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Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
The open road (and the beach) awaits!
As you cross over the North Carolina-South Carolina border on Highway 17, there's not much to indicate why this stretch of highway is worth of a dedicated road trip: there are lots of pines as far as you can see and a few ponds here and there.

If you stick with the road for a bit longer, you'll soon be treated to an overview of everything that coastal South Carolina has to offer. Instead of bisecting the state on the much bigger and busier I-95 (which runs through the Midlands portion of South Carolina), you'll be able to see some of the most picturesque parts of my home state. With an average speed limit of 55, South Carolina's Highway 17 allows you to meander through North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, pass through the Hammock Coast, drive through Charleston, and linger along the marshlands near Beaufort.


Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com


We'll start on our road trip in Little River, a sleepy area near the border (and from where my dad's side of the family hails). Although the Little River area has plenty of personal ties for me, there's not much to see here if you're driving through, so we'll keep going until we see the sign for Calabash. If you'd like to loop back into North Carolina, take highway 179 into this small town for some of the best seafood you'll ever try. It was here that I was first introduced to fried flounder, one of my favorite dishes to this day.

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Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
Fairway at Tidewater Golf Course, North Myrtle Beach
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
If you're not interested in a seafood dinner, keep heading south along Highway 17 towards North Myrtle Beach. Try out a few of the golf courses along this stretch: there are 20 in this area. Also, you should note that North Myrtle Beach is not just the northern end of Myrtle Beach: it's a completely separate entity with its own government. My dad, who's a NMB native, loves to point this out to newcomers!

As you enter North Myrtle Beach on Highway 17 from Little River, the road will cross over the Intracoastal Waterway. If you're the boating type, you could make use of a nice day, rent a boat or Jetski, and putter along this stretch of water that runs more or less parallel to Highway 17 here.

Along this stretch of 17 (also called North Kings Highway here), you'll find lots of budget motels, putt-putt courses, and restaurants, but not too many other attractions than the beach, which is just a few blocks away from the road.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
Barefoot Landing
{photo via flickr | creative commons}

At the intersection of 17 and 31, you'll find the Barefoot Landing complex, the gigantic Myrtle Beach Mall and Tanger Outlets, all of which are fantastic for some retail therapy.

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Head south into Myrtle Beach, and you'll have a decision to make when the road forks into two parallel roads: 17 and Kings Highway. If you stay on 17, you'll be able to visit Broadway at the Beach and the Coastal Grand Mall. If you chose to take a detour onto North Kings Highway (aka Business 17), you'll get to visit the Ocean Drive boardwalk area (which is probably what you know about Myrtle Beach if you've visited there), where there's lots of shopping, the SkyWheel, Ripley's Believe it or Not, and dozens of ocean front hotels. Along Kings Highway near Surfside Beach, you'll also find several huge campgrounds like Ocean Lakes: I loved taking my grandparents' RV for weekends away when I was little!

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
The beach at Ocean Lakes Campground
Regardless of whether you stayed on 17 or took the short detour along Business 17, you'll find that the roads merge back together just below Garden City.

As you enter Murrells Inlet, I hope you have an appetite, since there are some fantastic seafood restaurants right on the Intracoastal Waterway, about 5 or 6 blocks off of 17. Chow down on crab cakes, shrimp and grits, or lobster at Wahoo's, Bovine's, Dead Dog Saloon, or (my personal favorite) Drunken Jack's. The hush puppies there are delicious.

After you've had your fill of fried seafood deliciousness, you'll want somewhere to get out and stretch your legs, so get back on 17 and head just south to Huntington Beach State Park, a huge swath of land that was donated by philanthropist Archer Huntington and sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. Explore the ruins of Atalaya, the Huntingtons' estate, camp by the ocean, or take a walk along the many trails on the property.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Just across the highway from Huntington Beach is one of my favorite spots on this road trip: Brookgreen Gardens. Although the 15 acre property was a part of the Huntingtons' original land, this portion was set aside in a trust to be a place where the arts and nature live side-by-side. Set aside a day to explore the gardens and the beautiful sculptures that are scattered about. Visit the zoo, take a boat tour, or hop onto one of the bus tours of the property to learn more about the property's history.

