Myrtle Beach is to Carolinians what Wisconsin Dells is to us mid-westerners. You’ll find little history here but lots of resorts and hotels, 100’s of golf and miniature golf courses, lots of great places to eat and shop, some good wineries and breweries, and miles upon miles of beautiful beach. It is a playground of sorts for tourists looking for touristy things to do without the higher price tag of other popular vacation destinations. If your only goal is to sit on the beach and soak up some sun with a good book without a care in the world, this is the place for you.
Myrtle Beach is separated into North Myrtle Beach and South Myrtle Beach and it will take you about 20 – 30 minutes to get from one end to the other (and that’s without heavy summer traffic). The busy season here starts with Memorial Day weekend and ends after Labor Day weekend.
I would recommend going to Myrtle Beach after Labor Day Weekend as the waters are still a little bit warmer, rooms are cheaper, and everything is still fully open and adequately staffed. Winter is slow there, the waters are cold, and many restaurants are often closed through February. If you would like a little history, you’ll have to drive north (to Wilmington, North Carolina) or south out of the city limits of Myrtle Beach.
I’ll start with things to do in the city limits of Myrtle Beach if you want to take a break from the beach and do something else.
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH
This is a huge retail and dining complex built around a lake. The most unique place is called T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station. You can have your picture taken with a tiger or lion cub and the money goes to a conservation fund. The price tag starts at $200 for one picture and goes up from there depending on how many people you have. We decided against this but it still appeared to be a popular choice among the tourists.
We ate at the Crooked Hammock Brewery and were pretty impressed with the food. They also have a gift shop with a wide variety of souvenir items. There are several information booths but they are really there to sell time share presentations in exchange for free dinners and shows. Be sure to just say “no” to any time share presentations.
This is one of the more popular attractions in North Myrtle Beach. They have a plethora of alligators in addition to all kinds of other species such as tortoises, reptiles, spider monkeys, birds, etc. My favorite attraction was BOB the alligator which was born without a tail. Most all gators die with a birth defect like that but since she was born there, she’s been living her best life.
This place is a must-do if you like your wine. They mostly specialize in sweet wines but there are so many different kinds that it will make your head spin. The venue itself is huge and has several different wine tasting bars, gifts, desserts, pantry items, etc. There is also a large area outside for people to sit and they have live music as well during certain times. They are the oldest and largest winery in the south.
Other things to do in North Myrtle Beach:
Because of covid, all of the shows were not running when we were there but take some time to take in a show! On the north end of Myrtle Beach, check out:
Another place worth mentioning as a possible place to visit:
SOUTH MYRTLE BEACH
Broadway at the Beach
This is more shopping, restaurants, an amusement park, and other activities spread out around a lagoon and connected by boardwalks. It is fun to walk around there and quite touristy. There is a place called WonderWorks that looks like a big upside-down creepy mansion where there are a variety of interactive experiences (things like being upside down, lying on a bed of nails, freezing with the Titanic, etc.). There’s also about 20 rides at the Pavillion Park amusement park which is complete with a sky wheel that will give you great views of the surrounding area. This would be a great place to take your kids.
One of our favorite spots at Broadway was Margaritaville. Yes…this is a chain, however, this is the single best location of the entire national chain. You can always get your Cheeseburger in Paradise here but you get a lot of entertainment as well. There’s even this hurricane-tequila-machine on the dining room floor that takes off every once in a while for your enjoyment. The margaritas are very good (as to be expected).
Our second favorite place was Kentucky Mist Distillery. I was a little apprehensive at first as they were doing tastings of moonshine and some flavored vodka and that just tastes like gasoline to me, however, the moonshine is the best we’ve ever had. It wasn’t harsh at all. They have a blackberry one that will knock your socks off (literally as it goes down that smooth). We were so impressed that we went back a couple of days later just to get more blackberry moonshine!
You will see billboards for this everywhere and it is worth your time to go here. The exhibits were extremely clean and well kept. The best part is the Penguin Playground. Kids and adults will find plenty to see and experience.
Ripley’s also has other locations down by the boardwalk in South Myrtle Beach which you can get discounts for if you purchase multiple experiences. We did not find any of the other venues worth it except for maybe the odditorium but it could have been skip-able in the end really. If you have small children though, they would find some of these things more entertaining (these last four are all right next door to each other on the same block).
