Myrtle, as the locals call it, is the largest of 12 municipalities that make up the Grand Strand, a 100-kilometre piece of South Carolina oceanfront stretching from Georgetown north to the border with North Carolina.
It is also the state’s top tourism destination, receiving nearly 14.7 million visitors a year, with 95 per cent of international visitors from Canada. Beach lovers are drawn to the fine white sand of beaches travel guides call gorgeous and ocean water warm enough for dipping well into autumn. Golfers go gaga over a choice of over 100 championship courses.
But those are just starting points. Myrtle Beach and its neighbours offer a diversity that will surprise anyone who goes beyond bathing in the warm Atlantic or putting on bent grass greens.
“Myrtle Beach is all about pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, now, now, now,” one travel guide declares.
Myrtle Beach Area CVBThat pleasure can be found in so many ways and at so many places. Take live entertainment, for example. A visitor could sample a different theatre every night for a week and still have some left over. The Carolina Opry started the Grand Strand’s theatre boom in 1986, and over 6,900 performances later celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2011.
Others mentioned favourably include Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament; Pirate’s Voyage, a reworking of Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede set to open May 2011; the Palace Theatre, home to “Magical Spirit of Ireland”; Alabama Theatre, named for the musical group; and Legends in Concert, which features superstar look-alikes.
Then there’s shopping, which surveys say is the favourite pastime of vacationing Canadians and Americans. Nearly 15 million visitors mean no shortage of shopping opportunities. Two Tanger Outlet Centers (North and West) offer designer labels at discount prices; Myrtle Beach Mall boasts a 12-screen movie theatre and the only Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in South Carolina; Coastal Grand Mall is the area’s newest mall; Market Common is the Myrtle Beach Area’s first urban village with eight restaurants and 50 shops.
Myrtle Beach Area CVBBoth Barefoot Landing and Broadway at the Beach mix shopping with major attractions, restaurants and entertainment venues. Barefoot Landing, in North Myrtle Beach, is a marketplace built on stilts amid a scenic salt marsh. It has several kilometres of boardwalk, and is home to Alligator Adventure, House of Blues, Alabama Theater and the Barefoot Princess Riverboat. Broadway at the Beach has Hard Rock Café, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Planet Hollywood, Ripley’s Aquarium, the Palace Theater, IMAX Discovery Theater and a 16-screen cinema. Wonderworks – a hands-on science attraction is also slated to open at Broadway on the Beach in the spring of 2011.
The Pawleys Island Hammock Shops are recommended for a more intimate shopping experience. About 20 cottage shops are stocked with handicrafts, clothing, jewelry and furniture. Rope hammocks originated there and you can still watch them being made.
There’s surprising diversity in attractions and activities. Alligator Adventure is one of the world’s biggest exotic reptile parks. Highlights include live shows, nature exhibits, zoological gardens, and a serpentarium. You can see albino alligators, river otters, bears and Utan, the largest crocodile in the U.S.
Fans of miniature golf have a choice of 46 courses, including some truly bizarre ones. Hawaiian Rumble has a smoking mountain that erupts fire and rumbles at timed intervals. At Broadway on the Beach, The Dragon’s Lair has a 15-metre model of a fire-breathing dragon that emerges every 30 minutes. Baseball fans can watch the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, at nearby BB&T Coastal Field. The stadium seats 5,200, and you can buy a ticket for as little as US $7.
The hustle and bustle, high-rises and neon of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach all but disappear as you head south to communities like Garden City Beach, Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet.
The majority of accommodation in Garden City Beach is in beach houses and condominiums, nestled amid wax myrtle trees for which the Myrtle Beach area was named. Sea turtles nest near the big dunes on Pawleys Island, which has no commercial development aside from a few small inns. Murrells Inlet, working fishing village and self-proclaimed seafood capital of the state, has a boardwalk overlooking a tidal marsh, and docks with fishing and diving boats.
Myrtle Beach Area CVBArt and nature meet at Brookgreen Gardens, which houses 900 works by American sculptors, making it the world’s largest outdoor sculpture garden. It was developed by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband, Archer. The gardens cover 120 hectares in the heart of a 3,640-hectare nature preserve, created on the site of four former rice plantations. Besides guided walking tours of the gardens, visitors can take creek excursions and rides through three ecosystems and historic sites.
Signs warning “don’t feed the alligators” greet visitors to Huntington Beach State Park, across Highway 17 from Brookgreen. The park sits on some of the most pristine marshland and beachfront on the Carolina coast, prime habitat for more than 300 recorded species of birds. The Huntingtons, who developed Brookgreen, once owned the land. Visitors can see the ruins of Atalaya, formerly the Huntingtons’ winter home, which was built to resemble a Spanish castle.
When you get hungry, head to one of the 1,700 full-service restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area. Seafood is the specialty here, and signs saying “Calabash seafood buffet” are common. Calabash isn’t a chain but a method of cooking in which seafood is lightly battered, then fried.
This is the South, so expect grits and gravy on the breakfast menu and hushpuppies to be brought before the appetizer at dinner. Hushpuppies are little balls of spicy, deep-fried corn meal batter, named back in plantation times for the leftover bits the servants used to quiet the dogs that followed them from the cookhouse to the dining room. She-crab soup is another specialty, a thick, rich mix of fresh bluefin crab meat and sherry.
And talk of seafood leads us back to the beaches, with their palm trees and catwalks protecting ecologically sensitive dunes. The emphasis is on family activities. No motor vehicles are allowed on them and the beaches are swept at least once a day. Blue signs signify public access to the beach and free parking.
Myrtle Beach Area CVBWhat’s New
Around Town: The new downtown Myrtle Beach boardwalk is part of the revamp of old downtown Myrtle Beach. Made of three sections – North Dune Walk, Central Boardwalk and South Promenade – the Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade between the 14th Avenue North Pier and the Second Avenue North Pier extends all the way to First Avenue. The southern anchor, Second Avenue Pier, features Pier View, an open-air lounge with views of the Boardwalk and ocean; Pier House, full service restaurant and a main floor tackle shop. Myrtle Beach International Airport has begun an expansion that will see the addition of a new passenger terminal which will feature 12 gates up from seven.
Myrtle Beach Outdoors: Return to life during the first half of the 20th century at the L.W. Paul Living History Farm, where you can experience Horry County farm life circa 1900 to 1955. Events and demonstrations change to interpret the activities that take place on the farm annually. Brookgreen Gardens’ new Butterfly House displays dozens of species of butterflies that are native to the Southeast. The House engages all your senses through fragrance (flowers and plants), sound (sound system, water-fall), sight (flying butterflies and colourful plants), and touch (natural boulder seating, overhanging plants).
Rooms To View: The Inlet Sports Lodge is a “fractional-ownership” property with Membership at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, True Blue Plantation, The Founder's Club at Pawleys Island, Brookgreen Gardens, and Huntington Beach State Park; owners will also have access/ownership to individually-owned 17-foot Triton console-drive boats to cruise and fish local waters. Renovations at the Live Oak tower, adjacent to the Springmaid Beach Conference Center include new high-definition, flat screen televisions, upgraded shower and bath amenities and custom paint and artwork.
Ahh, The Spa: Massage Envy Spa in the Grande Dunes Marketplace shopping centre, specializes in therapeutic massage and facials. Open daily, the spa offers Murad skin care products.
Always Available: You can find all the latest news and updates about the Myrtle Beach Area on Facebook at www.facebook.com/visitmyrtlebeach and on Twitter at twitter.com/mymyrtlebeach
For more information, visit www.VisitMyrtleBeach.ca