Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the center of the Grand Strand—a 60-mi/97-km strip of clean, sandy shoreline that stretches from Calabash, North Carolina, to Georgetown, South Carolina.
But if you're looking for quiet ambience, be forewarned—Myrtle Beach has more in common with Orlando than Hilton Head, with its Broadway-style theaters, shopping outlets and challenging golf courses.
Myrtle Beach has been described as noisy, tacky and a tourist mecca, but never as boring. The main thoroughfare through Myrtle Beach and neighboring North Myrtle Beach, Highway 17, is called the "strip"—and for good reason. Especially during peak seasons, it is a traffic nightmare.
Some parts of Myrtle Beach—such as the boardwalk and Pavilion Nostalgia Park—hearken back to the classic vacation days of yesteryear, but the city has since gone through a growth spurt. Once strictly a summer destination, Myrtle Beach has added prime deals on accommodations and new attractions to reinvent itself as a year-round vacation hot spot.
Shoppers enjoy the outlet stores, specialty shops, flea markets and shopping malls; golfers love a great selection of more than 100 golf courses; and children thrill at the abundance of almost nonstop activity.
It has also become a popular destination because many area resorts offer package deals and golf vacations. If family fun is your desire, Myrtle Beach gives new definition to the thrill and enjoyment of a family vacation.
Myrtle Beach is a flat coastal area. It is separated from the South Carolina mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. On the city's southern border lie Myrtle Beach State Park and South Park Village, site of a former U.S. Air Force base. The separation between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach is almost nonexistent—a sign is about the only way you can tell where one ends and the other begins.
Highway 17 snakes through Myrtle Beach, intersecting with Highway 501 about midway through the city. Highway 501 forks off toward Conway, and Highway 17 continues down the coast toward Charleston. Other Grand Strand cities, such as Surfside Beach, Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, are also located off Highway 17.
Myrtle Beach may look like a maze, but it's really simple to navigate. As Highway 17 enters North Myrtle Beach, you'll travel through Restaurant Row—a strip of the roadway lined with every imaginable eatery. Highway 17 eventually splits into a business thoroughfare and a bypass. The business side parallels the ocean (it is also referred to as Kings Highway), and the bypass follows the Intracoastal Waterway. The roads merge into one highway again on the opposite side of Myrtle Beach, in the town of Murrells Inlet. Ocean Boulevard, one of the main (and busiest) thoroughfares in Myrtle Beach, contains most of the oceanfront hotels and beach-access points.
The Waccamaw and Winyah tribes occupied the area of Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand before Europeans arrived in the mid-1700s. Landowners in the Grand Strand became wealthy from crops of indigo, cotton and lumber. Before the Civil War, plantation owners from South Carolina's Low Country would vacation in the Grand Strand to escape the deadly diseases that thrived in the swampier areas.
Landowners farmed and leased timber rights until developers in the early 1900s became interested in the Grand Strand. A railroad to the beach was constructed, and Myrtle Beach saw its first hotel, the Seaside Inn, in 1901. Originally referred to as New Town, residents renamed the city Myrtle Beach after the wax myrtle shrub found throughout Horry County. By the 1920s, businesspeople began building resorts there for affluent society members. Golf courses and health clubs soon followed. By 1936, the Intracoastal Waterway was open for pleasure boats and shipping.
Myrtle Beach was incorporated in 1938. Myrtle Beach Air Force Base opened in the 1940s and was active in World War II. The first Sun Fun Festival was established by the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce in 1951, and it is still a popular and fun event.
Hurricane Hazel descended upon Myrtle Beach in 1954, destroying large sections of the city and the rest of the strand. The city rebuilt, and more golf courses opened in the area. Despite Hurricane Hugo's destruction to the beaches in 1989 and further brushes with tropical storms, construction continued through the 1980s and '90s, shaping Myrtle Beach into the year-round mecca for shoppers, vacationers and golfers that it is today.
In addition to its love of new attractions, Myrtle Beach has a respect for its past. After the Air Force Base closed in 1993, Myrtle Beach developed the site for residential use. The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park, the historic 11-acre/4-hectare attraction that played an integral role in Myrtle Beach's development and helped make it a popular area for family vacations, closed permanently in 2006. But the memories of the Pavilion are preserved at Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach.
Sightseeing in Myrtle Beach is best done on foot, provided you want to stay right in the heart of the strip. You'll definitely want to spend some time strolling the seemingly endless miles/kilometers of white-sand beaches.
Away from the beach scene, explore Broadway at the Beach with its shops, restaurants, nightclubs and 23-acre/9.5-hectare lake. The Ripley's Aquarium is in this complex, featuring a huge saltwater tank containing thousands of fish and an 18-ft/5.5-m water wall on the exterior of the building. There's also an incredible array of theme restaurants.
Schedules for outdoor activities are dependent upon the season and the weather, so it is advisable to call ahead to confirm availability.
Myrtle Beach nightlife offers a variety of live music and entertainment. Although there are plenty of clubs scattered throughout Myrtle Beach, the crowds tend to stay in the Broadway at the Beach area. There you'll find several hot spots to dance the night away.
Unlike most of the rest of South Carolina, which prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sunday, beer and wine can be purchased in select Myrtle Beach stores all week.
Smoking is banned in North Myrtle Beach bars and restaurants.
Myrtle Beach is covered with restaurants, many of them chains. They dot every thoroughfare, and the variety is endless (although seafood is definitely king). Most eateries cater to the tourist crowd, but there is also a host of nicer places to celebrate special occasions.
There's a string of themed restaurants in the city: Hard Rock Cafe, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and Senor Frog's cluster in the Broadway at the Beach area. Market Common includes P.F. Chang's, Tupelo Honey and Gordon Biersch Brewery.
You should be able to find a spot to please everyone along Restaurant Row—the stretch of Highway 17 from North Myrtle Beach through Myrtle Beach. Most visitors eat breakfast in their hotels, but there are plenty of pancake houses in the area that serve breakfast until 2 pm.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.
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