Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina: An In-Depth Family Adventure Guide

Many parents juggle 9-5 jobs and with their kids busy in school, many families struggle to bond and create cherished memories most of the week. Taking off the weekend or setting a few days off in the year to vacation as a family is the ideal way for many to catch up with their loved ones without any distractions.

As a family, you will likely be torn between a camping trip, a beach laze, or a nature drive. But what if there is a way to experience it all? Huntington Beach State Park is a recreational haven featuring three miles of unspoiled coastline, convenient beach access, a serene freshwater lake, well-marked trails, and welcoming campsites.

Boasting a diverse ecosystem, the park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, housing over 300 bird species and earning its reputation as one of the premier East Coast destinations for bird-watching. It is also one of South Carolina’s top spots for surf fishing.

Beyond the natural wonders, visitors can delve into history by exploring the iconic Atalaya Castle, a testament to the Depression-era era and the winter retreat of the philanthropic artist duo, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. In this guide, we shall help you plan your family vacation to one of South Carolina’s picturesque escapes.

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History of Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach was the winter residence of the esteemed sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her philanthropist husband and railroad tycoon, Archer Huntington. Anna, grappling with tuberculosis, sought solace in the South’s milder climate.

In the early 20th century, the couple acquired Atalaya and Huntington Beach State Park, formerly part of an expansive 19th-century rice plantation. Atalaya, a Moorish-style oceanside home, was erected by the Huntingtons in the 1930s, complemented by the development of the adjacent Brookgreen Gardens to showcase Anna’s remarkable sculptures.

Motivated by a desire to preserve the natural allure of the South Carolina coast, the couple invested in expansive tracts of land on both sides of Highway 17. The state of South Carolina took ownership of Huntington Beach State Park in 1960, transforming it into a haven featuring a pristine stretch of beach.

The park now boasts a 2,500-square-foot nature center, a campground, picnic areas, hiking and bike trails, educational programs, nature tours, and hosts an annual arts festival at Atalaya, which is a National Historic Landmark. This coastal gem is a testament to the intersection of history, art, and natural beauty.

Huntington Beach State Park on Google Maps:

When to visit Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park experiences its peak season between May and September, making it a bustling destination during those months. To avoid the crowds and relish a more serene experience, you could plan your visit during the off-season (October to April). It’s worth noting that several programs operate from March to October, so when organizing your trip, factor in the seasonal availability of these activities.

One highlight is the Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival, a major event that takes place every September. This vibrant gathering combines arts, crafts, delectable food, and lively music for an engaging weekend, providing an extra incentive to time your visit during this festive period.

Huntington Beach State Park hours and charges

Huntington City Beach welcomes visitors from 6 a.m. to either 6 or 10 p.m., depending on the season. Convenient parking options, such as the Promenade parking structure and the pier plaza, are available.

North and south of the Huntington Beach Pier, parking lots offer spaces at $2.00 per hour, with a daily maximum of $15. You will also find metered parking along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The park charges an $8 entrance fee ($4 for children ages 6 to 15). If you’re interested in exploring the castle, there’s an additional $2 fee, and please note that the castle has shorter hours than the park itself. Camping fees are applicable, and they vary based on the season.

What to do in Huntington Beach State Park

Merely a short 20 miles (about 40 minutes) south of Myrtle Beach and conveniently positioned 80 miles away (just an hour and 45 minutes) from Charleston, Huntington Beach State Park stands as a perfect day trip option from either bustling city. For those yearning to embrace the rugged outdoors, the park offers nearly 200 overnight campsites, making it an excellent choice for an extended stay.

Dive into the wonders of native flora and fauna through the park’s expansive nature programming. Embark on guided walks or kayaking excursions, providing an intimate encounter with loggerhead turtles, various bird species, and other fascinating creatures.

Huntington Beach State Park invites you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty that unfolds within its borders. Now, let’s explore some of the captivating activities awaiting you at this coastal haven.

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1. Go bird watching

From ospreys to bald eagles and buffleheads, Huntington Beach State Park is a residence for over 300 bird species, thriving within its salt marshes and tidal waters. The park offers bird enthusiasts a comprehensive birding checklist and a log book documenting recent sightings.

Prime locations for bird watching encompass Mullet Pond, a freshwater marsh situated to the right of the causeway upon entering, the beachfront, and the jetty at the park’s northern edge – notable as the southernmost recorded sighting of several bird species.

2. Visit Atalaya

Formerly the coastal retreat of Anna and Archer Huntington, Atalaya has transformed into a National Historic Site, welcoming visitors for guided tours and special events. Built in the early 1930s, Atalaya draws inspiration from the Moorish castles found in southern Spain.

