Along with family seaside attractions, this South Carolina city boasts an impressive number of music theaters and live shows.
By Pam Windsor
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has been a popular vacation destination for centuries. Pawleys Island, at the southernmost tip of the Grand Strand beach, was one of the first summer resort areas in the United States. People traveled there as early as the 1700s to take in the sun, sand, and soothing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Over time, it’s only gotten better, with added attractions and restaurants, culminating in today’s 21st-century performance venues.
As in the beginning, the water remains the biggest draw; the Grand Strand’s 60 miles of coastline make it easy to see why. The beach starts with the quieter North Myrtle Beach shores and reaches south to the more active downtown Myrtle Beach Grand Strand, marked by a SkyWheel (Ferris wheel) and a boardwalk. Continuing down the coast, there’s Myrtle Beach State Park, known as the “family beach”; Garden City Beach; Huntington Beach State Park; then the quieter, more remote locations in Litchfield or Pawleys Island. The key to enjoying the coast is not feeling stuck in one spot. It’s good to get out and see what other areas have to offer.
With so many beaches, there are plenty of opportunities to surf, paddleboard, rent a jet ski, parasail, or head out in a banana boat. Charter fishing is also popular. Signs pointing out where to sign up or rent equipment are easy to find.
Visitors have many opportunities to soak up the sun away from the ocean. Myrtle Beach is known for its numerous golf courses. Check any list online and you’ll be hard put to choose. The popularity of some courses means you need to set tee times far in advance.
Two state parks in the area, Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach, not only have great beaches but also nature centers, wildlife viewing areas, and hiking and biking trails. Cyclists (and walkers) can enjoy parts of the not-yet-completed Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, which follows a paved path from Murrells Inlet to Huntington Beach State Park. Just take “Share the Road” routes between the completed sections all the way down to Pawleys Island.
Scenic boat tours along the Waccamaw River offer a different view of the area. And Murrells Inlet is home to one of the largest sculpture gardens in America, Brookgreen Gardens.
Brookgreen Gardens was opened by Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, in the early 1930s. Initially it was created as a place to showcase Anna’s work. Today, however, more than 1,400 sculptures, spread throughout beautifully landscaped gardens, represent the work of several hundred artists. In its entirety, Brookgreen encompasses thousands of acres. Just opened in January 2017 is an indoor sculpture gallery, located near the Mary Alice and Bennett Brown Sculpture Court.
In the 1800s, much of this land was used to farm rice. Bus tours take visitors to the Oaks Plantation and the grounds of a former slave village. Visitors can ride a pontoon boat to the area and hear a little bit of Lowcountry history, as well as see the birds and wildlife that live there. Or, visit the Native Wildlife Zoo to see the other creatures that call Brookgreen home.
The Huntingtons also owned the adjacent oceanfront property just across U.S. 17. Today it’s the site of Huntington Beach State Park. The remains of Atalaya, their “castle in the sand,” are still on the property and open for tours (a small fee is charged). Archer Huntington, who once traveled through Spain, designed the home to resemble the Moorish architecture he remembered seeing on the Mediterranean coast. The house was built without blueprints and solely on the oral instructions he gave the contractor. It took three years to complete and included such facilities as horse stables, a kennel, and a bear pen to accommodate Anna’s penchant for sculpting live animals.
Myrtle Beach is well known for other fun things, from mini-golf to the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium, and the Duplin Winery. The latter has popular dinner entertainment events in addition to its wine tastings and tours. Each June the winery hosts a classic country-music show.
When it comes to live shows, Myrtle Beach surprises visitors time and again with its high-quality music theaters featuring multitalented singers, musicians, and dancers showcased in Nashville- or Las Vegas-style productions. The area’s first music theater was opened in 1986 by musician and entrepreneur Calvin Gilmore in Surfside Beach. Gilmore had spent a lot of time performing in Nashville and wanted to bring that type of music and showmanship to the beach.
His small theater evolved into what is today The Carolina Opry, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. The 2,200-seat theater has set the standard for the top-level shows longtime visitors have come to expect. Main shows offered there are “The Carolina Opry”; a live revue of pop tunes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s called “Time Warp”; and “Thunder & Light,” a fabulous production starring a group of male cloggers called All That! along with magic by illusionists known as The Wagsters.
Gilmore still runs the theater along with his son, daughter, and company president David Olive. He also still performs in some Opry shows at his venue. Many of the singers and musicians that take the stage have been with him for years.
The Alabama Theatre in Myrtle Beach is also well-known for its spectacular music and variety shows. It was named for the country music group Alabama. Country music is a small part of the current variety program there, titled “One The Show.” It features music of many genres from the ‘50s through the ‘90s, plus comedy and more. At intermission, the show’s emcee and some of the others onstage gather in the lobby to connect with the audience.
National touring artists visit the Carolina Opry and the Alabama Theatre at times throughout the year; so, it’s a good idea to check the venues’ respective calendars.
