Myrtle Beach: The Grand Strand of South Carolina

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

With sixty miles of sandy beaches, accommodations to fit any budget, exciting entertainment, and what appears to be an endless list of family attractions, all presented with the right touch of Southern hospitality, the Myrtle Beach area is a perfect choice for a fun-filled family vacation. Stretching from Little River in the north to Pawley’s Island in the south, the Grand Strand, the popular name for the Myrtle Beach area, comprises 12 cities along the South Carolina coast, each with its own distinct atmosphere. This area has long been a favorite travel destination for families. And with many new resorts and attractions throughout the area, families will find all they are looking for in choosing a vacation destination.

What makes the Myrtle Beach area so attractive to families is the wealth of choices. From upscale resorts to budget motels, fast food to fine dining, or attractions to suit everyone’s taste, the Myrtle Beach area offers so many options that it’s almost daunting. That’s why a trip to this area requires some pre-planning, so that you don’t become overwhelmed with the choices once you arrive.

Attractions for Everyone

Many of Myrtle Beach’s attractions are located in themed entertainment centers that incorporate shopping, dining, entertainment, attractions and nightlife all in one. A very popular destination is Broadway at the Beach, which is not actually on the beach, but is very accessible with plenty of parking. The 350 acres of Broadway at the Beach includes over 100 specialty shops set in festive streetscapes of waterfront New England, the Caribbean and historic Charleston. The attractions are unending. For information on Broadway at the Beach visit www.broadwayatthebeach.com or call (800) 386-4662.

One attraction that is especially popular with kids of all ages is MagiQuest, a completely interactive video adventure game where participants use a personally programmed “magic” wand to activate the more than 150 special effects. Adventurers complete quests for runes of power in order to embark on the Master Magi Adventures. The wand remembers each participant’s own personal progress, so adventurers can play again and again until they have reached the ultimate level. Because we had never played the video game, it took us a little getting used to playing. But watching how kids scurried about the 20,000 sq. ft. “realm” activating the effects and dueling with dragons, we knew they were highly charged by the experience. Visit www.magiquest.com or call (866) 353 MAGI for more information.

Broadway at the Beach is also home to Ripley’s Aquarium, which is more than just a typical aquarium. In addition to the large “walk-through” ocean tank which houses a vast array of sea creatures including sharks, octopi, moray eels, sea turtles, and fish of every conceivable color, the aquarium has a “petting zoo” area for stingrays, hourly dive shows, and smaller tank exhibits with some of the most exotic sea creatures imaginable. New for 2007 is the Pirates exhibit, which provided just about every possible fact and dispelled many myths about these plunderers of the high seas. Visit www.ripleysaquarium.com or call (800) 734-8888 for information.

Another popular attraction at Broadway is the IMAX 3-D Theatre, which presents a rotating schedule of 3-D movies such Sharks, The Deep Sea, Space Station 3D, Wild Safari 3D with huge immersive screens and amazing digital sound. The Dragon’s Lair Fantasy Golf Park at Broadway at the Beach is just one of the many elaborate miniature golf parks in Myrtle Beach. The Pavilion Nostalgia Park is newly opened in summer 2007, providing 9 classic rides and retro arcade games.  If this isn’t enough to keep the family entertained, there is the Cinema-16 for a movie, Coastal Federal Baseball Field for a minor league ballgame, or the Palace Theatre featuring “Le Grande Cirque,” a show with 50 world-class acrobats and performers (kids are just $10). And if the kids still want more, just across Rt. 17 Bypass is the NASCAR Speedpark, with six racing tracks for all ages, kiddie rides, a climbing wall, official NASCAR merchandise, and a 36-hole miniature golf course. Next to NASCAR Park is Myrtle Waves Water Park.

