When I flew to New Zealand in February 2020, I was taking the first step towards segueing from writing about parenting and families to writing about traveling. How was I to know that trip would be my one and only series of blog posts before life as we knew it shut down? Now, almost a year to the day later, I think I’m ready to get back in the saddle and try again! My first post of 2021 will feature Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Let’s start here. We all have automatic assumptions about certain places. Hollywood is full of movie stars, Chicago is known for deep dish pizza, and New Orleans is where you go to hear the best jazz. Truthfully, to me Myrtle Beach was a spring break party town, where drunken debauchery was the norm rather than the exception. Given this, when my husband suggested we take our young family camping there one April, I laughed in his face! But we went and fell in love with Myrtle Beach State Park, with its biking, Southern buffets, pristine beaches, and fishing piers. We were so taken with the area that we returned several times over the years.
Freshly vaccinated and completely stir-crazy after a year of living with COVID, we were searching for a quick getaway, one we could drive to, try out our new tent in, and where we could spend most of our time outdoors. Myrtle Beach it was!
Returning there as childless adults, I decided it was time to experience another side of the city as we whizzed past a sign for Brookgreen Botanical Gardens. Located right off of Highway 17 between Murrell’s Inlet and Pawley’s Island, it’s a gem in plain sight that we’d somehow managed to drive past a million times but never really seen, let alone ventured in.
First stop was the ticket booth. Don’t let the $18 admission fee put you off. Your visitor’s pass is good from 9:30-5:00 p.m. for seven days and you will definitely get your money’s worth. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this unusual park is a blend of history, art, and nature. Brookgreen was founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, the couple who resided in Atalaya, a castle-like home across the street at Huntington Beach State Park. Containing over 2,000 works of American figurative sculpture created by 400-plus artists in indoor and outdoor galleries, the Botanical gardens are stunningly landscaped. We saw (and smelled!) Snapdragons, Azaleas, Dogwoods and Iceland poppies, along with many other lesser-known floral species. Pools and fountains abound and there is plenty of shade and and often a cooling breeze.
A Few Favorites
The Live Oak Allée contains Oak trees planted in the early 1700s when Brookgreen Gardens was four thriving rice plantations.
Don Quixote and Rocinante sculpture, one of several artworks created by sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Lowcountry Trail and Center is an audio walking tour (short/easy) that provides historical background on the daily and seasonal routines and practices of Southern plantations.
There’s also an interesting outdoor exhibit highlighting the culture, food, language, and history of the Gullah Geechee people in the area.
Native animals in the Lowcountry Zoo include River Otters, Alligators, Herons, and Egrets. The outdoor Aviary is wonderfully peaceful but if you’re looking for more excitement, time your visit for feeding time! In the Domestic Animals of the Plantation exhibit you can see animals like Spanish Goats, Dominique Chickens, and (my favorite!) Marsh Tacky horses, all of whom are considered “heritage breeds” today.
Volunteers were informative, helpful, and masked! Plenty of restrooms, three dining options (restaurant, café, and kitchen), two picnic areas, and Keepsakes Museum Shop. Social distancing measures are listed on the website (https://www.brookgreen.org/)
Tip-despite the garden setting better leave your sandals and flipflops at home and opt for close-toed walking shoes. There are snakes there and they do bite!
Brookgreen is as much a part of Myrtle Beach as the “Redneck Riviera and. I wish I’d discovered it sooner; my boys would have loved spending time there. A gentle reminder that most things in this world aren’t as one-dimensional as they might first appear to be!