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium! – this is a collection of truly strange artifacts from around the world.
Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze
Ripley’s Moving Theater – Is a combined ride and movie theater with kind of an IMAX effect.
Ripley’s Haunted Adventure – Live actors will attempt to scare you through three floors.
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
You can go downtown to take a fun 1.2 mile boardwalk jaunt from the 2nd Avenue Pier to the 14th Avenue Pier. This will bring you past many commercial areas while still providing beach access. There’s also the SkyWheel down there which is the largest Ferris Wheel on the east coast. There’s also an old arcade, a zipline, and plenty of places to eat or grab a souvenir. The Gay Dolphin is a shop that is pretty famous that you will see a lot of advertisements for but there is so much stuff that the aisles are super crowded and you can barely walk through the place. I was completely overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at the same time. Instead pull up a stool at the Bowery (the legendary bar that gave the country music legends Alabama a start). They have really good happy hour prices and you can sit inside or out.
Other things to do in South Myrtle Beach
More shows and entertainment!
Legends in Concert Theater Myrtle Beach
Pirates Voyage (a Dolly Parton Company)
Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament
Between north and south Myrtle Beach is Restaurant Row (along Kings Highway). There is a plethora of places to eat from all-you-can-eat buffets to steakhouses to family restaurants. We ended up at The Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood buffet one night. This place is massive! They have seating for over 1,000 people in 11 different dining rooms. If you have to wait for a table, it won’t be long! There is no shortage of copious amounts of fresh seafood with so many options that you will be confused about where to even start but the Alaskan crab legs would be a good place to begin. I’ve never seen so much seafood in my life all at once! Before you even start your meal, they come out with these piping hot hush puppies that are so incredible, I’ve never had hush puppies that melt in your mouth like those. You’ll want to make sure you not just come hungry but downright starving when you come here!
Outside the limits of Myrtle Beach
As I stated before, there isn’t any real places of historical significance on Myrtle Beach so you have to head out of town if you are getting bored with the beach and looking for something else to do. We tried Pawley’s Island but it just was more beach (with a strong rip current which made it unsuitable for swimming). If you are looking for something to do that is still fairly close, here are some good options:
This small town has so much history (the city was established in 1729) and so many old mansions with oaks dripping in Spanish Moss that it is a must see. It is actually called “Little Charleston”. By the end of the 18th century, it was just about the largest tobacco port in the United States and a huge economic powerhouse. This area was well known for its southern aristocracy of plantation families. One of the area planters, Christopher Gadsden, is remembered for the flag he designed: “Don’t Tread on Me!”
They have a small tram called Swamp Fox tours that leaves on the hour. This tram will take you around to all the old mansions, churches, graveyards, public buildings, etc. and tell you the history of this old town that dates back 300 years. When you are done, you can walk down the harbor boardwalk or downtown and find some wonderful food. Be sure and visit the Kaminski House as well which was built in 1769. The house was closed when we were there due to covid but they give tours and that is a must-see.
Huntington Beach State Park/Atlaya Castle
To see these next two sites (Atlaya Castle and Brookgreen Gardens), it will take you the entire day so be sure to get a good head start in the morning. You are going to want to drive down to Huntington Beach State Park to tour the Atlaya Castle which was the former home of the Huntingtons (Archer and Anna Huntington). There is about 3 miles of hiking trails there, however, the park’s focal point is Atalaya. There are about 30 rooms surrounding a courtyard (50 rooms total overall including the stables). The castle is in a Spanish Mediterranean style. They kept horses, dogs, and bears in pens at the castle (which Anna often used as models). Anna Huntington was an artist that created sculptures. Archer Huntington was the son of an extremely wealthy railroad magnate.
Once you are done at Atlaya Castle, drive out of the State Park and across the road to Brookgreen Gardens.
Archer Huntington acquired Brookgreen Gardens for his wife, Anna, and her sister, Harriet Randolph Hyatt Mayo, to display their sculptures (along with other American artists). They took 4 plantations and made one huge property so you can imagine how long it will take to tour the grounds with approximately 1,445 sculptures. It isn’t just sculptures though as there are historical and educational pieces to it as well as a nature preserve and small zoo. Bring extra bottles of water to this one as the grounds are so large that it is hard to find water when you really need some. Your ticket is good for 7 days if you want to come back.