6 Reasons Fall is Myrtle Beach’s Secret Season
Time was, Myrtle Beach would simmer down right after Labor Day, as school-aged vacationers trudged back to their respective classrooms. But now, with more grownup visitors figuring out how much fun there is to be had beyond the famed 60-mile shoreline, the town stays hopping well into November, when there are still plenty of nonstop flights from major cities and fabulous hotel deals. Of course, if you do want to hit the beach, you'll find not only more elbow room, but ocean temperatures that stay in the mid-seventies through September. [Editor's Note: The Myrtle Beach area was spared much of the damage from Hurricane Florence, and is open for business and visitors.]
Even better? Six more seasonal lures:
Fall’s epic eats (and drinks)
Though a zoo might not seem the most obvious place to toast to a new season, reserve judgment until you experience the grounds of Brookgreen’s Lowcountry Zoo. There—amidst acclaimed landscapes that mimic the residents’ natural habitats as closely as possible—you’ll find the motherlode of craft beers on the evening of Sept. 29. Though this year’s Brew at the Zoo lineup hasn’t yet been announced, expect at least 30 local and national options, plus fun demos (past hits included a home brewing tutorial by the Homebrewer’s Pantry and Myrtle Beach Area Society of Homebrewers).
Of course, no visit to the area would be complete without some serious crustacean consumption—and the Myrtle Beach Seafood Festival (Oct. 5-7) serves up all the oysters, mussels, crabs, etc. you could ever desire. In fact, this food-fest is so popular, it’s newly expanded to three days. Between the gumbo and po' boys, you’ll find plenty of entertainment, too—and when this year’s opening act (the Fantastic Shakers) takes to the stage, listen up for the locals’ favorite song: “Myrtle Beach Days.”
Need even more seafood? Of course. That’s where the Little River Shrimp Fest comes in and—how handy—it’s also in October (13-14). Appropriately enough for this little historic fishing village on the northernmost fringes of the Myrtle Beach area, the festival serves up not only shrimp of all kinds, but renowned crab cake sandwiches, mahi mahi, and more.
Later that month, dig into a chicken bog. A what? Yes, a chicken bog. That’s South Carolina for a pilaf dish loaded up with chicken and sausage—and you’ll find some of the best about 30 miles inland at the Loris Bog-Off (Oct. 20), when home cooks compete while pros sell ready-made chicken bog—and 35,000 or so attendees leave very full and happy (did we mention the obligatory funnel cake?).
Heavenly Huntington Beach State Park
About 16 miles down the coast from Myrtle Beach sits—or more accurately, sprawls—a 3,500-acre beachfront oasis that’s pretty much perfect for autumn camping. First, you can’t beat the seasonal dichotomy: cool nights and warm ocean water, straight through November. Second, this already beloved campground recently expanded, nearly tripling its full-service spots. Now, the WiFi-equipped campground offers 175 campsites total—66 of them ideal for RVers. Dog owners: Take your pups (and their leashes)! The south end of the beach and campgrounds are as dog-friendly as a place can get.
Of course, the park is even more famous for its bird-friendliness—and is widely counted among South Carolina’s best places to see winged wonders, whether you’re a novice or seasoned eagle eye. One fall highlight is the appearance of pretty-in-pink spoonbills, whose endearingly awkward (and aptly named) beaks will remind you that you’re not gawking at flamingos. Painted buntings—which are, pretty much, rainbows with wings—and their true-blue cousins, the indigo buntings, also move in. Then there are the hoos who of seasonal owls (you may spot the horned or barred varieties).
But however great your love of nature, don’t leave without seeing one of the park’s historic attractions: Atalaya, an early 20th-century estate built as a winter refuge for a famed, tuberculosis-stricken sculptress who’d married into a robber baron family. In fact, depending on when you arrive, Archer and Anna Huntington’s home is more than an evocative relic: Show up Sept. 28-30, and you’ll find the famed resident Arts and Crafts Festival.
The 50 shades of green (at a minimum)
If golf is your go-to for relaxation, fitness, or friendly competition, Myrtle Beach is already on your radar, what with the 100 or so courses that call the area home. But visiting in the oh-so-mild fall, when daytime temperatures tend to max out in the high 60s, means you can stay out on the greens all day. Ditto the day after that. And the day after that.
Among the spots competing for your attention: Myrtle Beach National, which boasts three courses by the legendary Arnold Palmer, who clearly knew how to show off the area’s natural beauty (you’ll find everything from hardwood forests to low country wetlands). Then there’s Tidewater Golf Club’s course, which wends around salt marshes and forests. And the list of gorgeous greens goes on.
With so many courses within an easy, um, drive—and such tee-friendly temperatures—you can get in three or four rounds over a weekend.
The fab fall tunes
Autumn is music to Myrtle Beach’s ear, with offerings for all tastes. The fall tribute concert at beautiful Brookgreen Gardens, for example, is an homage to Donna Summer and the music of the '70s (Sept. 6-9).
Bands both retro and modern show up at the Music on Main series downtown, where you should BYOB (that is, beach chair) if you prefer sitting while you take in the tunes (through Sept. 27).
And though ‘tis not quite the season, anyone impatient for it will love the iconic Carolina Opry Christmas Special, whose 33rd season kicks off Nov. 1.
Of course, you could show up in Myrtle Beach any old time and find great live music—often with food to match. Case in point? The new Tin Roof, home to a wide variety of nightly shows and some of the best sliders in town (you can practically hear the kitchen doing a mic drop upon sending out your fried biscuits filled with smoked brisket, bacon, peach jam and cheddar).
The fall floating ops
Myrtle Beach boating hardly ends with summer’s last sunset. In fact—as with golf—mild fall temperatures call for full-day excursions, if that’s what floats your boat.
Whether you want to wind around cypress trees while kayaking the local swamps, track dolphins, turtles, jellyfish, rays and sharks through Murrells Inlet or—hey—just try your hand at gaming on the luxury yachts that make up the Big M Casino on Little River, the area’s waterways have you covered.
The heart-pumping fall fun
Clearly, Myrtle Beach has its mellow side (or many of them), but there’s also plenty to make your adrenaline surge—especially now.
The new Adventure Matrix Aerial Park has zip lines, a free-fall installation that drops you 60 feet, and 45 other American Ninja-esque challenges.
Alternately, take a spin (or several) around the Myrtle Beach Speedway with the NASCAR Racing Experience (through Oct. 27). Options range from a pace car ride to the Experience of a Lifetime, the latter involving a tutorial from a pro driver and 32 minutes behind the wheel of real NASCAR race car (but who’s counting?).
Of course, fall’s also the time for ghoul, scary fun at the likes of the Nightmare Haunted House’s Zombie Zone Undead Adventure and Ripley’s new Haunted Adventure: Laser Strike (equal parts house of horrors and laser gun zombie hunt).