Sandy beaches, Atlantic breezes and miles of RV campsites are just the start of a family-friendly vacation in Myrtle Beach
We hold our breath as the 6-foot alligator glides smoothly through the water just a stone’s throw away from our small fleet of kayaks. Our guide, Richard, assures us that there is nothing to worry about, and though we trust him completely, we still feel a small sense of relief when the big-toothed gator loses interest and swims slowly away.
It is 10:30 on a warm October morning, and we are exploring the remote nooks and crannies of the salt marshes of Murrells Inlet, just 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We are less than 30 minutes away from roller coasters, mini golf and endless seafood buffets, but it feels like we are in the middle of nowhere with only the laughing gulls and snowy egrets for company. As we turn our kayaks around and paddle back to the north, Richard points to a bald eagle soaring above with breakfast clasped tightly in his talons. Our three sons ooh and aah in unison.
This is our third kayak tour with Black River Outdoors Center, and we never visit the area without asking Richard or his son, Paul, to take us off the beaten path and teach us more about the wild side of the coastal Carolinas. Whether we are paddling through the cypress swamp or watching the sunset over the salt marsh, this is where we find the Myrtle Beach that brings us back again and again, far from the glitz and glamour of the Grand Strand.
With dozens of campgrounds and a four-season tourism industry, Myrtle Beach is one of the top RV destinations in America. Families arrive in the summer to relax on the beautiful beaches, and snowbirds touch down in the fall to enjoy the temperate winter weather. Yet it took our family years to finally visit this iconic location. Why? Mostly because we thought Myrtle Beach was all about boardwalk amusements and tourist traps. Our first trip showed us the stunning variety in this region, and we have been returning ever since.
Not that the boardwalk should be avoided entirely. In fact, we start our vacation with a quick visit just to get it out of our system. Riding on the SkyWheel is the perfect way to greet the Grand Strand and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the coastline. The ride is long enough to enjoy the experience, and the private gondolas are spacious and comfortable.
Our next stop is Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures, right next to the beach. It’s not the highest or fastest zip we’ve ever experienced, but it is perfect for families with a variety of ages and sizes. Whizzing toward the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean is a special kind of experience, and we are all able to ride in unison from one platform to the other.
Then we must make a decision about which of the museum attractions we will enjoy on this particular trip. Just a couple of miles away is the famous Broadway at the Beach with more shops, restaurants and entertainment than we could possibly experience in one trip. Our twins beg to return to WonderWorks, a quirky hands-on science museum with more than a hundred exhibits including virtual roller coasters, laser tag and a bubble factory, but we want to try something different. So on this trip we head to the Hollywood Wax Museum, which quickly becomes their new favorite thing in all of Myrtle Beach.
We pose for pictures next to Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball and James Dean before entering Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors. The boys beg to go through the maze one more time. And we do…again and again and again.
But the real highlight of this particular visit to Boardwalk at the Beach is Legends in Concert, where we watch amazing performers impersonate Little Richard, Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Johnny Cash and Elvis. Myrtle Beach has a long tradition of live entertainment, and we have to pick between dozens of great options including Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show, a Dolly Parton Company production, and the weekly Gospel Brunch on Sundays at the House of Blues. It is never easy for us to choose just one show, but thankfully, we have never been disappointed.
Previous vacations in Myrtle Beach have found us enjoying a Pelicans minor-league baseball game, Ripley’s Aquarium and the rides in Pavilion Park East. We have also spent a delightful afternoon on the Barefoot Princess Riverboat, cruising down the Intracoastal Waterway, spotting the homes of celebrities and dancing on the deck to Jimmy Buffett tunes. Our sons, along with the rest of the kids on the boat, were invited to help the captain steer for a bit. And that’s how they make experiences a little extra special in Myrtle Beach.
Although we are a bit surprised by how much we enjoy the touristy entertainment and spectacle of the Grand Strand, the real revelation is the natural beauty and outdoor experiences available here. Black River Outdoors helped introduce us to the wild side of Myrtle Beach, and we were completely smitten.
The South Carolina State Parks system is an active and vibrant agency that runs two wonderful parks in this region: Myrtle Beach State Park, just a couple of miles south of the boardwalk amusements, and Huntington Beach State Park, about 15 miles south in Murrells Inlet. Both have beautiful campgrounds that fill up months in advance and offer direct access to gorgeous beaches.
Myrtle Beach State Park is the smaller of the two, and the nature center has a cozy atmosphere, with scheduled story hours and craft time. This is our favorite place in the area to spend the entire day at the beach, offering clean bathhouses and a shady picnic area.
is much larger, and we love visiting Atalaya, the home built in the early 20th century by Archer Huntington for his wife who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. We always try to catch a guided tour by one of the docents, since this brings the empty rooms and abandoned corridors to life.
We also check the schedule of ranger-led programs in advance of our visit, and look forward to the guided alligator and bird viewing, and the amazing South Carolina Lowcountry ecological education. These state parks would certainly delight us even if we just popped in for a few hours and wandered around on our own. After many visits, though, we have developed a deep appreciation for the natural and historical insights that the guides and rangers offer their visitors.
