Is Pawleys Island Safe? Crime Rates & Safety Report

Updated On March 20, 2024
Pawleys Island, United States
Safety Index:
82
* Based on Research & Crime Data

It’s hard to wrap your head around a beach community that is referred to as “arrogant” yet “laid back,” but that’s just the paradox Pawleys Island brings to the coastline of South Carolina.

The community was settled in the 1700s as a summer escape for wealthy families looking to escape the spread of malaria.

The island is four miles wide and flanked by the ocean on one side and a salt marsh on the other.

You won’t find much more here than sprawling Antebellum homes, a few inns, a historic district, and pristine beaches.

In fact, it will stay that way since the town prohibits commercial development.

Generations of families summer here, with the town’s population of less than 100 exploding to 5,000 in the warm weather.

It’s also just 26 miles south of Myrtle Beach, giving you sublime seclusion but not suffocating isolation.

The unofficial nickname of Pawleys Island is “arrogantly shabby,” yet another saying claims “your blood pressure goes down when you cross the causeway.”

This idyllic beach getaway comes slathered with Southern folklore, like a ghost that walks the beach warning of doom and the reality of doom that comes with every approaching hurricane.

Warnings & Dangers in Pawleys Island

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: LOW

There's a low risk here, with all criminal activity being able to be counted on one hand. It's a true beach escape. So much so that it's also known as "the original beach vacation.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW

Coast RTA provides shuttle service around the beach communities of Georgetown and Horry counties. Taxis and rideshares won't be abundant but will be available. Renting a car offers the most flexibility. All options have a low risk.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW

Over the past decade, just two pickpockets and purse snatchings have been reported, giving this a low risk. Overall theft rates are low, too.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM

The biggest risk in Pawleys Island is the weather, giving this a medium risk. Hurricane season runs from June through November, with a peak between August and October. Over the years, this island has seen damage and coastline reshaping from hurricanes. Rising sea levels pose another problem. Even outside of hurricane season, severe storms and heavy rain can cause flooding on the streets and on the causeway.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: LOW

Pawleys Island is the kind of place where a handful of robberies over the past five years can rock the community. I found three robberies since 2018 at local businesses, but no muggings. The risk is low but not zero.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: LOW

This is another low risk as the community is way too small and secluded to be any potential target. Even the few violent crimes that happen here are among people who know each other.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: LOW

A handful of scams I found targeted people who live on Pawleys Island, but no overwhelming risk of a tourist being scammed. The homes here are rented or owned by generations of families, so any rental "deal" you find is likely a scam.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW

This is a safe place for women of all ages, even solo travelers, with a laid-back, barefoot charm about it. While personal safety steps should never be dismissed, this is about as safe as a community gets.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: LOW

The 2022 Water Quality Report shows no violations and full compliance with all standards of the Safe Water Drinking Act. Especially during cold snaps and after flooding/hurricanes, it's important to get the city's website for boil orders, which could also include any ice created during the water issue. This is a normal part of living on an island.

Safest Places to Visit in Pawleys Island

Pawleys Island is located on a stretch of beach known as the Hammock Coast.

There’s a website with that name to help with tourism information from Charleston to Myrtle Beach.

“Only Pawleys” is the name of another tourist site for the island.

It helps to know the layout of the island, as there’s a section separated from the mainland and then a smaller mainland area with shops, rentals, and restaurants.

Beaches are the big reason to visit Pawleys Island, and you get three miles of public coastline here.

In addition, parking is free – that, quite frankly, shocks me, but it’s a wonderful additional reason to visit the island.

Nine parking areas are designated for the public, and they’ll fill up quickly.

With no islands offshore, this is also an ideal island for board and body surfing, with the only limitation being surfing within 100 feet of a pier.

Several rental companies on the island offer everything from beach towels to chairs to umbrellas to beach toys.

Beachcombing is popular here, and as an avid beachcomber myself, I can tell you that legend has it that finding one of the “Pawleys Island Shells” is a sign of good luck – similar to finding a four-leaf clover.

The shell is really an Imperial Venus Clam Shell.

(Even if you don’t find one on your own, you can buy them at local beach stores.)

Water activities on the mainland side of the island include paddling, crabbing, and fishing in the tidal marsh.

An abundance of birds means you can explore the wildlife from dawn to dusk.

Just be sure to bring binoculars for the best views, and don’t feed the birds.

A birding festival is held here every February.

You can rent a bicycle to explore the community or even take the bike lane on Ocean Drive toward Myrtle Beach and back.

It’s a great way to explore the Pawleys Island Historic District, with a map available on the town’s website.

Some homes date back to the late 1700s.

Ten golf courses are located on Pawleys Island, and each one is part of the famed Hammock Coast Golf Trail.

Just be sure to check if your preferred course is public or private.

Sea View Inn is the only restaurant on the island, with a traditional bell ringing that calls people to breakfast and lunch.

Just be sure to make a reservation if you aren’t staying there.

The mainland holds more restaurant options, from pizza to Carolina BBQ to fresh seafood.

Explore Hammock Shops Village while you’re there, with an assortment of beach rentals, clothing, and novelties, including – you guessed it – hammocks.

Places to Avoid in Pawleys Island

With no dangerous parts of town or neighborhoods, places to avoid in Pawleys Island come down to common sense and basic etiquette.

Stay off private property, even if you’re just trying to get closer to admire a beautiful home.

That includes staying off the steps and wooden walkways leading from home to the beach.

You enter the water here at your own risk.

Lifeguards are never on duty.

