How Myrtle Beach Will Make Your Family (& Wallet) Happy
There's a beach destination on the East Coast that you may have overlooked.
The 100 kilometers of Myrtle Beach coastline have been drawing Canadian families for years thanks to budget-friendly hotels (even in summertime) and myriad kid-friendly attractions. Here's why you should head to South Carolina's "Grand Strand" if you're looking to get the biggest bang for your travel buck on an oceanside family vacation this summer.
1. You can find hotel stays for well under $100 a night.
This is a city that is no stranger to deals. With more than 10,000 hotel rooms, there's a lot of competition for your business, which keeps the prices reasonable -- sometimes downright jaw-dropping -- when compared to other summer beach destinations. Look for one of the many hotel rooms with kitchenettes, so you can save money on meals, too.
2. You can do more than just sleep at the hotel.
In addition to their oceanfront addresses, many resorts have pools and lazy rivers, while some even have on-site water parks (so you don't have to pay extra to visit one). Longer stays often get you an extra night free, and midweek stays tend to be cheaper than the weekends.
3. It's easy to get to.
WestJet flies direct from Toronto to Myrtle Beach International Airport twice weekly through October, while Porter Air covers the route in Spring Break season. You can also find direct flights on Spirit Airlines from Niagara Falls, NY for less than $200 roundtrip -- though keep the extra fees and inconvenience in mind, especially if you're travelling with kids. Connecting flights are easy to find, too.
Feel like driving instead? Plan on leaving early, stopping at a hotel and cruising into Myrtle Beach in the early afternoon -- it's about 15 to 20 hours by car from Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal or Quebec City.
4. Stake out your spot on the sand.
All 100 kilometers of sand in Myrtle Beach are open to the public and free, giving families plenty of room to spread out on the shore. If you need more space, head into the water, where there are plenty of water sports like banana boats, Jet Ski rentals and kayaking to do.
Due to a local ordinance, hotels aren't allowed to give free beach chairs for guests -- thankfully, chair rental is inexpensive. If you're driving, don't forget your chairs, umbrellas and coolers.
Along the Grand Strand, located between Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island is Surfside Beach, which has been dubbed "The Family Beach" since the 1960s. (It's lined with family-sized rentals and hotels, too.)
So now that you've saved on the basics, it's time to splurge on some fun! Here's what to do during your stay:
5. Walk the boardwalk and see the beach from up high.
National Geographic dubbed the 2-km boardwalk one of America's best. We recommend heading north on the boardwalk to the Myrtle Beach Skywheel, the best way to get a bird's-eye view of the Grand Strand. There are 42 fully enclosed gondolas, which reach 61 metres above sea level, and each ride lasts about 8-10 minutes.
6. Catch big names on Broadway.
Spanning 350 acres, Broadway at the Beach is a massive entertainment complex that includes restaurants, shops and family entertainment. One option is Legends in Concert, which features rotating tribute acts. This summer, you can catch tribute acts for Shania Twain, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Buffet, Elvis and the Blues Brothers.
7. You need more than two hands to count all the attractions.
Yes, the number of ways you can entertain your kids off the beach is dizzying, but here are our top picks:
Design your own roller coaster at WonderWorks, an upside-down attraction with more than 100 hands-on exhibits; dive with sharks or swim with stingrays at Ripley's Aquarium, and then head to Ripley's Odditorium for weirdness. Family Kingdom Amusement Park on Ocean Boulevard features more than 35 thrill rides, while the Myrtle Waves Water Park has more than 30 waterslides and attractions (pricing is based on height and a ticket is good for two days).
Broadway Grand Prix:
This family attraction is home to seven go-kart tracks, bumper cars, a rock-climbing wall and an arcade with over 90 games.
While the Myrtle Beach area is well-known for championship golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, kids will probably be more interested in the 900+ holes of mini-golf (or putt-putt as the locals call it).
Hawaiian Rumble is an 18-hole miniature golf course that's centered around a tropical Hawaiian garden and has a 40-foot volcano in the middle of it. Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf lets you wander through a skull cave and board Captain Hook's ship as you go around the course. Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure Golf has a train to take you to the first hole at the top of the mountain and then you play your way back down.
This area is no stranger to zip lines. Soar and explore at WonderWorks or go to a park with several zip lines to try, such as Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures or Go Ape.
8. Walk in a sculpture garden and a nature preserve.
Brookgreen Gardens is an award-winning National Historic Landmark that spans 9,000 acres in nearby Murrells Inlet, a fishing village 10 miles from the downtown bustle. Guests are invited to walk around the grounds themselves or to join a tour.
Admission tickets are good for seven consecutive days and give you access to the gardens, the Native Wildlife Zoo, the Lowcountry Center and Trail and the Enchanted Storybook Forest.
On Wednesday-Saturday nights through Aug. 19, enjoy the Brookgreen Summer Lights Festival. Created by Chinese craftsmen in the tradition of Chinese lantern festivals, the exhibit at the Lowcountry Zoo includes illuminated silk lantern sculptures of animals and plants as well as music, Chinese paper cutting and Chinese horoscopes.
9. Get some Southern cooking in your belly.
While Myrtle Beach has its share of national chain restaurants, don't miss out on South Carolina low-country cuisine and seafood places. Our recommendations for dining like a local include Sea Captain's House on Ocean Boulevard, Sun City Café on Main Street -- a Myrtle Beach-Mexican hybrid (don't miss the burrito with mashed potatoes, chicken and cheese) -- and for late-night bites, head to Plantation Pancake House on Highway 17.
Many of the area's best restaurants reside along the MarshWalk in Murrels Inlet. This half-mile wooden boardwalk -- supposedly where pirates like Blackbeard hid their treasures -- is home to noteworthy dining at Creek Ratz; Captain Dave's Dockside, which earns praise from Southern Living magazine; and The Claw, a New England-style lobster house and raw bar.
If the kids can't sit still for a routine dinner, you're in luck. At Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, a battle ensues on a full-sized pirate ship in a 15-foot indoor lagoon in front of you. Think pyrotechnics, aerial stunts and acrobatics.
Get there early to check out Pirates Village, where children can be transformed into pirates or mermaids.
Or head to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament -- just remember that the medieval theme means you dive into dinner with your bare hands (no cutlery allowed).
10. Have some grown-up fun.
Head to Duplin Winery, right off U.S. Highway 17 South, to sample up to 10 wines, choose one for a full serving and keep the Duplin wine glass as a souvenir -- all for just $10 per person.
After a little wine, adults can test out their dance moves at Duck's Beach Club on Main Street; expect to see a bit of line dancing as well as the Shag, a partner dance involving twirls and fancy footwork -- the official state dance of South Carolina. Fat Harold's Beach Club also offers Shag lessons for beginners.