The Beach Break Everyone Needs This Spring
If life hasn’t exactly been a beach of late, one place would like to remedy that for you on a grand scale. Or more accurately, on the Grand Strand. With this legendary 60-mile stretch of coastline—which is to say, plenty of room to spread out—plus seemingly endless, typically budget-friendly ways to bask in the springtime sun, Myrtle Beach is calling.
Even if you know the area well, you’re probably due for a return visit. From fun new additions to reborn icons, the lineup of local attractions continues to grow. So whether you’re traveling as a family, a couple, friends or a party of one, start plotting your escape to this stretch of South Carolina coast. Here, five of our favorite things to consider in the process:
You can get an instant megadose of spring on arrival
Nothing helps shake off the winter (and 2020) blues like an explosion of spring blossoms at Brookgreen Gardens—the National Historic Landmark-designated former estate of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, where seasonal blooms include foxglove, mountain bluet, snapdragons, daffodils, azaleas, roses, silverbells and flowering dogwood, for starters.
But the gardens are also well known for their events and exhibits, and this spring is no exception. One show not to miss if you arrive soon: Black Southern Bells—a unique opportunity to see the South Carolina Lowcountry through the eyes of a renowned local. Sonja Griffin Evans is a Gullah artist, speaker and Pan African Cultural Heritage Institute Fellow whose captivating mixed media works are on display until March 31, thanks to the Gardens’ important Gullah Geechee programming.
Another spring show worth catching here? The new Rosen Galleries’ inaugural exhibition: Wild World; 200 Years of Nature in Art (Feb. 27-May 23). Among the biggest names you’ll see are William Curtis, John Gould and Rosa Bonheur whose botanical, ornithological and other wilderness-inspired works from the 18th and 19th centuries came to be some of the most coveted across continents.
On the other hand, if you’re traveling with kids who prefer real-life animals to vintage renderings, proceed directly to another Brookgreen Gardens attraction: the beloved Lowcountry Zoo, whose native stars include alligators, river otters and foxes of both the red and grey persuasions.
The natural world outside those walls is even more amazing
For all the dazzling flora and fauna you’ll experience at the gardens and zoo, what you’ll find in the wild is equally notable. Most immediately (as in, just across the way from Brookgreen), there’s Huntington Beach State Park. Another part of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington’s former estate, this three-mile stretch of shoreline and the adjacent habitats—from marshes to forests to dunes—combine to create one of the most idyllic preserves you’ll find.
And more than 300 species of birds would agree, making this one of the premiere birding sites in the Southeast (and by plenty of birders’ accounts, the best in South Carolina). Some of the splashiest spring arrivals range from the pretty-in-pink roseate spoonbills to the ruby-throated hummingbirds. As for their non-feathered neighbors in the park, expect to spot alligators, sea turtles and maybe the occasional mink.
For the most immersive experience, plan to sleep over the park’s newly renovated campgrounds. You may well fall asleep to the sound of the waves—one reason camping is so popular in the area. Among the other sites that offer ocean-adjacent overnights, Myrtle Beach State Park is a particular favorite—but whether or not you sleep there, check out the nature trail, and—if you’re an angler—the park’s surf- and pier-fishing ops.
Of course, the Grand Strand’s natural beauty is hardly limited to the state parks. For a prolonged dose of it, check out the ever-expanding greenway (fun fact: Myrtle Beach was the first East Coast Greenway city to finish its off-road trails), where biking or walking is, literally, the way to go. A good starting point? The Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, a flat and easy path that takes you through varied coastal and forested habitats on foot or on wheels.
Foodies always have more to show up for
The Grand Strand is home to stellar Southern specialties, often with stellar scenery to match. The newest place to experience that pairing is the Crooked Hammock Brewery’s soon-to-debut North Myrtle Beach location, where Tortuga Island—an open-air bar on a pier—will soon rival the best sunset-viewing spots along the Grand Strand. But the brewery’s backyard is the place to be for a prolonged hang, ideally around a fire pit, with a craft brew and some fried bread and butter pickles or a honey fried chicken sandwich in hand.
Another amazing way to pair the local specialties and scenery: Carolina Food Tours’ Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet—a bend of unforgettable eats (from shrimp and grits to fried flounder), views (the inlet is breathtaking) and for good measure, wildlife spotting (everyone loves the resident egrets and pelicans).
If you prefer to string together your own food tour, consider the standouts on the sometimes overlapping BBQ and chicken bog trails. At a series of hyperlocal joints whose hours tended to be limited even in the Before Times (read: always call or message before you go), you’ll find the kinds of specialties that people make serious pilgrimages for. Take Aynor’s Radd Dew’s, for example, where one recently posted daily menu included—but was by no means limited to—the following: BBQ ribs, fried chitterlings, vinegar bbq, chicken bog, corn casserole, biscuits, hush puppies, peach cobbler and banana pudding.
Beat the crowds to the boardwalk
Spring is a sweet spot on and around the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk: There’s plenty of fun to be had and room to spread out before the summer peak. And this spring is seeing a major upgrade: The iconic SkyWheel—which we can all but guarantee you recognize, even if you’ve never been—is celebrating a 10-year anniversary in May, and getting quite the face lift for the occasion. Beyond the refurbished gondolas, this seaside icon is getting a state-of-the-art lighting system that promises seriously dazzling displays.
Another recent upgrade to the area that’s worth checking out: the Penguin Playhouse at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach. Among these 5,500 square feet, which represent the largest expansion in the facility’s history, you’ll find a conservation-minded habitat for this new colony of African penguins, and maybe best of all, a viewable nursery for the lodging and care of baby penguins.
Then again, even if all you do is hit the boardwalk and take in the views and local snacks (note: it’s never too early in the year for Mad Myrtle’s Ice Creamery), you’ll still find your beach bliss.
Every golfer’s got game here
So popular a golf destination is Myrtle Beach that people plan entire vacations around the game. But whatever your level of engagement and skill—whether you've never picked up a club, or you schedule your daily life around tee time—there's a course (if not a whole series) that's calling your name.
Beginners should consider the beloved Myrtle Beach National's West Course, say pros. It's the area's easiest, per the USGA ratings system, where players of any ability enjoy the wide fairways, large greens and—a beautiful bonus—the Carolina pines in the backdrop.
Intermediate players will want to try Arcadian Shores—the first solo design project by the famed architect Rees Jones, whose tree-lined fairways, large bunkers, lakes and contouring have stood the test of time, say pros.
For advanced players, a perennial favorite is TPC Myrtle Beach. Many know it as the onetime home of the world's top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, whose eponymous World Junior Golf Championship takes place here, as have many other major tournaments. Golf Digest, which has famously awarded the course five stars, notes that there's "a lot to love about TPC Myrtle Beach...but the main draw is the Tom Fazio layout–a championship setup with tree-lined holes, firm, fast greens, over 60 bunkers, and secluded fairways with few outside distractions."
And if you're looking for something a little different, disc golf is taking off here, too. (For the uninitiated, imagine tossing small frisbees into elevated baskets along a course where traditional golf rules more or less apply.) For the disc-curious, the new Splinter City Disc Golf Course would be a good place to start.
Then, of course, there's good old-fashioned minigolf—so abundant here that some call Myrtle Beach the mini golf capital of the world, and the ProMiniGolf Association hosts an annual Masters tournament in North Myrtle Beach. Themes range from dinosaurs (Jurassic Golf; Professor Hacker’s Dinosaur Adventure Golf) to the tropics (Hawaiian Rumble; Cancun Lagoon; Jungle Lagoon), but you can't go wrong with an old-timey favorite in downtown Myrtle Beach: Mount Atlanticus.