An historic fishing village located just south of Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet has long enjoyed a reputation for excellent dining. In fact, this small Grand Strand haunt has positioned itself, quite rightly, as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina.”
Uniquely situated for such an honor, Murrells Inlet lies between the Waccamaw River and the Atlantic Ocean; it is further divided by its namesake creek, which gives fisherman three separate sources to pull from – black water, creek water, and deep water.
Originally home to the Waccamaw Indians, Captain John Murrell (sometimes spelled Morrall) settled here in 1731. He was soon followed by many of the area’s most well-known families, including the Flaggs and Allstons, who established prolific indigo and rice plantations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many of these planters kept slaves called “creek boys” who collected bounties such as shrimp, oysters, clams, crabs, and fish.
This epicurean appreciation soon gave rise to a fraternity called the Hot and Hot Club. During the first half of the 1800s, wealthy white males (including future South Carolina governor Robert Francis Withers Allston) would gather with their black boat hands each Friday, June through October, to fish and dine. Elaborate rules dictated which members were responsible for which dishes (and drinks!), and all contributed their day’s catch to the meal, which could stretch long into the night.
Following the Civil War and the demise of rice culture, Murrells Inlet’s economy evolved to rely on its estuarine environment. During a time when local seafood could not be safely shipped, people traveled to Murrells Inlet for rustic oyster roasts and fish fries, often hosted by the families of former planters. Over time the community became renowned for its fresh fare, and demand has never waned. Today Murrells Inlet continues to draw fans to its famous row of restaurants, many of which have thrived for generations.
After dinner, visitors can stroll down the scenic Marsh Walk, a half-mile waterfront boardwalk which offers incredible sunset views as well as a peek at the inhabitants of Goat Island (shown above). The small islet, situated just beyond Drunken Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge, is home to several goats and peacocks during the warmer months. The restaurant keeps the animals to help maintain vegetation, and they are cared for by local celebrity and longtime employee, “Bubba Love” (Jerome Smalls).
At the end of the Marsh Walk stands Crazy Sister Marina, which offers water excursions ranging from mild to wild. If you’d like to explore the inlet at eye-level, you can rent a kayak. If you feel the need for speed, boats and jet skis are also on hand. And like most coastal communities in the region, Murrells Inlet also abounds with pirate lore, so the family-friendly Barefoot Bounty offers adventure for all who dare.
Of course, Murrells Inlet is not all salt water and swashbuckling. A trip to the acclaimed Brookgreen Gardens is a must for anyone who appreciates art or nature. Founded by philanthropists Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1931, the gardens showcase native flora and fauna and also serve as a living backdrop for one of our nation’s finest collections of sculpture – including several by master sculptress Anna Huntington herself. Brookgreen was named a National Historic Landmark in 1992 and features a zoo, a dock, a nature center, and an old rice field.
Just across the road lies Huntington Beach State Park. Once called Magnolia Beach, Huntington is the site of Atalaya, Archer and Anna’s winter home and “castle by the sea.” Architecturally exceptional, Atalaya is worth a visit in its own right, and both organized and self-guided tours are available throughout the day. (A popular ghost tour is offered at night.) The park also provides public access to one of South Carolina’s most pristine beaches, its unspoiled shoreline free of condos and hotels. An extensive network of trails takes visitors through a myriad of natural ecosystems, allowing an “up close and personal” look at local wildlife.
This serene spot, located at the end of a dirt road, just before the entrance to Huntington State Park, is known as Oyster Landing. Oyster Landing is named for an oyster shell recycling area located along the entrance path. Once you reach the waterway, there is a large open area for parking, a boat launch and small beach areas making this a popular choice for photographers, boaters, fisherman and kayak launches.
Reflections on Murrells Inlet
Murrells Inlet native Austin Bond describes the scene of his photo below as follows: “This photo was taken on July 4th. I was at a party on Jordan Landing Road in Murrells Inlet and noticed some teens (friends of mine) stargazing and watching fireworks on the dock next door. I put my camera on top of a dock post (hoping it would not fall in) and set it to take a 30 second long exposure. I asked them to stay as still as possible so they wouldn’t be blurry in the final image. This photo looks photoshopped but it’s not. It actually was very dark so the long exposure setting allowed the camera to absorb any visible light which gives it a surreal look.”
Photographer Benton Henry shares his experience photographing Murrells Inlet: “This sunrise shot of Murrells Inlet shows the ‘skyline’ of Garden City. Quite often when I go on commercial shoots I will arrive very early to see if I can find any interesting scenes for my personal use. The oak tree and marsh seem to perfectly frame the sunrise.”