Ways to have fun this season from A to Z
With the unsettled spring behind us and light shining at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, Grand Stranders are turning their attention to something we know a thing or two about: summertime. As events are canceled and rescheduled (or not) as of press time, we decided to focus on the perennial, enduring summertime activities and wonderful places to explore and enjoy that have helped make the Grand Strand a visitor’s destination and a great place to live for more than a century. Here are just a few of the many options, from A to Z.
Grand Strand amusements run from mild to wild. Downtown Myrtle Beach’s SkyWheel is thrilling without being too scary, while the neighboring Sling Shot is only for the bravest. A few blocks south on Ocean Boulevard, the Family Kingdom has been entertaining young and old since 1966, with dozens of thrill rides (and kiddie rides, too). Plus, it’s free to enter the park and just look around. Ride tickets are sold separately. While the beloved Pavilion Amusement Park in Downtown Myrtle Beach has been closed since 2006, many of its rides were moved to Broadway at the Beach and rechristened Pavilion Park, with new rides added each year.
Many of the smaller oceanfront communities, such as Garden City Beach and Surfside Beach, host small amusement parks with some pretty impressive rides. North Myrtle Beach, too, hosts a park, The O.D. Pavilion Amusement Park.
For racing fun, Go-Kart tracks may be found all along the Grand Strand, from the Track in Myrtle Beach, the Broadway Grand Prix in Myrtle Beach, Wild Water & Wheels in Surfside Beach and the Fun Warehouse on the south end of Myrtle Beach.
While not technically an “amusement,” who can deny that baby penguins are not, if anything, amusing? Brand new to Ripley’s Aquarium at Broadway at the Beach, and after the largest expansion in Ripley’s Aquarium’s 20-year history, a 5,000-square-foot habitat is now open to the public. These little well-dressed waddling creatures have become a hit, one all ages will want to see.
Our 60 miles of wide, sandy beaches are what most visitors (and many locals) say they love most about the Grand Strand. Our beaches are clean, safe and open to the public year-round, with hundreds of beach access points - even in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Free parking can be tricky, but not impossible, and pay-to-park options are available as well. Enjoy chair and umbrella rentals, freshwater outdoor showers and easily accessible restrooms along many portions of the beach.
Not everyone wants to stay in a steel and concrete high-rise condo. No offense to those millions who do, but many prefer the natural settings of our area campgrounds. From long-established family camping at Lakewood Camping Resort, Apache Family Camping, Ocean Lakes Campground and Pirateland to Myrtle Beach KOA cabin camping or pitching a tent in either of our two state parks, it is possible to avoid the lines at the elevator and sleep under the stars (or at least in a 40-foot, state-of-the art, air-conditioned RV). Either way, you’re among the trees and close to the ocean, but still have plenty of amenities from which to choose.
For the young (or young at heart), perhaps you’d prefer to let off a little summertime steam on the dance floor. Clubs spinning the latest dance hits at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach are tempered by the less frenetic shag and beach clubs of North Myrtle Beach, attracting all-age crowds. Even the live music venues of the Murrells Inlet MarshWalk are often filled with young and old alike dancing to music from a variety of live bands.
Theatres large and small dot the Grand Strand, from the iconic 2,000-plus-seat Carolina Opry and Alabama Theatre’s variety stage shows, to the home of rock ‘n’ roll at the House of Blues. Catch some comedy at the Comedy Cabana and Carolina Comedy Club, real live improvisational theater at Carolina Improv Company or the best in tribute shows at Legends in Concert. Musical theater productions at the Theatre of the Republic in Conway and touring acts at the Winyah Auditorium in Georgetown are joined by smaller, newer theaters such as GTS and the Asher Theatre. There’s not an unrepresented genre in the bunch. It’s all here, somewhere, seven nights week, all summer long.
As of press time, some of the area’s many summertime festivals were on hold because of COVID-19. We’re optimistic that, if canceled, they may be rescheduled, even for later this year. Normally held each June, the largest country music festival in the southeast, the CCMF (Carolina Country Music Fest), is now slated for September 17-20. The event brings to town the biggest names in country music. Also be on the lookout for the La Belle Amie Vineyard’s outdoor band festivals (to be rescheduled) and more.
Known as the “seaside golf capital of the world,” the Grand Strand attracts millions of golfers each year. The 90-some golf courses of the region offer rounds once called “ridiculously cheap,” attracting duffers from around the globe, and also golfing residents. In the warmer summertime months, the price for rounds of golf are discounted even further. Pick a cooler day or early tee time and take advantage of award-winning golf courses and great rates. Myrtle Beach is also known as the Mini Golf Capital of the World, with more than 50 courses.
