Historic Georgetown SC will surprise you in the best possible ways! Named America’s Best Coastal Small Town in 2018 by USA Today, Georgetown is the third oldest town in South Carolina. Interestingly, historians believe the first European settlement on mainland North America was established here by Spaniards in 1526 (sorry, St. Augustine!). If only we could prove it! Early settlers located the original outpost on Winyah Bay, but within six months, the settlement disappeared without a trace.
Historic Georgetown SC Will Surprise You
Only two towns in South Carolina are older than Georgetown, Charleston, and Beaufort. Each port town is 65 miles apart, which seems like an odd number until you realize that was about as far as a ship could travel in a day.
After the original outpost disappeared, the first recorded permanent settlers were English, who opened a trading post on the Black River, documented in 1710. Georgetown became an official port of entry in 1732.
While Georgetown is a harbor town, it doesn’t have a beach because the city isn’t on the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, it is on Winyah Bay, surrounded by rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. However, beach bums will be happy to know that Georgetown County and the Hammock Coast, is home to beautiful beaches in Pawley’s Island, Litchfield, and Murrells Inlet.
So, plan to spend a few days learning about the area’s rich history. Plunder through the interesting shops, local museums, breweries, a lovely waterfront, and restaurants galore!
Things to Do in Historic Georgetown SC Will Surprise You
Georgetown is a waterfront town, so naturally, there are boat tours to enjoy. It is an old town, so there are historic old homes—which means there are historic old ghosts! Paige Sawyer knows some of them, and he will happily take you on a tour of their usual haunts (pun intended!)
Old Historic Georgetown Walking Tours
Paige conducts so many Georgetown Tours you’ll have to pick and choose which one you want to do first (hint: you’ll want to do them all!) This veteran-owned business offers one tour that is a leisurely stroll through historic downtown and another that follows the footsteps of the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion. Yes, the man who outfoxed the British in our fight for the United States! Paige is entertaining, and his mind is so full of Georgetown history that it just has to ooze out! Plus, he walks slow enough that even I kept up, despite my frequent stops for photo ops!
Swamp Fox Tours of Historic Georgetown SC
Geraldine Jayroe, and her son Kevin, have owned Swamp Fox Tours for over 25 years, but the tour train started in 1978 at the Chamber of Commerce. So, it is the oldest tour company in Georgetown and still going strong. Catch up with the blue and white tram to ride through 300 years of history while you see early homes, public buildings, and churches and hear a ghost story (or maybe two!) Perhaps you’ll be lucky and have Brian as your driving guide! He provides a day in the town where history comes alive! Heck, even the trees are more than 130 years old! And, the Champion Oak is over 600 years old!
Boat Tours for Water Views of Historic Georgetown SC
Captain Rod’s Tours include pontoon cruises to a barrier island for shelling and viewing the Georgetown Lighthouse, a history tour up the Pee Dee River, passing by several rice plantations, and a sunset eco-cruise. Plus, the Georgetown Light on North Island is an active lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in South Carolina. In fact, it is one of the oldest in the United States, and has stood guard at the entrance to Winyah Bay since 1811.
Captain Rod’s promises to provide “history, mystery, and legends of our coast.” And you may spot Paige up front as your tour guide! Remember, I told you he is a wealth of information and is always happily sharing it!
Today the boat captain was Capt. Thom Rhea, and the 1st Mate was Judd. They took turns regailing us with stories of nature, history, and war. The 4-hour tour allowed for an hour and a half on North Island for shell hunting, then on the return trip we were accompanied by bottlenose dolphins. And, if you time it right, you can enjoy a gorgeous sunset on your return trip.
Do It Yourself Tours of Historic Georgetown SC
Besides all these tours, you can create your own “tours” by visiting local museums and parks like the ones I’ve listed for you.
The Old Market Building was built in 1842, replacing a structure destroyed by the 1841 fire that destroyed many Front Street buildings. It was the first Georgetown building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Rice Museum has filled every corner of the building with the history of Georgetown and its importance to the Carolina Colony’s rice production. In fact, by the 1850s, the Georgetown District produced half of the total American rice crop. It was the wealthiest county in the entire United States!
The museum’s gift shop sells lovely prints, books, jewelry, and local culinary delights like Carolina Gold Rice and Gullah Seasonings.
Right beside the Rice Museum is Lafayette Park and Herb Garden. The Marquis de Lafayette bust in the garden commemorates his 1777 arrival in Georgetown. Only 19 years old but already an experienced captain, he sailed to the New World (against orders) to help colonists fight for independence. Lafayette so loved America, he wanted to be buried in the country where he fought. Then, after his death and burial in Paris in 1834, American soil was sent and his wish to rest for eternity under American soil was finally granted. So, stop by this park and express your gratitude to this brave young man!
