Pawley’s Island is a Destination Throwback in time to a quieter more relaxed state of mind
Just about everyone has heard of Pawleys Island. That is due mostly, I assume, to the fame of the signature hammock that adorns the back yards of many of our East Tennessee homes. The Pawleys Island hammock was the brainchild of Captain Joshua John Ward, who crafted the idea on a boat out of necessity, trying to get a good night’s sleep. He didn’t actually invent the hammock; he just reimagined one that would work better. In 1935, his family opened the Original Hammock Shop on the main road through Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where it remains today. And while the road and area has grown quite a bit since then, this hidden treasure remains as quaint and down-to-earth as it was during a simpler time.
For those who know me and follow my series, you know that an adventure focused on rest and relaxation is not my norm. My adventures are more often than not concentrated on fishing and hunting, sometimes speckled in with epic hikes or, in my earlier years, strenuous climbs. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of guy. But when I got a call from Mark Stevens, Director of Tourism Development at the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, I couldn’t help but feel intrigued. “We have seen a recent uptick in visitors from the East Tennessee area, and I thought you might be interested in doing an article.” Although I don’t normally find this kind of offer intriguing, the more he told me about the four mile stretch of Pawleys Island and the Hammock Coast, the more it spoke to me, and I figured it was probably time anyway for a more laid back adventure. And, when I learned he was formerly the editor of the Erwin, Tennessee newspaper, well, things started to click. I had operated a rafting company on the Nolichucky River and we reminisced about people we both knew. So we made some plans and set the dates. And off I went in search of some solitude, where the only plan I had was to be present and unwind while exploring a new location.
My partner, Anne, loves this kind of adventure. We officially began our trip with a stop in Beaufort, South Carolina, having gone down for an evening at their annual River Festival—highly recommend if you’ve never been. Friday we flew out of the Beaufort Executive Airport (aka Frogmore International) for a short flight up the coast. We flew at a low altitude to enjoy watching the seashore. Flying at 1,000 feet above ground level gives a wonderful view of the developments and marshlands. She enjoyed seeing the Battery in Charleston as we flew above it, just outside of the Charleston Airport airspace. We landed in Georgetown and were greeted by the most polite lineman at the airport’s General Aviation Terminal I have ever encountered. That kind of greeting makes you think everything is going to be okay. He even forewarned us of where the local law enforcement might be laying in wait to ensure us tourists obey the speed limits.
We grabbed our rental car, and we were off to try to make lunch at the Sea View Inn, the oldest on the island. The inn was built just a couple years after the hammock shop. There’s no air conditioning in the entire establishment, something I initially felt a little skeptical about. We had a second floor oceanfront room, but the windows are open across the entire inn and the ever constant sea breeze makes it very comfortable. We were met by Mark, along with Beth Stedman, the president/CEO of Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. We sat on the front porch, hearing more about the island, before grabbing lunch inside, and then it was off to the beach to soak our toes in the surf and catch a little sun. A few minutes with your toes in the sand quickly reacquaints you with why almost everyone loves the ocean.
One of the most unique things about this stretch of coastline is that there are no commercial ventures on the island proper—other than a few places of lodging. And those by no means are high rise swanky hotels; no not at all. These are historic bed and breakfast type operations that make you feel like you have traveled back in time in the best way possible. You’re taken care of, at same time given space to enjoy the solitude. This was exactly what we were in search of when we began planning this trip–time to unplug and relax.
Dubbed “the barefoot paradise,” the inn is right in the middle of the island with a private beach on one side and a salt marsh on the other. It’s the type of place with a line of rocking chairs on a full porch overlooking the ocean where you can grab a cocktail or glass of wine and let all your troubles float away. For me, this is the kind of spot where the best conversations take place. We were informed right at the start that cell phones are frowned upon on the property. Behind us, the kids were playing on a Joggling board which reminded me of my own childhood vacations—a time where we played non-stop till meal time mostly without adult supervision, or so we thought. So, the opportunity to sit on the porch with my girl, enjoy our conversation, and listen to the ocean and happy children without the constant chirping of cell phones was worth the trip. And that barefoot piece? Let’s just say I came to understand that rather quickly.
The inn offers breakfast and lunch to guests, but also by reservation to other island folk, offering tourists like us a chance to meet the locals. The food is, for the most part, served country style or buffet. It is exactly like what your grandmom served when you visited her on Sunday mornings.
On top of all of this, it was also National Hammock Day so our time on the beach the first day is cut short by our desire to stop by the Original Hammock Shop. Trust me, these people take the hammock lifestyle seriously. It’s there we met the men who weave the hammocks. They are a jovial lot, and the one man who’s worked there the longest, Marvin Grant, tells me that as of that day he has woven 25,201 hammocks. Quite an accomplishment over a period of 41 years. There’s a large celebration going on at the shop with a band, a plethora of food cooking, a dozen or so food trucks—oh, and they’re giving away a hammock every hour. The hammocks are available in a number of colors and configurations and the original establishment is now surrounded by a quaint series of shops of all sorts, a very enjoyable courtyard style outdoor browsing experience.
Five Star Food
Now, you can find just about anything you want just off the island which is only five minutes away and good food was on our minds. We made reservations at Chef Adam Kirby’s Bistro 217 restaurant. Chef Adam is nothing short of amazing and from the Beef Carpaccio to the herb encrusted Grouper, it was five-star all the way. When chef said he thought there was one order left of butter beans that he grew on his farm I was hooked for good. If you go to Pawleys and do nothing else, have dinner at least once at Bistro 217.
Private Island Feel
Being on an island without major resorts and with limited public access which is primarily on the North and South end of the island is nice. The beach is wide and clean and the water quality is awesome. As Anne and I would stroll along the beach, we found the people to be very friendly. We met several people from Tennessee and the feeling was like you had known them for years.
The manager of the inn, Kipp Chrismer, who I never witnessed wearing shoes, shared with us that most people come back year after year on the same week. Entire families he said have been coming here for decades. If you are interested in staying on Pawleys, specifically at the Sea View Inn, better make those reservations early. You might just catch me snoozing in one of those rocking chairs listening to the ocean.