By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher
Between Myrtle Beach’s high-rise condos and Charleston’s Southern city charm lies the “Hammock Coast,” a moniker to spotlight Georgetown County towns for the many tourists attracted here.
Visitors find more elbow room and an easy going vibe in the communities of Murrells Inlet, Pawleys Island/Litchfield, Georgetown, Garden City and inland, Andrews.
A map shows this coastal stretch along U.S. Highway 17 does resemble a hammock swinging into the ocean. It’s also home to Pawleys Island’s darling roadside attraction: The Original Hammock Shop. It dates to 1938 and has grown into a collection of shops on many must-do lists.
But what also awaits is three centuries of history — Georgetown is South Carolina’s third-oldest city. You’ll also discover stunning sunrises and sunsets, watersports, hunting and fishing, coastal dining, fantastic bird watching, golf, Lowcountry and plantation tours and even pirate tales and ghost lore (like that of the Gray Man of Pawleys Island).
Water, Water Everywhere
Five rivers here lead into Winyah Bay before heading into the Atlantic, so getting on water is easy. Whether kayaking the marshes, sailing the bay, power boating the rivers, or charter boat fishing the ocean — there’s a water activity for everyone.
Murrells Inlet, with its fishing village heritage, is all about outdoors. The half-mile MarshWalk here is a wooden walkway alongside seafood restaurants plus frequent live music. The walk overlooks a saltwater estuary and Goat Island, just across the channel. The 750-foot-long Murrells Inlet Veterans Pier is a popular spot for sunsets.
Brookgreen in Bloom
Brookgreen Gardens, its Highway 17 entrance marked by the massive sculpture “Fighting Stallions,” is home to the world’s largest collection of American figurative sculpture with more than 2,000 works by 425 artists. The gardens date to 1931 and consist of 350 acres of public spaces, as well as 6,150 acres of nature and wildlife preserve. It’s especially gorgeous when the azaleas bloom. April is officially “Brookgreen in Bloom,” and the much-anticipated installation/exhibit “Bruce Munro at Brookgreen: Southern Light” runs Wednesdays through Saturdays Apr. 8-Sept. 12, 2020.
Year round, Brookgreen is another world where coastal breezes rustle Spanish moss in the live oaks with art in all directions. Visitors can enjoy sculpture gardens, an art museum, history exhibits, a butterfly house, boat rides and a small zoo that features native wildlife. There’s also programming that celebrates Gullah Geechee culture in honor of enslaved Africans who worked the four former rice plantations once here.
State Park Birding & a Castle
Across the highway is 2,500-acre Huntington Beach State Park. It boasts direct ocean access, hiking and the remains of Atalaya Castle. The castle was once the winter home of art lovers/philanthropists Archer and Anna Huntington who founded Brookgreen in 1931 (she was a prominent sculptor). Both the gardens and Atalaya are National Historic Landmarks.
The beach is wide both here and at nearby Pawleys Island, one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast. It’s also free of any commercial high-rises.
Birdwatchers know the state park as a premiere East Coast location for 300 plus species — from coastal birds to feathered forest varieties. Field trips offer the chance to spot alligators, explore marsh and nature trails, and learn about Atalaya. From May through August, staff closely monitor loggerhead sea turtle nesting sites on the beach.
When rice was king locally, Georgetown’s water port was instrumental in getting rice to markets domestic and foreign, the latter via Charleston.
The Plantation Tour of Homes (Apr. 3-4, 2020) gives access to some homes not usually open to visitors. Among homes that are open to the public year round are the 1740s Hopsewee on the Santee River with a popular afternoon tea and Gullah Tour offering, as well as the Belle W. Baruch Foundation’s Hobcaw Barony. “Hobcaw” is a Native American word meaning “between the waters.” This land became a colonial land grant or “barony” in 1718.
Belle Baruch, oldest daughter of New York financier Bernard Baruch, stipulated that the family plantation, her home and the land surrounding — including its Friendfield Village of simple slave dwellings — be preserved for scientific and environmental research, upon her death in 1964. This continues today.
Visitors will likely be intrigued by this “Baroness of Hobcaw,” as writer Mary E. Miller dubbed her. She had an Annie Oakley meets Amelia Earhart persona. At one time, this champion equestrian owned seven planes and a stable of horses. Her favorite is buried on the grounds.
Georgetown’s tidy Front Street with live oaks and free, on-street diagonal parking, boasts the revamped 1940s Strand Theater, independent shops and a centerpiece clock tower. Inside is the small Rice Museum with dioramas and artifacts explaining that crop’s history here.
A few blocks away is the free South Carolina Maritime Museum and longtime waterfront eatery the River Room Restaurant. You’ll also find the historic Kaminski House, circa 1769, which is open for tours of its American and English antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Outside the lively city thoroughfare, immaculately kept Southern homes populate the historic district. Georgetown also has the County Museum, the small family-run Gullah Museum and several pristine churches on nearby corners including one that counted Michelle Obama’s grandparents among its congregants.
Inland Andrews has a family/community focus and recreation like swimming and boating in nearby Black River.
With the calendar soon turning to summer, there’s no better time to plan a Hammock Coast getaway to explore history, beaches, nature and oh-so-cherished time together.
Visit AAA.com/GoTravel or call 800-374-2865 to plan your Hammock Coast road trip!
(Go Magazine March/April 2020)