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Simple Pleasures Await You at Pawleys Island Inns

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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A bygone era - it is often said that vacationers head to Pawleys Island's historic district to experience just that. But it's an impossible goal for one notable reason: There is no bygone era on this four-mile strip of barrier island, where a smattering of sturdy, "arrogantly shabby" summer houses are tightly sandwiched between the ocean and a pristine salt marsh. Indeed, you'll find that present-day historic Pawleys, one of the nation's oldest beach resorts, never moved beyond the era before amusement parks, mini-golf, condos and sweeping shopping complexes became the hallmarks of the coastal landscape.

It isn't so much that time forgot this place, but that this place forgot time - and deliberately, delightfully so. A stay at one of the area's historic inns will make you grateful for the oversight. Dress like you'll see nobody you know, leave the computer on the desk, slow your speed to the posted 25 mph, kick off your shoes and dial back the clock. You're officially on PIT - Pawleys Island Time.

Sea View Inn

The moment you mount the rustic, tree-shaded steps between the parking lot and main grounds, you'll feel lighter, as if you're leaving some serious baggage behind. (Not a reference to your actual luggage, but feel free to leave it in the car and let the staff fetch it for you if you like.) No one is standing at the door waiting impatiently for your arrival, though you might be greeted by one of the property cats. Take a minute or two to pet one or admire the flower garden. You're in the Land of the Laid Back, and enjoying life's simplest pleasures is part of your acclimation.

Since 1937, the Sea View Inn has provided respite to visitors seeking the solace of the shore and some basic creature comforts. Its 20 rooms (14 in the main lodge and six in a cottage) remain characteristically spare but homey with soft bedding, in-suite half-baths, softly whirring ceiling fans and plenty of windows for letting in lush ocean sounds and breezes for the ultimate sleeping experience. Showers are located on each hallway and outdoors, as well, for easy clean-up after a day of crabbing, shelling, swimming or sunbathing on the private beach. Get into full-blown relaxation mode with an on-site massage. Bring your own wine, beer or spirits and throw your own happy hour or cap off your evening with a toast or two.

Don't be surprised to spot guests in full-snooze while lounging in the cozy common areas or on the sweeping oceanfront veranda teeming with rockers. Just grab a comfy seat and join them. No worries - you'll eventually be awakened by the melodic sound of bells calling you to the dining room where three home-cooked meals are served daily. A placard with your name identifies your personal table. Have a seat as a team of seasoned cooks, many of them there for decades, serve up an amazing array of Lowcountry and house favorites such as fried chicken, squash casserole, fluffy biscuits, and shrimp and grits. Often on the menu is owner Sassy Henry's famous pimento cheese sold widely in markets under the Palmetto Cheese brand - a true Southern delicacy.

Rise early and head to the porch to witness a soul-stirring sunrise. In the evening, sit a spell with other guests for great conversation and perhaps a board game or two. There are no TVs to be found here, but you aren't likely to miss them. And do bring your checkbook or cash - those new-fangled credit cards are not welcome here.

Note: If you feel you need air conditioning, opt for a cottage room; there is no AC in the lodge. The Sea View closes for the season after Thanksgiving and reopens around Easter. Rooms must be reserved by the week after Memorial Day.

Pelican Inn

You'll know the Pelican Inn the moment you spy the distinctive hand-hewn arches of its lower piazza. Once a summer retreat for those seeking respite from mosquitoes and heat, this charmingly weathered 1840s structure still embodies all the grace that appealed to its early inhabitants. When it comes to the reasons folks flock to this inn, not much has changed. Corrine and Bruce Taylor, (a physician and attorney, respectively, and former regular guests of the inn), were so drawn to the property they bought it in 2010 and continue to offer Pawleys-style rest and relaxation from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The sitting room has an understated elegance that invites conversation and casual socializing. Spend some quality time with a good book in one of the Pawleys original hammocks hung from the piazzas and oceanfront gazebo. The property is ethereal, with plenty of flowering shrubs, live oaks and yard sculptures of - you guessed it - pelicans. There's also some talk of ghostly sightings associated with the island's most famous spectral resident, the Gray Man. The proprietors are happy to share stories if asked.

The second-floor piazza, from which the eight comfortably appointed guestrooms are accessed, rises high into the live oaks; while it faces the Atlantic, you'll have to use the boardwalk to get an ocean view, thanks to large dunes and leafy trees that are not only visually interesting but utilitarian as well, offering protection during storms and hurricanes. Because this historic house sits well back from the water, there's a sense of peace and privacy that's hard to find with most oceanfront digs. Go ahead and fantasize that you're on a faraway private island.

Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining room daily, with lunch intended to be the major meal of the day. The menu reflects the bounty and culture of the region with home-style offerings such as fried chicken, baked ham, boiled shrimp, red rice, potato salad, cornbread and banana pudding offered on any given day. The aroma of baking biscuits will pull you from your comfy bed each morning.

Marsh sunsets are stunning, so uncork a bottle of wine and settle in for something spectacular each evening. In keeping with the Pawleys Island inn aesthetic, there's no television and you might have to share a bathroom, depending on the room you choose. But in a nod to the realities of South Carolina summers, each room does have AC just in case the ocean and marsh breezes aren't enough to keep you from wilting.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.