South Carolina is rich with history dating from the pre-historic to the colonial period, revolutionary and antebellum eras and through the mid 20th century, including World War II. Get an overview at the Horry County Museum in Conway, which is a historical city of some renown, founded in 1732. Learn about the Waccamaw tribes that first inhabited the lands, the Spanish and pirates of the 1600s and 1700s, up to German prisoners of war housed in Myrtle Beach in the 1940s. Historic Georgetown should also remain on your radar. Its charming historic district is filled with shops, restaurants, sailing excursions, museums and antique stores just a few blocks off of U.S. 17.
Maybe it's just too obvious, but somehow ice cream tastes better in the summer. Whether at the end of a hot day, or at noontime just because, ice cream and the Grand Strand have a long, delicious history together. Perhaps the most famous of all area ice cream shops is Painters Original in North Myrtle Beach. It’s endorsed by "Wheel of Fortune" letter turner and former resident Vanna White. Kirk’s has two locations in Myrtle Beach and has served the area in their old-timey parlors for decades. The Calabash Creamery in Calabash, N.C., has scooped up that North Strand town’s business for nearly 20 years. And hundreds of smaller and newer shops, including Café Gelato in Myrtle Beach, are ready to serve. No matter where you are, ice cream won’t be more than a few blocks away.
Though watersports of all kinds, from dolphin cruises to parasailing to jet boat rides, generally compete for the same adventurous customer, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as piloting your own jet ski, technically known as a personal watercraft (PWC). Here along the Grand Strand, you can choose from milder guided Intracoastal Waterway trips to explore the inland’s scenic, natural beauty, or you can opt for full-speed ocean and inlet trips, where you and your PWC are on your own. Caution must be exercised, but, man, are they fun! A quick internet search will help you choose from dozens of watersports operators from Little River to Georgetown.
Also in the watersport realm, kayaking can be a very relaxing and rewarding way to spend a few hours on the water. From tandem (two seaters) to singles, to sit-on-tops, kayaks come in a variety of sizes and shapes for all abilities. They’re generally very easy to maneuver and to learn the basics of. Most all of the watersport operators rent kayaks for guided trips or solo explorations. You shouldn’t have a problem finding beautiful places to explore by kayak from Georgetown all the way up the Grand Strand and across the state line.
Arguably, there’s more live music per capita here along the Grand Strand than maybe anywhere in the world. From soloists and duos and trios, to bigger bands with horn sections, local acts represent every genre. Live music is alive and well in the region. Find a tiki bar or a large restaurant, and you’re likely to find someone strumming a guitar and belting out a cover tune. The Murrells Inlet MarshWalk may be the unofficial home of live music in the region, with nearly every one of its eight restaurants hosting live music, some seven nights per week. La Belle Amie Vineyard in North Myrtle Beach hosts multi-band outdoor live music festivals once a month year-round, plus live daytime music from soloists Tuesday through Saturday (possibly rescheduled for later this year). Pull out a lawn chair and take a seat for North Myrtle Beach's Music on Main Concert Series outdoors every Thursday night.
Countless additional eateries also host live music, such as Dunes Bistro in Myrtle Beach. The House of Blues not only hosts nationally touring superstars indoors, but presents local and regional live music on its outdoor deck stage all summer long.
The Long Bay Symphony presents a varied program of classical and orchestral pop year-round. Jazz fans who look hard enough can find live jazz, including most Friday nights with Jazz Group U.N.I. at Travinia Italian Kitchen in The Market Common.
With too many to name, literally hundreds of bars and restaurants between Georgetown and Little River offer live music all year, and even more in the summertime.
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
Even before the $7 million Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade was christened in 2010, countless generations of visitors and locals strolled the oceanfront in downtown Myrtle Beach. The former “boardwalk” was in a sad, sorry state, with slabs of cracking and shifting concrete. The new boardwalk, now ten years old, has been extended both north and south and is a wonderful place to stroll amid the sea breezes while you decide where to stop for a nosh or a libation. From pier to pier, enjoy the 1.2-mile walk between 2nd Ave Pier and Pier 14. Plenty to do and see, all for free!
Ancient maritime forests, tidal creeks, bird sanctuaries, historical sculpture gardens, coastal preserves, barrier islands and more entice locals and visitors to get outdoors.
