Winter on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, is low key. Its wide-open beaches and fewer people. It means oysters are in season and we can still get fresh shrimp. Last year, J and I experimented with poached oysters dotted with caviar and wisps of pickled cucumber. It was decadent and delicious. This year, to save J’s hands and manage to eat before midnight AND be able to enjoy more oysters with family, we stuck to roasting them on the grill to dip in cocktail sauce, a gingery cilantro sauce, and melted butter. Sauces that also shared nicely with a large bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp.
And then there was that blind baguette taste-off, which completed the night’s vibrant meal. (Some of the family had pre-determined favorites, but it was a tie – really – because each chewy baguette had its own strength – from a hint of butter in one to a perfectly browned crust in the other. See the culpable bakeries below.)
Sharing table space with the shrimp and oysters were bottles (carted down I-95 in the car with Russ & Daughters‘ smoked salmon, pickled lox, and a chocolate babka for good measure), of sparkling smoky na Punta extra brut and an exceptionally dry Argyle Extended Tirage Brut sipped from unassuming (maybe mismatched and unbreakable?) house wine glasses. We could bring them down to the beach for a sunset in soft shades of pink, behind the oyster shell-decorated “tree” that shows up every year at Christmas. Or during a pitch-black night, to see the moon, like J, with his camera, tripod, and headlamp.
Besides the beach at sunset, get to these places on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton, SC, to make the most out of Winter –
Bluffton Oyster Company, for bushels of local oysters. Be sure to call and place an order ahead of time during the holidays.
New York City Pizza, where the take-out veggie pizza is piled high with mushrooms, green peppers and onions, and they’re open late-ish if you hit traffic and arrive on the island after dark.
Fish Camp on Broad Creek, to sit at the heated outside bar twinkling in strings of soft white lights, eating ahi tuna nachos and calamari with crunchy/spicy fried pickles, a Westover One-Claw and a glass of malbec, listening to the guy in the corner playing guitar.
A walk to Coco’s on the Beachrequires advance consultation with the Hilton Head Island Tide Chart. Low tide was my friend. To make the journey from where I was staying towards the heel of the Island, you have to cross an inlet. When J and I crossed, an hour and a half after low tide and just around mid-day on a Tuesday, the water was barely ankle deep at most points and the inlet just a narrow line of water fed by the ocean cutting up through the sand. An hour later, that ankle-deep line was a hip-deep stream. And with a current strong enough that kids were having fun letting it carry them along a short-ways.
The walk to Coco’s was a people-watching quick-paced 50-minutes up the beach in bare feet, flip flops in hand, to the elevated open-air bar giving you a view through the palm trees to the ocean beyond. Coco’s is the quintessential beach-side bar – all laid back with a sense of hot, salty, sandy, and sunblock There’s a nod to old hippies (they’re welcome) and a sign that although (the owner?) may be of a certain age, he’s seen all the best bands. So true. Vibrant in their primary colors of blue, red, and yellow, square wooden stools front the wraparound bar and equally vivid wide square tables.
Coco’s serves a range of burgers and beers and sandwiches and cocktails in plastic cups. The Fried Bologna “Ohio Style” Sandwich that J ordered – pickles and onion rings layered on top of the lightly fried thick bologna slice – was delicious. So was my beefy Swiss and ‘Shroom Burger. Coleslaw and a bag of chips served on the side. Order at the window; pick up when your name is called over the mic. Try to read all of the signs running the length and width of the walls all around and above the counter. Take your photo in front of the multi-colored signpost. Or just sit and eat and have a beer and feel the breeze. You really are at the beach.
I’m always looking for the closest walkable latte. On Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, it happens to be at The Westin Hotel’s take-out café, and a good excuse for a daily morning walk on the beach. Once I step out onto that soft sand surrounded by endless sky, I immediately sense that I could walk to infinity. (But then I would miss that latte, only 15 minutes away.) There are few people on the beach in Winter, more in Summer, and always a handful of dogs walking happily on the sand or splashing recklessly through the waves.
One morning a photographer was trying to make the most of the soft morning light on two small uncooperative fluffy white dogs. Beachside yoga class was wrapping up on towels close to the water’s edge. I check out the other goings-on at my destination, walking from the beach through the tiered decks of the hotel’s pool area and into the back lobby and take-out café. Latte in hand (iced in Summer but ordered hot in Winter), I reverse my route back toward the comforting hum of soft waves and light ocean breezes of the beach.