If your idea of a great vacation is exploring the beach, frolicking in the surf and getting away from the busy-ness and routine of everyday life, consider a trip to Pawleys Island. Nestled between the bustling Grand Strand and historic Georgetown, Pawleys Island is one of the only pristine barrier islands off of the South Carolina coast. Just a few miles long and only two streets wide in most places, the island retains much of its original eclectic charm, with windblown beach houses and few commercial buildings.
You won’t find a busy boardwalk, crowded parking lots or beach vendors hawking souvenirs and sun block here. The only non-residential spots on the island are a tiny post office/police station combo and a single room church. Pawleys Island is connected to the mainland by two narrow causeways, and there are plenty of places to go and things to do on the mainland, on the off chance you get tired of the beach.
The main draw for most people is the beach itself. With acres of shimmering, smooth sand (you can ride a bike on the beach) and no beach tags, paid parking or flashy tourists, Pawleys is one of the few beach destinations that allows visitors to spread out and relax. Surf fishing, sunbathing and sandcastle building provide plenty of entertainment for the whole family. You can even bring your dog, as long as he minds his manners.
I lived in Pawleys Island as a year-round resident for a decade and it is still my favorite place to visit. I try to return every year to relax and enjoy everything the area has to offer.
The Pros: If you are looking for a quirky, quiet getaway without a lot of scheduling and running from one activity to another, Pawleys Island is an ideal spot to relax. There are no hotels on the island, just one small B&B and a host of vacation homes in a variety of sizes. You’ll be able to select just the property you need — with homes ranging in size from one bedroom cottages to sprawling 9 bedroom homes.
Homes rent by the week, and prices vary from about $1,200 to $10,000+ per week, depending on when you visit and the home you choose. Homes on Pawleys Island take pride in celebrating the island’s motto: “Arrogantly Shabby.” Expect quirky architecture, eclectic furnishings and funky garden displays no matter where you stay.
All of the homes on Pawleys Island are either ocean front or a very short walk away. You won’t need a car to slip your toes into the surf; just step outside your door and walk to the beach. If you are staying elsewhere and visiting the island, there are free public parking lots scattered around the island.
Don’t be surprised by the abundance of local wildlife. From the alligators in the marsh to the great blue herons and pelicans that skim the ocean’s surface, you’ll spot plenty of local fauna. If you enjoy collecting shells, visit the beach in the morning, just after high tide, and you’ll have your pick of whelks, sand dollars, starfish and dozens of other varieties.
The Cons: Pawley’s Island is an extremely laid back place, so expect things to move at a leisurely place, whether you’re waiting in line at a mainland grocery store or simply taking a drive to enjoy the island. No one here is in a rush, and most people abandon their watches and schedules entirely.
When we lived here, it was not usual for construction work and mail delivery to be interrupted by good weather – and everyone headed to the beach instead of work. If you need a lot of structure, and expect the services of a hotel or concierge, Pawleys may not be the right place for you. There is no boardwalk, so if you are used to carnival style attractions and lots of rides and flashing lights, you won’t find them on Pawleys. The island is almost totally dark by 10pm each night.
Staying here can be costly; prices peak in the summer months, so a home that rents for $2,000 a week in March may be $8,000 a week in July. Schedule your trip for just before or just after the summer, and you’ll save about 75% on your lodging – and still enjoy the great weather and warm ocean temperatures.
Outdoor activities: Shrimping, crabbing and fishing are a way of life at Pawleys. You’ll spot local residents and tourists catching supper off of both of the causeways that lead to the island. Many homes come equipped with bikes if you want to ride or you can rent a bike off island. The hardware store on the mainland rents bicycles of all types. You can also rent kayaks and canoes on the mainland; use these in the calm waters of the marsh, or brave the ocean waves, depending on your skills and comfort level.
Art and Culture: Brookgreen Gardens, one of the nation’s only outdoor sculpture museums is on the mainland, a short drive from Pawleys Island. Brookgreen offers plenty to see and do, with an interactive children’s garden, plenty of manicured walking paths, a zoo, pontoon boat tours, historic buildings, dining facilities and live performance events. Brookgreen celebrates the cultural and natural history of the area, offering everything from the history of the local rice fields to encounters with some of the low country’s most interesting animals.
Dining: You’ll find plenty of dining options on the mainland. From the classic fish fry offered at Shabby’s to the fine dining at Frank’s, there’s a restaurant for every appetite and budget. Don’t miss the local’s favorite bakery and deli: Landolfi’s, located on Route 17 near the South Causeway. You’ll find the area’s best pastries, coffee, panini and more at this popular eatery.
Golf: While there are no golf courses on the actual island, the mainland and surrounding areas offer a huge assortment of golfing destinations. Choose your favorite course designer and head out to the greens; there are more than a dozen public and private courses in the area to choose from.
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