One spot of note is the casual, relaxing, educational and inspiring 9,100-acre Brookgreen Gardens, which has long been a national and local treasure since first opening to the public in 1932. Here, for a small admission fee, you can meander among the works of world-renowned sculptors, visionary artists and horticulturists who bring the gardens to life. A small zoo, an all-new Southern Light art installation, local flora and fauna and much more await the visitor to this restorative and amazing attraction.
Besides the beach, the natural beauty of the Grand Strand offers much to the explorer, as well as being good for the mind, body and soul. Two state parks, several county parks and individual city and town parks all offer options from free to a few dollars for admission. Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park (see P –Parks for more detail), along with Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens in Little River, the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, the Russell Burgess Coastal Preserve in North Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens, East Bay Park in Georgetown, and the boardwalks in Murrells Inlet, Myrtle Beach and Conway offer beautiful, scenic escapes.
Consider renting an electric bike from Pedego in The Market Common to explore not only the massive and redeveloped former U.S. Air Force Base, including Grand Park surrounding Grand Lake, but also to enjoy the short hop across U.S. 17 to Myrtle Beach State Park. Or head north on Ocean Boulevard to explore the oceanfront of Myrtle Beach. For most reasonably fit adults, the Pedego bikes are easy to operate and require no pedaling, unless desired.
Myrtle Beach State Park, the oldest state park in South Carolina, has been a source of refuge and re-nourishment since 1936. Here, you’ll find camping, hiking, picnicking, beach-going, fishing, a children’s playground under a canopy of maritime hardwoods, a nature center and much more. A small admission fee is required for all-day visitation.
Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet was once a part of the grand estate owned by Archer and Anna Huntington of Brookgreen Gardens fame. Unadulterated beaches with windswept trees and massive dunes are reminiscent of what the entire Grand Strand oceanfront once looked like. A bird-watching paradise, trails get up close to their favorite habitats, while the brackish and freshwater lagoons near the causeway are home to large alligators that love to bask in the sun. An interactive nature center helps you make heads or tails of the flora and fauna, and naturalists offer expert observations during guided tours of the park’s most interesting features. Atalaya was once the winter home and art studio of famed American sculptress Anna Huntington. The vacant castle’s shell and interior rooms and hallways are open to the public. A small admission fee is required for all-day visitation.
New Englanders hold no exclusive rights or monopoly on clamming or clambakes. Quahog clams are among the several species of native clam available to those with waders, a clam rake, a saltwater fishing license and a little knowhow. The larger (older) Quahogs are best chopped and used in chowders or clams casino, but the smallest legally harvested Quahog, the Littleneck, makes for the perfect steamer slathered in melted butter. A popular place for easy digging in the tidal flats is at the Oyster Shell Recycling Drop just north of the Huntington Beach State Park entrance on U.S. 17. Learn more at grandstrandmag.com/feature/diggin_it.
Blessed as a sports tourism region, the Grand Strand is loaded with recreational opportunities for visitors and locals, and especially their children. Softball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, swimming, cable-driven knee boarding, rugby and more are available at massive sports complexes in Myrtle Beach at Grand Park Athletic Complex in The Market Common, Pepper Geddings Recreation Center in Myrtle Beach, the Ripkin Experience in Myrtle Beach, the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic and Fitness Center, the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, the Big Air Trampoline Park in Myrtle Beach and others throughout
Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane not on your bucket list? If former president, and then 90-year-old, George H.W. Bush could do it, so can you. One area skydiving outfit offers everything for first-timers, starting at around $225 per person (groups of 10 or more are offered a discount). Add a bit for video and photos and you’ve made a lifetime memory for you and your family. Contact Skydive Coastal Carolina at (910) 457-1039.
From guided eco-tours aboard a 40-foot pontoon boat out of Georgetown to Segway tours based out of The Market Common to educational tours led by naturalists at Brookgreen Gardens, Hobcaw Barony and both area state parks, a tour for every taste and budget. Some may prefer a coach tour to Charleston for a historical, easy-riding day trip. Any way you’d like it, there’s a tour highlighting your interests. Summertime is the perfect time to get out, tour and explore.
Grand Strand Magazine regularly features informative travel stories on daytrips or weekend getaways to our South Carolina neighbors just north and west, known as the “Upstate.” Visiting these historic and scenic wonders in and around the towns of Newberry, Greenville, Spartanburg and elsewhere, you can shop, stay in quaint B&Bs, visit the BMW production plant (Greer/Spartanburg), the home of the Marshall Tucker Band (Spartanburg) or catch a show at the Newberry Opera. It is possible to leave the flat coastal region of home and be on a mountaintop after a three- to four-hour drive, too. Maybe this summer you’ll take time to explore the upcountry and learn just how diverse South Carolina is.
