SEAFOOD SOJOURN | The Rah Bar on Jekyll Island, Ga. Peter Frank Edwards for The Wall Street Journal
AH, THE JOYS OF greasy buoy joints—those wonderful, authentic seafood shacks with salty staff, fish-netted ceilings and floors slicked with clarified butter. These bastions of summer fun are often associated with New England, but they're also big along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. This lazy, week-long trip mixes high-end hotels and low-end dives and involves barrier-island hopping all along the way, via bridges, ferries and highways that wind through a blanket of never-ending marshland.
DAY 1-2 // PRIVATE ISLAND TIME
The Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Ga. Peter Frank Edwards for The Wall Street Journal
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Emiliano Granado for The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Renata Mosci, Hair & Makeup by Hazuki Matsushita
Start at the Jacksonville, Fla., airport, drive to Fernandina Beach, park your rental car near the docks and take a ferry to the Greyfield Inn, on Georgia's semiprivate Cumberland Island (from $425 a night, greyfieldinn.com). Have dinner on the porch of the inn, built in 1900 and still occupied and run by descendants of the Carnegie family, which once used the entire island as a retreat. Today, Cumberland is home to a few private residences, the ruins of old mansions, the church where JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy were married and over 9,800 acres of national forest.
Be up for sunrise, which paints the island's live oaks and Spanish moss a neon peach. Take a three-hour driving tour around the island with one of the hotel's naturalists. They'll point out bald eagles, American oystercatchers, loggerhead turtles and wild horses, and educate you about plantation life and founding families of the South.
Pick up your car in Fernandina Beach and drive about an hour north to Jekyll Island, famous for the Jekyll Island Club, once a winter retreat for Morgans, Rockefellers and Pulitzers, and now a hotel. On a pier behind the nearby Latitude 31 restaurant, you'll find Rah Bar—a tiny dive with dollar bills stapled to the walls and a deck with a big marshland view (370 Riverview Dr., Latitude31jekyllisland.com). Order the super-sweet peel-and-eat wild Georgia shrimp.
From St. Simons Island, about 30 minutes away, catch a ferry to The Lodge at Little St. Simons Island (from $450 a night, littlestsimonsisland.com). There are just 16 rooms on the private island. Arrive in time for sunset cocktails, and wake up early enough for canoeing on the creek.
Photos: Southern Seafood Shacks
Click to view slideshow. Peter Frank Edwards for The Wall Street Journal
DAY 3 // MARSHLAND MUSIC
Hit Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks at least 30 minutes before sunset (1 Hudson Rd., hudsonsonthedocks.com). This family-owned restaurant is perched on Port Royal Sound and often has live bluegrass music. The hush puppies are, as the eatery's bumper sticker says, habit-forming.
The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in Bluffton, S.C., is meant to feel like an old Southern town rather than just an inn (from $395 a night, 1 Village Park Square, palmettobluff.com). The hotel is alongside the May River; at night, you can hear a symphony of wildlife humming, croaking and quacking. Opt for a cottage overlooking the water and save time for stand-up paddle boarding in the morning—you're likely to spot bottlenose dolphins.
DAY 4 // CORNBREAD COUNTRY
Day 1-2 (blue); Day 3 (orange); Day 4 (green); Day 5 (gold); Day 6 (red)
Swing by the Bluffton Oyster Company to see women cracking open shells at the state's last hand-shucked oyster operation (63 Wharf St., Bluffton, blufftonoyster.com). Then double back 30 minutes to Hilton Head Island. The menu at David's Roastfish and Cornbread includes sweet-potato cornbread, whole roasted flounder with a mango and onion salsa, and vegan and gluten-free options (70 Marshland Rd., roastfishandcornbread.com).
The genteel harbor town of Beaufort, S.C., is filled with history and gracious antebellum mansions, including the house where "The Big Chill" was filmed. Have an early dinner at the Steamer Oyster and Steakhouse (168 Sea Island Parkway, Lady's Island, 843-522-0210). Order the Frogmore Stew (a.k.a Lowcountry Boil), a plateful of steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes and hot smoked sausage, all seasoned with Old Bay-esque spices.
The 200-year-old Greek Revival Rhett House Inn has a two-story wraparound porch and is just a block from the Beaufort River (from $189 a night, 1009 Craven St., 843-524-9030).
DAY 5 // BASKETS AND SHRIMP BURGERS
Whole roasted flounder at David's Peter Frank Edwards for The Wall Street Journal
The scenic two-lane Sea Island Parkway leads to Frogmore, an unincorporated town on St. Helena Island, and the birthplace of Frogmore stew. Visit the Red Piano Too gallery for Lowcountry crafts (870 Sea Island Parkway, redpianotoo.com), artist Jery B. Taylor's sweetgrass basket stand on the porch of the Gullah Grub restaurant (877 Sea Island Parkway, gullahgrubs.com), and the general store, What's in Store (853 Sea Island Parkway, sainthelenaislandshops.com).
The recipe for the shrimp burger served at the Shrimp Shack originated onboard the shrimping boats of owner Hilda Upton's relatives (1929 Sea Island Parkway, 843-838-2962). They used to crush raw shrimp with Coke bottles and cook the patties on board. Now the burgers are served on fluffy buns accompanied by tartar sauce.
The Wreck of Richard and Charlene is a jewel of a seafood dive on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, just outside of Charleston (106 Haddrell St., wreckrc.com). Open from 5:30 p.m. until just after sunset, the Wreck is filled with fishnets, old buoys and character. Order the spicy deviled crab and soak in the authentic ambience while it lasts.
The Zero George Street hotel, which opened in Charleston last year, occupies several beautifully restored historic homes that create an enchanting enclosed courtyard (from $329 a night, 0 George St., zerogeorge.com ).
DAY 6 // CHARLESTON CHOW
Take a pedicab to Charleston's Municipal Marina for breakfast at the Marina Variety Store and Restaurant, with its diner-meets-shipwreck décor (17 Lockwood Dr., varietystorerestaurant.com). Have the shrimp and grits with a side of fried green tomatoes.
About 20 minutes outside of Charleston is the greasy buoy joint to end all greasy buoy joints. Founded in 1946, the Bowens Island Restaurant is famous for its end-of-the-Earth location, as well as the shuck-em-yourself roasted oysters (1870 Bowens Island Rd., bowensislandrestaurant.com). After lunch, stop in Folly Beach for a little ticky-tacky beach fun.
The Ordinary is one of Charleston's popular new seafood restaurants, run by chef Mike Lata (544 King St., eattheordinary.com). In a former bank, you'll experience creative, high-concept interpretations of Lowcountry culinary traditions. The smoked oyster atop a fancy saltine is a standout. Have one too many glasses of Aloers, a biodynamic white wine from Celler Credo in Spain—the last leg of this trip can be walked.
This article is part of the Off Duty Summer 50: Fifty Reasons to Love the Road Trip. Click here to see the full list.