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AAA Carolinas GO Magazine....


From the bustling Myrtle Beach area in the north and down through historic Charleston to Hilton Head Island in the south, the meandering coastline of South Carolina beckons with a wide variety of alluring options for visitors. Historic US 17 connects the coastal dots of the pretty state, making it easy to explore many of the state's waterlogged treasures--as well as many inland options on the way to or from the coast.

From the North Carolina state line down to historic riverfront Georgetown, the popular Myrtle Beach area features an array of pursuits for those looking to go with the flow--or get a bit off the beaten track.

Famed Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach is the "Birthplace of the Shag." Dancers and those who just like to listen to beach music and watch the action head to Fat Harold's Beach Club, Duck's ("The Place Where the Dancers Meet"), and Ocean Drive Beach & Golf Resort--including the OD Beach Club and the Shagger's Hall of Fame.

Myrtle Beach proper is just south of shag central. There's always something new in the Myrtle Beach area, including the 196-foot SkyWheel, the newly renovated Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade, Wonderworks Science Center, and new and always-evolving shows at Myrtle Beach's famed theaters.

The short drive from US 17 east to Murrells Inlet is well worth the diversion. Known as the "Seafood Capital of South Carolina," Murrells Inlet has long been the spot to head for fresh seafood and great views.

Two more must-stops come a bit further south: Huntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens. One of many great state parks along the coast and inland, Huntington Beach State Park features a great beach, hiking trails, varied camping, and Atalaya, the Moorish-style winter home of artist Anna Hyatt and railroad magnate Archer Huntington. Across US 17, Brookgreen Gardens is a don't-miss National Historic Landmark with sprawling display gardens and a stunning outdoor sculpture collection.

Litchfield and Pawleys Island come next, with the classic Hammock Shops Village being the first stop for most. The "Home of the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock" actually features more than 20 diverse shops, dining, and much more. Over on quiet Pawleys Island, informational signs mark the various "Historic Homes of Pawleys Island."

Once back on the mainland and US 17, it's a quiet ten-mile drive through the woods to the charming waterfront town of Georgetown. Locals here like to send visitors to the Visitors Center (and Georgetown Maritime Museum), which is located right on Front Street in the mid-1800s Harper Building. The staff there will recommend historic options within walking distance, like the Kaminski House Museum, the Rice Museum, and the Georgetown County Museum, as well as varied places to stay and eat.

When heading further south (look for the charming little town of McClellanville), this part of US 17 is where visitors will start seeing sweetgrass basket makers at work in rustic little stands along the road. The highway's official name along this stretch is actually "Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway."

The left-hand turn for Isle of Palms is next. Taking this detour provides a great way to check out the coastal islands and beaches just outside Charleston--as well as historic Mount Pleasant and Shem Creek--before re-joining US 17 and the bridge over to the Charleston peninsula.

Back on US 17 heading south, it's a short drive over the sparkling Arthur Ravenal Bridge, which opened in 2005 and replaced the fabled 1929 and 1966 versions. At about 2 1/2 miles, it's the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.

US 17 runs right through the Charleston peninsula, where there's likely more world-class history, culture, shopping, and dining per square mile than any other city in the nation. Highlights here have to include: historic homes (several open to the public); carriage tours; the Gibbes Museum of Art; shopping along King Street; truly world-class dining and accommodations (including AAA five-diamond Wentworth Mansion); and several nearby plantations that truly provide a sense of the Lowcountry.

Upon leaving Charleston, the first of many possible detours happens quickly, with Route 30 and then Folly Road heading down to fabled Folly Beach (signs call it "The Edge of America"). Local highlights include: a stop just across Oak Island Creek at Crosby's Fish & Shrimp Company; the long and wide Edwin S. Taylor Folly Beach Fishing Pier; and the short walk to view the historic Morris Island Lighthouse.

Back out on US 17, many cars turn left toward Kiawah Island, a classic South Carolina beach getaway. Day visitors will want to head to Kiawah Beachwalker Park, located before the main gate to Kiawah Island. It's a wonderfully wide state beach that's ideal for its namesake activity--walking the beach. Kiawah Island proper features varied accommodations options (from beach houses to the AAA five-diamond Sanctuary), dining, watersports, world-class golf and tennis, and much more.

Maybank Highway provides another pretty drive that leads to Charleston Tea Plantation. As America's only working tea garden, Charleston Tea Plantation is truly a special place out on Wadmalaw Island. A visit can include an informative factory tour, a plantation trolley ride, and shopping in the expansive gift shop.

Beaufort is next. Highlights of this charming waterfront town have to include: the Federal-style John Mark Verdier House Museum; the Beaufort Arsenal Museum; lots of private historic homes simply found by wandering the pretty streets; and nearby Port Royal and Parris Island (of Marines fame).

Historic Bluffton is also well worth a stop on the way to Hilton Head Island. The Heyward House Historic Center is the place to go for insider info on the town, including their helpful "Walking Tour" brochure, historic houses like the Fripp House, the waterfront Church of the Cross, varied dining, fresh seafood right off the docks from the Bluffton Oyster Company--established in 1899 and featuring fresh May River oysters in-season.

Hilton Head Island is the final coastal destination. Utilizing forward-thinking development techniques and offering environmentally-oriented attractions and activities long before "green" development and travel were trendy, Hilton Head Island is popular with visitors for good reason.

A stop at the helpful Visitor Center just after crossing the bridge onto the island is a great way to start any visit. They'll likely send interested visitors to the main location of the Coastal Discovery Museum, as well as: horseback riding with Lawton Stables in the Sea Pines Nature Preserve; climbing the red-and-white Harbor Town Lighthouse; one of many varied "dolphin" tours and more; and exploring peaceful Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge (located just before the bridge onto the island).

It's easy to see why coastal South Carolina has lured visitors for generations. From Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island, the state's coastline is well worth the drive.

AAA SAVINGS Members receive a wide range of discounts in the Charleston area. Visit AAA.com/Discounts and search "Charleston" for a list.