A Look at America's "Arrogantly Shabby" Vacation Destination

Pawleys Island, South Carolina is a stubborn strip of land nestled between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Although not as well-known as its larger neighbors, Pawleys Island is one of the oldest vacation destinations in the South East. The glitterati of the eighteenth century used the island as a summer watering hole when they were trying to escape the heat – and mosquitoes – of their inland plantations. One trip to this beautiful place and you’ll see that the history is as rich as the food.

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

At just one mile long and about four houses deep, Pawleys is pretty hidden from the rest of the 21st century. Tucked away just off US-17, little has changed in the past 200 years. There are no commercial businesses on the island save one or two hotels, both of which are converted homes. Today, a bridge connects the island to the mainland, although the earliest visitors used to have to wait until high tide rolled in and take a boat across the marsh.

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

The other option was to take a boat from the end of Litchfield Beach across the narrow inlet that separates Pawleys from the mainland known as the Waccamaw Neck. Although only 50 or 60 yards apart, at high tide, the waters are treacherous due to unique currents. Rip tides and undertow are ever present, and only the strongest swimmers should attempt to swim the Neck when the water is high. At low tide, visitors can walk across the Neck, and the benefit to all those crazy currents is the volume and variety of  sea shells that the tides leave behind.

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

The best thing about a visit to Pawleys Island is the tranquility and beautiful beachscape. Every afternoon, my husband and I shared a bottle of wine and walked to the Neck to watch the sun set over the marsh. Two of the three visits, we were the only people there, which is another great reason to visit this beautiful haven: Pawleys is still a pretty well-kept secret, and even over Labor Day weekend, the beaches are rarely crowded. The one exception is the 4th of July, when the whole community turns out for the local parade.

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

Not all of your time can be spent on the beach, and Pawleys Island has plenty of land-lover activities to offer. There are several nationally ranked golf courses just off the Island, most of which are open to the public. I highly recommend checking the local minor league baseball schedule and heading to Myrtle Beach for a game. If nothing else, the people watching is great and the random contests are sure to make everyone smile. For the history buff (ME!) there is beautiful Litchfield Plantation, which is the most famous, and one of the last of the plantations in the area. Be sure to keep a lookout for the local ghost, Old Doc Tucker, while you’re there. Legend has it he still comes back nightly to ring the bell at the gate to alert the plantation that the British (or the Yankees!) are coming.

I also highly recommend a visit to All Saints Church and the adjacent graveyard. Here you can find the true history of Pawleys Island, residents at rest beneath giant live oak trees, some of whom helped carve the community from the wilderness as far back as the mid-1700s. The All Saint’s Graveyard is the final resting place of veterans from almost every U.S. war, from the Revolution though Vietnam. By far the most famous resident is Alice Flagg. (She’s worth a Google search). Every year hundreds of visitors come to place a token on Alice’s grave. Legend has it that if you place a ring on Alice’s grave at midnight and walk around her grave 13 times backwards, you will dream of the man you’re going to marry. As teenagers, my friends and I always made this a Pawleys Island ritual. (Although none of us ended up engaged to Zack Morris…probably not a bad thing).

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

With a history inspired by Native American, Gullah, and Southern culture, the food at Pawleys is as rich as the accents. The old standard is Frank’s, which is an island tradition and never fails to deliver with classic American Southern favorites, a great wine list, and local cocktails such as Pawleys Punch and Litchfield Lemonade. In recent years, the owners have added Frank’s Out Back, which is a more casual outdoor dining experience. FOB is the perfect place to find lowcountry ambiance, with a bar sprouting from an old live oak and hundreds of white lights strung between the Spanish moss.   I would also recommend picking up some fresh shrimp from the dock to have at home – throw it in the pot with some red potatoes, corn, and spicy sausage, and you’ve got yourself a Lowcountry boil!

If you’re in nearby Georgetown, stop into the Kudzu Bakery.  Housed in a centuries old building, the bakery offers a variety of fresh breads, muffins, and COOKIES. You won’t be able to walk out empty handed. Head over to Nance’s Creekfront Restaurant in Murrells Inlet for a spectacular view of the marsh.  At low tide when the sunlight hits the mud, the whole area shines.  As the water rises, the sun reflects different colors from the marsh reeds… it’s simply stunning.

Finally, no trip to America’s “arrogantly shabby” vacation destination is complete without a stop at the Pawleys Island Hammock Shops. Chances are, if you’ve heard of Pawleys Island, you’re thinking of Pawleys Island Hammocks. They are handmade and are totally bespoke – no hammock measures up to the comfort of a Pawleys island hammock. Throughout my life, no single one image is more evocative of relaxation and contentment than a Pawleys Island hammock. Although there are over 20 shops to visit, make sure you hit up the Original Hammock Shop and ask for a sample of their homemade fudge – chances are you won’t be able to resist buying at least a little sliver! (Tiger Butter – all the way, just sayin’).

A Local's Guide to Pawleys Island, SC

Have you heard of Pawleys Island? Is a trip to this historic beach destination on your list?

This post was written by FWTG Contributor, Meredith Bryant Snapp.  Meredith first visited Pawleys Island when she was less than a year old. Her grandfather, Goble W. Bryant, was one of the prime developers of the current Litchfield Plantation Group in the early 1960’s.  Meredith grew up on Pawleys Island Sunsets, ghost stories, family hunts for shark teeth, and falling asleep under the live oaks as her parents slow danced to Frank Sinatra under the stars at Frank’s.

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Are you a blogger interested in participating in this series?  Contact me about a submission!  CC photo credits from Flickr: Pawley’s Island, SC by Forsaken Fotos,  Photo of Frank’s courtesy of Frank’s FB page. All all photos by Meredith Bryant Snapp.

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