Situated at Winyah Bay where five rivers converge and flow in the Atlantic Ocean, Georgetown is South Carolina’s third-oldest city, beckoning visitors with its historic Southern charm. It’s one of several eclectic beach communities along the Hammock Coast, a pristine peninsula just south of Myrtle Beach in Georgetown County with black-water rivers, saltwater creeks, expansive pine forests and cypress swamps. The area is a great year-round destination for everyone from history buffs to outdoor enthusiasts.
Founded in 1729, Georgetown rose to prominence as a crucial seaport, exporting everything from rice – grown along the city’s riverbanks – to lumber, which was transported to New England ship builders and construction companies in the early 1900s.
Today you can soak up the city’s rich history by strolling through the downtown area, which is marked by beautiful antebellum homes, towering oak trees, cozy shops and boutiques, along with great restaurants, such as The Rice Paddy and The River Room, which offer fresh, locally caught seafood.
Overlooking scenic Georgetown Harbor is the 5,000-square-foot South Carolina Maritime Museum, which has a growing number of photographs, documents, artifacts and interactive exhibits about the area’s maritime history. There’s also the Georgetown County Museum, where you can explore 300 years of local history and heritage, including the role Georgetown played in the Revolutionary War, as well as its struggles and eventual prosperity following the Civil War. History buffs will also enjoy the Rice Museum, which looks at the pivotal role rice played in Georgetown County: by the mid-1800s the county produced nearly half of the country’s total rice crop. And for an up-close look at the Georgian-style architecture of the antebellum era, be sure to visit the Kaminski House Museum, which overlooks the Sampit River. The circa-1769 house is filled with English and American antique furniture and decorative arts.
VIDEO TOUR OF HAMMOCK COAST
Pawleys Island/Litchfield Beach
About 10 miles north of Georgetown are the quaint coastal communities of Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Island, both renowned for their unspoiled beaches and great surf.
For watersports enthusiasts, you can rent a surfboard, paddleboard or kayak from Surf the Earth and catch some waves or explore the salt marsh eco-systems and black-water rivers, such as the Waccamaw. From the Sandy Island boat ramp, it’s about a two-hour paddle to the 9,000-acre Sandy Island Nature Preserve, which is the largest freshwater island on the East Coast, teeming with wildlife such as osprey and eagles.
If you love the links, Georgetown County offers a dozen award-winning golf courses. For a detailed online map of the courses, along with a guide to area restaurants, shops and accommodations, check out the Waccamaw Golf Trail http://www.waccamawgolftrail.com
Shopping opportunities also abound around the Pawleys Island/Litchfield area, with dozens of art galleries and boutiques, including The Hammock Shops, where you can see local artisans make the island’s famous rope hammocks.
Restaurants in Pawleys Island range from fine-dining establishments like Frank’s Restaurant & Bar, which specializes in delectable steaks, or more casual fare at places like Quigley’s Pint & Plate Restaurant, where you can enjoy local craft beer and local seafood like fresh peel-and-eat shrimp. Pawleys Island also hosts several popular festivals, including the annual Pawleys Pavilion Reunion in May and the Festival of Music and Art in September and October.
Continuing north along the coast, nearby Murrells Inlet is a sleepy fishing village at the northernmost section of the Hammock Coast. Here you can paddle unspoiled stretches of the river where along the banks remnants of rice plantations and slave cabins stand partially hidden by towering moss-laden oak trees.
Local outfitters like Express Watersports offer scuba diving trips where you can explore World War II and Civil War wrecks, artificial and natural reef systems teeming with fish, as well as vessels like the City of Richmond, a passenger ship sunk while it was being towed to the Bahamas to be transformed into a casino.
Also in Murrells Inlet is Huntington Beach State Park, where you’ll find beachfront camping sites and coastal hiking trails. Within the park’s 2,500 protected acres are freshwater lagoons, salt marshes and maritime forests, all natural habitats for wildlife such as alligators, eagles, osprey and loggerhead sea turtles.
For deep-sea fishing there are several marinas on the inlet where you can charter a boat and hook everything from sea bass, snapper and grouper. If you’d rather have someone else catch your fish, there’s no shortage of great restaurants at Murrells Inlet, which bills itself as the Seafood Capital of the South and even claims it’s where hushpuppies were invented.
And a trip to the Hammock Coast wouldn’t be complete without a visit Brookgreen Gardens, a 9,100-acre attraction between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island that boasts everything from a zoo and sculpture gardens to walking trails that wind through nature preserves.
VIDEO TOUR OF BROOKGREEN GARDENS