Home » 2009 Southeast Coast Trip

Huntington Beach State Park, SC

Monday, August 17, 2009 - 12:00pm by Lolo
360 miles and 6 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Family as 4 MusesFamily as 4 MusesHuntington Beach and Brookgreen Gardens was an old favorite of ours—an extremely unique combination of nature and art. Huntington Beach State Park alone would have been worth the stop, with its beautiful beaches and old Moorish castle, but the proximity of a world-class sculpture garden just across the road made it one of our favorites.

The drive from Anastasia State Park near St. Augustine to Huntington was a pretty long one, close to 7 hours. Since we only had one night to spend at Huntington, and there were so many things we wanted to do, I kept anxiously looking at my watch along the drive, hoping that we would arrive early enough to spend some time that afternoon at Brookgreen Gardens before they closed at 5:00. There are a lot of really beautiful state parks along the beaches of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, but only Huntington has Brookgreen.

Lolo & Boys photographing Brookgreen GardensLolo & Boys photographing Brookgreen GardensHuntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens have a common history. Back in the 1930s, the sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband purchased the land that both the State Park and the gardens are on today. They built an intriguing Moorish-style castle, which they named Atalaya, on the grounds of what is today the State Park and used it as a winter retreat. They used the land across the road, which is today Brookgreen Gardens, to display their extensive sculpture collection. Today the gardens cover 50 acres and contain more than 900 sculptures, spanning the entire history of American sculpture. Now you know why we were in such a rush to get there.

We pulled through the gates of the gardens around 3:45 and purchased our tickets, which are valid for 7 days, allowing us the option of coming back in the morning for free. Fortunately, we were quite familiar with the layout of the park, so we didn’t have to waste any time figuring out the lay of the land. Brookgreen Gardens actually has a whole lot more than just the sculpture gardens to explore on its 9,000 acres, but we were going to focus this time on just the gardens.

Tommy sharing bench with art - AJGTommy sharing bench with art - AJGThe walkways through the main garden are designed in the shape of a butterfly with outspread wings, all leading back to a central garden area. In addition to the butterfly garden, there are several other rectangular gardens off of it, each with a large prominent sculpture and many other smaller ones. It’s kind of like wandering through a maze with sculptures to guide you along the way. The placement of the sculptures within this beautifully landscaped setting creates an extraordinary blend of nature and art. We took many, many pictures that afternoon.

My favorite is still the Fountain of the Muses, a series of four whimsical figures in a pool, representing the four muses of the fine arts: poetry, architecture, music, and painting. Every time we visit, we can’t resist mimicking their poses for a family photograph. Well, actually Herb and I can’t resist—the boys hate it. They reluctantly agreed once more, but only after we promised that we wouldn’t use it as our 2009 Christmas card shot.

Atalaya Castle interior viewAtalaya Castle interior viewIt was closing time, so we drove across the highway to the State Park where we had a camping reservation for the night. We were surprised to find that the campground along the beach that we had stayed in back in 2001 had been closed for ecological reasons, and the only camping area remaining was the one that was set back a little more from the ocean. It was still very nice and just a short walk over a boardwalk to the beach.

Our time here was too short to let a little inconvenience like dinner get in our way, so we went straight to the beach. It was still very warm out and the surf was just the way I like it. Even after seeing many of the beautiful beaches of Florida, this one is still near the top of our list.

The boys went off for a run while Herb and I went for a walk over to Atalaya, the old gray Moorish castle which was once the Huntington’s winter home. This place must have been something in its day, but sadly it is now in much need of repair. On our past trip here in 2001, the door wasn’t locked and we were allowed to just wander through the gray-stone passageways on our own, but now it is restricted to certain hours and there is an admission fee.

Andrew & Lolo enjoying sunsetAndrew & Lolo enjoying sunsetAfter Atalaya, we decided to walk back to the campground along the beach. I can’t even begin to give justice in words to the incredible sky that preceded sunset that night. It started out as a typical mackerel sky, but then we watched as its color transformed from white to pink to a vibrant red. Andrew came back from his run and met us on the beach just in time to see it. Tommy, unfortunately, had gone directly to the shower. Andrew took off his sneakers, swam out past where the waves were breaking, and just floated on his back gazing up at the sky. Every trip usually has its peak moment, and for Andrew this was his. I was so jealous that I didn’t have my bathing suit on.

The next morning, we paid the small admission fee and walked through the stone passageways of Atalaya before heading over once more for a final visit to Brookgreen Gardens. Then it was on to the final stop of our trip: our very good friends’ home in Virginia Beach.


Sumo Frogs SculptureSumo Frogs SculptureHuntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens lie on either side of U.S. 17 about 20 miles south of Myrtle Beach.

