The fishing paradise around Georgetown, S.C., offers a range of options from quiet creeks to deep-sea charters. credit: Hammocks Coast S.C.

Best of the Southeast: Explore South Carolina like a local

You don’t want to travel like a tourist. You want to be in the know. In the AJC’s annual Best of the Southeast travel special section, we give you the lowdown on where locals eat, drink, play, relax, shop and discover.

There’s so much to see in the Palmetto State. From fishing in Georgetown, to craft beer in Columbia, to a floating hotel in Charleston.

Play: Go fish in Georgetown, S.C.

There are so many options for anglers in this South Carolina town that the tourism folks recommend seeing them all in one place: openangler.com. There, you can plan an excursion by selecting from half- and full-day charter boats, in-shore and near-shore guides, and deep-sea trips. Those with their own gear and boats also will find directions to launch sites and fishing areas.

Billed as South Carolina’s Hammock Coast (531 Front St., Georgetown, S.C. 843-546-8436, hammockcoastsc.com, @HammockCoastSC) the Georgetown area offers a choice of locations for fishing. The town is centered near the Atlantic Ocean, five rivers and an array of saltwater creeks that teem with king mackerel, tarpon and red drum. Georgetown’s reputation as a fishing mecca is bolstered by playing host to tournaments that include the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing series, the IFA Redfish Tour and the Georgetown Wahoo Challenge.

H.M. Cauley, for the AJC

Relax: Floating hotel in Charleston

If you want to experience Charleston, S.C., from an exclusive perspective while vacationing in total privacy, then consider a floating hotel — the aptly named Southern Comfort (17 Lockwood Drive, Charleston, S.C. 980-254-5572, motoryachtsoutherncomfort.com).

This classic Hatteras yacht stretches over 61 feet and boasts a roomy interior — more than 1,800 square feet — decked out in lustrous mahogany and teak. Guests can select from four staterooms with private baths, and the yacht is fully air-conditioned.

Part of the experience of the yacht is to take in the surroundings from unique vantage points. The covered deck offers grand views of the James Island Bridge and the sailing fleet of the Charleston Yacht Club.

From the Southern Comfort, you’ll enjoy the convenience of the Charleston City Marina’s proximity to the historic district, which is an easy walk. To venture farther, pick up the free marina shuttle that departs each hour.

While there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the historic district, a side trip to the nearby farming community of Johns Island is a must. Bring your appetite to the Fat Hen (3140 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, S.C. 843-559-9090, thefathen.com, @FatHenSC), the restaurant owned by acclaimed chef Fred Neuville and his wife, Joan. The casual cottage serves French-Lowcountry cuisine expertly prepared with local ingredients. It’s open for dinner and brunch. For dessert, don’t miss a silky slice of the Pluff Mudd pie — a double dose of chocolate with dabs of raspberry caramel.

You’ll find it difficult to bypass the star of Johns Island, Angel Oak Tree (3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island, S.C. 843-559-3496, angeloaktree.com), a Southern live oak nearly 500 years old — or 1,500 years; there’s a bit of a debate. What’s not up for questioning is the 17,200 square feet of shade this impressive tree provides.

Sabine Morrow, for the AJC

Shop: Lowcountry wares in Beaufort, S.C.

“Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea” is how locals describe their South Carolina town. It’s no empty boast. Beaufort (beaufort.com) has natural waterfront beauty plus its entire walkable downtown is a designated historic district. Antebellum residences, lush gardens and live oaks draped in Spanish moss surround its clustered galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

Beaufort is a hub for Gullah-Geechee artwork and Lowcountry products. Start at the Beaufort Visitors Center (713 Craven St., Beaufort. 843-525-8500, beaufortsc.org, @Visit_Beaufort) for maps and information as well as a retail shop loaded with iconic sweetgrass baskets, the treasured African art tradition passed down generations through the Gullah-Geechee community.

