To the Beach!!
Feeling sand between your toes is an addiction. Some people can only go one winter without it, but my resilience is greater. However, after 5 years without going to the beach, even I had to head to the coast last month. Seafood, sand, and solitude were what I wanted (with Justine beside me of course), but finding the latter at the beach is a rarity at best.
Trying to make as long of a weekend as possible off of a single vacation day, I punched in the coordinates on my GPS for Huntington Beach State Park and took off around 4pm after a full day of work. My past work schedule meant this trip was spur of the moment so reservations couldn’t be made but since Huntington had non-reservable walk up sites I figured several would be open late on a Thursday afternoon. After spending a night or two there, we would head further south to Charleston and finish out the weekend there.
However though, this being the first time I had used the miracle of computer assisted navigation, it took me the most direct route which also happened to go by places that don’t show up on normal maps. I knew that, somewhere, Blenheim SC was home to the Blenheim Ginger Ale company but I never expected to go there on my way to the beach. Also…road-tripping tip: When you have to stop for a bite to eat, don’t stop in the town (a.k.a. Bennetsville) that is home to both a state and a federal prison; the first thing a convict wants after getting out of the slammer is a decent meal, and they don’t want to wait. And, every abandoned barn was labeled as a “Walker Barn” after the recent season of “The Walking Dead”.
Deciding to just eat at the coast and be patient for the seafood that we knew was coming, we drove through all of the chintz that surrounds the beach. 2 issues ago, I wrote about how upsetting I found Pigeon Forge because it reminded me of the beach. At the beach however, the same spectacle is so expected that you tend to just gloss over the fact that there are literally miles and miles of concrete, glass, and tanning salons (?!) where there literally used to be nothing. Some call that progress. I call that needless waste.
After a quick stop at Surfside for some grouper, we rode the last few miles down to Huntington Beach around 9pm, hoping that we could setup the tent in record time and hit the sack. Sadly though, as we came up to the gate, the ranger informed us that all 130 tent sites were filled, and nothing was going to open up for the rest of the weekend. Myrtle Beach, with over 300 sites, only had a handful of sites and we couldn’t get there before they closed. With no option for camping available, we found the closest locally owned motel and crashed, semi-grateful for a cushy bed and not having to blow it up like we would have camping.
Friday morning’s breakfast at a nearby Cracker Barrel gave us the energy to face the day, we went back to Huntington Beach. Even though it’s just south of Myrtle, when you step out on the sands between the dunes and the sea and look over each shoulder you barely see the buildings in the distance through the haze. Unlike so much of the coastline in the Carolinas, you get a glimpse of what the coast looked like before the developers and strip malls claimed this land in the name of money. Walking along a beach that barely had any people, trash, or distractions; we couldn’t help but wish that we had been able to make reservations so we could stay longer. Word to the wise: It’s worth the $20+ a night to stay here, and make your reservation well in advance.
Originally, Huntington Beach was the winter home of the Huntington family who also built a Moorish-style home right near the beach. The enormous house still stands, and is open for you to wander through the halls, courtyard, and bear pens. No seriously; the wife was a sculptor who kept a lot of animals as muses for her work. These same people are the ones who designed, built, and donated Brook Green Gardens (and the State Park) upon their death.
Needing to start heading south to check in on time at James Island County Park’s primitive campground, we started the long and soul-crushingly boring drive on highway 17 to Charleston. The only two things of interest on the long drive was a tractor wreathed in flames and a person trying to stomp it out, and stopping at the Hampton Plantation Historic Site to visit the old mansion. Set back in giant old oak and magnolia trees (one of which was saved by George Washington himself according to the plaque) it sits just like it has for the past 200+ years, surrounded by Spanish moss, blooming rhododendron, and swarms of blood sucking mosquitos.
Scratching our arms and wishing we had put on bug spray, we kept on heading to James Island finally getting there around 5pm. Only 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, James Island is rather removed from all of the chaos that surrounds large cities. The primitive area especially is nothing more than a large meadow with no marked sites. You set your tent wherever seems best and watch unabashed at whoever sets up near you. Over the course of 2 nights, we had 2 church groups, French college students, German college students, and a troop of boy scouts who didn’t realize that the tarps they put up would certainly blow away in the nightly storms. With amazing Nathan’s hotdogs stuffed in Hoagie buns for dinner, we went to Folly Beach to watch the tide come in and then went back to turn in early for the night.
The rest of the weekend was spent in Charleston doing tourist things; I’ve never spent a lot of time in Charleston, so things like Battery Park, beautiful old houses, cobblestone streets, and mouthwatering food was par for the course. The best thing though, was every night we had privacy and quiet only 15 minutes from down town for less than half of the cheapest hotel we could find. Camping is always a mean to an end; whether you want to go into the wilds or the concrete jungle, being able to lodge somewhere cheaply is invaluable.
If Huntington Beach isn’t remote enough for you, Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort just might be exactly what you’re looking for. Home to a light house and more open beach than any other park, Hunting Island is an excellent option if you don’t mind a little bit longer of a drive since it’s down below Beaufort.