Have fun in the sun, chow down in full Southern style, or even get abducted by aliens in this primo resort town.
The crews who dug the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1930s probably didn’t have a clue about what would spring up in their wake. But when they connected inland rivers at the northeastern tip of South Carolina and continued some 60 miles southward, they birthed one crown jewel of an island.
The area that eventually became Myrtle Beach—at the time known by only a few, for its pristine white beaches—was sparsely dotted with vacation homes and a few resorts. But by the 1940s, thanks to its new Air Force base, dance clubs that gave rise to the Carolina Shag and a motel-lined strip, it had been duly discovered. Nearly 80 years later, Myrtle Beach (named for the wax myrtles that sprout in maritime forests and edge up onto the dunes) welcomes almost 14 million visitors annually. Here’s what’s fresh in this long-beloved destination.
Myrtle Beach’s famed Ocean Boulevard has always been the place to cruise in the Palmetto State. But since 2010, when the city’s Boardwalk opened, the attention has been shifting from the automobile to the pedestrian. The 1.2-mile walk stretches from 2nd to 14th Avenues and includes countless benches, canopies, parks, souvenir shops and arcades.
You won’t run out of amusements on the Grand Strand, but two must-sees sit within a few blocks of each other on Ocean Boulevard. First, the beachfront SkyWheel, a nearly 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel sporting 42 glass-enclosed air gondolas and a million LEDs that dance in a stunning light show. A ride on this marvel, which opened in 2011, offers views of as far as 20 miles in every direction; try it at dusk to take in the sunset and the strip’s neon artistry.
Just south of the wheel, Family Kingdom has reigned as Ocean Boulevard’s amusement park for decades. While it’s known for its old-school wooden roller coaster, 2013 brought the Twist ’n’ Shout steel roller coaster and a 2-person flying-gondola ride. You can stroll the amusement park grounds free of charge; you pay only to ride.
Farther afield in nearby Murrells Inlet, Pirate Adventures awaits pint-size landlubbers looking for seafaring action. After donning swashbuckling clothes and dabbing on pirate makeup, kids (and their chaperones) climb aboard an old wooden ship to sail in search of treasure. Spoiler alert: Rogue sailors attack along the way.
How long would you have lasted in the cold waters that claimed the victims of the Titanic disaster? Stick your hand in an icy tank and find out. Think you can use your mind to move objects? Strap on a sensor-laden headband and give it a go at WonderWorks, where you’ll find hands-on experiments galore. Until Labor Day, Encounters: U.F.O. Experience displays 200-plus artifacts centered on purported run-ins with aliens.
Golf Digest has ranked the Grand Strand, with its 102 greenways, among its top 10 best buddy golfing destinations for years. And now, the area’s pick-of-the-litter course is easier to access. Instead of booking through your resort to score a reservation at the semiprivate Dunes Golf & Beach Club, you can book at myrtlebeachgolf.com.
Myrtle Beach’s onetime Air Force base is now home to Market Common, a walkable live/work-shop complex with A-list stores. Noteworthy recent additions include City Mac, a chic Apple shop where you can get the latest phone or troubleshoot laptop snafus; the Kangaroo Pouch, which has the hippest baby gear and wear; Devo Olive Oil Co., selling some 60 types of pressed oil; and the Coastal Wine Boutique, where you can taste and buy
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
Find the Crab Cake Lady’s hand-made crab cakes at Harrelson’s Seafood Market, in Murrells Inlet. And hunt down Mr. Fish at its newly opened location, north of the old (closed) spot; the lines for fried platters and chocolate pie still run out the door.
For down-home food, head to Lulu’s Café (their eggs Benedict is a take on biscuits and gravy, and cheese fries come with pimento cheese). Kudzu Bakery offers cakes, while Coccadotts gets wacky with cupcakes (try the maple and bacon).
A casual lunch of Nacho Hippo’s tacos stuffed to the limits can’t be beat. And a great date night destination is tiny Sobaya Japanese Bistro, where Korean and Japanese dishes are made to order. On the other end of the evening-out spectrum, drive to North Myrtle Beach for 21 Main at North Beach’s country-club-meets-steak-house fare. Chef Lou Petrozzi’s steaks are perfectly rendered; his seafood dishes, like seared scallops, are impeccable.