Beach Hideaway: Huntington Beach State Park is the Strand’s best-kept secret—and best escape
Driving into Huntington Beach State Park is like entering another world. Each inch forward along the quiet road of tall trees leaves the busy Strand farther behind. I last came to the park when I was newly sixteen and ready to celebrate with a car-load of giggly friends. Even then, the beauty of Huntington Beach made an impression on me—so I have returned several years later, ready to explore the park’s delights.
Huntington Beach State Park is one of the most pristine parks in South Carolina, boasting undisturbed beaches, salt marshes, excellent bird watching, nature trails, and Atalaya, the historic home of Archer and Anna Huntington, founders of Brookgreen Gardens. My companion and I, armed with camping gear, have settled on a primitive site to have a full-on camping experience (but there are sites with electricity and water in close proximity to the bathhouse).
Although we are just a short drive from the many restaurants dotting the Strand, we’ve decided to cook over a fire and do the trip right. The salty breeze has a stimulating effect on our appetites, and we’re ready to eat earlier than expected. I show off my fire-building skills while my companion chops a few vegetables.
After dinner, we carefully extinguish the fire and head down the beach. The park contains several excellent walking trails, but they’re on our agenda for tomorrow. For now, a lazy stroll hits the spot. Almost as if it has been reserved for us, the quiet, secluded beach here is a little slice of coastal bliss you won’t find anywhere else on the Strand. High-rise hotels are standard view at most vacation beaches, but you won’t see anything except sand dunes and ocean at Huntington Beach.
It’s easy to see why the Huntingtons chose this stretch of Carolina coastline for their winter estate. Having been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1927, Anna believed warmer climes would be better for her health. Archer and Anna purchased nine thousand acres in 1930 and began the task of shaping their estate. Their decision to employ local workers to supply labor for building the Moorish-style house helped boost the local Depression-crippled economy. While construction on the house progressed, the Huntingtons also established gardens to display Anna’s sculptures. Today, those gardens have evolved into the lovely Brookgreen Gardens—right across from the state park and on our must-see list for tomorrow.
Late dusk at Huntington Beach is lovely—sea foam fading on the sand, tiny white crabs scurrying away from our flashlight, the setting sun swallowed by the horizon. We crawl into our tent for the night, the rhythmic crashing of the waves better than any sound machine, and we’re up with the birds the next morning. Though it’s tempting to try to percolate morning java over a campfire, we decide instead on a brisk, early morning walk to wake us up. The Sandpiper Nature Pond trail takes us along the pond and through a maritime forest. We’re not birdwatchers, but if we were, we’d be in heaven—the park is considered one of the top bird-watching spots on the East Coast.
Next, we log a few hours of beach bumming and then wander to Atalaya for a guided tour of the house. Atalaya’s Mediterranean-influenced design holds unusual features and a fascinating history. That afternoon, there are interesting programs scheduled at the education center, but we decide to cross the highway and explore Brookgreen Gardens, a nature preserve and the home of the largest outdoor collection of figurative sculpture by American artists. Well worth the admission fee, the gardens are gorgeous, making it easy to understand why Anna Huntington would be so inspired here.
The weekend ends too quickly. There’s something wholly unique about the beauty of Huntington Beach—even as a giddy sixteen-year-old, I recognized it. As we leave, I’m already planning our return—and, to be totally honest, a stop at Latte Litchfield on the way home for a cup of that delicious, steaming brew.
Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean Hwy., Murrells Inlet
(843) 237-4440 www.southcarolinaparks.com
Monday-Sunday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
(during Daylight Savings Time)
$5 adult/$3 youth or senior
Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. $1 in addition to park entry.
• Brookgreen Gardens
1931 Brookgreen Gardens Drive, Murrells Inlet. Monday-Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. $6-$12. (843) 235-6000, www.brookgreen.org
Accommodations for tents & RVs: $22-$34 per night.
• Environmental Education Center
Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Features a variety of free, educational activities and programs. (843) 235-8755
• Latte Litchfield
13088 Ocean Hwy., Pawleys Island (843) 235-7575, www.lattelitchfield.com
Photograph (main) by Garrey Faller; (thumb) by Ethan Haskel