Just a 30-minute drive south, Brookgreen Gardens is a spectacular day trip from Myrtle Beach. So much more than just a garden, Brookgreen is a sculpture museum, botanical garden, exhibition center, zoo, and more.
Brookgreen Gardens is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark due to its cultural significance.
We spent almost a full day enjoying the grounds as there’s so much to do.
Located on the southern end of Murrells Inlet in South Carolina, Brookgreen Gardens is across the street from Huntington Beach State Park.
The gardens are between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, about 30 minutes from each. It’s just under two hours north of Charleston.
A Little History of Brookgreen Gardens
Brookgreen Gardens lie on what used to be four rice field plantations. Purchased in 1930 by Archer and Anna Huntington, they originally intended the area as a winter retreat, so Anna could rest and recover from tuberculosis.
Archer was a wealthy scholar and poet, most noted for his translation of El Cid. Anna was a groundbreaking and award-winning sculptor.
Within a year of purchasing the estate, they established Brookgreen Gardens. Initially, they planned to display only Anna’s work. It didn’t take long to expand their vision into incorporating many of the best American sculptors.
Interested in learning more about the Huntingtons? Their former home, Atalaya Castle, lies in Huntington Beach State Park across from the gardens. The “castle” itself is worth visiting, but it also has an fantastic display of information on this powerful and influential couple.
What to do at Brookgreen Gardens
With 9,127 acres, Brookgreen Gardens is huge. It’s most notable for being the “largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture” in the US.
In addition to the sculpture galleries and gardens, included in admission is a small zoo. There are also a few trails around the property and historical sites.
For an additional fee, the gardens offer several excursions and events, depending on the time of year. Plus, there is a seasonal butterfly experience.
American Sculpture & Botanical Gardens
Primarily, Brookgreen Gardens is an outdoor museum. The botanical gardens set the landscape for the incredible sculptures.
In addition, there are three indoor sculpture galleries, plus a rotating exhibition hall. Over 2,000 works by over 430 artists are on display.
The Offner Sculpture Center is a storage facility and overflow area.
Don’t overlook it though. It’s set up like an indoor gallery and there are some incredible pieces housed there. Plus, many pieces are practice model casts for larger statues. For example, they have several iterations of Stanley Bleifeld’s Lone Sailor, a famous statue at Washington’s United States Navy Memorial.
The semi-covered Brown Sculpture Garden houses a combination of marble and bronze statues. Apparently, the marble statues used to be left outdoors, but since marble is soft, a few developed pitting. The garden took action to protect these works of art from any further exposure, hence the covered section.
Dedicated to Stanley Bleifeld, the Bleifeld Gallery houses several of his terracotta pieces, including the “Wave with Swimmer and Shark.” If you look carefully, from one side you can see a shark, from the other, the swimmer. It’s very clever.
In our opinion, the star of the gallery is Grainger McKoy. At first, his sculptures look like taxidermy, but they are not. He carves his birds out of wood and hand paints them. Not only are these birds incredibly lifelike, but they also float in the air as if by magic.
Look closer and you’ll notice how he incorporates their suspension into the carving. It’s unreal! Look for his other pieces in the Offner Sculpture Center and the Lowcountry Center.
The Rainey Sculpture Pavilion is a exhibition hall that features traveling exhibits. On our most recent trip there were the most interesting miniature paintings by Wes and Rachelle Siegrist on display. Given a magnifying glass, we were able to see the most fantastic details in their unique pieces.
Included in standard admission, this small zoo is home to several native animals that could not survive in the wild due to injury or captivity breeding. The zoo prides itself on keeping the area as close to their natural habitats as possible.
There is also a butterfly house which opens from April to October but requires an additional fee.
There are two notable walking trails beyond the gardens. The Trail Beyond the Garden Wall goes out to a viewing platform on the Waccamaw River. Then there’s the Lowcountry Trail which connects the botanical garden with the zoo and winds past several historical plantation ruins.
Excursions at Brookgreen Gardens
Four excursions are possible at Brookgreen Gardens. They are dependent on the time of year and they weather. Plus, they require an additional fee.
- Creek Excursion – Pontoon boat tour of the Waccamaw River
- Trekker Excursion – Mini-bus of historical plantation and Civil War sites
- Oaks Excursion – Mini-bus tour of Oaks Plantation
- Silent Cities Cemetery Tour – Two-hour tour of historical cemeteries
Events at Brookgreen Gardens
If you are lucky enough to be in the area for December, then you must plan to visit for one of the Nights of a Thousand Candles. More than a million lights and 2,500 hand-lit candles light up the gardens.
Even if you are not visiting in December, it’s worth checking out the Brookgreen Gardens’ event calendar.
Where To Eat at Brookgreen Gardens
Brookgreen Gardens has a few options when it comes to food.
- Old Kitchen – Sandwich shop in the gardens
- Courtyard Cafe – Sandwich shop in the Lowcountry area, closed in winter
- Azalea – Full-service restaurant by the Rainey Galleries, closed December & January
Alternatively, the gardens allow picnics in designated areas near the welcome center and zoo. Accessing your vehicle is easy, so no need to carry around the cooler all day.
Tips For Enjoying Brookgreen Gardens
- It’s easy to spend a full day at the gardens, at minimum reserve 3 to 4 hours.
- Tickets are good for 7 days, so you can return to finish anything you didn’t see.
- This is the south, bring sunscreen and be prepared for hot humid weather.
- The gardens are near the marshes, bring insect repellent if you are there in summer.
- Be prepared for lots of walking, this place is huge.
- Complimentary adult and child “strollers” are available.
If you are interested in visiting the gardens, book tickets on the Brookgreen Gardens website or purchase tickets at the gate.
Want to know more about visiting Murrells Inlet or visiting Brookgreen Gardens for the Night of a Thousand Candles, check out our other posts.