With its outdoor activities, cultural events and laid-back beach vibe, Georgetown County in South Carolina is a charming and relaxing destination.
With its casual vibe, 150+ restaurants, a restored downtown and world-renowned gardens and wildlife parks, Georgetown County in South Carolina—the Hammock Coast—has a lot to offer.
Just under seven hours from the Ocala area, it’s about halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, and boasts amazing choices for entertainment and relaxation. For water lovers, there are kayak rentals and boat tours. For landlubbers, enjoy lush botanical gardens, birdwatching opportunities and a 17-mile paved bike trail. For shoppers, the Georgetown downtown has charming shops and restaurants, and several shopping areas cater to vacationers and those who love the beachy life.
Located at the meeting place of four rivers, Georgetown proper is surrounded by water: Winyah Bay and the Black, Pee Dee, Waccamaw and Sampit rivers. It’s the third oldest town in South Carolina, behind Charleston and Beaufort. Half the nation’s rice once was grown in Georgetown County, which created enormous wealth—and accompanying architectural additions—before crop production died out in the early 20th century.
The Hammock Coast has several coastal communities: Georgetown, which is the county seat; Pawleys Island, a barrier island known as the oldest beach resort on the East Coast; and Litchfield Beach, Murrells Inlet and Garden City, all hugging US 17. The communities have multiple beach access points. Even in high summer, the Hammock Coast is markedly different from the hubbub of Myrtle Beach to the north.
“We’re very different than both of our more commercial neighbors,” says Mark Stevens, director of tourism development at the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. “The beach communities of South Carolina’s Hammock Coast and historic Georgetown are quiet, family-friendly places that have welcomed discerning visitors since the 1700s. We don’t have the crowds of either Myrtle Beach or Charleston, but we do have lots of charm and Southern hospitality.”
In Georgetown’s downtown area, step out of your car and the enticing aromas from the restaurants will have you on the move and the sound of seagulls in the harbor will remind you of the area’s maritime origins. Nestled in the Sampit River harbor, the downtown Harborwalk features three blocks of dockside shops and restaurants. Both working river boats and private craft dock there. Street-side, Georgetown offers a lively variety of stores and restaurants.
You can shop at Waterfront Books, which has new and used tomes. Bluebird Vintage focuses on mid-century and modern home furnishings, art and accessories, and has a retro vibe. Muddy Bay Outfitters carries a range of outdoor apparel and shoes for men and women. Check out The Ship’s Booty for nautically themed items, including mermaid décor.
Food choices abound, from the casual diner-style Thomas Cafe to Southern coastal dining at The River Room and soul food and Southern cooking at Aunny’s Country Kitchen. Aunny’s is the most colloquial of the dining options, and cozy, with fewer than a dozen tables inside and a few outside. Fried chicken is served daily, with pork chops and spareribs on offer, all served up in a nostalgic atmosphere that will remind you, perhaps, of your own aunt’s old-fashioned cooking.
The most unique shop downtown is the Purr & Pour Cat Café. Yes, there are adoptable cats roaming all over the storefront, lounging in the west windows when the afternoon sun warms up the windowsill and just generally catting around in their charming feline way. If you’re allergic or would rather not hang out with the kitties, there’s a no-cat-zone gift shop with tables where you can watch the feline festivities from behind a glass wall.
“Purr & Pour is revolutionizing the cat adoption process in Georgetown County by fostering shelter cats in a comfortable, home-like storefront,” says founder Patricia Devine-Harms. “We enrich the lives of cats and humans by providing a safe space to build positive connections and increase adoptions.”
There are usually 12 to15 cats onsite and several take advantage of the giant “hamster wheel” exercise toy, running flat out within the rotating circle. One cat has learned he can take a running leap into a plastic kiddie pool and send it skidding across the tile floor while he sits calmly inside and enjoys the ride.
The café also offers respite and educational outings for veterans groups, school tours and nonprofits.
If you’re a museum lover, there are several nearby. The Kaminski House Museum is a preserved example of Georgian architecture, a Lowcountry “single house” style with docents managing tours. The Rice Museum, naturally, exhibits all aspects of rice cultivation in the county and includes the Clocktower/Old Market and Kaminski Hardware buildings, both dating from 1842.
Swing Up the Coast
Head north up US 17 toward Pawleys Island to find one of the largest beach access areas in the county. Shopping areas include Hammock Shops Village and Island Shops, with gifts, beach items and local crafts.
Up the road is Litchfield Beach. At its north end is the start of the “Bike the Neck” paved trail that extends 17 miles up to Murrells Inlet. You can park at five locations along US 17, access the trail and ride to your heart’s content. Bring your own bike or rent from Cyclopedia in Litchfield Landings on Pawleys Island.
Further north, two impressive outdoor options beckon—one more feral and natural, the other more sculpted and tame. Both are spectacular. Near Murrells Inlet is the Huntington Beach State Park on the ocean side and Brookgreen Gardens on the land side.
Huntington Beach State Park boasts more than 121 acres of low country ecosystems and is world-renowned for birdwatching. Camping is an option and the park is dog friendly.
Brookgreen Gardens in Murrell’s Inlet is a 9,000+ acre botanical garden that includes the Low Country Zoo. The garden is said to contain the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in the country.
The sculptures range from small and moveable to several that are large and imposing. “Pegasus,” “Dionysus” and “Don Quixote” are three stellar works. The impressive “Fighting Stallions” greets visitors and gives you a jolt of drama of the unique sights to come. Admission tickets last for seven days.
The hidden gem in this attraction? The “Trail Beyond the Garden Wall” that eases beyond the manicured gardens of the main section and has a viewing deck and labyrinth garden on its loop. There are two restaurants on site, offering light/lunch fare.
Lauren Joseph, director of marketing at Brookgreen, says she enjoys attending the Nights of a Thousand Candles celebration, held Thanksgiving weekend through early January.
“It’s our biggest event and also my favorite event of our year,” she shares. “It’s become a wonderful tradition for families and friends to come and experience each year. It’s also fun because we always have a lot of marriage proposals happen every year and the entire crowd gets into the excitement of those events.”
For the celebration, the gardens are illuminated with more than 2,700 candles and millions of sparkling lights. Starting near dusk, you can see the gardens in a new way, listen to holiday music and sip warm cider.
“South Carolina’s Hammock Coast is one of the most beautiful regions in the country,” Stevens asserts. “It’s made up of pristine beaches, stunning tidal marshes and rivers, and vast areas of preserved forests. As our moniker implies, our area is a place known for relaxation and rejuvenation.” OS
To learn more, go to HammockCoastSC.com