Take advantage of the beaches that dot the Southern coastline—and check out for a while

Me at age 9 with a Pawleys Island flounder destined for the skillet
Courtesy of Sid Evans

There aren’t many places where I feel like I can truly relax—an occupational hazard for editors—but Pawleys Island, South Carolina, is one of them. My parents started taking the family there when I was about 5 years old. We used to rent a tiny house called Overboard, with the ocean on one side and a tidal creek on the other. Dad would trailer an aluminum jon boat all the way from Memphis so we could troll the creek for flounder, and occasionally we caught enough for a fish fry—a John Evans specialty. Everything tasted better when you caught it yourself, and fried flounder was (and still is) one of my favorite meals. At low tide, we dug in the pluff mud for clams, which turned into clam chowder, and my brother and I netted crabs by the dozen using the most effective bait ever invented—a chicken neck on a string.

Forty-some years later, we're still going to Pawleys every year, only now it's my kids who are doing most of the crabbing. Except for the size of the houses (and the price tags), the island hasn't really changed. The old one-room Pawleys Island Chapel is still perched on the marsh, an unlikely survivor of Hurricane Hugo. The Pelican Inn, which was built in the 1840s, has no televisions in the rooms, and the wooden sign out front dates to 1900. There are also no golf courses, no hotels, no restaurants, and no bars. Even though you're about a mile from the fast-food chains that have taken over U.S. 17, it still feels as if you're in another world, where brown pelicans drift lazily over the waves. The island even has its own ghost, the Gray Man, whose shadowy figure walks the beaches during hurricanes, warning people to take cover.

About three hours up the coast from Pawleys, there's another island called Bald Head in North Carolina, which has its own magic. You have to take a short ferry to get there, and though it offers a couple of restaurants, there are no cars—only bikes and golf carts. Like Pawleys, Bald Head Island is shaded by live oaks, you can find shark's teeth at low tide, and I hear the flounder fishing is excellent.

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That's where we built our 2017 Idea House, a coastal gem with breezy porches, bright colors, and a laid-back style that beckons you to relax. Living on an island may be something of a fantasy, but it isn't really such a far-fetched idea, especially in the South. All you have to do is cross some water, and you're there.