By Flo Williamson
Part 2 South Carolina (link to Part 1: The Carolinas Revisited – North Carolina)
April 1, 2017 — After an interesting and enlightening visit to coastal North Carolina, we made a bee-line towards Charleston, SC. As we entered South Carolina, Route 17 took us through the Myrtle Beach area. Myrtle Beach was never on our retirement relocation radar, as it struck us as being too large, sprawling, and “touristy”. The traffic, even in February, bore that out. We passed through the small beach towns of Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, and stopped 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach, in Georgetown.
Georgetown, population 9,000, is a town on the Winyah Bay. It is golf cart friendly. Site of the 2nd largest seaport in SC, Georgetown is also home to an abandoned steel mill and a working paper mill that is located just on the outskirts of the historic district. A massive fire destroyed part of the downtown business and residential district in 2013 and a year later the area was hit with a devastating “thousand year flood”. Undeterred, the community banded together to rebuild, and this year the town was one of 5 finalists for the winner of the “Main Street, Small Business Revolution”, title.
Like so many other small towns along the Carolina coasts, water is everywhere, and Georgetown has the riverwalk and open space parks for relaxation and fishing. It is an historic and interesting area, especially for those who like the out of doors. The town has chef-owned restaurants and boutique shopping with larger shopping areas outside of town. Once the playgrounds for wealthy industrialists, nearby former plantations, wildlife refuges, and state forests offer plenty of opportunities for those into camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing. The nearest beach on Pawleys Island, with has limited access and amenities, is about 20 minutes away. Huntington Beach State Park, further north near Murrells Inlet, is a favorite with birdwatchers, fishermen, and hikers in addition to beach lovers.
From Georgetown there is scheduled bus service to Myrtle Beach, where the nearest commercial airline service is located. There is a hospital in town. Our concern, as a location for retirement, would be the lack of “big city” amenities, similar to those which could be found in a city the size of Wilmington, NC. Since we’re not big Myrtle Beach fans, I can’t see us going there for anything other than the airport. That means we’re back on the road, RT. 17 south, towards Charleston, 60 miles away.
On to McClellanville
Driving on RT, 17 south of Georgetown, crossing over the forests and swamplands of the Santee River, it’s easy to imagine you’re back in time. The Francis Marion (aka The Swamp Fox) National Forest encompasses 258,864 acres. Most of the forest was destroyed in 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, which inundated this area, and especially our next stop, McClellanville. As Hurricane Hugo approached and then made landfall just off the Charleston coast, McClellanville residents were told to evacuate to the local high school. No one expected a 20 foot storm surge to inundate the building, trapping the evacuees inside. Evacuees scrambled in total darkness to seek higher ground, away from the rising waters, some removing ceiling panels and climbing into the ceiling. Fortunately, the water stopped rising and miraculously no lives were lost. Today, thankfully, other than a commemorative plaque on the now abandoned high school, little remains of the damage done that night.
McClellanville is the quintessential coastal fishing town. Small and sleepy, (pop. 500) in the middle of nowhere, there is one restaurant and a few stores just out of town, but fresh seafood markets are numerous and they are good!! McClellanville is the type of town where you just want to park your car and walk, admiring the beautiful architecture, live oak trees and the ever present water. It is 28 miles north of Mt. Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, where you can find any type of shopping imaginable as well as medical services. McClellanville is not the type of community where you could survive without a car, although, there is scheduled bus service to Mt. Pleasant. We continued our trip down Route 17, which took us through the heart of Charleston, one of our favorite cities. An easy 40 minute trip through Johns Island led us to two resort communities, we had vacationed at several times before, Seabrook and Kiawah Islands.
The Islands – Seabrook and Kiawah
Being eternal optimists, we often thought of retirement on Seabrook Island. Seabrook is a private residential community and stunningly beautiful. Wide boulevards, draped with Live Oaks and Spanish Moss, waving marsh grasses and meandering tidal creeks, and a beach, pretty much deserted, that embraces the island. There are tons of interesting clubs and organizations, and great amenities. What’s not to love? But, paradise comes with a price. While condos are available on the island for way under $200,000, there is a 7 year mandatory club membership, the least expensive being the community membership with a $12,000 initiation fee (or 5% of the property purchase price, whatever is less) and $334 monthly dues. The club also requires an annual dining minimum. The POA fee is $2021 annually and condos and villas have varying regime fees, some covering flood insurance, some not. If you add on your real estate taxes and additionally needed homeowners insurance, costs can easily exceed $10,000 annually. Some residents look at the low purchase price of the properties as offsetting these costs, while others choose to rent their properties when not in residence.
Next door is Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and that’s Resort with a capital R. This upscale property has two main attractions, Golf and the Beach. Golfers and families flock to this upscale resort year round, staying primarily in the condos and villas that dot the “more public” areas of the island. Condos are pricier here, with some 1 bedrooms begin in the low $200,000s, but there is no mandatory club membership. Club membership is available, but optional. POA fees are similar to Seabrook’s and regime fees can vary. The POA has a pool, community center, beach club, kayak launch and many other amenities. The main difference between the two islands is that Kiawah is a Resort and much more transient. The resort shops, many fine restaurants and some golf courses are open to the public. While this is great for Seabrook residents whose on island dining options are somewhat limited, for those wanting to live in a condo or villa full time, the transient nature of the area may be disconcerting. Those multi million dollar homes you see on TV and in magazines are hidden behind 2nd and 3rd gates!!
Between Seabrook and Kiawah lays Fresh Fields Village. This upscale market place offers boutique shopping, banks, a drug store, restaurants and some medical services. Anchoring the village is a Harris Teeter Supermarket, and honestly, one of the best markets I’ve ever been in. A great variety of prepared foods and everyday items, surprisingly, reasonably priced considering it’s toney location. Customer service is super as well. For additional shopping there are small shopping centers about 8-10 miles away with more available on Route 17. For boaters,there is also a marina next door with additional stores and restaurants, but Kiawah and Seabrook are isolated. For several miles you’re on a 2 lane road going to and from the islands, with limited access out of the area. The nearest hospital is 22 miles away. Helicopter air transport is available under contracts with the town of Seabrook Island.
A Great Trip
I can’t wait to return to some of my favorite spots in the Carolinas. It was a great trip that enabled us to definitely investigate some areas further and to rule some locations out. Retirement is a journey, and the hardest part can be deciding, “With so many choices out there, where do I want to be?” For those of you considering the Carolinas, I hope my journey helped.
Thank you Flo! Enjoyed your travelogue.