Beach life rings are hanging throughout the beach area, so you should know where the closest one is to you.

Research the different types of tropical warnings, like a tropical storm watch or a hurricane warning.

It’s best practice, especially as a guest, to get off the island at the first sign of incoming bad weather.

Most of Pawleys Island is in evacuation Zone A, with a sliver in Zone B.

This will be the first section to face voluntary or mandatory evacuation.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Pawleys Island

  1. Pawleys Island has a small police force. You can follow them on X (formerly Twitter) at @PawleysIslandPD. Call 843-237-1698 if you have specific safety questions.
  2. Sign up for emergency alerts through CodeRED. You can choose emails, phone calls, or text messages for weather, water hazards, or public safety emergencies.
  3. Read the Hazard Mitigation Plan on the town’s Emergency Preparedness website section. You’ll learn so much about safety on and near the beach.
  4. Beach fires/bonfires are allowed on the beach with specific restrictions. You can only use charcoal for fires here, and you will be required to submit a permit to light a fire.
  5. Dogs are allowed on the beach here throughout the year. Leashes are required. You won’t find an area on the beach that doesn’t allow dogs, so if that’s a dealbreaker for you, consider a nearby community with stricter rules.
  6. All the water in this area is saltwater, so keep that in mind when you get a fishing license. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources sells those online, but you can also buy them at local mainland outfitters. A license is required for any fishing or shelling.
  7. Even with free parking, the lots fill up fast. You can park on the streets within a certain distance of the beach. Be sure you’re parked legally or else you’ll risk getting a ticket. Never block any part of the road to park a vehicle.
  8. Download the new Pawleys Island app to get all the information about visiting in the palm of your hand. Several self-guided tours, maps, and amenity locations are provided in this free app.
  9. Always wear a life vest when kayaking. While it’s required for kids 12 and younger, adults should set a good example. At a minimum, you need to have a life vest for yourself on the kayak.
  10. The Gray Man of Pawley’s Island is a legendary ghost that walks the beach before a disaster. I don’t want to ruin the story too much, but it’s less of a scary ghost and more about a love story. However, in the spirit of just being safe, if you see a ghost walking on the beach, leave.

So... How Safe Is Pawleys Island Really?

Pawleys Island has an exceptional safety record, including just one violent crime between 2018 and 2022 and four property crimes in 2022.

Just 22 thefts have happened in the past five years, and more than half were related to car break-ins.

Yes, even in a community this safe, you still need to lock your car doors and avoid leaving personal items in plain sight.

In December 2022, a rare off-season robbery happened at a local ice cream shop.

The community was shocked.

“In this day in age, crime is everywhere and it’s even hitting Pawleys.

It’s sad to see,” Patrick Petree, a Pawleys Island resident, said.

The biggest risk here is the weather, and you are in direct control of how safe or risky you choose to be when bad weather is looming.

For example, don’t be on the beach in a thunderstorm.

If you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to be hit by lightning.

Several incidents over the years have led to house fires or fallen trees.

Be careful of marine life like jellyfish or stingrays in the water.

It’s smart to wear water shoes in the ocean and do the “stingray shuffle” with your feet to unearth any stingrays waiting to strike.

A little common sense goes a long way to enjoying the idyllic appeal of this beach town.

It’s not very exciting, but that’s just the way it was designed.

How Does Pawleys Island Compare?

CitySafety Index
Pawleys Island82
San Francisco61
Philadelphia60
Houston59
Atlanta58
St. Louis58
Los Angeles56
Belize City (Belize)37
La Paz (Bolivia)52
Sao Paulo (Brazil)45
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)43
Sofia (Bulgaria)73
Siem Reap (Cambodia)63

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

International travelers should look at the visa options available through the U.S. State Department, including the possibility of getting a visa waiver. Passports must be valid for at least six months from the last day of your trip, or you'll need to renew them.

Currency

Currency

Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. Don't wait until you are on the island to get cash. Use an ATM in a nearby community or get the lowest fees at your home bank. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Weather

Weather

Summers will be hot and humid, with July averaging a high of 90°F. The sea breeze will help, but it won't squash the oppressive humidity. Even in the winter, temperatures rarely get below freezing, with highs in the 50s or 60s. Bring sunscreen, bug spray, and the most comfortable clothes you can find.

Airports

Airports

You can get to Myrtle Beach's airport within an hour and Charleston's airport within 90 minutes. Always check traffic conditions because peak traffic can double the time to get to either one.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is recommended for a trip to a place with so much severe weather. Be sure your beach activities like surfing and boating are covered in the plan. You'll also want emergency healthcare insurance if your personal policy doesn't cover injuries in the U.S.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Pawleys Island Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 9° C
Feb 10° C
Mar 14° C
Apr 18° C
May 22° C
Jun 26° C
Jul 27° C
Aug 27° C
Sep 24° C
Oct 19° C
Nov 14° C
Dec 10° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
141620242831323129252016
Low
°C
3471116202222191384
High
°F
576168758288908884776861
Low
°F
373945526168727266554639

South Carolina - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Aiken57
Beaufort67
Charleston70
Clemson76
Columbia68
Folly Beach68
Fort Mill78
Gaffney68
Greenville81
Hilton Head Island79
Isle of Palms81
Manning47
Mauldin77
Mount Pleasant78
Myrtle Beach65
North Augusta70
Orangeburg62
Pawleys Island82
Rock Hill63
Spartanburg48
St. Helena Island78
Sullivan’s Island80
Summerville78
Travelers Rest77
Walterboro68
West Columbia65

Where to Next?

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