Smells of the South

Unveiling the aromatic charms of the Lowcountry, from jasmine nights to barbecue delights.

From the sweet and tangy fragrance of blooming magnolias to the salty sea breeze that carries whispers of adventure, the Lowcountry offers an olfactory experience like no other. Here are few smells that define our region. 

background marsh plants and pluff mud in sun landscape

Pluff mud

The scent of the marshlands

Here in the Lowcountry pluff mud reigns supreme as a defining smell. This unique blend of decomposing marsh grasses and silt blankets the mudflats as the tide recedes, releasing an earthy, briny scent. Though seemingly pungent to some, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for locals who associate it with coastal life, crabbing and the pristine estuaries that teem with life.

Take a whiff: Kayak Broad Creek at low tide. 

“I don’t know of any place that smells like this. It’s a magnificent smell. It’s the smell of where all life comes from.” — Pat Conroy, author 

Southern magnolia flower (Magnolia grandiflora). Called  Evegreen Magnolia, Bull Bay, Bullbay Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia and Loblolly Magnolia also


A fragrant symphony

South Carolina’s state flower, the magnolia, exudes a fragrant symphony that delights the senses. The large, waxy blooms emit a sweet, heady aroma, akin to a blend of citrus and vanilla. Walking through the gardens and plantations adorned with these magnificent blossoms transports visitors to a bygone era, where elegance and Southern charm ruled.

Take a whiff: Ride your bike from April to June along the path on Hilton Head between The Greenery and The Fresh Market. 

“The air is perfumed with magnolias and heavy with their scent, a scent as sweet as the evening.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, author 

Carolina jasmine

A whisper of sweetness

Come springtime, the air in South Carolina carries the gentle perfume of Carolina jasmine. This delicate, yellow-flowered vine, also known as Carolina jessamine, drapes itself over fences and trellises, releasing a subtle yet intoxicating fragrance. The scent of jasmine evokes romance and adds a touch of enchantment to the warm southern evenings.

Take a whiff: Explore the 50-acre Audubon Newhall Preserve between February and April. 

“I’m thankful for the sea breeze that feels so good right now and the scent of jasmine when the sun starts going down.” — Johnny Cash, musician 

smoke and steam rise from a pork steak

Barbecue smoke

A tangy tradition

No exploration of South Carolina’s scents would be complete without mentioning the tantalizing aroma of barbecue smoke. As a bastion of barbecue culture, the state offers a variety of styles, from the Midlands’ mustard-based sauce to the Lowcountry’s vinegar-pepper flavors. The smoky scent of slow-cooked meats, infused with secret spice blends, lingers in the air and beckons all to savor the region’s rich culinary heritage.

Take a whiff: Drive along Spanish Wells Road Thursday through Saturday, when Carl Campbell fills the neighborhood air with the smell of Boston butt and spare ribs, slow-cooked over charcoal, oak, pecan and hickory from his nondescript red shack. 

“When I smell barbecue, I want to smell something that makes me feel better than I already feel.” — C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield, pitmaster 

Pinkish purple Sunset at Bloody Pointe on Daufuskie Island, SC at a pier on a desolate island off the coast of South Carolina. Silhouette trees in foreground and a dock Daufuskie September sunset

Saltwater breezes

A coastal symphony

The coastal regions of South Carolina are blessed with the refreshing embrace of saltwater breezes. As the wind carries the tang of the ocean, it mingles with hints of sunscreen, sand and seashells. These maritime scents create an atmosphere of relaxation and adventure, inviting visitors to explore pristine beaches, embark on coastal journeys and immerse themselves in the treasures of the Atlantic coast.

Take a whiff: Walk on a secluded local beach like Braddocks Point Beach on Hilton Head or Bloody Point Beach on Daufuskie Island. 

“Take me to the ocean. Let me sail the open sea. To breathe the warm and salty air and dream of things to be.” – Erica Billups, sailor 

South Carolina coastal pluff mud with clusters of sharp empty oyster shells partially hidden beneath the mud surrounded by salt water tide pools

Fresh oysters

A coastal delicacy

The coastal regions of South Carolina are known for their bountiful oyster beds, and the scent of freshly shucked oysters is a true delight for seafood enthusiasts. As you approach an oyster roast or visit a seafood market, the briny aroma of these delectable mollusks fills the air. The salty tang and a subtle hint of the ocean awaken the appetite and create a mouthwatering anticipation of the coming flavors.

Take a whiff: Eat a meal inside at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, or walk into Benny Hudson Seafood market on Squire Pope Road. 

“Give me oysters and beer, for dinner every day of the year, and I’ll be fine.” — Jimmy Buffett, musician 

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