Awendaw, just north of Charleston  along Highway 17, is seeing some new growth, but still hews to its primarily rural, nature-loving roots. Named for the Sewee Indian village originally located here, it is known to the world chiefly as the place where Hurricane Hugo made landfall.
Twenty miles north of Charleston you’ll find the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center (5821 Hwy. 17, 843/928-3368, www.fws.gov/seweecenter , Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., free). Besides being a gateway of sorts for the almost entirely aquatic Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Sewee is primarily known for its population of rare red wolves, who were part of a unique release program on nearby Bull Island begun in the late 1970s.
One of the best natural experiences in the area is north of Charleston at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (5801 Hwy. 17 N., 843/928-3264, www.fws.gov/caperomain , sunrise–sunset year-round). Essentially comprising four barrier islands, the 66,000-acre refuge—almost all of which is marsh—provides a lot of great paddling opportunities, chief among them Bull Island (no overnight camping).
A fairly lengthy trek from where you put in lies famous Boneyard Beach, where hundreds of downed trees lie on the sand, bleached by sun and salt. Slightly to the south within the refuge, Capers Island Heritage Preserve (843/953-9300, www.dnr.sc.gov , daily dawn–dusk, free) is still a popular camping locale, despite heavy damage from Hurricane Hugo.
Get permits in advance by calling the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. You can kayak to the refuge yourself or take the only approved ferry service from Coastal Expeditions (654 Serotina Ct., 843/881-4582, www.coastalexpeditions.com ).
Once part of a rice plantation, the I’on Swamp Trail (843/928-3368, www.fs.fed.us , daily dawn–dusk, free) is one of the premier bird-watching sites in South Carolina, particularly during spring and fall migrations. The rare Bachman’s warbler, commonly considered one of the most elusive birds in North America, has been seen here.
To get here head about 15 miles north of Mount Pleasant and take a left onto I’on Swamp Road (Forest Service 228). The parking area is 2.5 miles ahead on the left.
A must-stop roadside diner in the Awendaw area is See Wee Restaurant (4808 U.S. Hwy. 17 N, 843/928-3609, Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m., $10–23), located about a 20-minute drive north of Charleston in a humble former general store on the west side of Highway 17 (the bathrooms are still outside).
Folks come from Charleston and as far away as Myrtle Beach to enjoy signature menu items like the grouper and the unreal she-crab soup, considered by some epicures to be the best in the world; you can’t miss with any of their seafood entrées. Occasionally the crowds can get thick, but rest assured it’s worth any wait.