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Discover Quiet Beaches, Fascinating Historic Sites, and Vibrant Barrier Island Communities on This South Carolina Coastal Expedition

The landscape along South Carolina’s coastal region is one of the most scenic and distinctive in the U.S. What begins with a vast stretch known as the Grand Strand meanders down toward a cluster of barrier islands strung like a necklace offshore in the Lowcountry. Sandy beaches, tidal marshes, and pine forests make for an experience where salty air and evergreen scents mingle.

Moving beyond the iconic Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s lesser-known coastal gems are easily found if you know where to look. On this five-day expedition into the genuine culture, flavors, and natural beauty of the coast, you’ll find small communities with deep regional roots linked by the historic Coastal Highway U.S. 17.

Whether you’re driving in or flying in, this itinerary can be done moving north to south, or as a circuit with a 3.5-hour drive at the start or end. You’ll begin in North Myrtle Beach and nearby Pawleys Island and then continue south to explore Georgetown, Colleton, Charleston, and Beaufort counties.

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    Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links, North Myrtle Beach
    Days 1-2
    Highlights of the Lowcountry

    Synonymous with sprawling resorts and a buzzy dining scene, Myrtle Beach is very much the pulsating heart of South Carolina’s 60-mile-plus stretch of sand—known as the Grand Strand for good reason. More than 70 golf courses dot the area, while neighboring North Myrtle Beach has family-friendly hotels for soaking up nature and off-the-beaten-path finds nearby in Myrtle Beach State Park.

    In this small beach city, get your bearings with a stroll along walking paths and elevated boardwalks of the untamed Heritage Shores Nature Preserve, featuring native plants and wildlife. This protected park extends out from the Cherry Grove marsh, where you’ll also find a fishing pier and boat ramp for ocean and inlet access. Golf fans will want to get the true Arnold Palmer experience at one of three courses here designed by the master, King’s North, a pine tree-lined, 72-par experience with generous fairways and dramatic challenges including 15 holes with water. Or test your skill with one of the most challenging finish holes in the area at the 260-acre Glen Dornoch Waterway Golf Links, designed by Clyde Johnston and consistently rated among Myrtle Beach’s best.

    Satisfy a craving for fresh seafood at the stylish SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar, or make a stop at character-filled Rockefeller’s Raw Bar off Coastal Highway U.S. 17.

    Heading toward Pawleys Island along the gorgeously scenic expanse between Myrtle Beach and Charleston dubbed Hammock Coast, spend a few hours in Murrells Inlet, known as the Seafood Capital of South Carolina, for its fishing village vibe and arty finds. Visit Huntington Beach State Park, a hotspot for surf fishing with three miles of beach, and see Atalaya Castle, a National Historic Landmark and the onetime winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. From there, wander through sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens about five minutes away. (Insider tip: plan your trip for spring to catch the thousands of bright azalea blooms.)

    Get your first taste of Lowcountry scenery on the stretch of road leading to Pawleys Island in the northernmost part of the region.

    In town, sample traditionally inspired fare and modern microbrews at Quigley’s Pint and Plate and shop for hammocks, which have been a local trade for more than a century. This beach town is one of the oldest resort areas in South Carolina and charming inns, such as the beachfront, eight-room Pelican Inn, which is housed in a landmarked 1840s building. The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn and Seaview Inn continue the island’s legacy as a laid-back vacation destination too.

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    Bluffton
    Days 3-4
    Heart of the Lowcountry

    Moving south, get a real feel for the Lowcountry’s barrier islands and distinctive landscape of wide beaches, windswept dunes, salty marshes, and pines. Just across the bridge from Charleston, Mount Pleasant embodies the small-town feel of the region with six golf courses, two beaches, and pretty parks.

    Stay a night on Kiawah Island for a private-island feel with five of the state’s most prestigious championship courses, including The Ocean Course designed by Pete Dye at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort and its Sanctuary hotel. Experience the salt marshes, maritime forests, and dunes there, or head down the coast to Edisto Island’s Serpentarium. The modern indoor facility and beautifully landscaped outdoor gardens house a wide variety of reptiles from around the world. Exciting attractions and shows are offered daily.

    For your next day, switch gears from beach to forest with a half-day in Walterboro, or the Front Porch of the Lowcountry. Situated in the ACE Basin at the meeting of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers, this small community is the perfect spot for sipping sweet tea and antique hunting, or venturing to Edisto Island State Park for serene fishing spots and an oceanfront sunset.

    Then settle into Lowcountry luxury amidst stunning natural scenery for your last two nights at the Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton or Anchorage 1770 Inn in Beaufort, a waterfront mansion that also has the Ribaut Social Club for regional cuisine. For more casual digs, head to the Cottage Café, Bakery, and Tea Room for fresh-baked goods and other delicious bites served indoors or on the porch of an 1868 building with plenty of Southern charm. And don’t miss a farm-to-table brunch or dinner at FARM. This restaurant’s dedication to locally sourced, cuisine rooted in craft makes for seasonal menus loaded with surprising twists like tempura cauliflower with salsa macha, herbs, and peanuts.

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    South Carolina Frogmore Stew
    Days 5-6
    Essential African-American History

    Spend the next two days delving into the barrier islands’ Gullah-Geechee communities, which have been helping to define Lowcountry culture for upwards of two centures. Influences include some of the locale’s most mouthwateringly distinct dishes, such as shrimp and grits and Frogmore Stew (a seafood boil featuring shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and smoked sausage), as well as important chapters in Black history. Its rich history and traditions make these islands part of the U.S. Congress-established Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. About five miles east of Beaufort on St. Helena Island, the Penn Center was one of the first schools for freed slaves, and home to a small cabin where Martin Luther King Jr. drafted parts of his “I Have a Dream” speech on one of several visits there during the civil rights movement.

    The ruins of the St. Helena Chapel of Ease give a glimpse into the mid-1700s and the lives of the families who owned plantations there, in contrast to the places like the Mary Jenkins Praise House where enslaved people gathered to worship. Visiting Dataw Island (which may have been inhabited by people as long as 10,000 years ago) or Lady’s Island, home to former indigo plantations, can also shed light onto the area’s agricultural past and present, with many descendents of slaves still farming the land.

    Before you depart, make a point of stopping at a local Gullah restaurant for house specialties that draw on the region’s shrimping and fishing industries, including fish chowder served with cornbread and crab soup.