When I moved to Charleston last year and told West Virginians I had spent 20 years in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, they all said I was crazy for leaving.
That may be debatable. But luckily my parents, relatives and friends (all transplants to South Carolina) welcome me home whenever I get hungry for the beach. Mother’s Day weekend, my husband and I traveled south with our 19-year-old daughter to dip our toes in the sand and feast on some culture. You read that correctly — culture.
Despite its reputation as the Redneck Riviera, Myrtle Beach has an art and foodie scene locals are well aware of.
In between walks in the surf, we visited museums and blue-ribbon-worthy restaurants. The following are some of my favorite haunts to refresh your creativity and satisfy your taste buds.
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Brookgreen Gardens, a National Historic Landmark made up of 9,000 acres off of Bypass 17 below Murrells Inlet, is my favorite spot in South Carolina, bar none. It touches the heart, teaches the mind and has an important West Virginia connection.
It was founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington on land from four rice plantations between the Waccamaw River and the ocean. Archer was the son of industrial magnate Collis P. Huntington, who helped build the first transcontinental railroad and after whom the city of Huntington is named.
Collis Huntington’s second wife and Archer Huntington’s mother, Arabella Duval Yarrington, was an art connoisseur. She exposed her son to history, art and other cultures.
Archer married Anna Hyatt, a scientist who specialized in paleontology and a pioneer marine biologist connected to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anna grew up in a family devoted to science and cultural pursuits and as a teenager became interested in sculpture. Together they created what Archer wrote “is a quiet joining of hand between science and art.”
In addition to the largest collection of American sculpture (more than 2,000 works by 425 artists), Brookreen is known as premiere public garden and natural habitat zoo.
Travel back in time to hear stories of the plantation owners, including Gov. Joseph Alston and his wife Theodosia Burr, the daughter of vice president Aaron Burr, who famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.
Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is good for seven days. Tickets may also be purchased for The Trekker, an open-air vehicle to ride down sandy roads that were Native American trails before slaves walked them barefooted.
Or choose a creek excursion aboard Brookgreen’s 48-foot pontoon boat through long-abandoned rice fields now home to alligators, osprey and other wildlife.
For savory treats, stop for refreshments at The Courtyard Café. Save time for Keepsakes Gift Shop, where I find many gifts, be it toys, books, jewelry or garden decorations.
A movie at the entrance is worth the time to be introduced to the marvels of Brookgreen Gardens. Photographers, gardeners, nature lovers and children will especially delight, as will teenagerss taking selfies with statues of Greek gods, in front of cascading fountains or in the majestic shaded arch of Live Oak Allee.
There are seasonal events all year, but the piece de resistance is The Nights of 1,000 Candles, held this year over three weekends in November and December. See Brookgreen Gardens come to life amid the soft glow of more than 5,500 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights from 3 to 10 p.m. Stop in the Old Kitchen ruins for a hot chocolate or a warm cup of cider while listening to carolers singing, the hum of string quartets or bells ringing, and celebrate the holiday season.
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Collectors Café & Gallery truly has something for every visitor. It is an upscale contemporary Mediterranean restaurant, European-style coffee house, and late-night cocktail and dessert bar. Collectors earned the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 16 years in a row.
Lunch is served 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and dinner offered 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The restaurant has four private dining areas, including the Lion’s Den with a wraparound booth seating up to 12 people.
Every room — even the restrooms — features more than a hundred works of art from around the world, all available for sale. My party, which included family and friends ranging in age from a tween to octogenarians wandered the gallery for over an hour.
A decade ago, I sold my only piece, a whitewash-finished wood and stainless steel box bar holding 64 mini-bottles, on which I painted “Drink Like A Fish...” You will be tempted.
Stop in for a cappuccino, a martini or at least drink in the artwork with your eyes in the soft-lit, air-conditioned space. You will leave richer, fuller and more creative. Bakery items, T-shirts and posters are available for purchase to bring home to West Virginia.
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Franklin G. Burroughs and Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum is the Grand Strand’s home for the visual arts and creative programs for all ages, opened in 1997 and named in honor of the founders of the Burroughs and Chapin Company, a land development group that began as a timber company. The 10,000-square-foot museum is housed in Springmaid Villa, a historic beach home that was refurbished and moved 8 miles from its original location.
Permanent collections include The Mapmakers’ Art, 30 works from 1606 to 1863. My family was fortunate to view (and vote on) the “20th Annual Juried Show” of the Waccamaw Arts and Crafts Guild. Admission is free every day, but donations or membership is encouraged. Coloring pages were set out for youth.
This summer the museum will host an exhibition, “Feast Your Eyes: Celebrating the Food of the South” through Sept. 17 that promises to show Southern edibles from oysters to okra, collards to mayo-and-mater sandwiches and RC Cola to Moon Pies on canvas. Peruse the excellent treasures in the gift shop.
Karen Johnson is a Charleston resident who studied three foreign languages in high school and was voted most likely to flee the USA. With 27 countries under her belt, she now yearns for time travel adventures. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.