La Belle Amie Vineyard in North Myrtle Beach hosts wine tastings in its large gift shop, live music in the park-like setting outside and vineyard tours. COVID-19 put a temporary halt to activities earlier in the year and the vineyard, like so many other businesses, is undecided about when to reopen. They will remain closed through at least October. When they do reopen, this locals’ favorite is a must-visit for its abundant summertime shade, cool breezes, live entertainment, a variety of food, pick-your-own grapes, and, of course, its signature label wines.
While not a working vineyard, Duplin Winery in Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach, sells its regionally bottled muscadine wines to large groups who visit year-round. Established in North Carolina in 1975, Duplin sells some 450,000 cases of wine annually.
Silver Coast Winery, just over the SC/NC state line in Ocean Isle Beach, has been growing grapes and bottling its own wines since 2002. A small gift shop, wine tasting and tours are generally available. You can currently visit by reservation only, so contact them for more info.
Myrtle Waves on U.S. 17 Bypass in Myrtle Beach may be the best known of the area waterparks, with its ten-story-tall Turbo Twisters, but equally beloved by the wet set are Family Kingdom’s Splashes Water Park (the only oceanfront waterpark in the area) and Wild Water & Wheels in Surfside Beach, which adds bumper boats, mini golf and go-karts to the mix. Enjoy good, outdoor fun for the whole family. NOTE: Splashes will remain closed for the 2020 season.
OK, you Scrabble aficionados, we admit that we’re scraping the barrel here for an “X” word, but after a little digging we found one that perfectly describes our goal for you this summer. “Xenization” is defined as “the act of traveling as a stranger,” in other words, try to look at the Grand Strand not as something familiar and well worn, but rather altogether new, filled with the untried, the unexperienced and the unfamiliar. We’ve given you plenty of ideas, and are finally nearing the end of our list. The rest is up to you.
The Grand Strand’s marinas do seem to harbor their fair share of sailboats and mega-yachts, as well as smaller cruisers, fishing and sporting motorboats, too. The trick is how to get aboard without actually buying a boat. Some have opted for the Freedom Boat Club, which purports to take the unpleasant part of boating out of the equation. With Freedom, you join the club for a fee, pay a monthly membership and then have use of their fleet at any one of some 200 locations around the U.S., Canada and France. There are two locations in the area, in North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, and a third in Charleston. A fleet of boats is available, including pontoon boats, center console fishing boats, bowriders, sailboats and larger cruisers. Instruction (required) and insurance are included; you just pay for the gas.
Boat rentals are also available in day-part increments at nearly every area marina.
We’ve finally reached the end of our A to Z summertime tour and will conclude with area ziplines. It wasn’t too many years ago that the Grand Strand didn’t have any ziplines. For the uninitiated, these jungle-born amusements are strong, suspended steel cables from which one hangs in a harness and “zips” from point A to point B. There are currently some half-dozen ziplines in the area, including one for all ages over Lake Broadway at Broadway at the Beach, Zipline Adventures in downtown Myrtle Beach at the site of the former Pavilion Amusement Park, Go Ape! at the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex (which hopes to reopen in June), the Shallotte River Swamp Park in Shallotte, N.C., and the Radical Ropes Adventure Park on 19th Avenue S. in Myrtle Beach. We hope this guide, which just barely breaks the surface, has inspired you to get out and enjoy all the Grand Strand and nearby regions have to offer. Have a great summer!
Photos Courtesy of visitmyrtlebeach.com; Wild Water & Wheels, Splashes, & Myrtle Waves; Christopher Shane; Chris Zachary Photography; visitgreenvillesc/bendingwood studio arts/Jeff Gandy, visitgreenvillesc/Chris Leyland Photography; Carolina Rover; Skydive Coastal Carolina; Big Air Myrtle Beach, Ripkin Baseball, Bobby Altman; City of North Myrtle Beach; Brookgreen Gardens; House of Blues, Gene Ho Photography; Calabash Creamery and Island Adventure Watersports; Horry County Museum; Amslee Agency, and Carolina Country Music Festival; Wild Water and Wheels, Ripley’s Aquarium, Lakewood Camping Resort and Julie Wood