an ancient, awful and thankfully extinct megalodon (those things were big!) and our little granddaughter, Casey, who is 5, found two all on her own. Joy reigned supreme.

But do not let the children's expectations get too high when hunting fossil teeth: Let it be fun, casual and not a contest.

No matter how wonderful the beach, you will need other things to do. Particularly if you need to get the children out of the high early afternoon sun. Besides the shops and galleries, there is also the Edisto Historical Museum and a nice state park just down the road. But our favorite place is a few miles down Highway 174, the Edisto Island Serpentarium.

The serpentarium has beautiful, shady grounds. The animals are fascinating, cared for with affection and respect. The staff is friendly, hospitable and knowledgeable. There are posted feeding times and informational shows for the turtles, snakes and alligators. The shows are child friendly, safe and, to our group, absolutely fascinating. At the end of the snake show, anyone who wishes to is invited to hold a gentle, beautiful pine snake closely supervised by snake curator Ron Saxon.

Our grandson, Tyler, was thrilled: "I love snakes! I saw snakes, really beautiful snakes I had never seen before and Mr. Saxon taught us so much about them."

Oh, and I don't want to forget Miss Lillian Seabrook and her daughter, Elizabeth. Up the green embankment and under the shade of magnificent old trees, just before the serpentarium, Miss Lillian sits talking quietly with Elizabeth weaving sweet-grass baskets. They are fragrant, useful, beautiful and a regional craft. While you pay for them, they are inexpensive relative to the artistry and time involved in making them.

While we are at Edisto, we spend most of our time on the beach or on the screened porch watching the dolphins play, the pelicans flying out over the water in close formation and executing their spectacular plummeting dives.

The beach is also a nesting place for loggerhead turtles. Last year on an early morning walk, we came upon a stranded turtle. She had remained too long laying her eggs and was caught by the rising sun. The light had disoriented her and she could not find the water. She lay there, high above the surf line, ancient, patient and in big trouble. We called the turtle-rescue team and they-local firemen, I was told-measured her, weighed her (close to 300 pounds) and with great effort, the four of them picked her up, turned her to face the water. She slowly and majestically made her way back to her water world to the applause of the many land creatures who had gathered to watch and worry.

What is not to like about Edisto Beach? Let me think. Oh, yes, the drinking water. It is slightly brackish. Fine for washing, brushing teeth and great for cooking seafood. But for making coffee, iced tea or just for drinking, not so good. Bring large containers, which can be filled at the town hall. The water is free and we have not found fetching it to be a problem.

As we round the curve that changes Palmetto Boulevard into Highway 174 heading back north, I ask the children. "What was your favorite thing?"

"Kayaking with my dad!" says Miranda.

"Finding shark's teeth!" says Casey

"The beach, Big Bubba and everything!" Tyler, Caden and Ryan chime in. And then all together as a Greek Chorus, " When can we come back?"

"Just 51 more weeks, darlings. Fifty-one more weeks!"


Just the Facts... Edisto Beach Chamber of Commerce (888) 333-2781

Edisto Beach State Park (843) 869-2156; (843) 869-2756

Edisto Island Serpentarium (843) 869-1171

Edisto Historic Museum and Gift Shop (843) 869-1954

Island Bikes and Outfitters (843) 869-4444; (843) 869-1321

Jeanne Stoner, a published author, lives in Bowling Green, Ohio, with her husband, Ron. Her five grandchildren are her inspiration.

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