I don't know whether Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington actually found the breeziest spot on their oceanfront property to build their Spanish Moors-style home or whether it was just good fortune. Though the Huntingtons used it as their winter home, the castle is tolerable even in summer months.
When you first see the building, you might think it's the ruins of some other larger structure. When you walk the halls, looking into the small rooms and shared baths, you might think it was a prison. (The daunting grillwork and shutters on the windows were actually designed to protect them from hurricane winds and flying debris.)
It was built in the 1930s using local laborers who so desperately needed the work during the Great Depression and then Huntingtons wintered there in the 1930s and '40s.
Archer Huntington died in 1955 and in subsequent years, equipment from Anna's studio was moved to Brookgreen Gardens. Brookgreen trustees leased the 2,500-acre tract including Atalaya to the state in 1960. Anna Huntington died in 1973.
One of the best ways to see this National Historic Landmark is during the Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival each fall when more than 100 artists fill the rooms of the castle and the courtyard it surrounds. One of the more interesting displays we saw this year was Billy Hall, a North Carolina-based woodworker, who turns wood bowls that are so thin they let light pass through, like lampshades. He calls these beautiful works of art "glowing wood sculptures."
Local restaurants also bring their best Lowcountry cuisine and area musicians perform to the festival.
While you stroll through Atalaya looking at all the art, the story of the castle is told with signs in the rooms of note, including Archer Huntington's study and Anna Hyatt Huntington's studio. Next to the home are stables where the Huntingtons kept dogs, horses and even bears, which all were used by Anna as models for her sculpture. Admission to the event is $6 per person, but the usual park admission fee is waived during the event.
If you get your fill of art, food and music, Huntington Beach State Park has a wonderful 3-mile stretch of beach just a short walk from the castle. There are indoor changing rooms and showers, if you want the immersive experience, and outdoor showers for those who just need to rinse the sand of their feet.
The park is open seven days a week at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. during standard time and at 10 p.m. During Daylight Saving Time. Atalaya is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The park includes access to 3 miles of undeveloped beach, camping, fishing, and excellent bird-watching. The occasional alligator can be spotted in the park's freshwater lake.
Atalaya bonus: No one would ever say that South Carolina's Brookgreen Gardens, on U.S. 17 South in Murrells Inlet, is on the road less traveled. In fact, it sits on the busiest highway along the state's coast. It is, however, a world apart from all the other attractions along the Grand Strand.
This time of year, the gardens are not in bloom, but the sculpture is always stunning. More than 1,200 works by 350 sculptors are on display, including many pieces by Anna Hyatt Huntington who laid out the walkways throughout the gardens. Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historical Landmark and is open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for ages 13-64; $10 for 65 and older; $5 for children 4-12; and free for younger children and Brookgreen Gardens members. Tickets are good for seven consecutive days from purchase, so you can stop by as many times as you like during your stay along the coast.
You can take a Lowcountry Excursion on a 48-foot pontoon boat and overland in the Trekker. Excursions cost $7 for adults and $4 for children in addition to gardens admission. Trekker excursions are not recommended for children younger than 6. Click here or call (843) 235-6000 for more information.