It’s easy to relax on the warm sands of Myrtle Beach. I see a little boy launching a kite nearby and his little legs run as fast as they can.
On the beach, my family laughs as they toss Frisbees into the waves. Above us the sky is clear, bright blue. This is the perfect day for family memories.
For many, vacation means time at the beach. Beach towns are America’s most popular vacation destinations. According to a recent survey by Vacasa, 57% of Americans are planning a beach vacation this year.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has long been America’s most popular beach destination. Known for its golden sands and world-class golf courses, it attracts thousands of visitors every year. It is especially popular with families.
One reason is that the area offers an affordable beach getaway. During our visit, I noticed that prices for restaurants, hotels, and attractions are about a third cheaper than comparable prices in beach towns in Hawaii or California. It really helps when you are trying to increase your family vacation budget.
Vibrant Myrtle Beach is designed for families with children. Activities for the kids abound, from larger than life miniature golf parks to water parks, an aquarium, an interactive science museum, a pirate show, the 55-foot Myrtle Beach Skywheel, and more.
There’s a wide variety of restaurants for just about everyone, but the city also has plenty of kid-friendly businesses, including a wide variety of popular pancake houses.
Myrtle Beach, however, is only part of the story. The town is one of 14 separate communities along the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of beach that winds along South Carolina’s southern coast from the town of Little River to Pawleys Island.
While the Grand Strand has attracted tourists for decades, it hasn’t always been a beach destination. Until the 1900s, beaches along this stretch of the South Carolina coast were sparsely populated due to geographic inaccessibility and poor economics.
Then, in 1901, a lumber company built the area’s first beach hotel, the Seaside Inn. A competition was held to name the new beach community, and Myrtle Beach was chosen because of the many myrtle trees that grow on the beach.
The area has grown slowly in recent decades. During World War II, an air base was even established for training and coastal patrols.
By the 1970s, Myrtle Beach and the surrounding communities had been exposed. The population tripled in that decade and there was another boom in the 1990s.
BEACHES AND MORE
The golden sands of the Grand Strand are undoubtedly the star attraction. They are clean and well maintained. There is sufficient paid parking and easily accessible places along the coast.
While it would be easy to stay in Myrtle Beach for the entire trip, you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore Grand Strand further. Each of the 14 communities has its own atmosphere.
Surfside Beach is one of those communities. While there are many excellent hotels and resorts in the area, we chose to stay in a 4 bedroom Surfside Beach vacation home which is a bit quieter and more peaceful. This small town of 4,500 people is called a “family beach” and they take this mission seriously.
In 2016, the city became the number one autistic destination.
The pristine city beaches are cleaned daily and were not crowded. We rented a few umbrellas, chairs and a cooler from a beach store and spent many long, lazy days on the sand.
NORTHERN MYRTLE BEACH
North Myrtle Beach is a nine-mile community on the Grand Strand known for its shopping and dining. The city’s Barefoot Landing is a shopping and entertainment hub along the Intracoastal Waterway, so we often dined there.
Our favorite restaurant at Barefoot Landing was Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s where we enjoyed piles of fresh seafood.
Shag became South Carolina’s official state dance in 1984. It is said that if you drive along Ocean Drive at night, you can hear the sounds of beach music as Shag enthusiasts dance the night away.
THE COMING OF MURRELL
Murrells Inlet is a good choice for teenagers and older children. This small fishing village was once the lair of the pirate Blackbeard. Now both visitors and locals head here to hang out.
If you want to play in the water, this is the place. You can rent kayaks, pontoons and other boats. Or take a sunset cruise, rent jet skis or go deep sea fishing, all from Murrells Inlet.
Some of our family members went fishing with Voyager Deep Sea Fishing and came back with sunscreen and a nice fish box.
In the evenings, Murrells Inlet comes alive along the famous Marshwalk, with many beachside restaurants offering live music and beautiful sunset views.
Our favorite dining experience here was at Wicked Tuna, which prepares tasty seafood dishes using locally caught fish from their own boats.
Those looking for a quiet, unhurried vacation experience can head to Pawleys Island, located at the southern end of the Grand Strand. Residents are known for appreciating the “arrogantly ugly” who enjoy simple charm and natural beauty.
This is evident in the community’s unique shops and restaurants, as well as their obvious love of relaxing in rope hammocks
The island was once the summer home of wealthy rice farmers before the civil war. Today, the historic center has 12 apartments from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century.
Many visitors come to Pawleys Island to play golf, with three of the top 100 public golf courses in the country.
On the last day we visited the town of Conway, one of the oldest towns in South Carolina. Walking the oak-lined streets of this historic Southern community was like stepping back in time.
After asking one of the locals their favorite place to eat in town, we came across Pickled Cucumber, a local eatery that was clearly popular with the locals. When we got our simple but delicious meals (we got huge plates of one meat and two sides for $8.25), it was easy to see why.
Next we did a guided kayak trip on the Waccamaw River with Black River Outdoors. Our guide Mike shared his in-depth knowledge of the area as we paddled through beautiful streams and cypress swamps.
We were the only ones in the water and it was peaceful as we listened to the chirping of the birds nearby. The water was calm and it was an easy paddle under the shade of Spanish moss covered cypress trees.
Mike pointed out turtles, water snakes (everything we saw was harmless), birds and more. Although we hoped to see alligators, they were shy and timid. My family had smiles on their faces as we paddled through the water. This makes every trip worthwhile, at least for me.