-- Myrtle Beach is one of America’s favorite playgrounds, boasting more than 60 miles of Grand Strand beachfront, more than 100 golf courses and a steady stream of entertainment options.
There’s plenty beyond the beach here, from the arts to the outdoors, and there’s a year-round affordability factor that gives Myrtle Beach wide appeal.
If you’re planning a visit to this South Carolina hot spot, here’s what you should do.
Skip the Sand, Cruise the BoardwalkMyrtle Beach’s famous boardwalk is the area’s entertainment epicenter. It’s well renowned: built in 2010, the 1.2-mile wooden promenade was named one of America’s best by National Geographic. Its towering SkyWheel juts 200 feet above the beach, featuring 42 glass-enclosed observation gondolas and lighting up the sky in multicolored neon. And this is where you bring the family for a meal, a little shopping and a lot of fun, from Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater to the Nightmare Haunted House. Summer visits will offer extra experiences, from live music concerts throughout the week to a Kids’ Carnival on Monday nights.
Don’t Walk, FlyFor a spectacular view of the Grand Strand, take off with Helicopter Adventures, which offers several tours by chopper starting at $20 per person. The Boardwalk Adventure ($40) covers eight miles and offers a unique view of the Boardwalk below; splurge on the Grand Adventure ($180) and cover more than 40 miles of white sandy beach and attractions, including the sweeping shores of North Myrtle Beach. For more adventures up high, go parasailing 500 feet above the ocean with Downwind Sails or take on a three-level rope course more than 60 feet above the ground with Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures.
Skip Vegas, Take a CruiseMyrtle Beach is home to the only casino cruises in South Carolina. The Big “M” Casino operates two luxury yachts that offer classic table games like Blackjack and Texas Hold ‘Em Poker and a slew of slot machines. There’s an optional all-you-can-eat buffet and live music on select sailings. Cruises last five hours and launch from Little River, a short drive north of Myrtle Beach; between hands, check out the scenic views of Little River Inlet.
Skip the 18 Holes, Swing SmallerSteve Bertogli, a travel expert based in Travelzoo’s New York office, visits Myrtle Beach with his kids often. “Families have their choice of several miniature golf courses – there are so many to choose from along the Grand Strand,” he says. In fact, the town known as the seaside golf capital of the world for its 100-plus championship courses also boasts more than 50 putt-putt courses, perfect for kids or the young at heart. They’re all meticulously manicured and colorfully festooned, but each has its own theme. Find swashbuckling mini-golf action at Shipwreck Island Miniature Golf or put a little aloha in your swing at one of the area’s newest courses, Aloha Mini Golf.
Skip the Buzz, Head North“I'm a big fan of North Myrtle Beach,” adds Bertogli. “A little less congested, better restaurants, more upscale.” This laidback destination is where the shag was born, that roaring 1930s dance that still draws two-steppers to clubs along Ocean Drive. Hikers have lots of nature trail options here. And visit the Inlet Point Plantation, where you can take a galloping tour through this wild, historic property by day and a romantic moonlit horseback ride on the beach by night. Accommodation options in North Myrtle Beach range from fine hotels to beach home vacation rentals.
After You Go North, Head SouthRyan Haase, a New York-based Travelzoo travel deals expert, suggests heading south, where many Americans have summer homes. “Pawley’s Island and Murrells Inlet are small towns directly south of Myrtle Beach and they’re really lovely and away from the hubbub of the main strip,” he says. “There is a nice boardwalk in Murrells along the water that’s really small-scale and low-key, not the razzle dazzle you expect from Myrtle Beach main strip. A lot of the summer houses are up on stilts on the waterfront marshland, and in the middle will be a small pond with a gazebo. Really pretty backdrop for wedding photos.”
Skip the Water, Visit the GardensLocated in Murrells Inlet, Brookgreen Gardens is considered one of the top wildlife preserves in the country. The 9,100-acre property is a nature lover’s haven, with gardens that feature 300-year-old live oak trees, Sabal palmettos and seasonal blooms. There are beautiful original sculptures throughout. The new labyrinth overlooking an offshoot creek of the Waccamaw River houses interpretive panels highlighting local history. You can even sign up for horticulture classes. And the onsite zoo features a bevy of native animals – alligators, bald eagles, red foxes and white-tailed deer – and an aviary. Can’t see it all in one visit? No problem: admission is good for seven consecutive days, and each ticket you buy online saves you $1.
Want More Wild?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.
Skip Summer, Go in WinterThanks to vacation schedules, Myrtle Beach is most popular with families in summer. Haase, though, suggests visiting in the off-season. Recently “we went in February, when the town is quiet and the mild 60s weather were a nice change from Northeast frigidity,” he says. “Our resort was empty and prices were cheap, and it was still nice to wake up to a beach view, even in winter.”
Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals on Myrtle Beach hotels, activities, restaurants, spas and shows at www.travelzoo.com.