Myrtle Beach Attractions Spotlight: Huntington Beach State Park & Atalaya Castle
Huntington Beach State Park is a beautiful part of the culture and history of the arts in South Carolina.
The park contains campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking and bike trails, a private beach and a 2,500 square foot nature center.
Visitors can also take tours of Atalaya Castle and get a glimpse into the life of Archer M. Huntington, a railroad tycoon, and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, a sculptress, during the mid 20th century.
The park is a great place to be if you need a break from your busy schedule to relax at the beach or if you want to witness for yourself the history of the Huntingtons and their impact on the Murrells Inlet area.
Archer M. Huntington and Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington were the original owners of the area.
In the 19th century, Huntington Beach State Park was the seaside portion of a sprawling rice plantation, known as the Waccamaw Neck Rice Plantations.
In the early 20th century, the Huntingtons, acquired the land that is now Huntington Beach State Park. He purchased this plantation to serve as a retreat and hunting preserve, as well as a place for Anna to work on her sculptures.
In 1931, the Huntingtons built Atalaya as their oceanside, winter home and established Brookgreen Gardens, located just across what is now Highway 17, as a place to put Anna’s sculptures on display. The name Atalaya” is a Spanish term for watchtower.
Archer Huntington designed the house after the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. During World War II, the Huntingtons turned over Atalaya and the surrounding land to the U.S. Army Air Corps.
The grounds were fortified and a radar station was set up inside of Atalaya. Shell casings still wash ashore as reminders of the time when the beach was used as training ground to prepare young soldiers for battle.
Today, Huntington Beach State Park is operated by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Visiting the park
Visitors can receive an all day pass to Huntington Beach State Park for the small price of $5.
Once you pass the gate and enter the park, you are surrounded by nature. The beach at Huntington stretches for three miles and has a main access point near the parking lot, as well as a few small entrances located near the campgrounds.
There are no other beach entrances near Huntington’s entrances, so the beach is relatively remote. Visitors can enjoy fishing is off the jetty and off the beach, just not near the main swimming areas. There are bathrooms located close to the beach access in the main building.
The Saltwater Marsh
In addition to the 3-mile stretch of beach, Huntington Park is also home to one of the world’s most productive ecosystems: the saltwater marsh.
The marsh can be viewed from the causeway where you can walk alongside the water to view its serenity and all of the wildlife living at Huntington Beach State Park. Animals you may see include alligators, pelicans, bald eagles, and spoonbills.
There are docks equipped with binoculars to help you get a better view of the marsh and its inhabitants.
Perhaps the most well-known animals that many viewers come to see at Huntington Beach State Park are the birds. Birders have been coming to Huntington Beach State Park for years to see the more than 300 species of birds that have been recorded here.
Huntington is one of the top spots on the East Coast for bird watching. Birds such as bald eagles, ducks, mergansers, and buffleheads can be observed from the causeway.
Birds can also be spotted from the jetty and at the beach. The jetty is a little over a one-mile walk from the main beach entrance, but it’s worth it if you’re up for some exercise. The jetty is a man-made replica of a rocky coastline that has a paved top so that visitors can walk out to the edge to get a great view of the offshore waters.
Birds such as razorbills, black guillemots, and horned grebes can be seen hanging out around the jetty. The best chance at seeing all of these birds is in the wintertime.
The park also has a freshwater lake, where you can spot alligators and maybe even a few minks. There is a boat access ramp located one mile from the park entrance at Oyster Landing.
Visiting Atalaya Castle
There’s nothing quite like Atalaya Castle. Walking into the home of Brookgreen Gardens’ founding family is like walking into a piece of history.
The outer walls of Atalaya form a square, with the east side facing the ocean.
When you enter Atalaya, there is a covered walkway with a square tower that separates the home. On both sides of the walkway, there are grassy open inner courtyards decorated with palm trees and walkways.
The house and grounds contain more than 30 rooms, including servants living quarters, the library, the bedrooms, Archer’s study, and Anna’s indoor and outdoor sculpture studios.
Mrs. Huntington had a passion for sculpting animals. She kept animals on the property next to the house so that she could sculpt based on her own perception of the animal instead of by memory. The house had facilities including horse stables, a dog kennel, and a bear pen. Yes, a bear pen!
As you can see upon entering the home, there is no furniture or any artifacts at all left behind. That is because, after Archer Huntington’s death in 1955, most of the furnishings were moved to the Huntington home in New York City. All of the equipment from Anna’s sculpture studio was transferred to the new studio located at Brookgreen Gardens.
In tribute to Mrs. Huntington and all that she did for the arts, Huntington Beach State Park hosts the annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival during the fourth weekend of September.
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Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576