Historic Georgetown SC County Museum
Nearly 300 years of Georgetown’s history are on display in the Georgetown County Museum. They say their mission is to preserve and promote Georgetown’s history from the beginning to the present day. And, let me tell you—they succeed! Of the thousands of items on display, most were donated by community members, making this a true “county” museum.
The Civil War was a dark time for many reasons, and one of those was that Federal forces occupied Georgetown from 1865 until 1868. As the War was ending, the ransacking of local plantations was a common occurrence. It makes me sad to think of the treasures that were lost! Then, after the War, wealthy northerners migrated to Georgetown to hunt ducks and deer. Visitors included presidents, royalty, and famous Americans. The museum also has memorabilia from that era.
Another incredible legacy is that Georgetown was the country’s first free school location. Remarkably, the Winyah Indigo Society started that school in 1757.
Gullah Museum in Historic Georgetown SC
A true hidden gem is the Gullah Museum on King Street. And believe me, proprietor Andrew Rodrigues knows enough history and stories of Gullah Geechee heritage to entertain you all day! Rodrigues and his late wife, Vermelle “Bunny” Smith Rodrigues, founded the museum. Bunny was a Georgetown native, artist, historian, storyteller, and Gullah Geechee elder. Sharing Gullah Geechee’s history and culture was her passion, which Andrew and her children carry on. Plan to stop by and hear Andrew say, “Hunnah!” (welcome in Gullah.)
South Carolina Maritime Museum
The Maritime Museum is a great place to learn about South Carolina’s second-largest port. Plus, the museum is the home of the old North Island lighthouse’s Fresnel lens. The two-story building features old photographs and documents, artifacts, as well as interactive exhibits relating to South Carolina’s maritime history. And, an added bonus: you can learn to sail by signing up for their lessons!
Kaminski House Museum
Georgetown shares a wealth of history through museums like the Kaminski House. And, the Georgian-style Kaminski House stands on a bluff overlooking the Sampit River, so you’ll want to go just for the view! The house is one of 60-plus antebellum homes in the area. Kaminski House was designed in the single-house style popular in Barbados, desirable for its cooling ability in tropical climates.
Initially, it was built in the mid-1700s by local merchant Paul Trapier. Then, before his second marriage, he gave the house and property to his unmarried daughter Elizabeth in 1769. The home continued to change hands until 1931, when Georgetown Mayor Harold Kaminski and his wife, Julia, purchased the house.
Today, the house holds many antiques, including a small collection of Charleston-made furniture from the 18th century. These pieces are significant because few examples of Charleston-made furniture survived the Charleston disasters (fire, War, hurricane, earthquake), and heirs who lived elsewhere removed pieces to other locations.
The Strand Theatre
Home to the Swamp Fox Players, The Strand is a beautifully restored 1941 movie theater. But, be sure to check their website to book your seats as soon as you plan your trip. Tickets sell out quickly—locals support the live theater shows! And, you may find yourself sitting next to me, since I try not to miss a show!
Through the generosity of sponsors, the vision of Varna International Music Academy comes to the Grand Strand. Muzika! brings history, culture, and music to South Carolina and, most significantly, to the Grand Strand. From Broadway show tunes to opera, the area is blessed to have these world-class musicians and singers perform in the Howard Auditorium in Georgetown each summer. Check Varna International’s website to buy your tickets for their performances. I promise you; it will be worth the trip! As founders Kalin and Sharon Tchonev say, “Let us move cities together. Let us speak music to the world.”
So far, you can manage the list of to-dos on foot. One of the best things about Georgetown is it’s such a walkable town! And shopping in Georgetown is no different. In fact, you can spend an entire day winding your way down Front Street, darting in and out of cute local shops.
In my opinion, some don’t-miss highlights include:
- Doodlebugs Children’s Finery (think smocking, cross-stitch, and monogramming)
- Bluebird Vintage (chic and hip for your house)
- Art Harbor Gallery (amazing work by talented local artists)
- Sweeties Sweets (I absolutely count pralines as a “shopping necessity!”)
- Tomlinson’s (gifts, clothes, SC college items)
A 16,000-acre privately-owned research reserve, Hobcaw Barony was the home of Wall Street financier Bernard Baruch. He hosted politicians, generals, Winston Churchill, and even President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1930 home. By 1956, Belle had partially purchased and partially inherited the property that has been left in a foundation to ensure its future. Historic Friendfield Village on the land is the last 19th-century slave village on the Waccamaw Neck. And, Friendfield Church was built in 1890, providing a place to worship for the people of Friendfield Village until after WWII.
The history of the place, the history of the Baruchs, and indeed the history of Belle is remarkable. And, I’ll give you one more tidbit to whet your appetite: an equestrian living in France at the start of WWII, Belle returned to South Carolina and fearlessly assisted in capturing a German spy who operated out of Pawley’s Island! Oh, and the longest intact stretch of the Colonial-era Kings Highway is found at Hobcaw Barony.
