The Grand Strand is famous for its golf, dining, shopping and entertainment, but there’s a lot more to this 60-mile stretch of coastline that surrounds Myrtle Beach than man-made attractions. In fact, just a 15-mile drive south of downtown Myrtle Beach is a magical place far removed from the neon lights, and it’s the perfect place to take a one-day vacation from your traditional Myrtle Beach vacation: Murrells Inlet.
Brookgreen Gardens' entrance — Photo courtesy of Brookgreen Gardens
Get up early so you can beat the heat and the crowds at Brookgreen Gardens, where more than 9,000 acres of scenic South Carolina Lowcountry terrain features works of art and wonders of nature. Located between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, this botanical garden also features sculptures on display throughout the property, which was once home to a large rice and indigo plantation.
Visitors can explore the many gardens; check out the alligators, otters and birds of prey at the zoological park; shop at the on-site gift store; and take a boat tour of the backwater swamps and tidal creeks that connect to the Intracoastal Waterway.
Special exhibits include a Butterfly Pavilion that features rare species of the colorful creatures and a Gullah cultural center that educates guests about the unique people of the Southeast’s barrier islands.
Atalaya Castle — Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks
You don’t have to travel far to cool off from a long day at the gardens. Just across Ocean Highway is Huntington Beach State Park, a 2,500-acre oceanfront preserve. Cross over the giant dunes to a wide, white-sand beach on the southern tip of Murrells Inlet and spend the day splashing in the waves.
A large pavilion featuring picnic tables, shower and bathroom facilities allows for a quick bite to eat and a change of clothes before and after your swim, and Atalaya Castle is only steps away from the beach. This Spanish-style castle is open for tours and is a great place to take family photos.
The park also includes swamps and wetlands, where guests can spy alligators sunning on the islands at high tide and birds of prey plucking through the mud for food at low tide. Hiking trails take visitors through the maritime forest of palmettos, live oaks and pines.
Murrells Inlet Marshwalk — Photo courtesy of Murrells Inlet 2020
You’re sure to be hungry after spending all day outdoors, and you’ve come to the right place. Just a few miles north is the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk, a wooden walkway along the water that accesses a dozen excellent restaurants.
Known as the "Seafood Capital of South Carolina," Murrells Inlet is home to fleets of fishing boats that sail in and out of the inlet each day, and you can relax on an outdoor deck and enjoy fresh seafood that likely was unloaded from one of the boats moored at the docks.
Dine at Captain Dave’s Dockside Restaurant, Creek Ratz, Dead Dog Saloon, Drunken Jack’s or Wahoo’s for a memorable meal and excellent view of sunset. Have a nightcap at Bubba’s Love Shack for some frozen drinks and live music.