Myrtle Beach: What to See, What to Skip

PHOTO: The best vantage point to enjoy Myrtle Beach may be from above with Helicopter Adventures.

With 60 miles of shoreline, some 90 golf courses and a plethora of diversions, the appeal of Myrtle Beach is a no brainer. The entertainment epicenter may well be its 3-year-old, 1.2-mile boardwalk and promenade, which draws 14 million visitors a year with concerts and fireworks shows. But the Myrtle Beach experience is much more, which makes the following unique options well worth exploring.

Take to the Sky, Enjoy the Beach Below

The best vantage point to enjoy Myrtle Beach may be from above. Helicopter Adventures offers a variety of tours of the South Carolina coastline in the comfort of modern choppers flown by FAA-certified pilots. If you'd rather forego propellers, visit Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures for a three-level rope course some 60 feet above the ground. For an over-the-water rush, Downwind Waterports will send you parasailing 500 feet above the ocean while Myrtle Beach Skydiving will take you more than 1,000 feet up for a thrilling 60-second free-fall.

Sip the Wine, Skip the Milkshake

The summer carnival vibe will have you craving shakes and smoothies. But the wine scene is exploding here, so prep your palate. La Belle Amie Vineyard near North Myrtle Beach produces a variety of red, white and rosé wines; to draw crowds, they host music festivals year-round, and guests get half-off tastings every Wednesday. Muscadine wine is big in this area – the decadent dessert wine has been produced here for hundreds of years – and you can taste plenty of it at spots like Carolina Vineyards and Boardwalk Winery. If sipping gets your creative juices flowing, visit Wine & Design, which lets you bring your favorite bottle to enjoy as you paint on your very own canvas.

Visit with Animals, Pass on People

Crowds will abound, so why not spend some time with furry critters? TIGERS – The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species – draws tourists to its live tiger exhibit at Barefoot Landing; this visit is free, though the group also cares for dozens of big cats on a nearby 50-acre preserve, which you can tour for a fee. Nearby, Alligator Adventure's natural swamps house the rare albino alligator and exotic creatures like lizards and giant frogs. And to witness dolphins in their natural habitat, take a jet ski trip with Thomas Outdoor Watersports or a chartered expedition with Lowcountry and Plantation Tours.

Saddle Up, Give Your Feet a Break

Strolling the Strand can tire you out, so hop on a horse instead. At the Inlet Point Plantation in North Myrtle Beach, you can take a galloping tour through this wild, historic property by day and a romantic moonlit horseback ride on the beach by night.

See a Castle, Skip the Beach Shack

Murrell's Inlet makes a great day trip from Myrtle Beach, offering not only a beautiful shoreline but the chance to tour a real-life castle. The Atalaya Castle was built in the 1930s in spectacular Mediterranean design, and visitors can self-tour its 30 rooms for a nominal fee. The home, which once belonged to American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, hosts an annual arts and crafts fete.

Stroll the Green, Skip the Sand

Leaving the beach will be tough, but wonderful greener options abound. Brookgreen Gardens is the country's first sculpture garden and a National Historic Landmark; also in Murrell's Inlet, it features a zoo, a butterfly house, hiking trails, picnic grounds and a bevy of native fauna. For a taste of Myrtle Beach's agricultural affluence, visit Thompson Farms. Run by fourth generation farmers, it lets you tour myriad orchards and purchase produce like tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries; visit in fall and try making it out of their eight-acre corn maze.

Savor the Seafood, Skip the Funnel Cake

Put your sweet tooth on hold long enough to enjoy some of the best seafood on the Eastern Seaboard. Bimini's is popular for its laid-back vibe, but it's the half-price oysters, clams and mussels that'll have you paying a visit during daily Happy Hour. Shop for the freshest catch of the day at the Seattle-inspired Flying Fish Public Market, or order it up – basket of hushpuppies, anyone? For an upscale seafood feast, grab a table at Sea Captain's House, where signature shrimp and crab dishes – and an enviable oceanfront location – have been tantalizing taste buds for decades.

Get Cultured, Forget the Sun

Even if for a moment, take a break from the beach by visiting the only art museum in Myrtle Beach. The collections at Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum feature the history and culture of the Carolinas and the works of native artists. There are workshops for kids, and admission is free.

Get Out (of this World)

Ready for a close encounter of the third kind? One of the newest attractions in Myrtle Beach – set to open at Broadway at the Beach next month – is Encounters: UFO Experience. This is where alien theory meets pop culture, with exhibits on Roswell and Area 51, clips from classic extra-terrestrial films (remember E.T.?) and an interactive alien abduction experience. You may never leave.

Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo and is based in Santa Barbara. Travelzoo features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in Myrtle Beach at www.travelzoo.com.

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