Explore the quaint coastal towns south of Myrtle Beach for a laid-back Lowcountry escape.
The Grand Strand is the 60+ mile stretch of coastal towns from Little River on the border of North Carolina to Georgetown, about an hour north of Charleston. Myrtle Beach remains the main attraction in the Grand Strand, but a quick drive away from the large theaters, mini golf courses, chain restaurants, high rise hotels, and kids’ attractions is a quieter escape of coastal homes and charming local businesses. Known as the South Strand, the seaside towns of Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, and Pawley’s Island offer a more quaint, less commercialized experience on the coast complete with pre-civil war history, Lowcountry restaurants, and plenty of shopping and nature to go along with the requisite Southern charm.
To discover the history of the Lowcountry, pack your camera and head to the picturesque Brookgreen Gardens, a historic botanical gardens built by Anna Hyatt Huntington, a sculptor, and her husband, Archer Milton Huntington, in the 1930s. Featuring more than 1,400 outdoor sculptures, gardens, museum, zoo, and a boat cruise through old rice plantations, the biggest draw is the myriad of gardens to explore, with sculptures dating from the 1800s to today, 300 year old Oak trees draped in Spanish moss, ornate fountains, and greenery ensconced in beautiful bricked walls. Jump on a pontoon boat for a tour of the area’s old rice plantations, which takes you through alligator-inhabited waterways while a knowledgeable guide describes the rich history of the region. The boat cruise can sell out, so signing up at arrival is smart. Kids in tow or not, you will also want to head over to the Lowcountry zoo part of the grounds and be entertained by the otters playing. Next, or the next day, (since you could easily explore the gardens from the morning until Happy Hour,) head across the highway to Huntington Beach State Park, an expansive park with marshes, wildlife, nature paths and the Huntington’s beach-side home, Atalaya Castle.
In Pawley’s Island, people slow down and saunter. The air is a little more refined, and the gorgeous scenery negates the urge to hurry. As you head south on Highway 17, a sign proclaims the “arrogantly shabby” style of the town – and this is on full display in the locally owned shops. Head to the Hammock Shops for a shabby chic shopping experience, which features locally-owned boutiques in cottages. The crushed oyster shell lined pathways meandering through the shopping center will lead you to locally owned restaurants,an old-fashioned candy store, clothing boutiques, and gift shops featuring an array of merchandise with a distinctly coastal flair, like a SC Palmetto Moon on a Tervis Tumbler or a painted crab on a throw pillow. For little ones, go next to the Joggling Board for a wide selection of preppy Lilly Pulitzer beach clothes. For those looking to splurge, Christopher’s Fine Jewelry is the spot to try on a Rolex or a sapphire pendant necklace.
Lowcountry-inspired dishes like fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese, shrimp & grits, and She-crab soup are staples on nearly every menu in the South Strand. Farm-to-table fanatics will love Rustic Table for locally sourced fresh fish and shrimp ‘n gritz. Family-friendly bisQit serves up savory hamburgers (including one topped with Pimento Cheese!) with a pile of hand-cut french fries in a beach-shack setting on picnic tables at the Hammock Shops. and the diner-inspired menu makes spot this an excellent choice for lunch. For those with a sweet tooth during happy hour, the bartender will concoct a spiked milkshake – just make sure to keep it out of the reach of kids. Long-time favorite among locals and visitors for fine dining is Franks Restaurant & Bar with a top-notch wine list, a cozy atmosphere indoor and out, and a menu any foodie will love with heart-stoppingly delicious dishes like fried goat cheese medallions with tomato fondue and a filet served with buttermilk bacon blue cheese.
The lack of high rise hotels make Pawley’s Island beaches secluded and quiet. Spending days by the surf is what draws most families to the area to build sandcastles, jump in the waves, search for shark’s teeth, and relax with toes dug into the sand. However, you’re not limited to beach play in Pawley’s Island, and for the more active nature enthusiasts, the area has other outdoor attractions to offer. Anglers in your group will love surf fishing along the shoreline and further out, deep-sea fishing can be done in the Atlantic by renting a boat through Georgetown Charters for the day. Cyclists will enjoy the 9.9 mile Waccamaw Neck bike path from Pawley’s Island to Murrells Inlet, with road bikes, hybrid bikes, cruisers, kids’ bikes, and child bike seats for rent at Cyclopedia at affordable prices.