Then head downtown to Bay Street, just a block from Waterfront Park, to explore LyBensons Gallery & Studio’s (211 Charles St., Beaufort. 843-525-9006, lybensons.com) collection of Gullah and Lowcountry paintings, sculptures and other works. Stock up on local foodstuffs like sauces, pickles, marmalades and seasonings at Lowcountry Produce Market & Cafe (302 Carteret St., Beaufort. 843-322-1900, lowcountryproduce.com). Satisfy sweet cravings at the Chocolate Tree (507 Carteret St., Beaufort. 843-524-7980, thechocolatetree.us), which produces handmade candies and made the box of chocolates featured in “Forrest Gump.” Peruse fun finds that often glitter or tickle the funny bone at Lulu Burgess (917 Bay St., Beaufort. 843-524-5858, luluburgess.com) from cocktail napkins to handbags, bobbleheads to jewelry. Scout Southern Market (709 Bay St., Beaufort. 843-379-2282, scoutsouthernmarket.com) offers a curated assortment of Southern-made food and home decor items.

Ten minutes from downtown on St. Helena, don’t miss Red Piano Too Art Gallery (870 Sea Island Parkway, Beaufort. 843-838-2241, redpianotoo.com), a collection of works by more than 150 Gullah-Geechee folk, fine and craft artists. The colorful store also carries Gullah books and foods.

Hope S. Philbrick, for the AJC

Eat: Old Town Dispensary, Bluffton, S.C.

Folks in Bluffton, S.C., about a 20-minute drive from Hilton Head, helped this restaurant and music spot score the “favorite live music venue” nod in last year’s Reader’s Choice Awards in Bluffton Monthly magazine. With popular area acts such as Souls Harbor, Executrix and Whitley Deputy jamming throughout the week in the beer garden, the good vibrations threaten to take attention away from the grub.

That, however, proves challenging with admirable items lining the menu. Top-shelf pub bites may get the spotlight — think an eggs Benedict-style burger with Canadian bacon and blackened mahi-mahi fish tacos — but a smart selection of entrees pack their own punch. Sweet tea fried chicken, featuring a Texas Pete-based spicy cream sauce, joins grouper, fish and chips, and other edible beach town buddies. Don’t miss the Farmers Market of Bluffton taking place 2-7 p.m. Thursdays along Calhoun Street.

15 Captains Cove Road, Bluffton, S.C. 843-837-1893, otdbluffton.com.

Jon Waterhouse, for the AJC

Drink: Beertime in Columbia, S.C.

Like many Southern cities, Columbia is having a bit of a craft beer moment, with several new breweries set to open in the next year, and major expansions of existing breweries.

Hunter-Gatherer Brewery and Alehouse (900 Main St., Columbia. 803-748-0540, huntergathererbrewery.com, @HGBrewery), which opened in 1995, is Columbia’s oldest brewery operation, with a second, bigger brewery set to open at the historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Owens Field. In addition to house-made beer, you’ll find food, wine and spirits in the Alehouse.

Another of Columbia’s earliest craft beer companies, Conquest Brewing (947 S. Stadium Road, Columbia. 843-270-6100, conquestbrewing.com, @ConquestBrewing) features a cozy tasting room with windows overlooking the brewhouse. Sacred Heart IPA and other year-round and seasonal beers are available seven days a week, with tours by request.

River Rat Brewery (1231 Shop Road, Columbia. 803-724-5712, www.riverratbrewery.com, @RiverRatBrewery) was founded in 2013 and is currently undergoing an expansion. But you can still visit the tasting room, open Tuesdays-Sundays and now serving beer and wine, relax on the dog-friendly deck, or grab a growler to go.

Swamp Cabbage Brewing (921 Brookwood Drive, Columbia. 803-252-0250, swampcabbagebrewing.com, @swampcabbagebru) recently celebrated its second anniversary. The tap room is open Wednesdays-Sundays, serving the likes of Sabal Palm Blonde and Bald Cypress Porter, and food trucks often make the scene.

Technically a craft beer store and growler shop, Craft & Draft (2706 Devine St., Columbia. 803-764-2575, www.craftanddraftbeer.com, @CraftAndDraftSC) is open daily and features a small bar serving 12 selections on tap in flights or samples. You’re also welcome to grab a beer off the shelf or out of the cooler, and mix-and-match six-packs.

The Kraken Gastropub (2910 Rosewood Drive, Columbia. 803-955-7408, www.thekrakenpub.com) has 30 beers on tap, a full-service bar with wine and specialty cocktails, and food from Columbia chef David Marlow, who features beer dinners with regional breweries.

Bob Townsend, for the AJC

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