On the way to Myrtle Beach are the river towns, historic hamlets filled with fishermen, farmers and tales of the Carolina backcountry. They are well worth a visit.
Half a dozen of these quaint villages are nestled along the Grand Strand from Georgetown on the Waccamaw River in South Carolina to Southport on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. You’ll also find Conway, the County Seat of Horry County and Little River (home of the Blue Crab Festival) in South Carolina, and Shallotte and Calabash (famous for its seafood) in North Carolina. Exploring these towns makes a great day-trip.
At the south end of the Grand Strand is Georgetown, which dates back to before the Revolutionary War. Founded around 1729, Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina, following Charleston (1670) and Beaufort (1711). It is the county seat of Georgetown County.
The historic district features museums, restaurants, unique shops and a boardwalk along the river. Take a guided tour to visit plantations, learn about Revolutionary War heroes or hunt for ghosts. Stop in for coffee and a fresh baked pasty at Kudzu Bakery, visit the much-photographed Kaminski House, and learn what crop was king on area plantations at the Rice Museum.
When the city of Conway added a river walk to its downtown revitalization plan a few years ago, the result was a delightful enhancement that follows the Waccamaw River as it winds its way through town. Founded in 1734, Conway was originally called Kingston, but the name was later changed to honor Revolutionary War hero General Robert Conway.
In times past, riverboats plied their way up and down the Waccamaw, stopping at Conway to deliver passengers and goods. Later, a railroad was built (now lost to the past) from Conway to Myrtle Beach to take travelers to the seashore. Today, as the county seat of Horry County, Conway also enjoys being the home of Coastal Carolina University. A visit to the Conway Farmer’s Market between May to October is a must-do as is the Horry County Museum for a look at the history of the area.
Situated on the Intracoastal Waterway near the mouth of the Little River, this historic fishing village is a mixture of old-timers and new residents. Home to generations of commercial fishermen, Little River is a springboard for deep sea charter boat fishing and boating. It also has South Carolina’s only off-shore gambling casino yacht operated by The Big M Casino.
Each year the town welcomes thousands of visitors to The World Famous Blue Crab Festival and the ShrimpFest on the waterfront. From Highway 17, follow Mineola Avenue to the waterway for some great dining at Capt. Juel’s, Fibbers, or Key West Crazy as you watch the boats go by.
“Good night Mrs. Calabash, where ever you are.” The famous Jimmy Durante sign-off line made this tiny North Carolina river town famous in the 1950s – that and it’s style of seafood cooking. Breaded and fried and served with hush puppies, Calabash seafood draws thousands of visitors each year to Ella’s, Dockside Seafood House and Capt. Nance’s among others.
Several unique shops in town include St. Nick Nacs Christmas shop, Calabash Nautical Gifts, Calabash Marketplace, and Victoria’s Rag Patch. Bring your fishing rod or your golf clubs because there’s plenty of deep sea fishing and golf available.
Founded in the late 1700s and incorporated in 1899, Shallotte (pronounced "shall-oat") lays claim be being the original Charlotte. This mini Queen City offers a quaint main street with several resale shops and restaurants as well as big box shopping, since the town supplies many of the area’s beach-goers to the Brunswick Islands.
As river towns go, Shallotte doesn’t appear to have much of a waterfront, although plans are in the works to develop a river walk downtown. For now, the Grillin' Crab seafood restaurant is the place to watch the river flow by on its way south of the town to where it empties into the Atlantic between Holden Beach and Ocean Isle Beach. A great spot here to view the river and the ocean is the Inlet View Grill at the south end of Village Point Road. The Shallot Farmer’s Market from April to September is also worth a visit.
Historic Southport lies near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles downriver from Wilmington. The waterfront overlooks the river with Bald Head Island in the distance and is a favorite filming location for movies and television shows. Downtown you’ll find shops, restaurants and historic homes.
Drawing on its long history of pirates and Spanish explorers, Southport is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Stroll along the marina and take the private ferry to Bald Head Island or the North Carolina state ferry across the Cape Fear River to visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. You can even rent a sailboat from Cape Fear Sailing Academy, one of the few places anywhere along the coast where you can do that.
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