Other shows and showplaces in Myrtle Beach include:
*GTS Theatre, where “Motor City Musical,” a Motown tribute show, will have you dancing. The “Wild 4 Hypnosis Comedy Show” shares the show list with “Night Fever – A Tribute To The ‘70s” and “Beach Party – A Tribute To The ‘60s.”
*Comedy spots include Carolina Improv Company, where ordinary people may be trained (if they wish) in the skill of making others laugh, and Comedy Cabana.
*Legends in Concert is a tribute by five to six artists who re-create icons such as Elvis, Madonna, Dolly Parton, and more.
*Palace Theatre has in the past featured special-effects shows such as “Illusions of Magic,” and musical nostalgia with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, along with Broadway theater productions and other musicals.
*Dinner shows such as Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament and Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show include live action and adventure. House of Blues, a restaurant and music venue, offers a lighthearted murder-mystery dinner show on select nights.
An organization called T.I.G.E.R.S., which stands for The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, operates two public sites in the area. One is Preservation Station, a small spot at a popular shopping and entertainment area called Barefoot Landing. There you can learn more about the organization, perhaps have a photo taken with a cute baby lion cub, and sign up for a safari at its main facility south of town.
The safari, called the Wild Encounters Tour, lets you get close to the kinds of animals that typically are seen on an African safari. You can touch, hold, or interact with baby tigers, chimps, an elephant, and many other animals. Educational demonstrations are offered with tigers, cheetahs, elephants, great apes, and more.
The staff lives on the property, many with the animals they train. They’ve studied the challenges and threats some of these endangered species face in their natural habitat and are dedicated to working to help save them.
As with most locations along the coast, Myrtle Beach is a food mecca. There are so many restaurants that it might be difficult to choose. But at least once during a visit, it’s worth considering a stop to eat in Murrells Inlet, known as the seafood capital of South Carolina.
Hot Fish Club has a great lobster potpie, and the blackened mahi mahi stuffed with crabmeat is guaranteed to be good.
Another great restaurant is Bovine’s; it isalong the popular Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, a row of several waterfront eateries. Try the wood-fired grilled salmon or any of the steaks.
In Myrtle Beach, Thoroughbreds Chophouse and Seafood Grille offers a fine-dining experience with exceptional fare. Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood features a seafood buffet with food prepared in the Calabash style — lightly breaded and deeply fried. And, near Surfside Beach (south of Myrtle Beach) is a good spot for lunch or early dinner called The Grilled Cheese and Crab Cake Co. The cream of crab soup is worth the stop alone.
Next time you visit Myrtle Beach, be sure to make time to take in all the new shows, restaurants, sights, and things to do. You’ll be glad you did!
Visit Myrtle Beach
1200 N. Oak St.
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
This may not be a complete list, so check your campground directory or the RV Marketplace, online at FMCA.com and in the January issue of FMC.
Lakewood Camping Resort *
5901 S. Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, SC 29575
Myrtle Beach KOA
613 Fifth Ave. S.
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Myrtle Beach Travel Park
10108 Kings Road
Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
Ocean Lakes Family Campground *
6001 S. Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, SC 29579
Pirateland Family Camping Resort
5401 S. Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, SC 29575
Willow Tree RV Resort and Campground
520 Southern Sights Drive
Longs, SC 29568
*FMCA Commercial Member Campground
Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean Highway
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
(866) 345-7275 – reservations
Myrtle Beach State Park
4401 S. Kings Highway
Myrtle Beach, SC 29575
(866) 345-7275 – reservations
Will children or grandchildren be with you in Myrtle Beach? Then check out these attractions.
- Brookgreen Gardens’ Native Wildlife Zoo. Brookgreen Gardens (mentioned elsewhere in this article) has local critters such as bald eagles, river otters, deer, alligators, and foxes; domestic animals such as chickens, horses, cows, sheep, and goats; and wild birds such as ibises and egrets in a cypress swamp aviary.
- Mini-golf courses. They’re everywhere! And that’s only a slight exaggeration. Pick your favorite theme course(s), grab a club, and pick a ball of your favorite color. Some of the mini courses are indoors, so rain won’t wash out the fun.
- Broadway at the Beach. This complex has a recently updated amusement park called Pavilion Park with all sorts of rides; some are tame enough for toddlers and grandparents to ride together. A few of the many other attractions include jet boats, theaters, Grand Prix-style go-carts, a dinosaur exhibit, an interactive fountain, a water park, and an aquarium.
- Wild Water & Wheels. The collection of water slides at this water park includes one that lets kids race each other. All ages are accommodated, so if you have toddlers, they will be thrilled. Older kids will want to stay all day. Plus, it’s so much more than a water park, with bumper boats, mini golf, and areas for the little ones. Different sizes of race cars let all ages in on the action.
- Fun foods and dinner theater. I Love Sugar, a 6,000-square-foot candy store, has an enormous variety of sweet stuff to choose from. Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament puts diners at the center of jousting action. Likewise, diners feel like they’ve joined an exciting adventure at the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show.
For more information about kid-friendly Myrtle Beach attractions, go to www.visitmyrtlebeach.com.