South Carolina’s Hammock Coast
Charleston and Myrtle Beach are two of South Carolina’s most popular vacation destinations. The area in between, the Hammock Coast, isn’t overrun with crowds and offers a more laid-back experience. Georgetown, Garden City, Murrells Inlet, Pawleys Island, and Litchfield Beach make up South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. These five towns boast beautiful beaches, fresh seafood, boutique shopping, and more nature than you can imagine. Best of all, each one has its own distinct personality.
Whether you are looking for a vacation spot or a day trip during your visit to Charleston or Myrtle Beach, check out South Carolina’s Hammock Coast!
(This article was originally published in Jan 2016, but updated in April 2020)
Georgetown, South Carolina, is full of amazing historical attractions. Founded in 1729 making it South Carolina’s third oldest city, it features a charming oak-lined downtown area with quaint yet upscale restaurants. There are several locally-owned boutiques to browse in with everything from housewares to stylish fashions.
Georgetown’s dining scene offers innovative and tasty Lowcountry cuisine, with fresh seafood and classic cocktails. My favorite is Seven Hundred Modern Grill & Bar. Start your meal with the Harborwalk Flat Bread (pickled red onions, goat cheese, roasted peppers, and spinach) and then try the Colonial Salad (dried cherries, hand-cut bacon, bleu cheese, and white balsamic vinaigrette).
The Harborwalk has excellent waterfront views of the Sampit River and is especially captivating for sunsets and at night. Georgetown has a ghost history dating back to the Civil War and claims that it is haunted. Be sure to drive around and see the grand antebellum mansions and old rice plantations. Two of the most popular are Hopsewee and Hampton Plantations. Other recommended things to do in Georgetown are to deep-sea fish, take an eco-tour, and sail.
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Family-Friendly Garden City
Garden City has spacious and less crowded beaches than nearby Myrtle Beach and one extraordinary attraction. The Pier at Garden City is perfect for bringing the whole family to enjoy live music, dancing, arcade games, and first-class fishing. You can catch substantial blue crabs and Spanish Mackeral here. There is also a cafe to enjoy a quick bite and tackle shop for your fishing needs. My kids loved going to that pier more than anything on the Hammock Coast, and even though they are now adults, they still want to visit.
Next to the pier is Sam’s Corner, a 24-hour retro diner that has tasty and cheap hotdogs. The restaurant only accepts cash, so plan accordingly. The most popular restaurant in the Garden City is Sara J’s, a seafood eatery built on the marsh. It is doubtful you will find better sweet tea or Shrimp and Grits anywhere in the Hammock Coast than at Sara J’s. Other points of interest include Carolina Escape Games, Maze Mania & Arcade, Myrtle Beach Surf School, and several mini-golf courses.
You can’t visit the beach without a dip of good, old-fashioned ice cream. Stop at Painters Homemade Ice Cream for your favorite ice cream cone, sundae, or soft-serve. Orange pineapple, mint-chocolate chip, and cake batter are our family faves.
Seafood Giant Murrells Inlet
This sleepy fishing town on a protected inlet features an excellent marsh walk. Known as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina,” Murrells Inlet is your go-to dining destination. During the seasonal months (May through September), be prepared to wait (often for hours) for a table.
Popular dining spots include Drunken Jack’s, The Claw House, Graham’s Landing, and River City Cafe. Drunken Jack’s has a salad bar that puts them in their own category, along with juicy steaks, live music, and a fun bar area. The Claw House is a New England style lobster house on the picturesque waterfront with tempting appetizers such as Clams Casino Dip or Crab Nachos (with mango salsa, avocado, and queso). They also have a fun beer garden and the best raw bar in town. At Graham’s Landing, you’ll find Instagram-worthy seafood dishes and a quaint patio seating area. I love the seafood basket choices, with flounder, oysters, shrimp, scallops, or a combination of two. Bonus, Graham’s Landing accepts reservations!
River City is our family’s go-to eatery with pub-style menu items, the best sweet tea ever, and a laid-back atmosphere. If you like seafood, River City’s blackened grouper Reuben is worth writing home about, and the award-winning burgers are always a great choice. There are seven River City locations throughout the area.
Murrells Inlet is home to Brookgreen Gardens, a beautiful nature park with jaw-dropping gardens, lovely fountains, and a myriad of elegant blooms and sculptures. This historical attraction is one of the top-rated in South Carolina and should not be missed. Another gem in Murrells Inlet is Huntington State Beach Park, one of the top birdwatching spots in North America. Take an eco-tour with Black River Outdoors if you would like to get out on the water, or treasure quiet beach moments along the entire coast.
Playful Pawleys Island
Pawleys Island has grown since the 1980s, but it still reminds me of that era, with an upscale vibe. The area is best known for its hand-woven rope hammocks, made locally since 1938. A picture-perfect Pawleys Island destination is Litchfield Plantation, a beautiful country inn retreat with superb historical roots. Unfortunately, it is only open to resort guests, so you can’t just drive through the property.
You will find great shopping at The Shops Oak Lea, mainly the Joggling Board store, a must for children’s clothing, and Lilly Pulitzer brand items. Visit the Hammock Shops, a collection of whimsical stores selling beachy clothing, art, jewelry, wind chimes, toys, and pet gear in a natural setting. The property is rugged in appearance but neatly arranged with plant and tree identification labels, impressive blooms, and trendy eateries. You could easily spend the whole day just browsing the many cool shops along the highway at Pawley’s Island. It is my favorite part of the Hammock Coast.
My choice eatery in Pawley’s Island is bisQit. You won’t believe how satisfying the thick old-fashioned milkshakes are, and adult versions are available, too. The gourmet burgers are tasty, and the Meatloaf Sandwich screams comfort food, but the spicy pimento cheese appetizer is a must. Pawleys Island is for foodies!
Laid-back Litchfield Beach
Halfway between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach is Litchfield Beach. The town is built on and around rice plantations from the years gone by. Litchfield has impressive beaches, shopping, and impeccable dining spots.
Litchfield Market Village has great stores and a noteworthy wine shop. Directly behind the village is Kudzu at the Beach, a cooking enthusiast’s dream store. Kudzu has a fresh bakery, posh grocery store, upscale wines, homemade frozen items for take-and-make, and a dynamic selection of kitchenwares and cookbooks. Try the Roasted Red Pepper Bisque with manchego cheese, spinach/walnut ravioli, or the Chicken Salad, all superb choices.
Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas are a golf lover’s dream. There are hundreds of courses, with over 100 premier designer offerings, touting names like Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer, Pete Dye, and Jack Nicklaus. Two of the area’s award-winning golf courses are in Litchfield: True Blue and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club. These properties are regularly featured in golf publications’ Top 100 Golf Clubs list. Like many of its neighboring towns, Litchfield boasts several ghost stories, and my husband even witnessed his own “unexplainable happening” during one of his golf games there.
South Carolina’s Hammock Coast Makes for a Spectacular Vacation
South Carolina’s Hammock Coast is a vacation destination within itself. Even Myrtle Beach visitors should spend some time day-tripping to these five towns, all offering unique opportunities and far fewer crowds. Come hungry; you can feed your body and soul in this beautiful place.
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