Surrounding a spacious central courtyard adorned with flourishing palm trees and vibrant flowers, the structure comprises rooms and passageways. The name “Atalaya,” meaning “watchtower” in Spanish, finds embodiment in a petite watchtower gracing the courtyard’s center.

While ascending the tower isn’t an option, you’re free to explore the living quarters, studios, and ancient stone passages at your leisure. You’ll encounter kennels where Anna once housed the bears and leopards she sculpted!

For just $2, you can access Atalaya – a small price for a captivating experience. Choose between a guided tour or independent exploration; either way, you’ll receive a map to guide you and informative signs are scattered throughout the residence.

Atalaya on Google Maps:

3. Check out the beaches

Huntington Beach State Park has two accessible public beach points situated at opposite ends of the park. The North Beach Access, a brief ten-minute drive from the park entrance, has a wooden boardwalk leading to the beach, restrooms, and a covered shelter for added convenience.

A mere five-minute drive from the park entrance, the South Beach Access is located near the gift shop and the historic Atalaya Castle. If you’re accompanied by furry friends, this is the go-to beach for you. Alongside restrooms and a covered shelter, it’s favored for its popularity, featuring a larger parking lot and closer proximity to the campground.

The beaches themselves are a testament to nature’s wonders at Huntington Beach State Park. Even at high tide, these expenses remain broad and typically well-maintained.

4. Go fishing, boating, and swimming

Embark on a boating adventure with easy access provided by a ramp situated just one mile from the park’s entrance at Oyster Landing. Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines, as surf fishing and regular fishing are allowed for visitors holding a valid South Carolina fishing license. The park’s north-end jetty is particularly favored by anglers for its excellent fishing opportunities.

For those yearning to take a dip, the beach offers a welcoming embrace throughout the year. Although lifeguards are stationed exclusively at South Beach during the summer months, the entire shoreline is open for your aquatic enjoyment. So, whether you’re casting lines or making a splash, this park has your recreational needs covered.

5. Go hiking

The hiking trails at Huntington Beach State Park provide an ideal escape from the crowds while immersing you in the wonders of wildlife. Although modest in length, these trails promise scenic diversity, guiding you through pristine beach fronts, coastal forests, and flourishing wildlife habitats and salt marshes. Here’s a breakdown of your top trail options:

1. Atalaya Road (0.5 miles)

Embark on a stroll along the 0.5-mile Atalaya Road, a paved pathway leading directly from Atalaya Castle to Highway 17. This historical route once connected Huntington’s winter residence to what is now Brookgreen Gardens. Offering an easy and accessible hike, it allows you to retrace the steps of the past with every step.

2. Boardwalk Trail (0.1 miles)

Begin your journey at the former Education Center’s parking lot, where the 0.1-mile Boardwalk Trail unfolds. This easily navigable boardwalk extends over the saltwater marsh, guiding you to Oaks Creek. Along the way, discover a covered shelter halfway through and a spacious observation deck at the trail’s terminus. Accessible and teeming with wildlife, this trail provides an excellent opportunity to spot nature in its element.

3. Kerrigan Trail (0.3 miles)

Starting behind the Gift Shop, the trail meanders through the coastal forest and culminates at a sheltered observation deck overlooking Mullet Pond. A haven for alligator sightings and birdwatching, this primitive yet walkable trail offers an immersive experience of the park’s natural beauty.

4. Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail (1 mile)

Venture onto the 1-mile Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail, a primitive path nestled between the North Campground and North Beach Access. Easily accessible from the beach access parking lot, this trail meanders through ancient oak trees, circles Sandpiper Pond, and allows you to relish the soothing sounds of the nearby ocean. Though primarily designed for campers, non-campers can also access the trail for a nature-filled experience.

Embark on these trails, where each step unveils a new facet of Huntington Beach State Park’s charm, blending history, nature, and the allure of the outdoors. Whether you prefer the paved paths or the more primitive trails, there’s a perfect hike waiting for every adventurer in the family.

Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail on Google Maps:

Where to eat at Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park isn’t just a haven for sun-soaked relaxation and wildlife wonders; it’s also a foodie’s paradise waiting to be explored. While you might not find a Michelin-starred restaurant here, the park offers a delightful array of dining options that perfectly complement your beachside escapade. Here are some dining options at Huntington Beach State Park;

1. Perrone’s Restaurant and Bar

Nestled in Pawleys Island, this sophisticated dining establishment offers a charming setting to savor global cuisine crafted with conscientiously sourced ingredients from top purveyors across the nation.

Renowned Chef and owner Steve Perrone employs the sous-vide cooking method for many menu proteins, ensuring an infusion of added flavor and precise temperatures with every dish. The dinner menu is thoughtfully divided into four enticing sections – Soup and Salad, Starters, Large Plates, and Small Plates.

