No stay in North Myrtle Beach is complete without a day exploring the natural beauty, culture, and history of the Brookgreen Gardens.
Considered one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the US, the gardens offer an unparalleled experience of the South Carolina coast. The area gives a sense of what the Lowcountry of South Carolina looked and felt like before modern development.
Brookgreen Gardens has over 2,500 acres full of plants and animals, over 500 sculptures, and 2,700 works of art. The gardens also feature live events year-round and a zoo that takes care of disabled animals. This combination of botanical wonders, art, and historic sites makes the gardens one of the most unique outdoor museums on earth!
Getting To The Gardens
Brookgreen Gardens makes for a very accessible day trip for families and groups coming from their vacation rental home in North Myrtle Beach. The gardens are located right off highway 17 just south of Murrells Inlet and Surfside Beach.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 65 years and older, and $10 for kids over 3 years old (kids under 3 enter free of charge!). The Gardens are so extensive that you can’t see everything in one day. Lucky for guests, garden admission tickets are good for 7 consecutive days.
Guests are free to come and go as they please over the course of one week. Proximity to Myrtle Beach’s other attractions means you can also easily combine a trip to the gardens with other activities.
Where To Eat
If you decide not to grab a bite at one of these top North Myrtle Beach restaurants before driving down to the gardens, you can dine here instead. There are plenty of delicious meals to choose from at Brookgreen Gardens. The Old Kitchen, Harvest Restaurant, and The Courtyard Cafe offer meals ranging from burgers and hot dogs to Southern-inspired elevated bistro fare.
Budget-conscious travelers will also appreciate the designated areas for picnicking.
Planning Your First Visit
The Brookgreen Gardens sit on an enormous estate that expands over 9,000 acres. The sheer size of the grounds themselves can be overwhelming for first-time visitors and the many attractions and year-round calendar of events can make planning your trip seem daunting.
The truth is quite the opposite! You can’t go wrong no matter how you decide to spend your time at Brookgreen Gardens and you can make a great day or week out of wandering the grounds and following your curiosity!
Keeping it Simple
Depending on your interests, you can tailor your visit to emphasize what you love the most. Nature fiends can delight in the beautiful garden plots. Animal lovers will appreciate the many rescued native animals at the Lowcountry Zoo.
Culture buffs can enjoy the largest collection of American Sculptures. History-minded visitors can listen to the storied history of the Gullah Geechee people and the garden’s plantation past.
Most guests, however, will want to experience a mix of both and will find something enjoyable about each aspect of the gardens.
The most common way to visit Brookgreen Gardens is to do a simple day trip. We recommend wandering the gardens in the cool of the morning. Stop in at The Bleifield Gallery just before lunch. Afterwards take an excursion in the afternoon. This way you can sit and rest while you digest!
Visitors planning multi-day trips can’t go wrong. Spend day one exploring the gardens, sculptures, and labyrinth on your own schedule. On day two, take a tour of the Lowcountry Zoo or attend one of the scheduled events.
If you decide to venture beyond the Brookgreen Gardens, head across to Huntington Beach State Park. You can visit wetlands and marshlands. They provide a great natural habitat for many types of birds and other creatures. There are crabs and turtles, but there are alligators too, so don’t get too excited about going for a swim!
Both Huntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens are part of the 9,000-acre estate that was originally owned by Archer Huntington.
You can’t go wrong simply roaming about. To get the most out of your visit, however, know that the gardens are organized into four major offerings. There are the Botanical Gardens themselves, American Sculpture, Lowcountry History, and the Lowcountry Zoo.
The Natural And Cultivated Beauty Of The Gardens
Brookgreen Gardens is considered the “floral jewel of South Carolina’s coast”. It has an array of local trees and plants and many sculpture gardens throughout the estate. It is a plant-lovers paradise.
As you wander the grounds, you can take in the majesty of 250-year-old moss-covered Live Oak trees along Live Oak Allée. Flutter about in the four wings of The Butterfly Garden, or pen a verse at the Poetry Garden. There are also a number of ponds and fountains. Do not miss the Fountain of the Muses and the Diana pool.
Fantastic Figures Of American Sculpture
The gardens have the largest collection of American figurative sculptures in the country!
