Sights in Town
The Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach’s primary beach attraction, includes about 60 miles of beaches lined with hotels, theme parks, stores and restaurants. The Grand Strand’s beaches are sandwiched between the ocean and towering rows of high-rise hotels, which line up along the sand like dominos. If you choose to stay along the Grand Strand, you’ll have easy access to the free public beaches — but expect crowds and some noise. The Grand Strand is loud and exciting, and at night it takes on a wild atmosphere. Hundreds spill into the streets, SUV’s drive by blasting music, and fast food joints serve fried chicken and pizza to hungry night owls. For a quieter vacation, choose a hotel off the Strand and take a day trip here.
What do you get when you mix a boardwalk, a shopping mall and an amusement park? Probably something quite close to Broadway at the Beach, which offers shopping, entertainment, restaurants — and plenty of cotton candy — in a 350-acre outdoor waterfront setting. This colossal complex houses an IMAX theater, two — count ’em, two — Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream stores, a Hard Rock Cafe shaped like a massive pyramid, Ripley’s Aquarium (see below), hundreds of shopping spots, kiddie rides, nightclubs, and plenty more. The whole thing wraps around a large lake teeming with hungry fish (buy some fish food from one of the dispensers and watch a feeding frenzy ensue). There are enough attractions that visitors could easily spend an entire day here.
Located amid the myriad of entertainment options of Broadway at the Beach, Ripley’s Aquarium bills itself as the most visited attraction in South Carolina. No surprise here; the aquarium is quite impressive. Its featured exhibit, “Dangerous Reef,” which takes visitors on a moving sidewalk through a tunnel surrounded on all sides by sharks and stingrays, is simply breathtaking. But with lots of colorful interactive displays and anthropomorphically dubbed sea creatures (like “Gabby” the sea turtle), Ripley’s Aquarium is first and foremost an attraction geared toward family fun — adults who are more interested in science than spectacle may be less pleased with the aquarium experience than families with young children.
Myrtle Beach is a world-famous golf destination — the city has even earned the moniker “Seaside Golf Capital of the World,” and there are over 100 courses in the area. Although some private clubs are available for members only, many Myrtle Beach golf courses are open to the public. You can find a list of local golf courses, complete with prices and other information, at the www.MyrtleBeachGolf.com. Those interested in visiting Myrtle Beach primarily to golf may save money by booking a golf package, which typically includes accommodations, a set number of rounds at a select golf course or golf courses, and sometimes extras such as use of a golf cart or room upgrades. Find a list of golf packages offered in the area at www.VisitMyrtleBeach.com.
If you fear tackling Myrtle Beach’s celebrated courses with a sky-high handicap — or you don’t even know what a handicap is — test your golf aptitude at a far less intimidating course. Mini-golf attractions abound in Myrtle Beach, and they aren’t just for families. Amateur golfers of all ages (and experienced golfers who just want to putt next to Mayan ruins or gargantuan dinosaurs for a change) will enjoy the region’s whimsical miniature golf courses. Drive along Kings Highway and you’ll see dozens of mini-golf courses on the way — with their ostentatiously large sculptures, these attractions are hard to miss. Jungle Lagoon Mini-Golf and Cancun Lagoon Adventure Golf.
Saltwater fishing is a fabulous way to soak up the sun while catching some beautiful ocean scenery (not to mention a few sea creatures) in Myrtle Beach. Visitors can cast their rods off a public fishing pier, go boating in the Intracoastal Waterway or try their hands at deep-sea fishing in the open ocean. Those who don’t own boats can charter through services such as Longway Charter Fishing, Shallow Minded Inshore Charters or Fish Hook Charters. Stay on land and catch fish on the Apache Fishing Pier, which is the longest fishing pier on the East Coast.
If adventure‘s what you’re seeking, Myrtle Beach offers some exciting options. A classic local beach scene includes rows of rainbow umbrellas facing the ocean, a bright parasail or two gliding through the sky, and boats and jet skis skimming the water. Not daring enough to jet ski or parasail? Try an activity that won’t have your heart pounding out of your chest: embark on a romantic sunset cruise, go on a dolphin-watching excursion or explore the ocean in a kayak. There’s a good list of water sport and tour providers at www.visitmyrtlebeach.com.
The Market Common is an outdoor maze of stores that serves as the site for occasional open-air festivals and has a playground for kids, a movie theater and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating. This is primarily a shopping attraction, so you’re better off visiting Broadway at the Beach if you’re not in the mood to buy things but you want to grab a meal and a movie. On the other hand, if shopping’s your thing, the high-end shops of the Market Common, including Anthropologie, Chico’s, Tommy Bahama and Brooks Brothers, are arguably superior to the shopping opportunities at Broadway at the Beach.
Out of Town
Brookgreen Gardens, a nonprofit outdoor museum, zoo and sculpture garden, is a fantastic attraction and a National Historic Landmark. The park’s more than 9,000 acres contain four historic plantations, various archeological sites, a zoo, a sculpture garden, a learning and research center, a wildlife preserve, an aviary, and more. Although a simple stroll around Brookgreen Gardens’ spectacular landscapes — where visitors can spot giant wild turkeys, foxes, birds of prey and even alligators — is enough to entertain visitors for an entire day, the Gardens’ guided excursions and tours are not to be missed. Some tours, like an hour-long guided walk through the sculpture garden and a 45-minute “Meet the Animals” program, are free with admission. Other programs start at $3 per person. Our favorite? The 50-minute “Southern Trek: The Oaks and the Alstons” excursion takes guests to an ancient plantation cemetery. Brookgreen is about a 20-minute drive south of Myrtle Beach.
Here’s a memorable way to add some Southern culture to your vacation: spend an afternoon at Hopsewee Plantation. The preserved 18th-century plantation, a National Historic Landmark, is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Visitors who tour the house and its gardens will see architecture, period furniture and manicured grounds that exemplify life in the pre-Revolutionary War South. Various tours are offered here, including an “Attic to Cellar” tour and a boat excursion on the nearby Santee Delta. Hopsewee Plantation is about an hour’s drive south of Myrtle Beach.
–written by Caroline Costello; updated by Christina Livadiotis