Explorin’ With Loren: Surfside Beach offers family-friendly, autism-friendly opportunities

First Autism Friendly Travel Destination
Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 6:19 PM EDT
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SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - We explored Surfside Beach, a town known for being family-friendly and the first autism-friendly travel destination in the world.

Surfside Beach is a family beach with pristine sand and lives up to its name, thanks partly to Becky Large, the founder and executive director of Champion Autism Network.

“There really isn’t anywhere else that’s doing what we’re doing,” Large said. “One of our missions is to spread autism awareness and also provide traditional family experiences modified for those with autism.”

The town declared Surfside Beach an autism-friendly travel destination in 2016. Large said she spreads awareness through events, training and programs, including the CAN card program. Families can easily register and use the card when visiting their favorite places.

“All of our participating businesses offer a service or discount. Our goal is to have it be the AAA card of autism travel,” Large said.

Large also promotes their cause with the CAN mobile, a golf cart bought from King of Carts.


“It’s fun to drive, it’s fun to have and everybody wants one,” general manager Pat Dye said.

Dye said folks can easily cruise through town in golf carts just like the locals do.

“We sell golf carts, we rent golf carts, we make it to where we service golf carts,” he said.

The 30,000-square-foot store houses 200 rental golf carts that come in gas and electric. For those itching to buy one, they can have them custom made with a variety of colors.

“Go take it down to the beach, take it to the restaurants and it’s a lot cheaper than a rental car,” Dye said.

He added that depending on the size of the golf cart, folks can rent a four-seater for $60 to $70 per day.

“It’s a good experience. They seem to really like it. They keep on coming back,” Dye said.


Zoom down the street to Benjamin’s Bakery, where owner Lee Zulanch has been serving customers breakfast and lunch for more than 20 years.

Benjamin’s Bakery is four businesses combined into one that includes a bagel shop, a bakery, grinding roasted coffee and a café.

“The café I’m probably the most proud of. We roast our own chicken for chicken salad. We cook our own chickpeas for hummus. Everything they do, they do simple and the word fresh cannot be over emphasized,” Zulanch said.

Zulanch supplies local eateries with his delicious food and recently started making dog treats for man’s best friend. He said none of this would be possible without his customers.

“This is one place where their business is appreciated,” he said.


Get creative with your taste buds at My Olive Shack, a shop that specializes in balsamic vinegars, gourmet foods, local artwork and, of course, olive oil.

“It’s actually from our friend’s grove in Greece, so we know exactly the source which makes it really exciting for us to offer it to the community,” Sonja Hutton said.

Sonja and Don Hutton started the business three years ago, perfecting oils and vinegars that are infused in flavors, everything from sweet to spicy.

“They have the balsamic vinegar, the dark chocolate cherry balsamic, which is excellent over vanilla ice cream,” customer Leo Talbot said.

Talbot bought several bottles and shared his favorite combinations.

“This is the rosemary-infused olive oil which is great for baking potatoes!” he said.

Sonja Hutton said the olive is pressed within four hours with it being shaken from the tree.

“It’s all one hundred percent Koroneiki olives. So, it’s just one olive which is an important element in good quality oil,” she said.

Folks can taste their way through the store during private tastings for $15. The tasting includes a three-course meal and folks can bring their own alcoholic beverage.

“When we moved down here, we just decided to jump into it and try and share that with others so they could find good tasting cooking,” Hutton said.


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