Coastal Highway 17, from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, is a gem, connecting travelers to quintessential Southern towns as they journey 90 miles from one of America’s most popular beaches to one of the country’s best cities. If you’re looking for a little detour from the usual summer travel plans, I’ve got your next road trip mapped out for you.
(Live chat with Mary Alice Monroe on Twitter Friday, June 5, from 1-2 CST using the hashtag #southernlit.)
Every vacation calls for something good to read, so make sure to pop into Litchfield Books in the tiny, popular resort town of Pawleys Island. The independent bookstore is well-loved by authors nationwide, with a staff that prides itself in finding something great for every customer.
Next stop is the city of Georgetown, the state’s third-oldest city. One turn off the highway onto Front Street will lead you to the waterfront historic district for a day of shopping, fishing and learning the local history. If you get hungry, Aunny’s Country Kitchen serves a memorable menu of Lowcountry soul food.
A half hour down Highway 17 is McClellanville, an old shrimping village, which was the setting of my novel Last Light over Carolina. Soak in the view of Jeremy Creek, where the local shrimp boats are moored when crews are not out trawling for wild East Coast shrimp. The rustic, beautiful sight of these boats is quickly disappearing as local shrimpers struggle to compete with farm-raised, imported shrimp prices. You can help support the local industry by eating wild American shrimp. Enjoy the sweet flavor of local shrimp at T.W. Graham & Co. Seafood Restaurant. And for a treat of a different kind, the McClellanville Arts Council Art Gallery is a must. Offering an array of local arts, crafts and books, you’re bound to find the perfect keepsake.
The next town along your Highway 17 South route is Awendaw. Make sure to visit the Center for Birds of Prey, an incredible avian conservation clinic and center that inspired my novel Skyward. Marvel at the bird species, enjoy a flight demonstration and explore the natural paths. Every family member will enjoy this stop.
When you enter Mount Pleasant’s town limits, you’ll see several roadside sweetgrass basket stands. This is the Sweetgrass Basket Stand Corridor, which helps preserve this centuries-old art form of basket weaving, passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. The historical significance of sweetgrass, an indigenous plant, was the inspiration for my novel Sweetgrass. Pull over, see the creations up close and watch a weaver work. You’ll be glad you did.
BRAKE FOR THE BEACH
Everyone needs a beach day, so be sure to turn left on the Isle of Palms Connector for a day at the beach on the Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island. These two small barrier islands are my most prominent sources of inspiration. Fans of “The Beach House” series and my new novel The Summer’s End (book three of “The Lowcountry Summer series”) will enjoy seeing the many places mentioned in my novels. While you’re here, remember that we share the beach with nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Make sure to pick up your trash and fill in your sand holes — simple acts that preserve our environment and support our local wildlife. If you want a true Lowcountry experience, Barrier Island Eco Tours does it all: sunset dolphin cruises, fishing trips, crabbing and even beachside cookouts.
THE HOLY CITY
From the beach, you’re only about 10 miles from downtown Charleston, also known as The Holy City. This is paradise for shoppers, foodies and history lovers. If you only have time to do one thing downtown, the South Carolina Aquarium is Charleston’s must-see family attraction. And new this season is Shark Shallows, a massive touch tank that gets you up close and personal with sharks and rays at the aquarium. Whereever you go in and around Charleston, you’re in for a real Southern treat.
Photo credits, from top: Isle of Palms sign by rockygirl05 on Flickr Creative Commons, shrimp boats in Georgetown by mogollon_1 on Flickr Creative Commons, sweetgrass baskets by Deep South and beach house on Isle of Palms by Frank DiBona on Flickr Creative Commons.
Mary Alice Monroe is a bestselling, award-winning author of nearly 20 novels. Her latest, THE SUMMER’S END, is the conclusion of her captivating bestselling Lowcountry Summer Series, in stores now and part of the Deep South Summer Reading List.