When you want a break from the sun and surf of the Grand Strand, head to Conway for a completely different experience. To get the full experience of this pretty town, plan to spend at least one night. Here's a plan for two fun days in Conway.
Make a reservation at the Cypress Inn, an elegant 11-room bed and breakfast right on the Waccamaw River. Innkeepers Carol and Hugh Archer and Anne and George Bullock are praised on travel sites for the warm attention they extend to their guests. Each room has a private bath, and a full breakfast is served each morning.
After you check in, take a stroll along the Riverwalk, a trail along the Waccamaw. It's a beautiful spot, with trees draped in Spanish moss, which reflect in the dark water on still, sunny days.
The Riverwalk is a popular spot for area photographers, and many families and brides have their photos taken there to take advantage of some of the best photo opportunities in the state.
Stroll along the Riverwalk to the Conway Visitor Center to begin your tour.
If you're in Conway at 10 a.m. on Thursdays, you can join a historic walking tour, or schedule an appointment to take one just about any time.
Settlers began living in Conway, originally named Kingston, in 1735. Most of the downtown area was built in the early 1900s, but some churches and homes were built in the early or mid-1800s. A map of historic sites lists 39 historic buildings and homes, and 17 of these are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rather than a guided tour, you can take a QR code tour. After you scan the QR code with your smart phone or mobile device, you can get information about 10 spots in the historic downtown area. At each stop, you can read a brief history and "fun fact," view a video and see historic photos.
For example, one of the 10 spots is Conway City Hall. You can learn that renowned architect Robert Mills built it in 1824 and that it was originally the Horry County Courthouse. And you can learn that the clock outside took master cabinetmaker W. H. Winborne three months to build.
You'll also want to see Conway's beautiful live oaks, trees that are so treasured that streets have been built around them. At the visitor center, you can pick up "A Guide to Some of Our Oldest Citizens," which features 10 of the most amazing trees.
There's the Hanging Oak just across the street from Conway City Hall; public executions were held here until 1908. There's the Mary Beaty Oak, named for the woman who stood in front of another oak, the Wade Hampton Oak, to prevent workmen from cutting it to place railroad tracks. My favorite is the oak at the intersection of Beaty Street and Seventh Avenue. It actually is in the center of the intersection, and the streets circle around it.
Take a break for an excellent lunch at Crady's Eclectic Cuisine, owned by Barbara and Les Whitley and their daughter, Heather. A favorite spot for lunch or Sunday brunch, Crady's also serves dinner on nights when there is a performance at Theatre of the Republic across the street. Soups, salads and an assortment of sandwiches are on the lunch menu, as well as quiches made by Barbara Whitley, one of the most talented bakers around. You'll want to save lunch for dessert here - maybe caramel cake, fruit pie or a seven-layer chocolate and raspberry torte.
After lunch, you'll need a walk so visit some of the unique shops downtown. One you won't want to miss is Conway Glass. Owners Barbara and Ed Streeter are artists, and their bowls, vases and ornaments are on display. Don't miss seeing a replica of the Christmas ornament the Streeters made for the White House in 2010. They also offer some glass blowing classes and demonstrations.
Other nearby shops you'll want to visit are Bodega, which sells all kinds of kitchen items as well as gourmet foods and wine; and Ultimate Gullah, which carries spices, handmade baskets, art and attire. Another unusual business is Homebrewer's Pantry, a supply store for making beer, wine and soda.
Head back to the Cypress Inn to take a nap or rock on the front porch.
For dinner, walk up the street to Rivertown Bistro for an incredibly good dinner. Everything here is delicious, but my favorites from the starter menu are the Lowcountry spring rolls stuffed with chicken, tasso ham and cheeses. The salads and sushi are excellent, and entrees include seafood, chicken, beef and pork. Some interesting sides are available, including mac-n-cheese noodle cake, collards and sautéed spinach.
Chef Darren Smith and his wife, Cyndi, opened Rivertown Bistro in 1994, and it gained a loyal following. It was destroyed by fire in 2008, but it reopened with more space a year later. The staff is very friendly, the décor is pleasant, and this is just one of those places where you feel very welcome and comfortable.
Some of the tables upstairs give you a peek down into the bustling kitchen. If the weather is pleasant, ask if you can dine on the upstairs porch.
If you love good community theater, see if there is a performance at Theatre of the Republic. The home of Theatre of the Republic is an old movie theater that opened as the Holliday Theatre in 1947 and now is Main Street Theatre.
Return to the Cypress Inn for a great night's sleep. In the morning, you'll be served breakfast and can get on your way.
Start at Captain Jim's Scenic River Tours for a 90-minute narrated sightseeing cruise at 11 a.m. (Tours also start at 2 p.m.) You'll board the River Memories to see some beautiful nature scenes along the river, perhaps even an alligator.
You probably won't be ready to leave beautiful Conway yet, but you can always return for another visit soon.