Visit Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach is still the same family spring-break destination, but better.
When I was in elementary school, my cousins always went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for spring break. Their stories about endless mini golf, carnival rides along the strip and beaches outside their hotel had me totally jealous.
When I finally got to see it for myself (Spirit Airlines flies direct from O’Hare March through November, starting at around $46 each way, making the rental car you’ll want easier to swallow), I was surprised, then entirely ecstatic, that it was much more than that Myrtle Beach. It was all grown up, yet not quite: more in touch with its low-country roots, less recognizable as a tacky tourist destination, but still filled with family fun to spare.
Sure, it boasts the most mini-golf courses in America (50!). But the “Grand Strand” region has no shortage of kid-digestible history and culture, either. Situated on some 9,000 acres of antebellum plantation grounds dripping with Spanish moss, Brookgreen Gardens (1931 Brookgreen Dr, Murrells Inlet, 843-235-6000) will truly take your brood to a different time and place. Meandering the 550-acres of the national historic landmark that’s an outdoor sculpture museum is only the breathtaking start. Plantation ruins, a zoo with a river-alligator habitat, a Children’s Discovery Center and pontoon boat tours had me longing to wander this Secret Garden on steroids for days—perhaps that’s why admission ($12) is good for a week.
For a bit of Tara, drive down the road to Hopsewee Plantation (494 Hopsewee Rd, Georgetown, 843-546-7891), the now fully restored home once owned by Thomas Lynch, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (and supposedly still a resident in his haunted attic—what kid doesn’t love a spooky ghost tour?). Post- paranormal perusing, snag addictive pimento biscuits from the unstuffy tea spot on the grounds, River Oak Cottage.
A day steeped in (family) luxury deserves an afternoon detour to charming Conway, home of the L.W. Paul Living History Museum (2279 Harris Shortcut Rd, Conway, 843-365-3596), where kids can help plow with mules, grind grits and squeeze sugarcane.
I loved all this culture, but was still jonesing for the delightfully tacky Myrtle Beach of old. Enter my fix, Broadway at the Beach (1325 Celebrity Circle, 843-444-3200). Imagine Navy Pier, only better: This waterfront complex teems with tours and shops, housing the hands-on Ripley’s Aquarium, where kids can pet stingrays, plus mainstays Myrtle Waves Waterpark and NASCAR SpeedPark. But the spot’s new wow factor is the just-opened WonderWorks Museum, with a wacky upside-down exterior and an interior packed with zip-line courses and interactive exhibits.
Right down the road, Pirates Voyage dinner theater (800-433-4401) opens June 3, with actors who sing, dance and dive in an enormous water tank. (A Dolly Parton company, Pirates replaces her Dixie Stampede venue.) You couldn’t find a better symbol for today’s Myrtle Beach, with equal parts old Southern hospitality and flashy new oohs and ahhs.
Even the pure beach days here come with bells and whistles. Main Myrtle Beach, with its new mile-long boardwalk, might be where the commotion’s at, but Surfside Beach, just south of the strip, is the “family beach” town, with kid-friendly fishing and crabbing classes, shuffleboard, tennis courts and six playgrounds—including the All Children’s Park, designed for kids with disabilities thanks to mesh-net swings, ramped slides and a gigantic elevated tic-tac-toe board. It was here on my last evening, somewhere between the ocean sunset and hushed Southern twilight, that the magic of this colorful, relaxing corner of the coast seeped in. Before the sun slipped away, I made a mental note to tell my cousins how my new and improved—but still classic—Myrtle Beach was way better than theirs.