‘Twas the day before the Monday of winter break in White Plains, NY and nary a plan was in sight. As someone who grew up in sunny California, the notion of a winter break is not ingrained in my psyche; HOWEVER, we have two kids, ages 7 and 8, and the weather was pretty frigid. The promise of a steady diet of “No more screen time or else!!!” or, in reality, “How about another season of Bunk’d?” for a week, put some fire under my butt to figure something out.
So I hit Airbnb in search of warmth of any kind, ideally paired with a pool.
Anyone who understands East Coast winter culture knows that this search should have occurred at least two months in advance. Charleston, South Carolina has been on my radar for a while. Images of seersucker, bowls of glistening grits and a generous amount of politeness seemed like the perfect order, but there was little to no availability in Charleston for a family of four with a budget founded in reality.
I came upon a horse ranch in Meggett, SC, only 30 minutes from Charleston. I practically cry-laughed when I read the host’s description which included, “THIS IS NOT A HOTEL. THERE ARE BUGS, THIS IS A FARM” and “LEAVE ANY DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR BEHIND.” I decided to take a gander at the reviews despite Lizabeth’s (the host) fervent attempts at getting us to go elsewhere, and I discovered only glowing reviews, many by repeat visitors. The photos of the farm only galvanized my resolve. I think Lizabeth may have been writing in a secret code to certain types of people because she included an inordinate amount of emojis in her descriptions. I was beguiled by the balance of harshness and whimsy. Let’s just say that she had me at Palmetto bugs that look like roaches, and I am deathly afraid of chunky bugs.
I am not sure how I convinced my country-club-raised husband to stay in a converted shed with no indoor bathroom and cats, but I did. The kids were, of course, thrilled out of their gourds (farm humor) at the prospect of sleeping with cats in their own loft beds while attached to a barn full of adorable horses, goats, a miniature pony and a big black dog. Worry not. There are a plethora of lodging options on the farm that include bathrooms and even full kitchens, but we went with the most minimal, yet the most popular, space because of the proximity to the animals and the adorable absurdity of the whole thing.
There were so many “firsts” on this trip for our family, including a 13 hour mostly device-free car ride with a sprinkling of hotel stays that ranged from super-dingy to pretty fancy, but I won’t get into those right now.
I’m only writing about this visit to East Gate Farms in Meggett, South Carolina because it was one of the best vacations we have ever taken, and we were only there two nights and three days.
From the moment we rolled through the gates, a feeling of peace washed over us. Horses, open sky, moss gently waving from tree branches and a big barn/stable smack dab in the middle. Pretty perfect.
We pulled up to our designated parking spot, and I could just hear the Pioneer Woman whispering, “Welcome y’alllllll.” One glance at the tiny converted shed, and I thought, “Oh shit that IS tiny,” but once we opened up the doors, I became 7 all over again. I wanted to claim first dibs on the bunk with the window overlooking the farm, but alas, I am almost 50 and that would have been kinda mean to the kids, not to mention another clue for my husband that he might have married Dharma from Dharma and Greg.
We are not cat people. I mean, the kids don’t know if they are cat people, but WE, my husband and I, are not cat people. He lived with a gal who had a cat for several years, and I had the pleasure of sitting on the couch that said cat loved to mangle, but other than that, not a lot of feline action in our lives. So, to us, renting a room that came with at least two of the 13 cats that live in the barn seemed like a challenge right out of The Amazing Race.
Our kids are now officially cat people but also, horse, dog, goat and chicken people (donkeys too). We shared our space with the kitties but occasionally had to show them the door when shit got too crowded. I tried to say, “Ok cats, time to goooo,” in the sing-songy voice of a non-cat owner, but my husband reminded me that cats don’t listen so I ended up having to gently extract them physically. Don’t tell anyone, but these mf’ers are soft, squishy, purring deliciousness. We’re still not cat people but will now dabble in our neighborhood cats from time to time. P.S. The Bunk Room is the only room that includes the cat amenity.
I could go on and on about this farm stay, from the gentleness and eagerness to please of the lovely ranch hand family which included horseback rides, custom bonfires complete with s’mores to the ability to feed the animals snacks 24/7, but I wouldn’t want to give all of the magic away.
We never had the pleasure of meeting our host, Lizabeth, but she was always an Airbnb message away. Like Charlie from Charlie’s Angels (the original, not the remake! Was there a remake?), we never saw her, but her presence was felt in many wonderful ways. The kids were sad when we packed up, bound for Charleston. We were sad too, but we knew we would be back.