If you still have energy once the night rolls around, you can check out Celebrity Square, Broadway at the Beach’s New Orleans-style nightlife district, where one nightclub after another delivers music dancing and live entertainment. You might have to put the kids to bed first, but if you’re staying in one of the hotels located at Broadway at the Beach, it’s easy. The Hampton Inn, Holiday Express and the Fairfield Inn by Marriott are just a short stroll away.

Barefoot Landing

Another popular shopping/entertainment complex is Barefoot Landing located on the Intracoastal Waterway in North Myrtle Beach. The shops and restaurants of Barefoot Landing encircle a 27-acre lake, which is home to migratory waterfowl, exotic fish and wildlife. This aesthetic surrounding provides a relaxed natural setting reminiscent of an old fishing village. For more information on Barefoot Landing, visit www.barefootlanding.com or call (800) 272-2320.

A prominent entertainment venue of Barefoot Landing is the Alabama Theatre. In addition to some headline shows such as The Oak Ridge Boys, the Kingston Trio, George Jones and others, the continuous show “ONE The Show” runs nearly every night. We saw “ONE,” and though it may seem that it would be primarily country music, this was certainly not the case. The show is a collaboration of all musical types and styles and it is great entertainment for the family.

Kids and parents will also enjoy Alligator Adventure. If you’ve ever wanted to see alligators, you will certainly get your fill of them here, as the park houses hundreds of them. We were surprised to find that there were so many different varieties of alligators and crocodiles, including a pure white albino alligator. The park also houses many other species of reptiles, exotic birds, and tigers, and there are daily reptile shows and alligator feedings. For more information visit www.alligatoradventure.com or call (843) 361-0789.

A Walk through Nature

A third area of the Grand Strand that has lots for families to do is Murrells Inlet, which is on the southern part of the Grand Strand. Most of the activities here are on the water, and Capt. Dick’s is the place to go for deep sea fishing charters, ocean sightseeing tours, boat rentals, jet ski rentals, parasailing, and something younger kids would love, the Saltwater Marsh Explorer Adventure. This 2 ½-hour boat journey is guided by a marine biologist and gives passengers an in-depth look at the saltwater marsh and its vital ecosystem. Once the crew has netted a sample of the marsh’s bottom, and the marine biologist starts picking out all the various sea creatures, the young ones crowd around the onboard touch-tanks fascinated by what they see. The trip also includes a short (and sometimes successful) fishing experience as well as a beach walk. Our group actually spotted a small hammerhead shark in the shallow water just of the beach in the inlet. For more information or reservations at Capt. Dick’s visit www.captdick.com or call (843) 651-3676.

Not far from Murrells Inlet is another attraction of natural beauty, but this one isn’t on the water. Brookgreen Gardens is a 9000-acre National Historic Landmark that showcases the natural wonders of the low country enhanced by the most significant outdoor collection of American figurative sculpture in the world. With its majestic oaks, world-renown sculpture, expansive lawns and beautiful, intimate gardens, Brookgreen Gardens is a place to restore your soul and renew your spirit. But don’t think that this isn’t a place for kids. Children will love the zoo with its native animals in their natural habitat. There are various guided tours and programs, some especially for children. Meet the Animals and Mother Nature’s Café are delightful for the kids. The gardens themselves have a special place for young ones – the Alice in Wonderland-like Garden Room for Children, with its stepping-stones, vine caves, and oversize sculpture. Admission is free for children 5 and under and just $5 for ages 6-12. Young adults 13-18 are $10 and adults are $12. For more information about Brookgreen Gardens visit www.brookgreen.org or call (800) 849-1931.

“All That!” and More

Want more entertainment? Then check out The Carolina Opry, a musical variety show produced by Calvin Gilmore that has garnered a number of awards. Gilmore also produces the show, “Good Vibrations,” at the Carolina Opry Theater, and this show rocks with musical selections from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. You’ll think the performers are every bit as good as the original. Both of these shows feature NBC’s America’s Got Talent finalists “All That!”, and they are just that – all that! These four guys bring down the house with their rousing, hip dance numbers. Contact the Carolina Opry at www.thecarolinaopry.com or call (800) 843-6779.

