Bluffton puts nature and neighbor side by side

Bluffton began as a Native American enclave where tribes could fish and collect oysters, then trade them along the May River. Later, it became a retreat for wealthy cotton, indigo and rice plantation owners who enjoyed the river breezes from the town’s bluff. Thus its name, Bluffton.

That life revolving around gentle breezes continues today, earning the town the designation of  “one of the last true Southern coastal villages.”

Bluffton didn’t change much for decades, not until interest in Hilton Head flowed over the bridges onto the mainland — a little at first, then Bluffton’s population surged with the construction of Sun City Hilton Head, now home to 14,000 people.

Geographically, Bluffton mushroomed through vigorous annexation, going from 1 square mile to 53 square miles in the 1990s. Within that perimeter, development exploded, creating a critical mass of young families that have given Bluffton its own flavor.

Town planners grouped development, so residential areas remain nice and peaceful. Shopping centers are clustered along U.S. 278, several schools and athletic fields ring McCracken Circle and a dining and entertainment district keeps the Calhoun Street Promenade hopping.

Yet still central to the town’s ambiance is Old Town, which is Bluffton’s original square mile. It’s sprinkled with artisan shops, art galleries and one-of-kind eateries.

Now a National Historic District, Old Town includes the pre-Civil War Church of the Cross and the antebellum Heyward House, which serves as Bluffton’s visitor center.

Not only is Bluffton a great coastal village, a couple of attractions keep Bluffton on many “best of" or “most interesting town" lists. One is the iconic Bluffton Oyster Co., one of the last operating oyster factories on the Eastern Coast.

Another landmark is Palmetto Bluff, a coveted community that boasts the five-star Inn at Palmetto Bluff and protected wilderness overlooking the May River.

Despite its vastly expanded dimensions, Bluffton remains a small town. You’ll know your neighbors. You’ll know where the “locals” congregate and form clubs, plan social events and start new youth sports leagues.

Of course, because our warm weather makes outdoor activities possible year-round, those parks host a plethora of festivals, events and public gatherings in every season.

The May River Theater Co. also puts a wealth of local talent on stage for performances throughout the year.

In the summer, you’ll plan your weekends around low tide so you can spend a couple of hours on the May River sand bar, or kicking back with a picnic at Oyster Factory Park. Maybe you’ll launch a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and go in search of dolphins.

As a resident, you’ll discover the best fishing spots and enjoy the town’s many parks and walking trails.

Bluffton offers an ideal blend for its residents: small town feel with the shopping, dining and entertainment found in much more cosmopolitan areas.

But if you really want to know what makes Bluffton unique, head to the May River.

After all, Bluffton’s elevated view of that waterway gave it its name, and the town remains true to its watery roots.