The 14-in-1 Vacation Secret on South Carolina's Coast

Jun 25, 2020

The vacation world’s answer to one size fits allMyrtle Beach is the rare spot that makes every traveler happy—because it’s not actually a single place: It’s a 14-in-1 destination. With amazingly distinct communities scattered up and down its Grand Strand (the 60-mile shoreline that the region is best known for), Greater Myrtle Beach has inlets and islands, adventure parks and quiet preserves, history and mystery—and a jaw-dropping new open-air exhibit that, for art and nature lovers, is more than enough reason to travel.

So whether you’re vacationing with the kids, your partner—or solo—there’s something (but more likely, many things) that’ll make you fall for this easy-to-reach stretch of the South Carolina coast (it's less than a day's drive from much of the Eastern U.S., or a quick direct flight from an increasing number of airports).

So read on for the lowdown on each of 14 communities, then start plotting your next getaway.

Myrtle Beach

Welcome to the Grand Strand’s beating heart and main resort town. But in this case, “resort” means high-end high-rises, retro motels—and every accommodation in between. There are even six historic rental cabins at Myrtle Beach campgrounds, all built in the early 20th century by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Yes, this place has long been a bastion of family fun, as you’ll see from the local entertainment ops, which range from the Pavilion Nostalgia Park’s 106-year-old Herschell-Spillman Carousel to the recently added Simpsons in 4D Theater. In between, there’s plenty to please the family adrenaline junkie (see: the NASCAR Racing Experience); or nature lover (there’s actually a wildlife-rich state park within city limits); or water baby (beyond the ocean itself, which makes for blissful swimming here, there’s Ripley’s AquariumSplashes Oceanfront Waterpark and a whole lineup of hotels with lazy rivers).

And good news for the music lovers among you: Summer concerts are abundant—and free—at the Boardwalk. And while you’re in the neighborhood, take a ride on its most iconic feature: the Skywheel, where you’ll find some of the Grand Strand’s best views from your glass-enclosed, climate-controlled gondola.


Little River

There is, quite possibly, no better place to slip into vacation brain than Little River at the northern tip of the strand. The village has a rep for being laid back—at least nowadays (arguably less so when pirates used to show up on the regular a few centuries ago). While piracy is no longer a thing here, seafaring certainly is, as you'll discover on an angling adventure with the Little River Fishing Fleet.

But of course, even back on land the local seafood is a huge draw—and one of the best places to see for yourself is the historic Little River Waterfront (if you arrive in time for the 39th annual World Famous Blue Crab Festival Oct. 10-11, you'll find not just the namesake crustaceans, but also live entertainment and a kids’ zone). For a more grown-up taste of the local food scene, book a meal at the Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro, an early 20th century fisherman’s hangout that remains popular among the living and—depending on whom you ask—the deceased. But whether or not there are ghosts around, we promise they won't make off with your Shrimp & Scallop Chardonnay or Low Country Boil (two of several crowd favorites).


Carolina Forest

Okay, there’s no real forest here. But you’d be forgiven for thinking so given the preponderance of green. Yes, this is one golf-happy little spot, with four beloved courses, not least, the Arnold Palmer-designed Myrtle Beach National. Then again, if you consider shopping a competitive sport, prepare to score big here (see: the dozens of shops at the Tanger Outlets, among other retail meccas).


Loris

An inland town that got its start as a railroad stop for the lumber industry, Loris is better known as a foodie stop these days. If you do nothing else here, try the iconic chicken bog—so named for “the way in which the pieces of chicken sit in the pot, like hummocks in a bog,” according to The New York Times (one of countless publications to praise this rich, rice-thickened stew—though many cite rival explanations of the nomenclature).

However the dish got its name, go get a taste for yourself at Shorty’s Grill—where Thursdays are all about the chicken bog. Conveniently, Thursdays also happen to be Farmer’s Market days in Loris, so you can feel virtuous about adding some balance to your local food pilgrimage.


Atlantic Beach

Dubbed the Black Pearl of the Gullah/Geechee people—linguistically and culturally distinct descendants of West African Slaves—Atlantic Beach was one of only three South Carolina beaches accessible to African-Americans during segregation. The old stomping grounds of Marvin Gaye and James Brown (among other entertainers who performed in Myrtle Beach, but couldn’t stay there during the Jim Crow era), Atlantic Beach is now the first stop on the eye-opening Gullah Museum Tour (call 843-527-1851 to book).


North Myrtle Beach

Multi-generational travel parties, this one’s a serious find. For those at one end of the age spectrum, there’s the likes of mini-golf and a grand Blackbeard's Pirate Cruise; for those at the other, there’s the OD Pavilion, historic home to the local Social & Shag Club. (The Carolina Shag dance was born along this stretch of coastline, and the young-at-heart keep the moves alive and well here.) For teens (and yes, of course, parents of teens, too), there’s everything from horseback riding on the beach to zip-lining and all manner of water sportsIn fact, one of the best activities for the whole family is a J & L Kayaking tour, of which there are several in the area.