And for even more nighttime entertainment choices there are two dinner shows, Medieval Times and Dolly Parton’s “Dixie Stampede.”  Both of these shows create a friendly competition among the crowd while captivating them with daring feats of jousting or horseback riding. For more information, visit www.dixiestampede.com or call (800) 433-4401 and www.medievaltimes.com or call (888) WE-JOUST. There is also a “Legends in Concert” theater in Surfside Beach, where only the best are imitated. Visit www.LegendsInConcertSC.com for information.

Many people feel that no family vacation is complete without a trip to the amusement park, and Myrtle Beach has one right at the beach. Family Kingdom Amusement & Water Park has more than 30 rides, 7 water slides with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, and a 400-ft. lazy river. Trip Advisor named Family Kingdom as the “5th best amusement park in the U.S. outside of Orlando.” Visit www.Family-Kingdom.com or call (843) 626-3447 for more information.

And as if all this isn’t enough to keep you and your kids busy, the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll theme park, Hard Rock Park, is scheduled to open in spring of 2008. The park will celebrate the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll through a myriad of rides and attractions. There will be more than 40 attractions including roller coasters, shows, children’s play areas, restaurants, cafes and retail stores, and a multi-purpose live music amphitheater. For more information on Hard Rock Park visit www.hardrockpark.com or call (843) 236-ROCK.

This list, as extensive as it is, doesn’t cover all of the possible things to see and do in the Myrtle Beach area. After all, the wide, smooth beach that stretches for 60 miles is the area’s main attraction. And the flat, hard-packed sand is perfect for strolling or bike riding. If you choose not to stay right on the beach, you can visit the beach at one of the state parks such as Myrtle Beach State Park or Huntington Beach State Park. There are a number of piers, some of which charge a nominal fee, at various spots on the beach, and these can be great spots for taking pictures.

The Myrtle Beach area is also widely known for its golf. The area boasts over 100 challenging and picturesque courses, some with oceanfront holes and others in the midst of giant oaks draped in Spanish moss. If you plan to travel to Myrtle Beach in the summer months, make plans to play golf early in the morning as the midday heat can tough to handle on the course. For more information on golfing in Myrtle Beach visit www.myrtlebeachtravel.com.

Accommodations – From Luxury to Budget

The choices of where to stay in Myrtle Beach can be just as overwhelming as the number of attractions, but there are a few places that do separate themselves from the rest. For upscale resorts try the Marriott Resort at Grande Dunes or Island Vista. Both of these resorts are located directly on the beach and offer spectacular views of the Atlantic. The Marriott is a full service luxury hotel with spacious guestrooms, most with an ocean view and in-room refrigerators. The resort, which is on the north end of Myrtle Beach in a quiet, more residential area, has two beautifully landscaped oceanfront pools, an indoor pool, full-service European spa, fitness room, an 18-hole championship golf course at the Golf Village at Grande Dunes, a poolside café for lunch, Ocean’s at 82nd restaurant, and a beautifully-appointed bar with ocean views. Ocean view rooms are around $300 a night in the high season, which runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. There is also a fully supervised children’s program during the school holidays and in the summer. For more information visit www.marriott.com/MYRGD or call (800) 644-2881.

The Island Vista is a completely new facility located in a quiet residential part of the beach as well. All of the accommodations are oceanfront suites and offer from one to four bedroom arrangements. Families will love the spacious living rooms, full kitchens with granite countertops, private baths for each bedroom, and washer and dryer to keep those beach towels clean and dry. Kids will love the indoor/outdoor pool complex with numerous water features, many of which are enclosed in the cooler months. There are three pools in all, a lazy river, spas, children’s splash pool, a waterfall and rock formations. For those who don’t like to stick their toes in the sand, there is a manicured tanning lawn adjacent to the pool complex. The resort also has a number of supervised children’s activities during the summer months. A 2-bedroom condo runs from $290 to $365 during the peak season of June 1 to mid-August. Rates dip slightly from mid-August to September 1, and even more drastically after Labor Day. Visit www.the-island-vista.net or call (800) 574-7970 for more information.

