One of the East Coast’s top vacation destinations, the Myrtle Beach-Grand Strand area draws millions of summer travelers annually to its tawny Atlantic beaches, shopping opportunities and acres of well-manicured golf courses. A burst of development in the 1990s created a boom in restaurants, condos, and golf courses, and with a spiffy new boardwalk and promendae, this family-friendly resort shows no sign of slowing down. The slower-paced signs of Southern life can be found in vintage mom-and-pop restaurants in residential neighborhoods.
Hotels, condos and resorts create a mini-skyline along downtown, the oldest part of Myrtle Beach, where the sandy beaches are long and deep and the crowds are family-oriented. At the southern end, Myrtle Beach State Park provides more than 300 acres of piney woods and access to a sandy beach; cast your line into the ocean water from a fishing pier. Kayaking the back bays of Murrells Inlet provides time for quiet contemplation.
Things to Do
Meet locals on the golf course — there are more than 100 to choose from — for 18 holes in the morning. Southern-fried entertainment draws crowds to the Carolina Opry. On a cloudy day, sample one of the many impressive themed miniature golf courses or visit the state-of-the art Ripley’s Aquarium, home to 10-foot sharks. Family Kingdom, a waterfront amusement park, is home to the state’s largest Ferris wheel, where a ride offers superlative views of the ocean.
Specialty shops line the pathways of the shopping centers at Barefoot Landing and Broadway at the Beach, and fireworks in the summer lend a festive air. Bargain hunt for brands such as Reebok and Polo Ralph Lauren at Tanger Outlets. Urban critics applaud the work-play-live development Market Common, which offers restaurants, a movie theater, and residential homes atop upscale storefronts such as Pottery Barn and Anthropologie.
Eating and Drinking
Virtually every major chain and sports-celebrity restaurant is found here, whether it’s the NASCAR Sports Grill, House of Blues, or Greg Norman’s Australian Grill. Away from the chains, look for waterside spots serving fresh local seafood in unvarnished Low Country preparations. Or give decorum a rest and head to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, which packs in crowds nightly for a rollicking combination of dinner theater and rodeo.
The Old South meets the Atlantic seaboard in Hilton Head. This laidback yet upscale beach, golf, and tennis resort has broad, tawny beaches, warm seas, palm trees and rolling dunes. Graceful sea oats, anchoring the beaches, wave in the wind. The climate makes all this beauty the ideal setting for golf, tennis and for some of the Southeast’s finest saltwater fishing.
Hilton Head’s public beaches have been ranked among the most beautiful in the world. Flat, broad beaches provide a firm surface even for biking and jogging. In summer, endangered loggerhead turtles lumber ashore at night to bury their eggs. Coligny Beach is the island’s busiest strip of sand. Alder Lane is the choice for a less crowded outing.
Things to Do
Hilton Head has more than 50 miles of bicycle paths. The rolling greens of the local golf courses make this fairway heaven for professionals and novices. Tennis is a big draw with Hilton Head hosting major tourneys on the pro tour. Horseback riding through beautiful maritime forests and nature preserves is reason enough to visit Hilton Head. Head north to Charleston or south to Savannah – Hilton Head is about an hour from two of America’s most charming historical cities.
Eating and Drinking
Local seafood is the specialty with sweet creek shrimp boiled in beer in summer and fresh oysters roasted on open pits in the cool months. Other options include delicious chopped pork barbecue sandwiches (ask for yours with fresh slaw), Southern fried chicken and Low Country favorites like seafood gumbo and shrimp perloo.
Bring your binoculars: wildlife thrives here. Prime observation sites are on the south end at the Audubon-Newhall and Sea Pines Forest Preserves. Make your acquaintance with the bottle-nosed dolphin. Alligators are a prosperous lot here — no danger if you keep your distance. You’ll see a nature magazine’s lineup of waterfowl — the snowy egret, the large blue heron, and the osprey are front and center. Mammal inhabitants include bobcat, otter, mink