Visitors who crave peace and quiet in a beach vacation will find isolated and scenic Pawleys Island a breath of fresh air. As one of the oldest resort areas along the Eastern United States, this unimposing, quiet getaway still holds a well-earned reputation as one of the most scenic and relaxing parcels of shoreline along the South Carolina Grand Strand.
Located 25 miles south of the hustle and bustle of Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island instinctively feels like a different world, with uncrowded beaches, a handful of relaxing activities, historic attractions, and miles of undisturbed, white sand beaches.
Pawleys Island has a unique location on the southern end of the Grand Strand. Separated slightly from the mainland by saltwater canals and marshes, the island is accessed by two causeways, known informally as the "North Causeway" and the "South Causeway." There's also a portion of Pawleys Island's town limits which extend just past the causeway into the peninsula in between the ocean and the Waccamaw River. Perhaps due to this remote, water-surrounded locale, Pawleys Island never had the same boom of development as other Grand Strand communities like Myrtle Beach or North Myrtle Beach, but nevertheless, the island has a very long history of being an elite beach destination for mainland-weary East Coast vacationers.
In the 1700s, the mainland portions surrounding Pawleys Island were developed by rice farmers, who found the humid Lowcountry weather ideal for crops, but miserable in the hot, mosquito-filled summer months. As early as the mid-1700s, plantation owners and executives began to make treks along the rivers and canals to the salty, breezy beaches, where the heat was mitigated, and the mosquitos were kept at bay.
Hurricanes would change the face of the local landscape on numerous occasions, especially 1954's devastating Hurricane Hazel, and 1989's equally destructive Hurricane Hugo, however Pawley's Island still boasts a remarkable small historic district, with more than 10 still-standing coastal homes that date back to the 1700s and 1800s.
While neighboring beach destinations like Myrtle Beach boomed in the mid-20th century, Pawleys Island remained small, and in fact took steps to curb its overall development. A current ban on commercial and industrial buildings is still in place, and the island is remarkably comprised of smaller structures, with the exception of a few local businesses, inns, and a condominium complex which were grandfathered in. The result is a picturesque beach town surrounded by busier destinations, which still maintains it small-community charm. The official town government was established in 1985, and today an estimated 150 year-round residents call this 1 square mile community home.
Roughly 30% of the Pawleys Island community is water, and visitors will find ample ways to explore the terrain. The marshes are home to endless canals that meander through the wider channels, and provide exceptional water trails for kayaking and canoeing. Local watersports business "Surf the Earth" offers kayak and board rentals for visitors who want to take a scenic sunset tour through the wild, undeveloped territory. Along the way, kayakers are urged to be on the lookout for some of the region's most elusive shorebirds, including snowy egrets, cormorants, ibises, and even Great Blue Herons.
Fishing is popular on both "coasts" of Pawleys Island, and surf fishermen have ample room to real in big catches including seasonal spring and fall drums, sea mullets, bluefish, flounder, croaker, and speckled trout. On the other side of the island, crabbing and shrimping is king, and as the tides make the canals swell and subside daily, explorers can uncover dozens of small crabs, shrimps, mollusks and more.
Shelling is another popular waterside adventure, especially around the uncrowded shorelines bordering Midway Inlet to the north and Pawleys Inlet to the south. Sand dollars are known to wash up after a strong storm, and though beachcombing can be a little hit or miss, surprises are usually abundant, and treasure hunters never know what treasures they'll find along the uncrowded seashores.
While the region is certainly quiet and un-commercialized, visitors will nevertheless find over 75 restaurants in the area, all located an easy stroll or a short drive away. Holding true to its past as an elite and upscale destination, longtime visitors attest that the Pawleys Island area is the best place to go for a thrilling new fine dining experience or culinary adventure along the Grand Strand, and the area is well known for its bistros, wine bars, and Italian bakeries and cafes. Of course, there are also plenty of classic grills and seafood joints for no-frills, but perfectly fresh meals that take full advantage of South Carolina's local seafood offerings.
The area is also a hot spot for golf, and there are several "golfing plantations" nearby that feature gorgeous and challenging 18-hole courses, seasonal schools and lessons, and incredible views of the Lowcountry landscape.
As for accommodations, while there are a small number of inns or resorts on island, many guests feel most comfortable in the vacation rental homes which dominate the lodgings available, and are perched next to the oceanfront or soundside waterfront. These properties can range from simple 2-3 bedroom cottages to elite estates with private fishing or boating docks, beach accesses, pool, hot tubs, and great rooms, allowing weekly vacationing parties of all sizes and styles to find the perfect lodging for their taste. The majority of homes are rented through local property management companies, which feature a portfolio of their rentals available online, complete with extensive photos, location maps, and long lists of amenities.
Pawleys Island is a gem of a getaway along the Grand Strand. Often overlooked but well-loved by its frequent visitors, this patch of beach is a quiet and altogether relaxing destination on the outskirts of coastal South Carolina's most visited destinations. With just enough activities and attractions to keep vacationers entertained, but a primary focus on the gorgeous beaches that first drew interest from mainlanders centuries ago, this elite stretch of shoreline is a paradise for visitors in search of an amiable and perfectly calm beach community.