Perrone’s Restaurant and Bar on Google Maps:

2. Quigley’s Pint & Plate

Quigley’s Pint & Plate, a Pawleys Island establishment since 2007, has earned its reputation as a fantastic family-friendly restaurant and brewpub. Not only does it serve up top-notch Southern cuisine, but it also boasts a delightful array of craft beers brewed on-site.

The ambiance is laid-back, featuring a warm indoor setting and patio seating overlooking the serene manmade lake at the charming Mingo Shopping Center. Quigley’s Pint & Plate offers a menu teeming with delectable pub-style dishes, prominently featuring Southern and Seafood specialties and rounded off with a tempting selection of burgers, sandwiches, and salads.

Quigley’s Pint & Plate on Google Maps:

3. Egg Up Grill

Eggs Up Grill is the neighborhood’s warm and welcoming hub—a haven where you can unwind, connect with loved ones, and savor delectable meals crafted with genuine care by our dedicated team.

As you step into our restaurant, you’ll immerse yourself in a genuine community atmosphere. The enticing fragrance of blueberry pancakes, the satisfying first bite of your preferred omelet, and the delightful crunch of crispy bacon collectively create an experience that instantly makes you feel like part of our extended family.

Egg Up Grill on Google Maps:

Where to stay at Huntington Beach State Park

There are various accommodations near and within Huntington Beach State Park. For adventurous families, sleeping under the stars is a viable option that will enhance your experience in the park. There are also several hotels and beach resorts for families seeking a comfortable sleep within the park. Here are the best accommodation options in Huntington Beach State Park;

1. Hotels and Resorts

1. The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn

Indulge in a seaside retreat complete with all the comforts at this charming 3-star resort, located 3.6 miles from both Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park. Accommodations range from classic rooms to expansive two-bedroom villas, accommodating groups of 6 to 8 people.

This coastal haven boasts two inviting swimming pools, providing the perfect respite after a day of exploration. Feel the ocean breeze on provided beach chairs, or opt for adventure with bike rentals available on-site. Satisfy your taste buds with convenient on-site dining, and wake up to a delightful start with a complimentary breakfast. Stay connected with complimentary WiFi throughout the property.

Conveniently located just 20 minutes from downtown Myrtle Beach, this resort ensures you’re never far from the vibrant energy of the city while enjoying the tranquility of a beachfront escape.

The Oceanfront Litchfield Inn on Google Maps:

2. DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront

The DoubleTree boasts a prime location right in the heart of Myrtle Beach. Situated on a sprawling 27-acre oceanfront property, this hotel offers not only beach access but also indoor and outdoor pools, a lazy river, on-site dining, and exclusive discounts to nearby golf courses. The hotel is just 14 miles away, a mere 24-minute drive, from the serene beauty of Huntington Beach State Park.

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront on Google Maps:

3. Best Western Pawleys Island

Do you seek affordability without compromising on convenience? Look no further than the 63-room Best Western, situated just five minutes away from Pawleys Island’s beach and a five-mile distance from the park. While the decor may carry a hint of vintage charm, the property boasts cleanliness, excellent service, and a budget-friendly package that includes a complimentary breakfast.

Guests also enjoy access to an inviting outdoor pool and a 24/7 fitness center. So, despite the slightly dated aesthetic, the Best Western promises a comfortable stay with added perks.

Best Western Pawleys Island on Google Maps:

2. Camping

Huntington Beach State Park has two established campgrounds, each offering accessible sites, full hookups, restrooms, and convenient access to the pristine beach. The North Campground, nestled amidst a forested expanse, presents 133 campsites catering to RVs, travel trailers, and tents. The campground is thoughtfully laid out in loops and side roads, providing a shaded retreat.

Among the sites, 25 offer full hookups, while the remainder are equipped with electricity only. Four accessible sites, strategically positioned near a beach access point and restroom facilities, cater to campers with mobility needs. Also, the two beach accesses and a connecting side trail to the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail and Boardwalk enhance the campground’s allure.

The South Campground, the park’s newest addition, is situated south of the iconic Atalaya Castle along a straight road culminating in a cul-de-sac turnaround. Comprising 41 campsites with electrical hookups, this campground prioritizes a streamlined experience.

It features two handicap-accessible sites, a well-maintained restroom facility, and a single beach access point. For added convenience, a dump station is conveniently located in proximity to the North Campground.

Huntington Beach State Park is not just a destination; it’s a family-friendly haven where the worries of the world wash away with the tide. Whether you’re marveling at the diverse wildlife, building sandcastles on the beach, or exploring the enchanting Atalaya Castle, this South Carolina gem offers something for every member of the family.

Discover the perfect companion for your outdoor escapades with our comprehensive guide to the 5 Best Beach and Park Blankets for Ultimate Comfort and Fun. Elevate your leisure time with these top picks and ensure a cozy, enjoyable adventure!

Happy Travels!

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