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The Huntington Legacy; Huntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens

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The Huntington Legacy Preserving Lowcountry South Carolina

What do you do when if you love nature, have tons of money, are one of the United States most prominent female sculpture artists and what to leave a legacy behind for others to enjoy? If you are Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington you buy up three defunct rice plantations in 1930 and create a magical sculpture garden and donate over 2500 acres of adjacent land creating Huntington Beach State Park. Forget the golf courses, shopping, and beach boardwalk, this is the real reason I think you should visit Myrtle Beach. Bird watching, kayaking in a cypress swamp, adventuring in a saltwater marsh and wandering through gardens with over 2000 sculptures are just some of the things you can get up to thanks to the philanthropy of Arthur and Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Riders of the Dawn by Adolf Alexander Weinman sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens

My day begins at Huntington Beach State Park with Black River Outdoors. I had scheduled a kayak tour of the Salt Marsh but the wind was a bit too brisk for it to be enjoyable so we flipped the switch and went bird and alligator watching instead. I would have loved to kayak the marsh, but exploring the park on foot with our guide who is a wealth of local knowledge is a happy second choice.

My Black River Outdoors guide, ready to go bird watching in Huntington Beach State Park

I’m glad our guide came prepared with his high powered binocular. While there are over 300 different species of birds to be seen in the park they often fly away before I could snap a picture. Having a bit of distance between us allowed for easier bird spotting.

Even though we couldn’t kayak the marsh as originally planned we could still hike to a lookout point for some views. Lots of waterfowl were to be seen in the distance which leads me to think there may be some good fishing here.

Huntington Beach State Park lookout point over the salt marsh

A little hike away from the marsh we start to enter alligator country. Can you see the alligator sunning himself? This was only one out of about 15 of various sizes we saw.

Spot the alligator through the binoculars

If bird watching or alligators aren’t your thing how about three miles of white sand beach? Our last stop within the park was part of the amazing beach that touches the Atlantic ocean. I imagine that in high season the beach would be a bit busier but today I wish I had packed a lunch and brought a beach chair with a book to enjoy. Oh well, I can always come back tomorrow.

Panorama of part of the 3 miles of beach at Huntington Beach State Park

For my afternoon I cross the highway to visit Brookgreen Gardens. The gardens and Huntington Beach State Park were once all part of the same property purchased by the Huntington’s in 1930. While the park was once their home and private grounds, the gardens were established in 1931 as a private, not-for-profit corporation “A Society for Southeastern Flora and Fauna“.

Established with three main objectives;

  • first, to collect, exhibit, and preserve American figurative sculpture
  • second, to collect, exhibit, and preserve the plants of the Southeast
  • third, to collect, exhibit, and preserve the animals of the Southeast

Walking under the avenue of live oaks at Brookgreen gardens

Not only is Brookgreen Gardens the first public sculpture garden in America it is also considered as the finest outdoor museum of its type in the world.

I only have an afternoon to spend at the gardens which I soon discover is not enough time. In fact, when you purchase admission to Brookgreen Gardens you will notice that the pass is good for seven consecutive days. That is how much you can see and do at the gardens Arthur and Anna Hyatt Huntington created.

The Fountain of the Muses at Brookgreen Gardens

My recommendation is to not try and see it all in one day. Break it down and tackle one aspect of the gardens at a time.

  1. Botanical Gardens
  2. American Sculpture
  3. Low Country History
  4. Low Country Zoo

I start off with exploring the over 2000 pieces of American Sculpture on display. It is quite spectacular, to say the least. How many statues of the Greek Goddess Diana can you find? Hint: there are more than 5.

Diana of the Chase by Anna Hyatt Huntington at Brookgreen Gardens

Or perhaps you want to check out the Low Country Zoo and see some of the animals that are native to the American Southeast like these Owls.

Owls in the Low Country Zoo exhibit at Brookgreen Gardens

The one area I really wanted to check out but ran out of time was the Low Country History and trail. This is where you can find all about native plants and animals of the South Carolina Lowcountry as well as the rice plantations of the 1800’s. Did you know that Myrtle Beach was once the rice growing capital of the United States?

The Creek Excursion tour through Lowcountry at Brookgreen Gardens

As you can see there is a lot to take in at Brookgreen Gardens and this doesn’t even touch the special events and seasonal activities that take place throughout the year. If you plan on spending any time in Myrtle Beach I highly recommend a seasons pass. Visit a couple of times and the pass has paid for itself, plus you get to enjoy the gardens anytime you want (during opening hours of course).

As I said, in the beginning, this is what I consider to be the real gem of Myrtle Beach. What the Huntington’s created through their vision and philanthropy almost 90 years ago is here for all of us to enjoy, and enjoy it I did.

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Disclosure: General

Thanks to Visit Myrtle Beach and Brookgreen Gardens for hosting me for the day. My views and opinions are 100% my own.

About Author

Marc Smith is a former event planner turned vagabond adventurer. He loves strong Americano's, great wine, cold beer and zip lining over tree tops. Formerly of Vancouver, most of Marc's time when not travelling is in Canada's largest city, Toronto. Follow along on his nomad adventures and discover places to stay, things to do and where to eat & drink as he explores the world one city and region at a time.

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