If you're tired after a long day at Huntington Beach or Brookgreen Garden, you could stay in Litchfield Beach, which is just a few miles south. Fun fact: my parents actually went to Litchfield for part of their honeymoon! When you enter Litchfield, you've crossed an invisible line into the Hammock Coast, which runs from just below Murrells Inlet to Georgetown.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
{photo via flickr (edited) | creative commons}

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Spend some time walking along the beach at Litchfield or in the shops along the road. You'll soon be in Pawleys Island, the home of the famed ghost, the Grey Man (who warns beach residents of a coming storm and protects their houses), and Pawleys Island hammocks (which you can buy in several of the shops that line 17). Head out to the tiny spit of land that is Pawleys Island proper to experience the self-proclaimed "shabby chic" lifestyle that the island residents enjoy.

Once you're past Pawleys, its only about 20 minutes to your next stop: the historic waterfront in Georgetown. Georgetown is dominated by its steel and paper mills, but there's much more to this town than industry. The adorable waterfront has been completely restored with a walkable downtown area filled with shops and riverside dining.

From Georgetown, head south into the North Santee region, where you'll find Hopsewee Plantation (pronounced: HOP-suh-wee). Take the excellent tour of the historic home before sampling the afternoon tea at the onsite restaurant.

Back on 17, you'll cross the Santee River and find yourself surrounded by the Francis Marion Forest, a protected area that cover 400 square miles in this part of the state. Bring your tent to camp out; there are also multiple boat launches (like the Buck Hall Recreation Center) and several trails.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Just above McClellanville is another historic home: Hampton Plantation, which was the home of South Carolina's first poet laureate, Archibald Rutledge. The home is unfurnished, but the tours (given by the park rangers) are quite good.

The fishing village of McClellanville is also a great place to stop for lunch. Try the Pawleys Island Pie at T.W. Graham's before you walk to the shops along Pinckney Street.

You'll head back into the Francis Marion Forest towards Awendaw. Make a stop at the Seewee Shell Ring--a gigantic oyster pile that has archeologists and historians puzzled--before spending a few hours at the excellent Birds of Prey Center. Awendaw doesn't have much in the way of food, although Seewee Restaurant has cornered the market with hot soul food and freshly caught seafood. If you've got a bit of time and a sense of adventure, catch the Bulls Island ferry for a day out on an uninhabited barrier island.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Highway 17 will wind you through Mount Pleasant (take a detour here if you're interested in visiting the beaches at Isle of Palms or Sullivans Island) before taking you over the Ravenel Bridge (called the Cooper River Bridge almost exclusively by locals). You can walk, run, or bike over this bridge, built in 2005 to replace two other older bridges. The views of the Charleston harbor are unparalleled from the top, so I love to recommend this as a fun (and free!) stop.

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At the foot of the Bridge, you'll have another decision to make: keep on Highway 17 or stop for a few hours--or days--in Charleston? As a Charleston native, I'd recommend the latter so you can take advantage of all of the delicious food and historic attractions in the area. If you go that route (literally!), here are 101 things to do while you're in town.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

If you've decided to bypass downtown Charleston, you'll head south on 17 through West Ashely. Look out for the rotating Coburg Cow sign! Back in the day, high school and college students used to ride the circulating cow, but local law enforcement has cracked down on this ritual in the last few years.

After you leave West Ashley, you'll head down into some of the least developed land along Highway 17. As you wander through Osbourne, Jacksonboro, and White Pond, drink in the beauty that is the Lowcountry: huge live oaks, swift rivers, and quiet towns. When you see signs for Beaufort (Highway 21), prepare to stop at the Carolina Cider Company for fresh fudge, slices of pie, and cider.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Just past the Cider Company, look for the turn off to the Old Sheldon Church. These stunning ruins are haunting and gorgeous.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

You might consider turning off when you see the sign for the Oyotunji African Village near Walterboro. The residents of this village hail from West Africa and still adhere to a traditional lifestyle that is centered around the Yoruba religion. Visit during one of their festivals for a compelling glimpse into their culture, which has been carefully preserved for over 40 years.

Highway 17 is gobbled up by Interstate 95 for several miles before it reappears as its own road in Ridgeland. There's not much to see in Ridgeland--or nearly Switzerland--but there are a few things to do in Hardeeville, including walking along Tillman Nature Trail, fishing at Millstone Landing, and exploring the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

South Carolina's stretch of Highway 17 finishes just across the river from Savannah's downtown area, so you're in the perfect place to keep your road trip going. Happy travels!

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

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Have you traveled along any portion of South Carolina's Highway 17? Which of these areas would you be most interested in visiting?
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