Just across the street from Huntington Beach State Park is another regional treasure, Brookgreen Gardens. We schedule a visit early in our stay, since a pass is good for up to seven days from the date of purchase. Brookgreen is a sprawling 9,000-acre property, and it is impossible to take it all in during one visit. First-time visitors will want to meander through the gardens and view the largest collection of figurative American sculpture in the country. The zoo should also be at the top of the agenda, as it houses wildlife native to the woods and swamps of the Carolina Lowcountry.
We spend a good chunk of time here at the Enchanted Storybook Forest, a children’s area that emphasizes imaginative play and natural exploration. Another favorite? The pontoon boat rides that meander through the creeks on the wildlife preserve and the overland excursions that take visitors to historic sites on the property.
Beach Bites and Brew
We stay very physically active while visiting Myrtle Beach, and that’s a good thing since we eat our fair share of Lowcountry cuisine. Dining out can be tricky — there are so many options that it is hard to unearth the truly great restaurants. But they exist, and we never settle for a run-of-the-mill pancake house or overpriced calabash seafood buffet.
Every morning in Myrtle Beach should start at Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery, where Chef Jamie combines her love of the Northeast diner tradition with the best of Southern cuisine and produces food that we dream about long after our return home. The red-velvet waffle glazed with a cream-cheese frosting knocks our socks off, and the pork-belly Benedict offers the perfect savory foil. The menu is elevated, but the prices are not. As far as we are concerned, eating breakfast anywhere else in town is a wasted opportunity.
When we are worn out after a long day at the beach, the Noizy Oyster is our favorite casual dinner spot, offering a raw bar, fun cocktails and plenty of beer on tap. It’s just a few blocks away from the Myrtle Beach KOA, our favorite campground when we want to be right near the action yet feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the Grand Strand. The Noizy Oyster gives us our fix of large fried platters of seafood along with baskets of the boys’ favorite side dish, hush puppies. The food is fresh, the prices are fair, and we enjoy ourselves so much more than we would at one of the buffets.
And then there is the challenge of choosing a spot along the Murrells Inlet MarshWalk where we always splurge for one amazing waterfront dining experience. The locals point us to Graham’s Landing for lunch, which is perfect after we have been kayaking or hiking at nearby Huntington Beach State Park. We follow directions and order the Parmesan-crusted scallops and the shrimp and grits, both house specialties, according to our server.
But we still want a nice night out before we hitch up and leave the next day, so the Wicked Tuna is the pick for our last dinner in Myrtle Beach. This restaurant is huge but fills up quickly, and we get there early to snag a prime spot on the outdoor deck where we watch the sunset over trees lining the salt marsh. The Wicked Tuna serves fish caught by its own fleet of boats, so the snapper that we enjoy that evening was brought in earlier that day.
The sushi is creative without being pretentious, and we can’t even manage to finish the Dragon Egg, half an avocado stuffed full of king crab and smoked salmon. We piece together our own version of a surf and turf with strip steak, grouper and crab cakes. The dessert tray sends our boys into a total state of bliss, and we head back to the campground in the dark with full bellies and happy hearts.
We laugh now that a place we avoided visiting for so long has become one of our favorite RV destinations, especially during the early spring and late fall months. Each visit to Myrtle Beach is unique yet offers us the opportunity to enjoy relaxing beach days, natural beauty and exciting attractions. We don’t believe we could ever tire of our Myrtle Beach vacations, but we will keep returning again and again just to test out that theory.
Reach the Beach
The Myrtle Beach area has more than a dozen RV resorts and public campgrounds.
Apache Family Campground and Pier
800-553-1749 | www.apachefamilycampground.com
Briarcliffe RV Resort
843-272-2730 | www.briarcliffervresort.com
Brunswick Beaches Camping Resort
855-579-2267 | www.brunswickbeachescamping.com
Cypress Camping Resort
843-293-0300 | www.cypresscampingresort.com
Huntington Beach State Park
866-345-7275 | www.southcarolinaparks.com/huntington-beach
Lakewood Camping Resort
877-525-3966 | www.lakewoodcampground.com
Myrtle Beach KOA
843-448-3421 | www.koa.com/campgrounds/myrtle-beach
Myrtle Beach State Park
866-345-7275 | www.southcarolinaparks.com/myrtle-beach
Myrtle Beach Travel Park
800-255-3568 | www.myrtlebeachtravelpark.com
North Myrtle Beach RV Resort
844-777-5727 | www.northmyrtlebeachrvresortanddrydock.com
Ocean Lakes Family Campground
877-510-1413 | www.oceanlakes.com
PirateLand Family Camping Resort
800-443-2267 | www.pirateland.com
Willow Tree RV Resort and Campground
866-207-2267 | www.willowtreervr.com
For More Information
Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
800-356-3016 | www.visitmyrtlebeach.com