All those nice Midwesterners and stuck-up Yankees have figured out something that some of you high-minded folks in the South can’t seem to grasp – Myrtle Beach, S.C. is a great place for a vacation!
Yes, I know… a lot of us nouveau-bourgeois Southerners went to Myrtle Beach for spring break in high school, and remember beer-soaked days spent on the hot sand listening to a NASCAR race on someone’s transistor radio, eating at Mammy’s Kitchen, and flopping on a lumpy mattress in some tired old motel at the end of the night. Then when we grew up and got jobs, we opted for more luxe vacation offerings like the Isle of Palms, Hilton Head or Wrightsville Beach. Myrtle Beach – the redneck Riviera – bah!
Fast-forward to 2012, and you will see a very different face on Myrtle Beach. Sure, it’s still an affordable vacation spot, and there are still a few run-down motels hanging on for dear life… but for the most part, you’ll find a vacation paradise that rivals anything on the eastern coast of the U.S. for affordable family fun.
Here’s the 411 on what’s changed since you may have been at Myrtle:
- Most of the old motels are gone, and in their place are high-rise luxury condo resorts with multiple ocean-front swimming pools, hot tubs and lazy rivers. There’s something for everyone, from full-service spa treatments to more bare-bones accommodations.
- The city has built a beautiful two-mile beachfront boardwalk. You’ll see the traditional carnival-type atmosphere sprinkled with quaint public parks here and there, where the city has reclaimed some of the old run-down motels and turned them into sweet little spots for relaxation. A large space just south of center city where the old beloved Pavilion used to stand is now used for open-air concerts and festivals. And best of all is a great downtown gathering area featuring the awesome Skywheel – sort of a small-scale version of the London Eye – that gives you a superb view all the way up and down the coast. The Skywheel sits next to Jimmy Buffet’s Landshark open air bar and grille; outside of that is a giant-screen TV showing sports or some other popular event.
- The old Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was shut down years ago; in its place is the new open-air Market Common, an upscale mall with beautiful walkways, a Tommy Bahama grille, and charming Charleston-style residences and offices.
- Broadway at the Beach, one of South Carolina’s top attractions, sports a new WonderWorks museum in addition to its popular Ripley’s Aquarium, Pavilion Nostalgia Park, and eateries like Senor Frog’s, The Tilted Kilt and Hard Rock Café.
- The fishing village of Murrells Inlet features a charming new River Walk and many newer waterfront eateries, so visitors can enjoy this more laid-back and natural vibe.
What hasn’t changed:
- The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove is still in downtown Myrtle Beach, with three stories of kitsch (some of which has probably been in there since I first walked through the doorway decades ago). The old Bowery is still there too, and still serving cheap draft Budweiser; don’t bother asking for anything else.
- Mammy’s Kitchen still serves its all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet – where else can you load up on unlimited biscuits and gravy before shimmying into your swimsuit?
- Bike Weeks in May – unless this is really your scene, avoid these times – especially if you are traveling with children. Google “Myrtle Beach bike week” to find out the dates…and go a different time.
- The traffic through Conway to get to the beach is still a nightmare – take the Conway Bypass; it drops you off a few miles north of the city’s center and saves you a lot of time.
- People-watching in Myrtle Beach remains a top attraction. Even with all the new bells and whistles, you must remember that this is a place that’s accessible, affordable and attractive to a dizzying range of people. You never know who you’ll meet. And that’s what makes it fun.
All in all, it’s time to try Myrtle Beach again for the first time.
Pictured: Miles and miles of wide sandy beach are the timeless attraction of Myrtle Beach.