South Carolina’s Hammock Coast is far more low-key and laid-back than its better-known neighbor to the north, Myrtle Beach — and that’s the way locals and visitors like it. Comprised of a handful of communities including Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Garden City, Georgetown, and Andrews, the Hammock Coast’s beaches are quiet, secluded, and peaceful; there are few chain restaurants. And while many visitors come for the sun and sand, there are plenty of ways to spend your vacation days in this beautiful area that don’t involve a bathing suit and beach towels.
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Spend a few hours wandering through Brookgreen Gardens
You could easily spend a whole day at this enormous garden and wildlife sanctuary in Murrells Inlet. A National Historic Landmark, Brookgreen is built on four former rice plantations, and was founded in 1931 by philanthropist Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. Today, it’s home to one of the most significant collections of figurative sculptures in the world — more than 2,000 works by 425 artists. Wander the pathways through the garden and wonder at the art, flowers, and Spanish moss-draped live oaks; take a tour; and enjoy a picnic by a pretty pond.
Tip: In addition to the gardens and sculptures, kids will love exploring the Lowcountry Zoo (yes, there’s a zoo, too!) and the butterfly house on the property.
Keep an eye out for alligators and explore a “castle” at Huntington Beach State Park
This state park, right across the street from Brookgreen Gardens and located on a portion of the land owned by the Huntingtons, offers plenty of ways to get close to nature. As you drive into the park, you’ll pass a salt marsh on your left and a large freshwater pond on your right. Walk the short Kerrigan Nature Trail through a stretch of pine forest, and you’ll arrive at the edge of the pond, where you can walk out to a gazebo over the water. Keep your eyes peeled: This is the perfect place to see alligators sunbathing below. To explore the park’s other habitats, venture out onto the long salt-marsh boardwalk, where you may spot herons and egrets, or hike the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail, which winds through a maritime forest and connects with the park campground and the beach.
History lovers will be happy here, too. The park is home to Atalaya Castle, the Huntingtons’ winter home. Archer, who was a Spanish historian, designed the 30-room, one-story house inspired by the Mediterranean coastline and Moorish architecture. Today, the National Historic Landmark is surrounded by towering palm trees and a large, grassy lawn, and offers a glimpse into the past.
Tip: You can admire the teal doors and hand-wrought iron window grilles of Atalaya from the outside, but you must take a guided tour to see inside the historic home. Also, pssst, there’s a less-traveled path to the beach in the backyard.
Eat she-crab soup at The Chive Blossom
Tucked in a grove of live oaks, this bright and airy restaurant in Pawleys Island is the perfect laid-back lunch spot. House specialties include okra pancakes with tomato shrimp stew, crustless tomato basil pie with sherry cream sauce, and crab cakes, but no matter what, make sure to order the legendary she-crab soup. It’s so good, you’ll want to come back for it every day of your vacation.
Tip: Eat beneath the beautiful trees in The Chive Blossom’s courtyard, or inside under chandeliers made of oyster shells. Either way, look up!
Wander through history at Hobcaw Barony
More history? You’ve got it. Hobcaw Barony is a 16,000-acre coastal reserve near Georgetown. Once the site of naval stores, indigo fields, and rice production, it became a winter hunting retreat for millionaire Bernard Baruch. In the early 1900s, the South Carolinian and Wall Street financier hosted visitors like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Today, Hobcaw is a center for research, education, and conservation. Take an introductory bus tour of the property to learn about the history of the homes, stables, cemeteries, and a fully intact slave village, or take part in an ecology program to learn about the diverse ecosystems on the South Carolina coast.
Tip: All tours and programs require a reservation — you can’t drive your own car on the property — so be sure to call ahead or check online for availability.
Go for a swing in a famous rope hammock at The Original Hammock Shop
Cotton-rope hammocks have been a famous Pawleys Island tradition since 1889, when a riverboat captain named Joshua John Ward handcrafted the first one while seeking a cool and comfortable night’s sleep on his boat. Then, his friends wanted hammocks of their own. Today, his legacy lives on at this Pawleys Island shop, where you can watch the hammock weavers at work, try one out, and even take one back to your own yard.
Tip: The Original Hammock Shop is the crown jewel of the Hammock Shops, a quaint, walkable village. But you’ll also find dozens of other shops and restaurants, so be sure to take a stroll.
Satisfy your sweet tooth or pick up picnic supplies at Kudzu Bakery
Browse this bakery and market in Litchfield for all of the yummy cakes, pies, and cookies — plus specialty kitchen supplies, a large wine selection, and made-in-house sauces and canned goods. Headed out to the beach later? Snag a sandwich or some house-made pimento cheese and egg salad for a snack.
Tip: Stop by in the morning for to-die-for muffins (especially the ginger-lemon), apple squares, and cinnamon rolls.
Shoot clay at Back Woods Quail Club
Just 30 minutes from Georgetown, this preserve offers quail, turkey, and deer hunting on more than 15,000 acres of open fields and wooded areas. It also has multiple courses for clay shooting — including skeet and trap shooting, which simulate the action of bird hunting, and sporting clays, which is often described as “golf with a shotgun.”
Tip: Already know what you’re doing? Pick your course and get started. Want to learn? The club has three instructors who will teach you the beginner skills necessary.
Take a stroll and stop for drinks on the MarshWalk
A meandering half-mile boardwalk along a saltwater estuary in Murrells Inlet — South Carolina’s seafood capital — boasts beautiful views of the water and, of course, delicious seafood. With six restaurants and plenty of options to hear live music, the MarshWalk is the perfect place to go restaurant hopping and enjoy drinks with a sunset view of the Grand Strand.
Tip: Many of the restaurants on the MarshWalk are also open for brunch!
Take a tour of Hopsewee Plantation
This Lowcountry rice plantation house was built around 1740 near Georgetown, and was the birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today, the privately owned historic home, located on the banks of the North Santee River, is open to the public for tours. Explore the house with a guide; eat lunch at River Oak Cottage Tea Room, a restaurant on the property; and learn how to weave a sweetgrass basket — a Lowcountry tradition brought to this country by enslaved people — in a workshop taught by an eighth-generation weaver.
Tip: At the Tea Room, order a full Southern tea, which includes cucumber sandwiches and scones served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and apple jelly, among other sweet and savory treats.