Looking for a relaxing getaway? Head to South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. Its historic communities have welcomed visitors for generations with spacious beaches, pristine salt marshes, golfing, kayaking, sport fishing and more.
Summertime along South Carolina’s Hammock Coast is a beach-goer’s dream. Now, with the arrival of cooler weather, the pristine coastal communities continue to impress.
After previously spending time in historic Georgetown, the Hammock Coast’s largest city, I headed back in September to take in some sites and destinations I missed. What I found was the same laid-back coastal vibe but with fewer tourists.
Before I go on, let’s talk about the name – Hammock Coast. In addition to its wide, sandy beaches, the region’s most well-known ambassador may be its Pawleys Island Hammocks, which date back more than a hundred years. I owned one myself many years ago, so I had to stop by The Original Hammock Shop to see how they are made.
Inside a small building just off Ocean Highway in the town of Pawleys Island, I found a craftsman weaving a dark blue rope to make one of the popular hammocks, a process that takes about 90 minutes, he explained. Pawleys Island Hammocks are shipped globally, so when tourism officials were casting about for a way to brand their string of coastal communities, they settled on the name Hammock Coast. In addition to Georgetown, other Hammock Coast destinations include Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach, Murrells Inlet, Garden City and Andrews.
Adjacent to the Original Hammock Shop, visitors can explore a series of other stores and boutiques in The Hammock Shops Village and also across Ocean Highway at the equally delightful Village Shops, dubbed “Downtown Pawleys.” Visitors will love exploring the variety found in these locally owned stores that sell products that range from women’s apparel to Lowcountry artwork to sweetgrass baskets in the Gullah-Geechee tradition.
I bought a Christmas ornament from Christmas Mouse, some candied pecans from Stella & Remi, and had a delightful lunch at Local, a gastropub that sources locally grown food products (don’t leave without trying the key lime pie). In between all that, I amused myself with a few rounds of cornhole under a clump of palm trees.
If you go: Plan to spend at least 2 hours…or longer if you have lunch or enjoy shopping.
I had long heard of Brookgreen Gardens but had never had occasion to visit. This historic site was well worth the wait.
Located in Murrells Inlet, the gardens are enormous – more than 6,000 acres – and include four main themes: botanical gardens, American sculptures, a Lowcountry zoo and Lowcountry history.
Even in autumn, I was impressed with the absolute beauty of the place, with its flowering plants and ancient trees draped in Spanish moss. The cooler weather, in fact, seemed to make it all the more enjoyable.
In addition to the self-guided tours, Brookgreen offers special excursions that you can add onto admission. The Creek Excursion, which runs from March through November, includes a history lesson about the enslaved people who once cultivated rice on parts of the site and contributed mightily to the Lowcountry’s culture.
On Oct. 31, a traveling sculpture of Harriet Tubman, currently on display in Georgetown, will be moved to Brookgreen Gardens for two months.
In a tease to the holiday season, I saw crews hanging strings of lights in preparation for the annual Nights of a Thousand Candles – an annual display of more than 2,700 hand-lit candles and millions of sparkling lights.
If you go: A general admissions ticket ($22 for adults) is good for seven consecutive days. Pace yourself to enjoy the full experience. Except for service animals trained to assist disabled persons, pets are prohibited. As a Charlotte resident, I was especially thrilled to visit the red wolf enclosure, which the North Carolina Zoo helped establish to protect the endangered species.
What do you get when you cross the speed and excitement of a jet ski with the safety and comfort of a small, inflatable boat? Answer: One of the most thrilling adventures you can have along the Hammock Coast.
Earlier this year, the husband-wife team of Jason and Lorrie Zimecki opened Seakart Adventure SC just off the MarshWalk in Murrells Inlet, directly behind the Dead Dog Saloon (get the fish sandwich). For $199 an hour, you can hot dog through the inlet and into the ocean (weather permitting), guided by a security boat.
Ripping along at a top speed of about 35 miles per hour, the Seakart handles like a dream, even when performing hairpin turns or bounding over the wake of the security boat. And because of the crafts’ structural integrity, the ride never felt out of control.
Jason said he first encountered Seakarts about five years ago while working in the Middle East in the restaurant industry. When he returned home, he opened the first (and only) Seakart business in the United States.
If you go: The Seakarts carry up to three people. Drivers must be at least 18 years old, and passengers must be at least 6 years old. The business will close for the winter in November and will reopen in the spring.
Even if you opt not to Seakart, no visit to Hammock Coast is complete without a visit to the popular MarshWalk, “where the fun, the view, and the music is always free.”
In addition to many waterfront bars and restaurants, you can charter a fishing boat there, or book a twilight wine cruise. I also spied a nearby fishing pier.
If you go: Upcoming events include Halloween on the MarshWalk (Oct. 31), the 9th annual Santa Crawl on the MarshWalk (Dec. 9) and New Year’s Eve on the MarshWalk (Dec. 31).
Where to stay
The Hammock Coast offers an abundance of vacation rentals, everything from beachfront homes to condos. You can begin your search here.
During my earlier Georgetown trip, I stayed at Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn Bed & Brew, a historic home that’s been converted into a guest house. This time I wanted more of a beach experience, so I rented a two-bedroom home at Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort, a sprawling beachfront area that has welcomed vacationers for decades. Located in the Litchfield community of Pawleys Island, the resort offers beachfront homes and condos for rent, as well as lakeview rentals, golf-course villas and more throughout the broader area of the Hammock Coast.
Depending on your preferences, Litchfield has much to offer in the way of amenities – onsite dining, swimming pools, beach access and even a Starbucks.
The home I rented had a screened-in porch that overlooked a man-made lake, a perfect spot to enjoy breakfast while watching a great egret fish for its own meal. The resort covers about 600 acres, so depending on where you stay, getting to the beach may require a medium walk or a short drive. Either way, being there is worth it.
If you go: Pack your fishing gear or crab net. I saw lots of families trying their luck along some of the resort’s saltwater access points.
Here are some other Hammock Coast events scheduled for fall 2023:
The 34th annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show (Oct. 21 and 22): Always held on the third weekend in October, this event features more than 100 classic wooden boats displayed on land and water, boatbuilding, a corrugated boat race, children’s model boatbuilding, a youth sailing regatta, knot tying, maritime arts and crafts, and food.
The 5th annual Tour de Plantersville (Oct. 28): A 12-, 25- and 62-mile bike ride in the western part of Georgetown County. This fundraiser benefits The Village Group, a nonprofit that promotes lifelong learning and creates programming for underserved youth in the county.
Pawleys Island Festival of Music & Art (ends Oct. 21): An annual event with a mission to provide diverse music, arts and educational events and programs that create cultural experiences that educate, entertain and inspire.