Millions of people descend on Myrtle Beach and the entire Grand Strand region every year to enjoy incredible weather and some fun in the sand. That’s fine, but that’s also not me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the beach but more in an “admiring from a distance” kind of way. My attention span is far too short to allow spending hours in a chair just sitting. Luckily, most beach destinations have plenty of other ways to spend the time, and that’s certainly the case in and around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. From a rich history to fun outdoor experiences, there’s too much to see and do during just one trip, but these moments are I think truly not to be missed.
South Carolina’s Low Country has a long history, dating to well before the founding of the country. This region also used to be the most prosperous in the nation thanks to one crop – rice. While the rice plantations are long gone, some of the large manor houses still remain, perhaps none as well preserved though as Hopsewee. In 1735, the Hopsewee Plantation house was built about 13 miles from Georgetown, South Carolina. One of many homes built amongst the lucrative rice plantations that once dotted the Low Country, it has somehow survived the centuries and today stands just as it did when it was first built. Like many other historic homes, it has changed hands several times throughout the years but at one time was home to the Lynch family and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It’s still privately owned and yes, they even live there and visiting is a fun and easy day trip from Myrtle Beach, as well as the perfect way to learn more about the history of the region.
Not only is paddling one of my favorite activities, but kayaking is arguably the best way to get up close and personal with Mother Nature. That’s why I was so excited to join local tour company Black River Outdoors on their two-hour paddle around the salt marshes near Murrells Inlet. The weather was so perfect that it was hard to believe this is what autumn in South Carolina feels like, and it was also a great time to be on the water. With no one else around except for a few anglers, my guide and I had the marshes to ourselves. Birds of every size and color (this place is a birder’s dream), oysters and even a playful dolphin all were features of the morning spent on the water, although what I enjoyed most was the activity itself. There’s nothing quite as therapeutic as getting a quiet workout amongst nature, and for me it was also the perfect way to connect to the environment away from the glitz and glamor of the beach.
Eating all the food
Around the world culinary habits are changing. Almost every city or region I visit is in the process of showcasing their culinary offerings, and with good reason. There’s been a worldwide explosion of new and creative restaurants and that’s certainly the case in Myrtle Beach. I knew that I’d be eating well while in South Carolina, but I never expected that the food aspect would play as important a role as it did. There are few things I enjoy more than great Southern soul food, which is one reason why it was my first stop in Myrtle Beach. Pulling up a chair at the locally famous institution Big Mike’s Soul Food, it was just the kind of low-key restaurant I love. I was quickly overwhelmed by choice though, finally deciding on a new-to-me plate of chicken bog. Made with rice, sausage, chicken and special seasonings, it was the perfect foodie introduction to the Low-Country. As I alluded to though, there are plenty of chefs flexing their culinary muscles whether it’s with a unique cocktail at The Chemist, or a meal you’ll never forget at Hook & Barrel, I haven’t eaten so well in a very long time.
Although South Carolina avoided a direct hit by Hurricane Florence, the resulting floodwaters had a devastating impact on many communities, including Conway. Although it was a new name to me, this historic town is the seat of Horry County and has long played an important role in the region. Thankfully the town sprang into action and soon most remnants of the flood will be gone, which is great news because visiting the town is the ideal day trip from Myrtle Beach. The shops and cafes lining Main Street are well worth an afternoon, but so is the incredibly well done Horry County Museum. One of the best regional museums I’ve ever visited, there’s a lot to see and do in this impressive institution. From the history of the county in its earliest days to the present, to special exhibits highlighting culture and trends, it’s a fun way to spend some time.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as I drove into the massive Brookgreen Gardens, but as it turns out the park is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. An unusual combination of art, nature and history, there’s a lot to love about the local landmark. Founded in the 1930s, the mission has always been multifold, which is what makes it so fascinating even today. The major focus is to collect, conserve and exhibit figurative American sculpture and, in so doing, Brookgreen has become one of the largest outdoor sculpture parks in the world. Thanks to its size though, the Gardens are also about preserving the natural legacy of the region, especially the canals and salt marshes that in large part define the Low Country. Days could be spent here, but since I only had a few hours I made the most of them first by taking a boat cruise on the old plantation canals, and then spending some time amongst the artwork in the gardens. Brookgreen is truly a remarkable haven and one of those local treasures that is so amazing to discover.