Most of the sculptures are placed throughout the garden grounds. There are also three indoor galleries that house collections and there is a research facility where scholars and art curators work with the extensive collection.
We recommend first-time visitors simply wander the sculpture gardens spending some time with each of the impressive figure sculptures. If the weather gets too hot or if it happens to be raining, dip into The Bleifeld Gallery or the Offner Sculpture Learning and Research Center.
If you are a sculptor yourself (or an aspiring one!) look into taking one of the Master Sculpture Workshops. Tuition is a bit more than the $20 entry fee (starting at $650 plus materials fee), but the high-level courses are taught by nationally known American sculptors in an unmatched setting.
The History of Brookgreen Gardens
To best enjoy the artworks at Brookgreen Gardens it is important to understand the history behind them, which is a fascinating tale of love of art and a passion for philanthropy.
The gardens began to take shape in 1930, when one of the wealthiest men in America, Archer Huntington, purchased the property that is now the gardens for his wife Anna.
Archer Huntington was the adopted son of Collis Potter Huntington, one of the most successful American industrialists and railway magnates of America’s Gilded Age of the late 1800s.
Archer’s mother, Arabella Huntington, was famous for her status as the richest woman in the country and for her avid collection of art and artifacts from around the world, which ended up largely in the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, California.
Following in his parent’s footsteps, Huntington became a scholar of Spanish culture and art and dedicated his life to philanthropy. He built influential cultural institutions including the Brookgreen Gardens and Atalaya Castle with the influence and input of his wife Anna, who had at that point become one of the most renowned figure sculptors.
Anna Hyatt Huntington was the daughter of a professor of paleontology and zoology at Harvard University and MIT. She was encouraged early on in life to pursue her deep interest in animals and animal anatomy. She spent her youth formally studying animal anatomy and sculpture, winning many competitions at a time when few female American artists were recognized for their work.
Unfortunately, Anna suffered from tuberculosis. It was common at the time for people to spend time in easier climates to alleviate symptoms of the disease. As a result, Archer and Anna founded the gardens as a retreat from the busy city life and harsh winters of New York City.
Exploring the Past of the Lowcountry
The garden property was once a major antebellum rice plantation called Brookgreen Plantation. The Lowcountry has a storied past that includes a legacy of slavery and the unique history of the Gullah Geechee people.
There are many ways to explore this history. Visit the Wall Lowcountry Center, walk along the Lowcountry Trail at your own pace, or sign up for one of the three boat or overland vehicle excursions into the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve.
The Creek Excursion (March to November) takes a pontoon boat along the historic rice fields. A guide explains the history of rice cultivation by enslaved Africans in the area and its effects on the culture of South Carolina.
The Trekker Excursion (April to November) tours a historic rice plantation cemetery, a fort site from the Civil War, and a rice mill chimney. It finishes at a high bluff with great views of the nearby Waccamaw River.
The Oaks Excursion explores colonial and antebellum history through the lens of the Alston family. Riders visit a cemetery and slave village grounds.
The historical programs at the gardens are overseen by Ron Daise, who is a Gullah-Geechee. The center does a great job of representing the history of the place. Don’t miss out on a visit to the Gullah Geechee Gaardin, to learn about the spirited culture and current lives of the Gullah people of the area.
Visiting the Lowcountry Zoo
The Lowcountry Zoo is a nature preserve-style zoo where local wildlife roams free in areas designed to mimic their natural environments. The trails winding throughout the zoo are paved and mostly flat. It is an accessible experience for younger guests or guests with mobility issues.
During your visit, you might come across native birds and land animals. Make sure not to approach any of the wild animals you see during your visit. There are Snakes and Alligators in the area as well so take extra precaution and keep your wits about you!
The Best Time To Visit
All year long there are special events, including boat rides, historic tours, and evening holiday spectacles. Most guests agree that these events are well worth the small additional cost and make for a unique experience.
The glory of these beautiful gardens does not end at sunset! During the winter holiday season (November 26-January 1st), staff puts on the Night of a Thousand Candles, where you can tour the garden at night illuminated by 2,700 hand-lit candles and millions of sparkling lights.
Similarly, during mid-summer, staff hosts Summer Light: Art By Night, during which the grounds feature unique lighting installations that are sure to dazzle.
Though many visitors prefer the cooler months, there truly is no bad time to visit Brookgreen Gardens!