Where Time Stands Still: Beautiful Pawleys Island
Located on the Southern end of South Carolina’s famous “Grand Strand,” Pawleys Island is known for more than just pristine beaches, sandy dunes and iconic rope hammocks. Because it is quieter and less populated than many other neighboring coastal towns—even offering a bit of intriguing local “ghost lore”—this barrier island, merely one square mile in size, is an ideal spot to spend time with family and friends for either the day or a whole vacation.
If you’re making your way to Pawleys Island for a day trip, pique the interest of your travel companions during the car ride by telling the story of the Gray Man, a popular legend dating back to 1822 that has been featured on Unsolved Mysteries and the Weather Channel. As legend goes, a man was traveling from Charleston to Pawleys Island to see his love when he and his horse tragically perished after being stuck in the soft “pluff” mud common in this area.
Since then, the appearance of this man’s ghost, known as the Gray Man, coincides with impending severe storms, and locals take his spooky silhouette as a warning to evacuate the area. Interestingly, the story goes that if you actually see this ghost, you will be one of the fortunate few whose home will be spared.
Spooked out yet? Let’s keep moving...
Start your day in Pawleys Island at the Hammock Shops Village on Ocean Highway. The Village offers something for everyone, and no doubt your entourage will want to go off in different directions to pursue various whims. We recommend you stop at BisQit for breakfast first, where you can customize your own “bisqit” with a variety of tantalizing options. But if you miss it for breakfast, BisQit serves spiked handmade milk-shakes and gourmet burgers for later in the day as well. During our morning visit, we couldn’t resist combining the root beer braised pork belly with apple butter. For the less adventurous foodie, there are numerous renditions of the traditional eggs and bacon breakfast. Full disclosure: the adults in our group also sampled the Bananas Foster (Sailor Jerry’s Rum, vanilla ice cream, bananas and caramel) and Faretto & Co. (Faretti Biscotti Liqueur, vanilla ice cream and Nutella) milkshakes, while the kids enjoyed non-spiked versions. Everyone was more than satisfied.
While you dine or wait for takeout, plan your day to decide between the beach, shopping, local culture experience, or a winning combo of everything you want to do. While some in your group will want to throw down their towels on the nearby shoreline to relax to the sound of surf, others may opt for something more active by renting paddle boards, surfboards, or kayaks from Surf the Earth—or even playing a round of golf at the award-winning Heritage Club.
Just a quick drive north from Pawleys Island is Brookgreen Gardens, a destination for those with an artistic or historical interest—or just an affinity for natural beauty. This pristine botanical and sculpture garden is also a wildlife preserve. It is also a National Historic Landmark, recently awarded the 2019 Garden Excellence Award, recognizing the highest standards in horticulture practices. We recommend you get there earlier in the day to avoid crowds. If you visit during the warmer months, keep an eye out for extended hours and festivals that you won’t want to miss. Or plan your trip to come during the winter holiday season for the opportunity to walk the garden paths as they glow with lights during the popular “Nights of a Thousand Candles” event.
Make it a point to see some artwork from local Lowcountry artists while you’re in town. Gray Man Gallery is the perfect spot, and it’s directly across the street from the Hammock Shops Village. Just don’t be surprised when you find a piece of art to take home with you as a memory of your trip.
If you’re hungry for a midday meal, walk over to Bistro 217 or the Rustic Table for lunch. Both restaurants are owned by executive chef Chef Adam Kirby, who is not only a 2017 South Carolina Chef Ambassador but the same year was awarded Best of the Fest by Atlanta Food and Wine. With credentials like that, either restaurant choice is sure to be a winner.
During our trip, we opted for Rustic Table, since the weather was perfect and the ample patio seating seemed ideal. Their menu is full of the Southern comfort food classics you’d expect. We enjoyed a leisurely experience consisting of strawberry jalapeno margaritas and craft beers, a shrimp po’ boy, and a huge helping of fried okra—some of the best around; take it from us; we’ve feasted on our fair share of fried okra. Because Bistro 217 shouldn’t be missed either, stop in for a Slane Irish Coffee as a caffeine pick-me-up before moving on to the next location. Or try the Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding featuring a bourbon cream if you need a quick fix for your sweet tooth.
Head back over to the Hammock Shops Village to browse a variety of shops, including the Original Hammock Shop, where you can learn about the history of Pawleys Island Rope Ham-mock, dating back to the late 1800s. You can watch a demonstration of hammocks being made and even get some hands-on experience. Be sure to make time for the Candy Cottage, a family-owned store that features more than just candy, including stuffed animals, toys, jewelry, apparel and other gift items.
But fair warning—prepare to have a moment of nostalgia as you peruse the candy barrels and jars. We bought gumballs, toffee, and peanut butter candy that reminds me of my dad and our trips to these beaches when I was a child. Understandably, this shop is often referred to as the “sweetest place on Pawleys
Don’t break into the candy just yet, though, because as the day draws to an end, you will want to bring the group back together and share another Pawleys Island feast. With several stellar options still left to choose, our recommendations are Southern Comforts Southern Dining and Seafood Shack or Frank’s Outback.
If you want a casual experience with comfort food, make your way into Southern Comforts. The fun and quirky décor is reminiscent of Key West, and the menu features an eclectic assortment of sandwiches, burgers and fresh catches of the day—as well as “Mama’s” meatloaf, chicken and waffles and award-winning shrimp and grits. Our favorite was the SoCo Buttermilk Fried Chicken, present-ed on a bed of warm blue cheese slaw with a milk pepper gravy. This, too, is a winning recipe by owner and executive chef Greg Metcalfe.
Apparently talent is a family trait; his wife, Julie, is an award-winning pastry chef; you’ll find her hand-crafted sweets in the shop adjacent to the restaurant. We grabbed a few slices of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting to go, thankful to be able to savor a slice of Pawleys Island goodness later that night.
For a more upscale occasion, you’ll want to consider Frank’s Restaurant or Frank’s Outback. These restaurants have an elegant vibe, complete with linens and warm lighting. Their filet mignon with bacon blue cheese sauce is to die for, by the way. Frank’s Out-back, just well, outback of Frank’s, features outdoor garden seating. If you are sticking around Pawleys for the evening, come back for live music.
With all the options that Pawleys Island presents, it’s hard to narrow down how you’ll spend your day. But don’t worry; this beautiful seaside community has stood the test of time and will welcome you with open arms when you return time and again.
- Beth Dalbec