Built more than 40 years before America’s Revolutionary War, the rice plantation Hopsewee was the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Today, visitors may tour the house and two original slave cabins that remain. These are unusual because many outside buildings no longer exist due to fires in the wooden structures. After your tour, take in the sweeping views of the river, and enjoy lunch or tea at the River Oak Cottage. But, take my advice and save room for tea and Hummingbird Cake!
Brookgreen Gardens is the finest outdoor museum in the world. Amid the Depression, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington purchased four plantations and turned them into a home for Anna’s sculptures. Then, they added pieces from numerous sculptors to that collection, creating a permanent collection representing the best of American sculpture. There are extensive gardens, a zoo featuring native wildlife, a seasonal butterfly house, and an aviary. Brookgreen is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
If this isn’t enough to keep you busy, you’ll find nearly twenty golf courses scattered throughout Georgetown County. I’m betting you can find one or two you like!
Places to Eat in Historic Georgetown SC Are An Even Bigger Surprise
Naturally, there is seafood. Lots of seafood! But this is the Lowcountry, so food is served with a generous dose of that Gullah heritage. The enslaved people who lived and cooked in the Lowcountry gave us the staples they knew best. Plus, their expertise in African rice fields provided a much-needed cash crop in the colony, which explains Georgetown’s reputation as the home of the South’s major rice plantations. My two favorite Lowcountry dishes are rice and okra! So, be sure to stop by SoCo Grille (Southern Cooking) for Okra Strips with Roasted Pepper-Bacon Jam—trust me!!
I describe many more Georgetown restaurants in my article on Foodie Flashpacker. Check them out, and when you stop drooling, make a reservation or three!
Places to Stay in Historic Georgetown SC Will Surprise You, Too!
Georgetown is a quick 45-minute drive from Myrtle Beach and not much further from Charleston. But you can stay a night or two, which will leave you plenty of time to explore. A Hampton Inn at the Marina and a couple of other options exist, or you can book a room at the local B & Bs.
Baxter’s Bed & Brew
Now, really – who can resist a B&B like this? Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn Bed & Brew is conveniently situated mere steps from historic downtown. The European-style setup has three upstairs bedrooms that share two bathrooms, all updated to modern standards from this 1908 beauty.
The downstairs Beer Parlour is stocked with various craft beers—perfected during 20 years of practice—for guests’ enjoyment, and I can vouch for the root beer! Seriously, it is some of the best I’ve ever had!
Purr & Pour Cat Café and AirBnB
You can stop in for a glass of wine and cat cuddles, stay upstairs overlooking Front Street, and even adopt a cat to take home with you! Purr & Pour gives new meaning to a one-stop shop!
And, “coming soon,” as they say, will be a stunning boutique hotel on Front Street. The George should be open by Thanksgiving 2023. What a perfect place to spend a long holiday! And, the first floor will house a chop-house restaurant and bar facing Front Street, plus a waterfront bar across the back. The top two floors will contain 42 rooms with sweeping views of the Sampit River and the harbor, while a few will overlook the history-filled town.
The hotel will be the first downtown since The Gladstone closed nearly sixty years ago. The George will honor the old hotel by having the café on the first floor and two upper floors to house guests.
The hotel will provide easy access to the downtown historic district. Actually, you’ll love walking the city streets, shaded by centuries-old Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss. Although I live only 45 minutes away, I’m looking forward to my first night at The George!
There is one caveat about Georgetown. Parking signage is on Front Street as you enter the town at the clock—2-hour limit. But it is not posted all along the street. However, if you leave your car and take a tour, you’ll have a $10 ticket awaiting your return. (And, yes, I learned this the hard way!!)
Starving? Not in Georgetown!
Georgetown has a wide variety of restaurants, which I’ve detailed in my article for Foodie Flashpacker, The Best Georgetown SC Restaurants – 14 Must-Try Places.
But there is another unusual restaurant in Georgetown. A Kentucky Fried Chicken! Now, before you decide there is nothing unusual about a KFC, let me tell you about this one.
Yes, this is the chicken chain KFC, but this KFC has a buffet! Southerners love their fried chicken—and the only thing we love more than fried chicken is an all-you-can-eat buffet! Every day—from 11-4 pm, this place puts out a spread that would put a family reunion to shame!
For just under $13, you can help yourself to chicken—fried, baked, grilled, fried chicken livers (my favorite!), gizzards, a variety of veggies, and desserts like banana pudding, cinnamon bread pudding, and apple cobbler. Be forewarned; Sunday is their busiest day, so you must arrive early to beat the church crowd!
Ready to plan your next trip?
For more exciting vacations, try these locations!! You could travel to LaGrange, visit Funky Floyd, or cruise off to Alaska! Then, of course, there are Chocolate Tastings in Tofino, on beautiful Vancouver Island!