Lizabeth shares lists on her Airbnb page of short trips to nearby attractions and restaurants that were perfect. Here are some photos of a visit to Driftwood beach at Botany Bay Plantations and Wildlife Preserve. I think you will agree that it is breathtaking.
This was our second experience with Airbnb. I love the humanity around the sharing of spaces and the generosity of opening up something beautiful and intimate to anyone. The “Farm Bathing” title of this post refers to our glamping trip to a farm in Vermont that we took last summer through HipCamp, a site similar to Airbnb that “offers outdoor stays and camping experiences via a website and mobile app.” There was a lot of overlap with our farm stay in that we were immersed in the farm experiences and felt a sincere connection with the humans behind the farms.
LIZABETH’S RESTAURANT RECS THAT WE LOVED NEAR THE FARM…
Our bunk room was not fit for cooking and that was a great thing because it forced us to explore some insane food just minutes away from the farm. Lizabeth shares lists on Airbnb for local beaches as well as restaurants, and she was spot on for both!
You will never hear me say that any food is elevated. Simple foods that have been passed down through generations do not need to be elevated. However, I do enjoy a spin on a classic and this is what the people at Angel Oak do. I am very picky about my fried chicken. I am not a fan of super herby and overly-brined birds. This fried chicken scores a 10 on texture, juiciness and breading and a 7.8 on seasoning because someone snuck some herbs in there, but if you woke me up at 3 am and said, “there is some fried chicken from Angel Oak outside, but it’s 10 below and you have to eat it barefoot,” I would. I am also picky about fried green tomatoes. You would think I was from the South. (Does South America count?) I have eaten a superb fried green tomato and none ever lived up to it, until now. I like straightforward food, so when I saw that the FGTs were served with a dollop of pimento cheese, I had my doubts. I don’t tend to fill my gut with just one heavy-ass-thing at the beginning of the meal only to be rendered a sad useless blob by the end, but THESE babies were oh-so-amazing. I am realizing that I am full of “don’ts” when it comes to dining out and this includes foofy cocktails, but I was feeling festive so I ordered the Paloma. It turns out that I have been drinking cocktails at all the wrong places because this one was special. It was balanced. Not too sweet, not too bland and just boozy enough. I ordered it somewhere else a few days later, and it was not the same. I wish we had a restaurant like Angel Oak around Westchester, NY because I would become a regular. Some words… casual, class yet inventive, super high quality and delicious.
This restaurant was a teensy bit further than Angel Oak but possessed a similar vibe. The food here was excellent. I love a wedge salad and not an elevated wedge salad, although this one was tall. It was everything a wedge salad needed to be. Each ingredient was extremely fresh, and you could taste that the blue cheese dressing did not skimp on ingredients. The other favorite here was the shrimp and grits. I like a S&G where the shrimpies are saucy and well-seasoned on a backdrop of simple but expertly executed grits. I would also eat this dish barefoot in the snow. The edge that Roxbury Mercantile had over Angel Oak was the kid factor. This place has a super cool bench that sways called a Joggling Board. These occupied the kids for a bit between dinner and the, tiny but heavenly, key lime pie. I want a Joggling Board, and I know just where I am going to put it! They also offered cornhole and a sweet outdoor lounging area too.
SO WE DIDN’T END UP STAYING IN CHARLESTON AFTER THE FARM…
After a delicious lunch at Rodney Scott’s BBQ, where the hype is well-deserved, we quickly discovered that the hotel that we could afford during winter break in historic Charleston, would surely drain our coffers of the joy we had just accumulated at the farm. As we all sat in the happiest part of our sad hotel room, a bed next to a window, I took to searching for resorts NEARBY and after being told that a few were SOLD OUT, the hotel Gods smiled upon us and we scored a room at The Sweetgrass Inn that is located at the Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palm, just a short ride from Charleston, but a different world entirely. I am not going to go into full detail about this, but let’s just say that for very little over what we were paying for a den of despair in Charleston, we landed a GORGEOUS less-than-a-year-old resort. I highly recommend the combination of East Gate farm in Meggett, SC followed by The Sweetgrass Inn at Isle of Palms. We ate most meals on our two-day visit on the resort, but had the pleasure of having a traditional Southern Breakfast at Seabiscuit, a charming and delicious family-owned restaurant only few miles down the road on Isle of Palms.
The Farm Bathing reference comes from here:
If you are reading this because you read the abbreviated version in Charleston Inside Out, yippee and thank you for visiting!
All photos are property of Claudia Ossa. Please feel free email firstname.lastname@example.org, if you are interested in re-publishing this essay or hiring Claudia to do some writing.