Before interstate highways made it easier to drive across the country, US 17 was the road that brought Northern travelers to South Carolina by car. It was from this route that visitors first saw the 60-mile stretch of strand at Myrtle Beach, the barrier islands off Charleston and the Lowcountry sweetgrass basket makers plying their trade.
Today, most travelers only get on Highway 17 for short jaunts, dipping on and off the busy roadway while headed to someplace specific. No matter how long you are on 17, though, there are tons of things to do, places to see and lots of great seafood to eat.
So let’s get started at the North Carolina state line with some must-see locations.
Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens, SC Highway 179
Just a mile inside the state line is this 114-acre collection of formal gardens, woodlands and salt marsh. A boardwalk gives visitors easy access to the marsh, where you can see boats coming and going from the marina, in addition to a variety of wildlife. It’s a great place for a pet break if you are traveling with your best friend. Open daily from sunup to sundown. Admission is free.
Heritage Shores Nature Preserve, 5611 Heritage Drive
This park sits on an island in the Cherry Grove Marsh and offers visitors a series of boardwalks and observations docks to explore the natural area. You can glimpse into the past with this park to what the Grand Strand looked like before it became the state’s No. 1 tourist destination. Park at 53rd Avenue North and enjoy a four-block stroll to the preserve. Bring lunch and enjoy a picnic.
The anchor of the area known as the Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach has been a beacon drawing families for more than 70 years. Start at the 14th Avenue Pier, the northern terminus of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. The 1.2-mile boardwalk opened in spring 2010, giving visitors an easy stroll along the sand without having to actually get in the sand. There are shops and restaurants along the way, reminiscent of the famous boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ.
Myrtle Beach Skywheel, 1110 North Ocean Blvd.
The 200-foot SkyWheel is your best birds-eye view of the Grand Strand, and you can do it in air-conditioned comfort in one of the 42 glass gondolas. Each “flight” is about 12 minutes long. Tickets are $14 for riders 12 and older; $9 for ages 3-11. There are discounts for older adults and military, and the ride is free for younger children. The gondolas are handicapped accessible.
Just a short stroll from the SkyWheel is a Myrtle Beach institution: Peaches Corner, 900 North Ocean Blvd. While other places have come and gone, including the famed Pavilion, Peaches has remained and still serves beer, foot-long hot dogs and double cheeseburger baskets with fries since 1937.
Brookgreen Gardens, 1931 Brookgreen Gardens Drive, Murrells Inlet
This National Historic Landmark was created in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, whose sculptures adorn the gardens along with the works of more than 300 other artists. The first public sculpture garden in the U.S., Brookgreen helps preserve the native flora and fauna of the area known as the Waccamaw Neck. Admission is $16 for ages 13–64; $14 for 65 and older; $8 for children 4–12; and free for younger children. Open daily 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer.
While Myrtle Beach is home to plenty of outlet mall shopping, you won’t want to miss the unique "shoppertunity" offered by the Hammock Shops Village, 10880 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island. Nothing says vacation quite like a cotton rope hammock hanging within sight of the ocean. But for South Carolina riverboat Capt. Joshua John Ward, the hammock meant a chance to get some shut-eye on hot and steamy South Carolina summer nights. You can even watch as modern-day artisans follow Ward’s pattern to make hammocks today at the Original Hammock Shop. Don’t have room in the car to get it home? Don’t worry, they will ship it to you. You will find clothes, art, candles, candy and gourmet food items at the other shops here. Definitely worth a stop.
Head south from Pawleys on US 17 and you'll find South Carolina’s third-oldest city, dating back more than 300 years. During its heyday, Georgetown was home to 100 large rice plantations that produced about half of the rice in the colonies and young United States. Those crops generated wealth that created a busy port on Winyah Bay. Today, the area around Winyah Bay is still a bustling place of commerce with shops, restaurants and museums, most notably, the Rice Museum, 633 Front St. You will learn how enslaved Africans provided the know-how to create the powerful rice industry and how the “technology” of the day made the marshlands surrounding Georgetown the perfect place to create Carolina Gold Rice. The museum tour includes a 17-minute film titled “The Garden of Gold.” Admission: adults $7; seniors 60 and older $5; students 21 and younger $3; children younger than 6 are free.
The Center for Birds of Prey, 4872 Seewee Road.
This fascinating facility provides medical care for injured raptors but also gives visitors a chance to see birds of prey in a natural setting. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Fort Moultrie is a quiet windswept grassy area away from the sun and surf where Revolutionary War hero Col. William Moultrie turned away an assault on Charleston Harbor as well as where Confederates fired some of the first shots of the Civil War. Don't miss the Bench by the Road, installed by the Toni Morrison Society to mark the waterway that brought thousands of enslaved Africans to the US. The oceanfront fort is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily. Admission is $3 per adult, $1 for seniors and free for children 15 and younger. A family pass will get four adults in for $5.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, 40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant.
Patriots Point tells the story of American military conflict since World War II with the carrier Yorktown and other 20th century artifacts of war. In 2015, the museum opened the Vietnam Experience, featuring the re-creation of a “Brown Water Navy” base that would have been situated in the Mekong Delta and a Marine base at Khe Sanh – the site of the longest battle of the war. Open 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free for active-duty military in uniform, $20 for adults, and $17 for seniors and active-duty military not in uniform (ID required). Children ages 6-11 are $12, and younger children are free with an adult ticket.
The Angel Oak, 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island
Just a short drive off US 17, this majestic tree is thought to be one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi River. It's massive branches provide a canopy of more than 17,000 square feet and most recently was the inspiration for the forest in the movie "Into the Woods." It's free to see and take photos, and there's a small gift shop on the premises.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center, 5200 Savannah Highway. This park has elevated boardwalks through the wetlands and six miles of walking trails through rice fields and newly planted tea trees. Morning bird walks are at 8:30 on Wednesday and Saturday. But other wildlife abounds, including otter, deer and alligators. Caw Caw is part of the ACE Basin – hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine waterfowl habitat formed by the free-flowing Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers. US Highway 17 takes visitors through the heart of the basin with a number of locations to visit.
Sheldon Church Ruins, Old Sheldon Church Road.
This surreal location just north of US 17 on Old Sheldon Church Road are the ruins of an 18th century church that was burned during the Revolutionary War, rebuilt, then burned again during the Civil War. The altar of the church still stands, and the location is frequently used for weddings and photo shoots. It is a great place to stretch your legs and be transported to another time. Park across the street and be careful walking to the site as there are no road crossing aids.