Standing seventy feet tall and covering 17,000 square feet with the shade of it’s leaves, the five-hundred year old Angel Oak is one of the top hidden places in Charleston. And now I just told you about it. But don’t stop reading just yet because there is more to do than just see a tree that nearly ten feet in diameter.
Located just ten miles from Charleston, the Angel Oak is one of the most popular destinations for locals to enjoy a short lunch break on otherwise monotonous workdays. Getting to the small park surrounding the massive oak tree is actually part of the fun. Turning off Maybank Highway in Johns Island you immediately find yourself on a wide dirt road covered with a canopy of trees (these are smaller than the centerpiece). While the dirt road may seem cheap and forgotten, it is actually charming and immediately sets the mood for the park ahead.
The massive Angel Oak is secured inside an eight-foot high chain link fence topped with a thick row of vines. If you happen upon the park during closed hours (the park is open 9-5 Monday-Saturday and 1-5 Sundays) you can still sneak a peek through the fence. But of course the best view is inside the fence. Park your car along the dirt road outside the fence, but be warned you may end up walking a bit on a crowded day.
Once inside the fence head for the small building on the left that serves as the park office and gift shop. Inside you’ll find a small collection of memorabilia, photos, and postcards all featuring the iconic tree.
Once you give your full attention to the tree you’ll find yourself a bit mesmerized and overwhelmed. Large tree limbs snake along the ground ducking beneath the surface and rising again like a giant tentacle in the ocean. Some of the limbs have grown so large and heavy they need to be propped up with massive wooden posts or steel poles. The sandy ground is almost always covered in fallen leaves, creating a natural mosaic carpet.
People come from all over to this free attraction (yes, it is absolutely free). Photographers come with their cameras and clients, ready to capture portraits, engagements, and wedding memories. Locals come to take a stroll around the tree while chatting with a co-worker. Tourists come to get their picture taken in front of the thick tree trunk and pose for that unique selfie. If your phone can shoot panoramas or stitch photos together, I would suggest you learn how to use the feature before visiting; the standard lens on a cellphone will not be able to capture the enormity of the tree (although at a distance you can come close).
A few picnic tables off to the side give you a chance to take a load off and enjoy the site, but don’t bring any food with you here. Long lists of “don’t do’s” surround the historic tree. No tripods, pets, picnics, blankets, props, or spike heels, and especially no climbing the tree is allowed. The City of Charleston owns the small park and takes strides to protect the attraction from damage while providing a place for large crowds to visit.
Since you’re not allowed to bring a picnic to the Angel Oak, how about taking the family to the Angel Oak Restaurant? Named after the iconic attraction, the restaurant is just fifteen minutes away on Highway 17 (Savannah Highway). Opened in 2012 by locals Jay and Nicole Kees, the restaurant is a small whole-in-the-wall establishment with fantastic food, great service, and a charming décor.
The small, unassuming building gives way to a rustic, country interior with wooden floors, a metal ceiling, mason jar glasses, and craft paper tablecloths. Remakes of popular Beetles and Beach Boys songs fills the atmosphere with merry melodies while the chatter of other diners drifts through the air. The quiet interior is cozy (and pleasantly air conditioned on hot summer days) while the outdoor patio is pleasant but noisier with the restaurants location along the busy four-lane highway.
If the southern décor and friendly staff weren’t reasons enough to visit, the food will certainly convince you. The first thing that jumped out from their menu was the word “supper”, selling the fact this is a southern restaurant (Jay is from Mississippi, while Nicole is from New York, so we know who must’ve designed the menus). The lunch menu features more sandwiches while the supper menu has ravioli, steak of the day, and local catch of the day. Either menu is sure to leave you full with enormous portions (my Buffalo Chicken Sandwich was two large, breaded chicken tenders that practically fell apart in my mouth), but you do get sides included with most meals for lunch while they cost $4/each for supper.
Just as the Angel Oak continues to grow a few inches each year, Jay and Nicole plan to expand the Angel Oak Restaurant. They have big dreams for the little restaurant, and with a loyal local following they are sure to make them a reality. The restaurant is a great place to end your day exploring the iconic tree, and makes a great place to escape when one of those famous southern thunderstorms creep up on you in the blink of an eye. Any way you look at it, you’ll have a great day between the Angel Oak and Angel Oak Restaurant.
If you would like to view more photos from the Angel Oak Tree, please visit my website at http://photography.southeasterntraveler.com/South-Carolina/Edisto-Beach/