First comes love, then comes marriage and for us, without the time to take a honeymoon, then came a baby in the baby carriage. Then came another. And another. Three kids and 26 years later my husband, Nick, and I were officially empty nesters. We’ve taken great vacations with our kids, but now it was time to go on our long overdue honeymoon. And for us landlocked Midwesterners, it was go beach or go home.
Crossing the causeway and arriving on Pawleys Island was a refreshing awakening. For the first time in a long time, we were surrounding ourselves with something very different from the chaos we were accustomed to at home. It was quiet here. A wonderful, welcoming quiet. The kind of quiet where the only noise would come from the rhythmic swaying of a hammock being gently rocked by the salty ocean breeze.
Pawleys Island, the birthplace of the iconic rope hammock, is the heart of Georgetown County, SC. A far cry—yet, just 27 miles—from the crowds of Myrtle Beach, this barrier island wasn’t on our radar until our neighbors came back from their family reunion and raved about a place where kayaks outnumbered residents and sunsets stopped time in its tracks. Finding out we could score great off-season rates in the fall when temperatures were cool and comfortable sealed the deal.
Liberty Lodge, the historic antebellum home we rented for the weekend, welcomed us like old friends. The wraparound porch filled with rockers and two hammocks looked like where we would be spending a lot of time. We followed the boardwalk over the dunes where we could see the Atlantic’s waves lapping at the shoreline.
Although it sleeps 18, Liberty Lodge felt cozy; and with its storied past, romantic. It was moved to the island by a rice planter in 1858 and owned by the same family since 1912. We could feel the years of love and laughter. It was as if the house somehow knew we would one day come to claim our belated honeymoon in its embrace. And the amazing thing was, the entire island was filled with wonderful old (and some new!) beach cottages. Not a hotel in sight!
We opted to spend our first night on the island trying something we couldn’t do at home. Months earlier I had reserved two spaces on the popular, full-moon-only nighttime kayak tour offered by Black River Outdoors. Active, nocturnal inlet animals provided quite the feast for the senses. The loud slap of a river otter’s tail on the glassy waters took us by surprise and Nick noted that the snapping shrimp sounded exactly like our guide, a Low Country native, was popping popcorn. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I saw an eye staring back at me. Our guide pointed out it belonged to a harmless merganser diving duck. He told us that if we came back in the morning, we could spot egrets, or even a bald eagle, fishing for breakfast.
Much like the male eagle caring for his mate, Nick surprised me with breakfast in bed the next morning. I was so caught off guard that I thought it was a dream. But the intoxicating smell of bacon meant I didn’t need to pinch myself to remember I was on Pawleys Island. While I had slept in, dreaming I was paddling through a salt marsh alongside my new fishy friends, Nick had gone to a local market. It was relaxing to sit half under the comforter and sip my coffee. “This is the life,” Nick agreed as he unfolded the local newspaper. The headlines informed us the place to be these next two weeks was the Pawleys Island Festival of Music & Art. Nick and I hadn’t been to a festival as a couple since the night we met at the county fair. It would be awfully hard to top the full moon tour of last night, but why not try?
Forget déjà vu, this festival was not the county fair. Instead of agriculture, it celebrated the local arts and from the looks of it, there was a lot to appreciate. The kickoff event of the festival was called Chalk Under the Oaks in the charming antebellum city of Georgetown, just 10 minutes south of Pawleys. I compared these elaborate sidewalk illustrations with the stick figures our kids had drawn long ago on our driveway. “These are incredible,” Nick said, admiring a chalk depiction of the sunrise over the ocean.
It didn’t take long to find a more lasting masterpiece. Scattered throughout Georgetown’s Historic District were artists painting for the Seaside Palette en Plein Air event. My eyes followed the brush strokes of the artists as they put the finishing touches on their canvases. Before the paint could dry, a committee judged the work and each piece got a price tag.
“We have to have it,” I told Nick, not taking my eyes off the coastal painting. I’m not sure if Nick agreed because he was euphoric—eating a Carolina-style barbecue brisket sandwich—or if it was because he saw what I saw. Somehow, with his palette, the artist had captured the gentle essence of Pawleys Island, at least as I knew it. The windswept dunes and low tide, a pair of bare footprints in the sand, spoke to the island’s relationship with the water. The historic home in the background, rope hammock distinguishable on the porch, reminded me of the house we were renting and had started to refer to as “ours.” Later that night, after sharing a bottle of wine and star gazing, I realized that this night had been just as special as the night we had met. But in a different way. Instead of excitement, I felt gratitude.
The rest of our time on Pawleys Island passed quietly, perfectly and far too quickly. In addition to the painting, our belated wedding gift to ourselves, we visited the Original Hammock Shop, just over the causeway from the island, and purchased a double hammock—a subtly romantic souvenir and a relaxing reminder of this extraordinary place.
By the end of our honeymoon, we’d decided to go back to old habits—that is, traveling with the kids. A few quick texts and enthusiastic responses confirmed that we’d be spending Christmas back at Pawleys Island, as a family. Knowing how much we had appreciated, both individually and as a couple, the balance of relaxation and adventure, made me wonder about the impact Pawleys Island would have on the kids. Perhaps they’d be so fond of it they’d want to shortlist it for their future honeymoons.
Find more about Pawleys Island.