Sandlapper Society

Beyond the Beach

Best-kept Secrets Under the Grand Strand Sun

by Laura Lewis

So you think you know everything about everything there is to do in Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand?

Think again.

Tucked behind the dunes and woods of a private beach, for example, are stables offering coastal horseback riding. At Pawleys Island, west of U.S. 17, a museum and gift shop pay tribute to the region's Gullah-Geechee culture. There are nature-oriented activities including state parks and boat tours, two area vineyards, a zoo and a spiritual retreat. Beyond the daytime beach and nighttime neon, locals and out-of-towners are discovering new, favorite places to visit that only make their Grand Strand experiences that much more memorable.

Gullah Culture

Gullah Ooman Museum and Gift Shop
421 Petigru Drive • Pawleys Island
843.235.0747
gullahoomanshop.com

When it comes to talking Gullah, Bunny Rodrigues is always in her element at this small museum. Just off the beaten path of U.S. 17, under moss-draped trees, entry to all things Gullah is granted through a door painted "haint" blue to ward off unwelcome spirits. Rodrigues, a devoted folklorist, makes Gullah dolls and ribbon roses sold at the museum, in addition to displays of sweetgrass baskets and Rodrigues' own story quilts.

One of those quilts pays tribute to First Lady Michelle Obama, whose ancestral roots reach to Georgetown County. Rodrigues stayed up nights stitching the quilt, which was on display in Washington, D.C., in time for President Obama's January 2009 inauguration.This "Gullah Ooman" doesn't just speak Gullah, she lives it. "Are you a 'come yuh' or a 'bin yuh?'" Rodrigues asks visitors, explaining the former is a Creole-inflected Gullah term for a newcomer, while the latter refers to a native such as herself. "It means I'm from Georgetown, the third city that was settled in South Carolina." Gullah, she explains, is a South Sea Islands language that evolved among slaves brought across the Atlantic from Africa to be sold for work at Southern plantations and rice fields.

It's a language and a culture, she says. "And Gullah truly is a spirit, because we are out of Africa."

Horse Rentals

Inlet Point Plantation Horse Rentals
5800 Little River Neck Road • North Myrtle Beach
843.249.2989
inletpointplantation.com

If you've ever dreamed of riding horseback on the beach, here's your chance. This riding stable offers by-the-hour horse rentals for beach rides on a private island as well as trail rides along the Intracoastal Waterway, along with pony rides and utility terrain vehicle (UTV) excursions. Professional riders lead equine excursions consisting of a stable full of "highly intelligent, well-behaved" horses residing at the 4,000-acre plantation.

Located on the former site of Fort Randall, a Confederate fort, Inlet Point Plantation stables have a rich history and pirate lore abounds. There also are old Indian burial grounds and archeological finds dating back to 600 B.C.

Beach-bound riders cross a bridge to pristine Waties Island straddling the South Carolina/North Carolina line. The stables are operated by Mark and Stephanie Smith and their son, Townsend. They were built 15 years ago by Mark's parents, Paul and Gloria Smith, who own Peachtree Equestrian Center in nearby Calabash, North Carolina.
Horseback rides are offered year-round, Mondays through Saturdays. Prices range from $50 per person for a one-hour horse-walking waterway trail ride (for age 7 and older) to $100 for a two-hour island walk-trot beach ride (for age 10 and older). Advance reservations are required. Also available is a combination half-day beach ride and plantation trip, consisting of a four-hour walk-trot-canter horseback ride, for $225.

The Vineyards

La Belle Amie
1120 St. Joseph Road • Little River
843.399.WINE (9463)
labelleamie.com

Napa on 90? That's what some people have jokingly dubbed La Belle Amie, a working vineyard Vicki Weigle started cultivating in the 1990s on family land off S.C. 90. Starting a winery took longer than she ever imagined or planned, but she and her multitude of winery visitors are finally reaping and savoring the fruits of her labor.

The name of the winery, where Weigle and her husband Chuck grow muscadine grapes, is a play on her mother's maiden name of Bellamy. It's also a French term for "the beautiful friend." They started out selling wines from the Bellamys' ancestral region in France. Now they sell wine from their own grapes and varieties custom-made by U.S. wineries.A variety of wines are sold at La Belle Amie, which is open year-round. Original varieties include "Classy Lady" chardonnay, "Gallant Knight" cabernet and sweet wines such as "Angel of the Morning" white merlot and "Silver-Tongued Devil" pinot noir. The vineyard schedules special weekend wine-and-music events. Look for the "First Blush of Summer Fest" in June, "Independence Music Blast" in July and "Dog Days Blues & Jazz" in August.

Hyman Vineyards
2980 U.S. Hwy. 378 • 6027 Old Bucksville Road • Conway
843.397.2100
hymanvineyards.com

When life gave him lemons, former tobacco farmer Greg Hyman started making wine— the muscadine kind, to be precise. Muscadine grapes, like tobacco, are a "high-value, low-acreage crop," says Hyman, president of the Carolina Agri-Solutions Growers Association. He planted his grapevines in fall 2005, started making wine in 2007, "and I'm here today," he says. "It's been a long process. It takes about five years to get your first bottle into the retail market. We're in the market now locally."

Theirs is one of only two estate wineries in South Carolina, notes Hyman's wife, Rhonda. That means they do everything in producing their wine, from growing the grapes to bottling and labeling it.

The winery consists of two Conway locations— one on U.S. 378 and the rustic tasting room in a converted tobacco barn at the vineyard on Old Bucksville Road. Visitors also can pick grapes themselves.

Wine tastings are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Special events are part of the winery schedule, posted on its Web site.

