Better At The Beach. Food and Family Vacations.

July 23, 2020

By Tammy Davis


The only thing better than a week at the beach is a week at the beach with lots of good food. Vacations give families and friends a chance to connect and make memories.  From a bowl of boiled peanuts to a bowl of home-made ice cream, food plays an important role in our vacation traditions.

Boiled Peanuts
No beach trip is complete without boiled peanuts. I’m partial to the ones that come out of a pressure cooker in Manning, SC, but produce stands make it easy for everybody to enjoy this southern staple. Favorite stops include:  Peanut Man on Ashley River Road, Benton’s outside of Walterboro, Terry’s Exxon in Manning, King’s Market at Edisto, Ringo’s near Eastover, Crouches in Lexington, and Wise’s near Newberry.

This deep-south delicacy is often pronounced “balled,” instead of “boiled” and sometimes comes in a Piggly Wiggly bag with an extra bag for the shells so you can start snacking on the road.

The term “Designated Driver” takes on a whole new meaning during family vacations. The “DD” is usually the early bird in the group, the person who makes the run to Krispy Kreme each morning before the rest of the crowd stirs so everyone can wake up to a “hot now” treat.

In addition to doughnuts, beach-vacation breakfasts usually include zucchini bread or blueberry muffins made with local produce.  Before filtration systems came along, the best grits of the year were “beach grits” served on a Dixie plate and enjoyed on a porch or deck or dock.

Lunches and Snacks
If you grew up in the South, you understand the term “good tomato.” It doesn’t get any better than a tomato from John’s Island or a neighbor’s garden. Keep it simple with tomato sandwiches made with Duke’s and a little salt and pepper, or cut it up a notch and make tomato sandwiches with hot biscuits from Mr. B’s or the Kudzu Bakery.

A week at the beach isn’t complete without a ham, usually HoneyBaked or country cured from Coopers. Early in the week, it’s the star of an evening meal.  The leftovers make the perfect sandwiches, and by the end of the week, true southerners use the bone as crabbing bait. Ham is a true multi-tasker.

Vacation planning 101: you must have pimento cheese at the beach. Lots of varieties with pimento cheese.  Dukes or Miracle Whip? Savory or sweet?  Jazzed up with jalapeno peppers? Most people like it the way their mamas and grandmas made it. There’s comfort in the familiar, even with sandwich spread.

Watermelon is the perfect beach food, another multi-tasker. It’s an easy snack for the kids with built-in entertainment:  seed-spitting.  Everybody loves watermelon salad as a side dish, and you just can’t beat a simple slice of ice-cold watermelon eaten by the water.  You know you are on vacation when your toughest decision is whether to add sugar, salt, or just enjoy it plain.

Main Dishes
Some version of a low-country boil is on most beach-trip menus. Fresh shrimp from Georgetown, McClellanville, or Beaufort; newly broken (not picked) sweet corn; new potatoes; and sausage may get poured out on a table covered with newspaper or served over rice. Hot, crispy hushpuppies or steaming biscuits make the perfect side.

Watching dolphins in the creek or a sunset over the water makes flipping hamburgers and hotdogs seem magical, not mundane.

Bar-b-que finds its way on most beach menus. Pork, hash, cole slaw, and potato salad make a perfect ending to any day. Again, most families have their favorite spots.

Southerners never go hungry on vacation, and they know how to end each meal just right with brownies made with a grandmother’s recipe, sheet cakes with boiled icing, cobblers made with McBee peaches, and the grand finale of the week: home-made ice cream.

“We always…”

“We always” is a good phrase to hear while on vacation.

“We always find the man selling peanuts and produce out of the back of his Chevy pick up.”

“We always stop at the country store and get a sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap.”

“We always eat all the party mix the first night.”

“We always eat the fried squash as soon as it comes out of the pan.”

“We always need more Duke’s.”

“We always keep the ice cream recipe inside the ice cream churn so we don’t forget and leave it home.”

Southerners like to eat well.  We eat particularly well on vacation, but it’s about more than the food.  Vacations let us carry on traditions and enjoy the same dishes year in and year out.  It’s a satisfying way to stay connected to each other and to the place we call home.


Tammy Davis is a southern writer and teacher finding lessons in everyday life. She is thankful for all the good cooks in her life and for all her happy memories of family vacations. Follow her on Instagram @tammydavisstories or visit  Davis has a new book, Back Porch Stories, available on Amazon and Kindle.