A beautiful barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, Pawleys Island is a relaxed, laidback spot that is perfect for romantic retreats and peaceful honeymoons at the beach. Just about four miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, Pawleys Island offers plenty of natural beauty including unspoiled beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, salt marshes and creeks, and lovely old homes nestled beneath majestic oaks.
One of the oldest beach resort communities on the East Coast, Pawleys Island was first discovered in the 1500s and was home to multiple rice plantations in the 1700s. Some of those plantation homes still stand today.
Is Pawleys Island worth visiting? Absolutely. Although it is less developed and touristy than Myrtle Beach (which is just to the north), there are plenty of things to do in Pawleys Island.
Hang out on the beach in Pawleys Island
One of the best things to do in Pawleys Island—and one of the free things to do in Pawleys Island—is to hang out on the pristine beach on the Atlantic side. Lined with sand dunes and sea oats, the wide stretches of sand provide lots of room so you never feel crowded. The sand here is also pretty flat and firm, making it excellent for walking or jogging.
The island consists of several distinct beach areas including Litchfield, North Litchfield, Litchfield by the Sea, and Pawleys Island, plus the area of Murrells Inlet just a short drive to the north.
Stay in an oceanfront home and chances are you’ll have a porch with either hammocks or rocking chairs so you can relax and enjoy the beach view even when you’re not on the sand. Some of the homes also have piers behind them on the creek, giving you the best of both worlds.
Explore Huntington Beach State Park
One of the top attractions to visit in Pawleys Island, Huntington Beach State Park offers 2500 acres of nature trails, beaches, and wetlands where you can see all sorts of wildlife. You can swim, boat, hike, fish, bike, or birdwatch, and there’s a nature center with a saltwater touch tank and the chance to feed local animals. The entrance fee is $8 per adult.
You can also tour Atalaya Castle, a mansion built in the Moorish style by local workers in the early 1930s for a New York philanthropist, Archer Huntington, and his artist wife Anna. Huntington designed the house himself as a winter residence. Although the furnishings are gone, there are 30 rooms around a center courtyard as well as some outbuildings. Tours are only $2 ($4 with audio), making this one of the best cheap things to do in Pawleys Island.
The home is set on the ocean and their estate spread across more than 9,000 acres. Some of that land was donated to become a sculpture garden for Anna’s art (Brookgreen Gardens; see below) and 2500 acres was leased for free to the state to create Huntington Beach State Park in 1960. The house was used as a barracks by the US Air Corps during WWII and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Wander around Brookgreen Gardens
Located between Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet (just across from Huntington Beach State Park) and open every day from 9:30-5, this 9100-acre oasis features extensive botanical gardens, the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve, the Lowcountry Zoo, and the largest collection of American figurative sculpture in the country.
Wander on your own or take one of the fascinating guided tours. You can also take river cruises on a pontoon boat. This is a great cheap thing to do in Pawleys Island, as adult tickets are just $18 and are good for seven consecutive days.
Head out on the water to get close to some dolphins, those playful creatures that are so fun to watch. Blue Wave Adventures in Murrells Inlet has an 85% success rate in finding dolphins on their boat tours.
Take a boat tour
There are all sorts of options for interesting boat trips in the waterways around the island. Captain Steve’s River Tours offers customizable tours along the Waccamaw River on a pontoon boat, where you can see interesting historic sites like old rice plantations.
Cap’n Rod’s Lowcountry Tours offers a Lighthouse Shell Island Tour that takes you to a barrier island with a variety of wildlife and a lighthouse, plus a Plantation River Tour that takes you up the river as you learn about local plantations and history.
Check out the creeks and marshes
A cheap thing to do in Pawleys Island is to explore the saltmarsh creeks by kayak or stand up paddleboard. Bring your own or easily rent them from local shops like Pawleys Kayaks or Surf the Earth (which also offers kayak and SUP eco-tours of the salt marsh ecosystem such as morning paddleboard or kayak tours and sunset kayak tours).
Black River Outdoors Center also offers guided eco-tours by kayak of Huntington Beach Salt Marsh, Cypress Swamps, Sandy Island, and Georgetown Harbor.
