It was apparent we were in a family destination when every few blocks, there was a pancake house of one brand or another.
Even before I could see the ocean, we were driving by restaurants with names like Sea Captain’s House, Crabby George’s, Wicked Tuna and the Claw House — which clearly made the point we were in a seaside city.
That’s the way it is in Myrtle Beach, S.C. While these hospitality locations may make it easy to find a good meal any time of the day, on my most recent trip, I found Myrtle Beach to be so much more than an excellent dining city.
This is an area that attracts visitors of all ages, with something for everyone. There is no question that its beach is a starting point. Myrtle Beach comes by its name honestly, with fine sand greeting the Atlantic Ocean for almost 100 kilometres. Known as the Grand Strand, it runs along the many communities that make up Greater Myrtle Beach.
Even though the area welcomes more than 14 million visitors each year, I never felt like I was being overcrowded during my stay. That is in part because while the population of the entire metropolitan area totals 450,000, Myrtle Beach itself has only 30,000 permanent residents.
Each community along this stretch of truly magnificent beach is fairly small compared to other beach destinations.
It is also the reason most visitors rent vehicles for their stay, if they have not driven in. The communities may be connected, but not at all in the manner of larger cities where there is no clear space when moving from one to another.
The highways linking the communities are excellent. To fully explore the region we covered a lot of kilometres.
While driving along the coastal roads, the reason so many families are lured there again became obvious. Zip-line adventures; the Simpsons in 4D; a number of amusement, trampoline and water parks — they are all there. Ripley’s also has several options, so regardless of what age children are, there is more than one entertainment alternative for them, and each one is big and bold.
I spent an entire evening at Barefoot Landing and would like to have gone back. At its core, it is a shopping and dining district, but one of the most attractive you will find anywhere. It is a huge property with stores and restaurants woven along the 11-hectare Lake Louis, whose bridges for the most part help separate the bars and restaurants from the children’s shopping outlets.
It is anchored by a huge ferris wheel with lights that cast dancing reflections on the waters of the lake at night.
If most of the Myrtle Beach communities are small, one of the least populated is the town of Little River. Its namesake river flows directly into the Atlantic. It does have a few bars and restaurants, but it truly is a sleepy little town — except for one thing.
Once a gambling centre, the community voted to make this activity a crime in 2000. Since gambling isn’t illegal in the state, Little River entrepreneurs built two floating casinos on the river itself, the only two of their kind in South Carolina.
Murrells Inlet’s past claim to fame may be that it was once the favourite hangout for the famous pirate known as Blackbeard.
Today, it is more recognized as a fishing village, with much of the daily catch being delivered to the restaurants that hug the shoreline. The restaurants are almost always busy since the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, which many take to witness the beauty of this intercostal waterway, runs right past most of them. A long pier stretches out into the inlet where the noise of the bars disappears, and with just a few local individual fishers hoping to take home dinner, it presents a strong contrast to the commercialization on the shore behind — and the natural wonder of nature with fish jumping and birds singing in front.
The pier also offers an excellent view of Murrells Inlet’s famous Goat Island — where a small herd of goats that somehow found its way onto the island is fed and sustained by the owners of the restaurant Drunken Jack’s.
From Murrells Inlet, I took a short tour-boat trip to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. While it is a wonderful wildlife journey, it also offers the fascination of viewing all the yachts and multimillion-dollar homes that have been built along the outer shoreline of the inlet.
Brookgreen Gardens is a 3,700-hectare property containing botanical gardens with the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculptures in the country, along with a native animal zoo, one of only five in South Carolina recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
It was only while we were there that we understood why entry tickets are valid for a five-day period. Floral gardens, mini lakes and dynamic sculptures — about 550 of the 1,400 are displayed at any time — open new vistas around every corner of this cleverly designed park.
For more information on the area, go to visitmyrtlebeach.com.
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Ron is a dedicated traveller, having explored 65 countries around the world as well as all but one province in Canada (Newfoundland).
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