This 25,000-acre coastal wilderness was once owned by the sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington and her railroad-magnate husband Archer Huntington. In 1931, they purchased this property, which was once a rice plantation, in order to preserve the local flora and fauna as well as to build a winter home and studio on the beach. They wintered in their Moorish-style castle, called Atalaya until Archer Huntington died in 1955. After that, Anna Huntington moved her studio across the highway to Brookgreen Gardens, where she died in 1973. The Trustees of Brookgreen leased the 2,500 acres along the coast to the state of South Carolina and it became a state park.

Huntington Beach State Park

Lolo on Huntington Beach with 2 drinksLolo on Huntington Beach with 2 drinksWhen you enter the park, the road winds through a dense forest and then emerges onto a causeway with a freshwater lagoon on your right and a saltwater marsh on your left. Alligators are often spotted on the freshwater side of the causeway.

Left of the causeway is a parking area for a boardwalk that extends 500 feet out onto the salt marsh to a covered viewing deck. This is a popular area for crabbing. From this same parking area, the 1.5-mile Sandpiper Trail leads the opposite direction into a forest of live oaks and loblolly pines. The trail eventually crosses the dunes and heads north along the beach. At the very northern end of the beach is a jetty, which is a good place to fish for flounder and spottail bass.

Right of the causeway is the 2-story beach pavilion and popular day use beach area. Next to the beach are the remains of a Atalaya, a Moorish-style castle which was once the Huntington’s winter home. It is open daily for tours. The state park also has a 107-site campground, a short walk to the beach.

Huntington Beach State Park contains 3 miles of some of the nicest and best preserved beaches along South Carolina’s Grand Strand. In addition to the excellent swimming on this beach, there is biking along its hard sand.

Brookgreen Gardens

Lolo photographing statueLolo photographing statueRight across the highway from the state park are the sculpture gardens and wildlife preserve of Brookgreen Gardens, founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Today Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historic Landmark with one of the most significant collections of figurative sculpture by American artists in an outdoor setting. The collection currently contains over 900 works, spanning the entire period of American sculpture, from the early 1800s to the present.

The Huntingtons planned the garden walks in the shape of a butterfly with outspread wings, all leading back to the central space, which was the site of the original plantation house. The placement of sculptures within these beautifully landscaped settings creates an extraordinary blend of nature and art. In addition to the sculpture collection in the gardens, there are also two indoor sculpture galleries.

Family enjoying sculpture competitionFamily enjoying sculpture competitionAlthough the sculpture gardens are the focal point of the park, there are thousands of acres of forested swamps, salt marshes, and fresh tidal swamps to explore in Brookgreen’s Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve. The natural habitats in the preserve include a waterfowl aviary built over a cypress swamp, a bird of prey aviary, a river otter pond, an alligator swamp, a fox glade, a wild turkey exhibit, and a white-tailed deer savannah. In addition to exhibits of the native animals that populated this region, there is a domestic animals exhibit with examples of historic rare breed animals that were commonly seen on plantations in the 18th and 19th century, such as Red Devon milking cows, Tunis sheep, Dominique chickens, and Guinea fowl.

One can either explore the grounds and gardens of Brookgreen on their own, or join one of the many tours or programs that are part of the admission price. For an additional fee, Brookgreen also offers daily excursions along the rice fields on the Springfield, a 48-foot pontoon boat, and overland through old plantation sites on an all terrain vehicle called the Trekker.

Amy on September 16, 2012

I have been following your blog for almost a year now. My husband and I are both teachers with two boys ages 6 1/2 and 8. We were lucky enough to purchase our own RV one year ago and have so far met our goal of going somewhere close by once a month with longer trips on our break. We are looking to head to Key West around Christmas this year for our break and this trip will come in very handy as we plan. I love that you have camped at some of our favorite places in South Carolina. I used to work for the South Carolina State Parks while I was in college and it makes me happy to see people from all over enjoying our treasures! Thank you for your blog and I hope our own two boys will have memories similar to yours as they grow up camping in this beautiful country.

Herb on September 19, 2012

Hi Amy,

It's always great to hear that people are reading our blog, and more importantly, using it to help plan their own travel adventures.

I was down at the Everglades and Key West the last two winters in February/March. I'm not sure if Lolo will be able to document these trips in the near future, so if you have any questions prior to your trip, please contact us for more information.

Your blog looks great,, and I see you've been to Lake George. Camping on the Lake George Islands by boat is another of my favorite trips. We used to do it once a summer for probably close to 10 years when the boys were growing up. Maybe we can get around to documenting a composite of some of those trips too.

Keep it up. With both boys graduating College next Spring I guess Lolo and I will need to transition to the next phase of our travels together. Part of me wishes I could do the whole thing over again with the boys shrunk back to their original size at age 10. :-)

Safe travels,

Herb & Lolo

Huntington Beach State Park location map in "high definition"

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