My partner and kids and I are just back from a wonderful family reunion vacation to Edisto Beach, SC. Edisto is about an hour outside of Charleston. It's a charming little town that managed to stave off the temptation to build boardwalks and arcades and diving horses and stuff. It's a very low-key place, all about the beach, seafood, fishing and and wildlife. There are only a handful of restaurants in town to begin with, and though I didn't eat at them, there are actually two that report being able to accommodate a gluten-free diet. (Check 'em out here through UrbanSpoon.)
We had rented a 7-bedroom house to accommodate 18 Bakers or relatives of Bakers, and as a group of 18, two of whom avoid gluten and four who are vegetarian, we ended up preparing 80% of our meals at the house. For me, I think I ate out in Edisto only once at a place called Whaley's. I had salad. It wasn't the best -- our in-house dining was much better. We had stopped at Trader Joes in Charleston for some staples and gluten-free fare before heading to Edisto, then stopped at a local farmers market just up the road before we arrived. We also made numerous stops at Edisto's only grocery store, the Piggly Wiggly. We had plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables on hand, and way too many gluten-free chips. Our first night was build-your-own-soft-taco night, and the next day my sisters-in-law made two versions of what we came to call "gumbalaya," one with shrimp and one vegetarian, with careful examination of the spices that went in. We had gumbalaya for days -- a soup of okra, potatoes, corn and other veggies, and which we enhanced by the 2nd or 3rd round with tomatoes, and in my case, greens. As always, preparing meals ourselves not only ensured a safer dining experience, but it is way more affordable, and we were able to spend our food savings on things like kayak rentals and boat trips to our own private island for a day. The trip was a fabulous success because it was all about family and playing on the beach and seeing new and different things, and not a lot of angsting about food.
I do want to note a nice lunch we had with an old friend of mine in Charleston before we headed to the beach. Sesame Burgers and Beer in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood had gluten-free bread and options listed right on their regular menu, which is so refreshing! I had the black bean burger, pictured above. It did pay to quiz them about their homemade condiments. Their house mustard has beer as one of its ingredients, so fortunately they had French's mustard on hand as well.
I suppose the moral to the story is that if you can construct your vacation such that you don't have to rely on eating out for most of your meals, you will certainly have more confidence in the gluten-free status of what you are putting in your mouth. I know it kills part of the joy of vacation -- after all, if you are cooking it SOMEONE'S going to have to do the dishes -- but I think the trade-off is worth it. And my family was really terrific about splitting the chores fairly. I would totally recommend Edisto Beach as a vacation destination as long as you pick accommodations that allow and enable you to prepare your own meals. Then get out on the beach, take a boogie board, marvel at the flying formation of the once-endangered brown pelicans and keep your eyes out for dolphins!