Take surf lessons
The Atlantic Ocean offers good waves for surfing; you can rent surfboards and get surf lesson from local places like Surf the Earth. They rent body boards and boogie boards as well, if that’s more your style.
Go shopping in Pawleys Island
One of the best places to go shopping, and another of the top attractions to visit in Pawleys Island, is The Hammock Shops Village. Established in 1938, The Hammock Shops Village features the home of the original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock (where you can see weavers creating these famous hammocks by hand) plus 20 other unique shops to browse for the perfect souvenir, as well as two restaurants for a leisurely lunch. Don’t miss the daily wine tastings.
You can also go shopping in Pawleys Island at the Village Shops and the Island Shops, or head to Georgetown (about a 15-minute drive to the southwest) for additional unique shops in the lovely historic downtown area.
Go biking in Pawleys Island
One of the best cheap things to do in Pawleys Island is to go biking. Since Pawleys Island is so small, it’s easy to explore by bike. Bike rentals are available at several places, including Cyclopedia and Pawleys Kayaks. (If you bring your own bike or if it comes with the place you’re staying, this can be one of the best free things to do in Pawleys Island!)
There are bike trails you can follow, including the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway which is a flat paved path that goes from Murrells Inlet to Sandy Island Road near Huntington Beach State Park.
You can also ride through the Pawleys Island Historic District, where you can see several houses that were built in the 1800s including the Joseph Blyth Allston House, the PCJ Weston House/Pelican Inn, and the Ward House/Liberty Lodge.
Go golfing in Pawleys Island
This area of South Carolina is often called the Golf Capital of the World, as it has more than 80 golf courses. Pawleys Island area courses include the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club offers a challenging 18-hole golf course set along the coast with beautiful views; Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, with a course designed by Jack Nicklaus; and the Founder Club, True Blue Golf Club, Litchfield Country Club, and Heritage Club.
Go fishing in Pawleys Island
If you like to fish, the area offers plenty of opportunities for inshore fishing. Head out on your own (for a completely free thing to do in Pawleys Island) or book a charter and let them take you to all the top spots for flounder, redfish, trout, bluefish, and more.
Carolina Guide Service offers year-round charters for light tackle or fly-fishing. You can also do guided kayak fishing tours with Black River Outdoors Center.
Feast on delicious food
From Lowcountry specialties such as shrimp and grits and she crab soup to fresh seafood to gourmet cuisine, there’s something for everyone in this area. Some top restaurants in Pawleys Island include the Chive Blossom Restaurant and Bar for foodie-pleasing dishes and alfresco dining under huge old oaks; the Rustic Table for upscale Southern food; Ocean One for gourmet cuisine in an elegant setting overlooking the ocean; Bistro 217 for an eclectic menu and fun atmosphere including a courtyard bar; Austin’s Cabana Café for “a bite and a beer by the sea”; and Caffe Piccolo for mouthwatering fresh Italian in a romantic outdoor courtyard or cozy indoor dining room.
Enjoy relaxing nightlife
There are just a few things to do in Pawleys Island at night, but that’s how most visitors (and locals) like it. The best things to do in Pawleys Island at night are to enjoy the beach under the stars, go out to a delicious dinner, and hear live music.
Some of the best places for live music are Pawleys Island Tavern (known as The PIT); Island Bar & Grill; Franks and Franks Outback; Local Eat, Drink, Celebrate; and South End Bistro.
Visit Myrtle Beach
Just a short drive to the north is the well-known town of Myrtle Beach, which has plenty of fun things to do including an amusement park area with a huge Skywheel (Ferris wheel) and a pier.
Since there aren’t many things to do in Pawleys Island at night, Myrtle Beach is a good option for a more active scene.
Things to do in Pawleys Island when it rains
Some of the best things to do in Pawleys Island when it rains are to go shopping in Pawleys Island or historic downtown Georgetown; head to the Island Day Spa for a relaxing massage or other spa treatment; paint your own pottery piece at All Fired Up; or go to Island Art Gallery to browse or take a class. There are also movie theaters in Myrtle Beach and plenty of indoor attractions.
Now that you’ve read our list of the 15 best things to do in Pawleys Island, are you ready to plan a romantic trip there? Let us know in the comments!