Going Wild

Hidden in the unincorporated wilderness of Socastee, on the Grand Strand's westerly frontier, are two venues where wild animals roam— lions, tigers and an Asian bearcat, oh my.

T.I.G.E.R.S.
P.O. Box 31210  • Myrtle Beach, SC 29588

T.I.G.E.R.S./Preservation Station
Dockside Village Barefoot Landing
4898 U.S. 17 South • North Myrtle Beach, SC
843.361.4552
myrtlebeachsafari.com  • tigerfriends.com

The Institute of Greatly Endangered Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) is a 50-acre preserve offering special tours and up-close-and-personal encounters with monkeys, wolves, birds, an elephant and a rare liger— the hybrid offspring of a male lion and female tiger. Launched by animal trainer/conservationist Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, the wild encounter tours typically originate 17 miles away with a photography session with one of the preserve's animals at the T.I.G.E.R.S. preservation station at Barefoot Landing shopping complex in North Myrtle Beach.

Individuals and families interested in taking the wild animal tour can deduct $40 off the $199-per-person tour price with a paid photo session at the Preservation Station. Photos and tours are offered seasonally, weather permitting, from March through October 2. Small children are not allowed on the tour, which takes about three hours and is offered five days a week (Sundays and Wednesdays excluded).

Waccatee Zoo
8500 Enterprise Road • Myrtle Beach
843.650.8500 • waccateezoo.com

More than 20 years ago, Archie and Kathleen Futrell retired from their careers in Myrtle Beach concessions to their Socastee animal farm. "It's a country and tourist area," said their son, Jeff. "You mix the two, and you get a zoo, I guess."

Waccatee Zoological Farm started off with farm animals and "one thing led to another," according to Jeff, who is the official zookeeper now. Since opening to the public in October 1988, the zoo has grown to consist of more than 100 species— both wild and domestic animals, as well as a variety of birds— within its 50-acre viewing area.

The zoo is renowned for its variety of free-roaming critters, from peacocks in trees to egrets on the water and lumbering camels out in the field. There's also a wild boar and several potbelly pigs.

Open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., weather permitting, admission is $8 for ages 13 and older, $4 for age 12 and younger and free for 11 months old and younger. Special rates are available for groups of 15 or more, with arrangements made at least a week in advance.  

Rarefied Refuge

Meher Spiritual Center
10200 North Kings Highway • Myrtle Beach
843.272.5777 • 843.272.8793
mehercenter.org

It's one of the last pristine preserves at the beach and its caretakers intend to keep it that way. Members of the Meher Spiritual Center, founded and named in the 1940s for late Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba ("the compassionate one"), aren't interested in seeing their 500-acre coastal refuge touted as a tourist attraction, since it definitely isn't. "We are very low-key here," says center administrator Barbara Plews. "In that sense we're very careful about how we publicize the place, so that people aren't encouraged to come here who aren't really aware of what the center is about."

Established in the 1940s as Baba's western retreat, the center was located on land donated by Baba disciple Elizabeth Chapin Patterson, daughter of Myrtle Beach businessperson Simeon Chapin. Tours are offered at the center by appointment, and cabins are available for overnight stays. "We are an open retreat facility, but we ask that people who come to the center— in other words, to stay overnight— have an interest in Meher Baba and his teachings," Plews added.

Day visits are similar as well. "The focus is on him."

After an initial orientation tour, visitors may stroll the grounds of Baba's western retreat, which he visited three times in the 1950s, for "rest, meditation and renewal of the spiritual life." There's also a library and meeting facility with written and audio-visual materials and weekly activities centered around Baba, who espoused "universal oneness of God" and "universal brotherhood of man," working with the ill, poor and "spiritually advanced souls" while observing more than four decades of silence that started in 1925 and continued until his death in 1969.

Boat Tours

Great American Riverboat Company
8201 Marina Parkway • Myrtle Beach
800.685.6601 • 843.650.6600
mbriverboat.com

Sure, there's always the ocean, but there are other water adventures to soak up along the Grand Strand. Great American Riverboat Company of Myrtle Beach offers several excursions along local waterways.

Trips include cruises aboard the Jungle Princess riverboat along the Intracoastal Waterway, which departs from the Marina at Grande Dunes on the north end of Myrtle Beach and motors north toward Barefoot Landing. The Jungle Baby cruise, a six-person, "more intimate" trip, departs from Waccatee Zoo and heads toward the south end of Myrtle Beach. As the crafts cruise, visitors are invited to savor scenic vistas and view wildlife, including birds and alligators. 

For those more adventurous, the Barracuda jet boat offers a "safe, yet thrilling" wet'n'wild waterway ride, according to the Web site.

Plantation River Tours
Wacca Wache Marina • 1950 Wachesaw Road
Murrells Inlet • 843.651.2994
plantationrivertours.com

These two-hour narrated cruises aboard the Waccamaw Lady along the Intracoastal Waterway and Waccamaw River offer views of six historic plantations, including Arundel, Chicora Wood, Exchange, Hasty Point, Squirrel Creek and Willbrook. Tickets are $30 for adults; $15 for age 6–16. Dinner and charter cruises are also available.

State Parks

Myrtle Beach State Park
4401 South Kings Highway • Myrtle Beach
843.238.5325
myrtlebeachstatepark.net

Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean Highway • Murrells Inlet
843.237.4440
huntingtonbeachsc.org

Nature and history abound at these two oceanfront state parks that are open to the public daily for admission charges of $5 or less per person, depending on age. Activities include fishing, boating, picnicking, birding, hiking trails and educational programs. Camping and overnight accommodations are also available with advance reservations. For more information can be found at southcarolinaparks.com.

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Frequent contributor Laura Lewis lives in Little River. Her favorite Grand Strand activity is exploring and reporting on the region's best-kept secrets.

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