Calm Before the Storm

April 2011
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw
Photographs by: 
Peter Frank Edwards

Get out now to enjoy the perks of being a year-round local

They’re coming…

We’re just weeks away from the arrival of millions of tourists–we’re supposed to call them “visitors,” which to me always had an other-worldly ring, like they might be small and green, and arriving via spacecraft. Regardless, most of us love to see them come and need to see them, as our economy, and thus our livelihoods are totally dependent upon them. We even enjoy the same things they do–the beaches, the sunshine, the attractions, the shows–we’re right there with them. But, we have this little secret–it’s called April and May–and it’s here now, and it’s our turn to enjoy the best of the Grand Strand while we still have it (mostly) to ourselves.

Life’s a Beach: Stay for a While
A morning stroll on the beach is pleasant anytime of the year, but on a warm spring day when the hotels (and thus the beaches) are still mostly empty, that stroll can be much more rewarding. If you’re willing to pay a few bucks to visit one of our two area state parks (Myrtle Beach State Park or Huntington Beach State Park), that same walk on the beach can be very private, and not unlike a walk visitors of a hundred years ago might have enjoyed.

How about a “staycation:” a getaway that doesn’t require you to actually get away, except maybe from work for a day or two? Midweek rates at some really luxurious condo-hotels can be downright cheap. A trip to nearby Pawleys Island and a stay at the Sea View Inn can be rejuvenating. The 20-room oceanfront Inn was originally built in 1937, destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and rebuilt in 1955. With no phones in the rooms, no cell phones allowed in any public areas, no televisions, and no air conditioning, this inn could be just what the doctor ordered. Wide open to the natural air-conditioning of the Atlantic Ocean sea breeze, and the warmth of the sun, the inn is comfortable year round, and reminiscent of how generations enjoyed a seaside vacation before modern amenities separated us from nature. The dinner bell rings twice daily for guests of the inn who’ve enjoyed home cooking there for generations. But maybe you’re a bit more adventurous?

Camping, either rustic tent camping, or more comfortable RV camping, is very affordable and offered at our two local state parks. Beside the spectacular natural surroundings of the maritime forests, there are educational nature programs, guided kayak tours, bicycling, fantastic fishing, comforting campfires and cooking on that outdoor grill. Not feeling that rustic but still want the camping experience? Myrtle Beach State Park offers heated and air-conditioned cabins–your home in the woods–there’s even free WI-FI if you absolutely must stay connected.

Just inland from the coast by 12 miles or so, Conway is home to a nationally respected bed & breakfast, The Cypress Inn. Sitting on the banks of the black Waccamaw River, the inn overlooks a small, quiet marina and the Riverwalk. Big porches and all the comforts (plus some) of home, this relaxing getaway puts you in close proximity to all that historic Conway has to offer. Maybe the warm spring air has put you in party mode?

Let’s Go Honky Tonkin’
Most everyone remembers his or her first visit to the carnival or state fair. The neon, the candy apples, salt-water taffy, foot long hot dogs and cold beer. The smells, sounds and excitement of that atmosphere is one of the reasons Myrtle Beach has remained a popular family destination. It can be fun for locals to play “visitor” on occasion. Park downtown, enjoy the new Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade, and take in a ride (perhaps the 187-foot tall SkyWheel will be operational), play an arcade game or throw back a cold one while listening to a little good ol’ redneck music. You can do it downtown, and in the off-season; you’ll avoid the mobs. Stick to weekends for the widest variety of entertainment and dining options–midweek can still be almost too quiet this time of year. After reacquainting yourself with the new downtown area, consider a show.

It’s Showtime!
Many locals will find the time once or twice a year to visit one of the many theater productions in town, and 2011 promises a season like no other. The Palace Theatre, Carolina Opry and Alabama Theater are each presenting full schedules, updated shows with every possible permutation of music to get your feet moving and hands clapping.

Tribute shows are in fine form this year with an all-new Legends In Concert opening at Broadway at the Beach, and the new Celebration Music Theatre in Surfside Beach. Additionally Celebration Music Theatre will stage plays and musicals along with its tribute show.

The Palace Theatre has announced its Hooray for Hollywood show, and will bring back its long running Le Grande Cirque, Magical Spirit of Ireland and Broadway at the Palace, a collection of nine shows throughout the year including Always…Patsy Cline, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, and others.

Dolly Parton’s new Pirates Voyage will open in early June and promises high seas swashbuckling adventures as well.

It’s About Bloomin’ Time
I’m always amazed at the number of locals who’ve never been to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet. Beyond its historic and cultural significance (it’s a National Historic Landmark), the sculpture gardens are ablaze with color and floral variety this time of year. Set amid more than 1,400 works from 350 sculptors are Brookgreen’s formal gardens, which were first developed in 1931, and are still enchanting visitors with their beauty.

Spring perennials include daffodils, columbine, iris, orchids and many others capturing every color of the rainbow. Shrubs like the cherished azalea, and rice paper plants spring to life this time of year. When you see the many azaleas along the highways and in your neighborhoods, you’ll know it’s time to see them at Brookgreen Gardens.

Among the nearly 10,000 acres of the Brookgreen tract sit the natural, cathedral-like trees that make up the 250-year-old Live Oak Allee, once the grand entrance to a rice plantation of the 1750s. A fully accredited zoo is on the grounds, along with indoor spaces and a cafe.

We’ve just scratched the surface of the myriad activities, attractions, and elements that make up the good life here on the Grand Strand. Make it a point to get out and visit like the visitors do before the visitors arrive–you’ll be glad you did.