A couple of moderately priced resorts, both of which have a lot of history in Myrtle Beach are The Caravelle and The Sea Mist. The rooms at the Caravelle Hotel (main building) are newly renovated and very nicely appointed. A one-bedroom suite with a, king bed, fully appointed kitchen, one bath, and living room with queen Murphy bed is about $189 during peak season. The resort has a number of pools scattered throughout its different properties, an indoor pool, a brand new kidsí play area pool, and lazy river. The Sea Mist is a 15-acre oceanfront resort with 17 different buildings featuring 50 different accommodation types to suit every budget. The rooms are self-admittedly not ritzy, but provide a light and breezy, beach environment. The resort abounds with amenities such as the 10 pools, 6 kiddie pools, 4 large Jacuzzis, and a resort water park with all kinds of slides and a lazy river. Rates vary greatly depending on the type of accommodation, but there are some very reasonable Family Value Packages for an ocean view room during the peak season. For more information, visit the Caravelle's website at www.thecaravelle.com or the website for The Sea Mist: www.myrtlebeachseamist.com.

The budget minded can find any number of cut-rate motels, but you need to be a bit careful, as there are some rather seedy places in the older section of town. Two that were recommended to us were the Hampton Inn & Suites at 18th Ave. South (843/ 946-6400) and the Holiday Inn in Surfside Beach (843/ 238-5601).

A Dining Extravaganza

There is a myriad of choices for dining in Myrtle Beach – more than 1,800 full-service restaurants. You can’t drive half a block without passing at least four or five restaurants. There are the usual fast food places and the well-known chain restaurants. But you should look to try some of the more unique and local favorites. One place you need to go for either lunch or dinner is to the Marsh Walk in Murrells Inlet. There are a number of great restaurants along the walkway that have wonderful views overlooking the saltwater marsh. The best of these for seafood is the Divine Fish House. Featuring fresh local seafood, aged beef, exotic meats and fresh sushi, Divine Fish House is an excellent choice for more upscale dining at fairly reasonable prices. Another place for some upscale dining is Greg Norman’s Australian Grille located on the waterway at Barefoot Landing. Golf Digest calls it the “Best Fine Dining Restaurant in Myrtle Beach.” The steaks are superb.

Less upscale and definitely more quirky are Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville at Broadway at the Beach and Bubba’s Fish Shack in Surfside Beach. Jimmy Buffet’s is a fun place with good food and good times. Bubba’s is a quirky place serving traditional coastal southern fare. We loved the fried oysters and crab cakes. A great place to take the kids is any of the River City Cafes – there are six of them. They have great burgers and specialty sandwiches, and you can toss your peanut shells on the floor.

Getting There

By plane: Myrtle Beach International Airport is serviced by a number of carriers and there are a number of cities with direct service such as Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Boston, Atlanta, and many more.

By car: Myrtle Beach is easily accessible from either I-95 or I-20.

If You Go

- The summers can be quite hot and humid. Plan water activities or indoor activities for the daytime. If you are going to spend a lot of time at the beach, chairs and umbrella rentals are available for about $25 a day. Or you can go to one of the hundreds of beachwear outlets and buy beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas at cut-rate prices.

- A great way to save money is to pick up some of the many tourists books or brochures at any of the Visitors’ Centers and most of the hotels and resorts. They are full of coupons for many of the attractions and restaurants throughout the area.

-  For more information on Myrtle Beach visit the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at www.myrtlebeach.travel or call (888) Myrtle1.

- For information and discounts on golf and golfing packages visit the Myrtle Beach Golf Desk at www.golfdesk.com or call 642-3108.

Jeff and Stephanie Sylva have been professional travel writers for over 18 years.  Their daughter, Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.

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