A beautiful coastal spot rich with Moorish architecture, fascinating history, wild alligators and an art studio big enough to hold horses and bears is a short drive from Seafood House Calabash Buffet, and it’s a great place to hit the beach.

Huntington Beach State Park is known internationally for bird watching, nature photography, walking trails and bicycling. As you enter you’ll cross a causeway across an inlet area, and if the weather is warm you’ll likely see wild alligators in the water along with many species of coastal birds.

If you turn right at the end of the entrance causeway, you’ll come to a Moorish castle that was built during the Great Depression by the property’s owner: wealthy New York industrialist Archer Huntington. The castle is called Atalaya, and it was the Huntingtons’ winter home.

Archer’s wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, was a prominent American sculptress, and Atalaya visitors see her sculpting studio where she kept bears, horses and other wildlife that she used in her artistic process. The Huntingtons donated the land for the park and for nearby outdoor sculpture garden Brookgreen Gardens, where many of Anna’s sculptures can be viewed.

Many couples hold their weddings in the Atalaya courtyard, which is a gorgeous spot perfect for romance and romantic photography.

Turn left at the end of the causeway and go all the way to the north end of the road, and you’ll come to a beautiful spot to access a gorgeous natural beach, the entrance to a bird-watching trail complete with observation spots, restrooms and picnic tables.

Bring a bicycle to Huntington Beach State Park, and you can spend a pleasant day cycling around the park.

Huntington Beach State Park, 16148 U.S. 17 (which is also called Ocean Highway), Murrells Inlet, (843) 237-4440

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Photo credit: Colette Eshleman