Looking for something to do all together at night? Head to McLean Park, where free concerts run all summer. For pre-concert meals, one of your best bets is Dockside Village, the recent addition to Barefoot Landing, where Lucy Buffet’s LuLu’s (that would be Jimmy’s sister's restaurant)  serves up a mean Shrimp & Grits and fried green tomatoes, among other local specialties.


Conway

This historic riverside community is textbook Old South, complete with oak tree-lined streets, riverboat cruises and antique shops. Dig into its history at the Horry County Museum or, if you have little ones along, at the museum’s L.W. Paul Living History Farm, where they’ll get to see how local families lived at the turn of the 20th century.


Aynor

Various books and articles on the nation’s best BBQ joints will lead to this inland town, home to 800 or so residents and the one and only Radd Dew’s Bar-B-Que Pit. Hours are limited, and you'll want to plan accordingly, so call 843-369-3453 to time your arrival well.

If you visit Aynor as summer turns to fall, you can catch another local claim to fame: The Aynor Harvest Hoedown Festival, celebrating 41 years this Sept. 19. Expect music, pony rides and vendors galore (this is another great place to try chicken bog).


Socastee

Known today as an enclave for Air Force families and boaters, this Intracoastal Waterway community also draws history buffs: The Socastee National Historic District is one of a few intact examples of post-Civil War development, and the reason Scoastee is in the National Register of Historic Places. Download a driving map of the early 19th century sites here.


Surfside Beach

What’s in a name? For Surfside Beach, everything. This town is all about its beach, which offers 36 access points, three of which are wheelchair-friendly. In fact, you can even rent beach wheelchairs here. In keeping with the inclusiveness theme, the perfectly-named All Children’s Park offers up fun for kids of differing abilities.


Garden City Beach

Garden City Beach is another family travel haven—especially for the family that baits and tackles together: There’s a 668-foot fishing pier, providing stellar access to the local Spanish mackerel, pompano, whiting and blues (for starters). And for die-hards, there’s 24-hour fishing for much of the summer.

The pier also comes with an arcade and live summer entertainment (karaoke in the afternoon, live music at night). And if you’re in town for the 4th of July, the kiddos need to see the golf cart parade. Okay, so do you.


Murrells Inlet

Billed as the seafood capital of South Carolina, this fishing village doesn’t disappoint—particularly along the Marsh Walkwhere the catch of the day is served up with heaping sides of natural beauty. Check out Wicked Tuna, Dead Dog Saloon and Creek Ratz to see for yourself. And if you'd like to get out on the surrounding water, it makes for excellent kayaking and dolphin-watching expeditions.

Botany and/or art lovers, meanwhile, will swoon over Brookgreen Gardens, one of the very few U.S. institutions to join the ranks of the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the National Register of Historic Places.

And as of May 15, this is the only institution in the Eastern U.S. to feature the art of global superstar Bruce Munro. If you haven’t already experienced his sprawling, etheral light installations in person, you’ve likely seen them on TV, online or in print. But Brookgreen is where you'll find some of his most inspired work to date. For starters, his new Southern Light project illuminates the gardens' moss-draped Live Oak Allée with his largest-ever fiber optic firefly installation. But the pièce de résistance may be the chorus of frogs (complete with 2000 illuminated eyes) that will serenade you from the wild swampland next to the gardens. 

Photo © Bruce Munro

Litchfield Beach

Urbane and wild in equal measure, Litchfield Beach blends the world of private clubs, tennis and golf with seemingly untouched shores and a greenbelt (the local Waccamaw Neck Bikeway is part of the East Coast Greenway). In other words, head here with your partner—or yourself—for a spot of sun-splashed escapism.


Pawleys Island

A barrier island separated from the mainland by a nature-rich salt marsh, Pawleys is accessible via one of two causeways. Here, you can explore the historic summer homes of some of the 18th- and 19th-century’s wealthiest rice planters. Or the year-round home (that is, the marsh) of some of the modern era’s most beloved locals: herons, egrets and ibis. Book Surf the Earth’s morning kayak or paddleboard tour of the island’s ecosystems to see firsthand. (Yes, this another perfect couples’ or solo escape.)

Either way, you should also consider the Carolina Food Tours’ Classy Culinary Tour in Pawleys Island excursion, which spans several restaurant locations and includes food and wine pairings, oceanfront views, specialty cocktails and desert by a fire pit.


Ready to go? Check out these hotel offers that save up to 35%, find ways to enjoy social distancing in Myrtle Beach with these outdoor adventures and start planning your summer vacation to Myrtle Beach.

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