A two hour drive up the coast from Charleston awaits 60 miles of wide, soft sandy beaches with something fun to offer anyone. Like many popular tourist destinations, Myrtle Beach has its fair share of amusements, miniature golf courses, high-rises and seafood joints selling souvenir T-shirts. A closer look reveals its shabby chic side and best-kept secrets of this sun lovers’ spot, rich in storybook history and Southern culture.
Room with a View
Of all the places to stay when visiting the Grand Strand, it’s hard to beat beachfront. For those looking for something roomier with private access to the shore, there’s the Crown Jewel. Since the Greater Myrtle area is actually comprised of 12 niche communities, this three-story gem technically resides in family-friendly Garden City and was home base during my stay.
Of course, minimal time was actually spent inside the spacious rental managed by Surfside Realty. Beyond the kitchen’s sliding glass doors, a wooden path points the way to the water – both a personal pool and the beach beyond. Across the street, Gulfstream Café beckons visitors to their west-facing sun deck, boasting the best view of the sunset over Murrells Inlet. Inside the elegant dining room below, my table toasted the day’s end with jumbo lump crab cakes, Grouper Française and surprisingly tasty steaks. The zero-commute to dinner is a real treat, maximizing a day spent at the beach and requiring no GPS navigation to get a cold drink or a great meal in hand.
Hanging with Locals
Murrells Inlet’s Marshwalk offers a string of funky restaurants like Bubba’s Love Shak that light up the night with live music and outdoor dining. Bubba is the unoffi cial mayor of the Inlet, and inside his Shak, you might meet him, take a picture with his statue or at least hear the folklore of how he earned the role of ambassador for the area (I won’t spoil the fun here).
The newest addition to the scene is the innovative grill and sushi bar at Wicked Tuna, not to be confused with the TV series on National Geographic Channel by the same name. Head Chef Dylan Foster and his staff work with fisherman for huge deliveries of fresh catch to create their cuisine – tempura appetizers, unique roll combinations and generous portions of surf and turf.
A table on the back porch overlooks the arriving fishing boats, and it’s easy to see why Murrells Inlet has been dubbed the state’s seafood capital.
If Bubba is the mayor of Murrells Inlet, then hammock weaver Marvin Grant holds court at the nearby Pawley’s Island. Inside his shed at The Original Hammock Shop, the big-grinned Grant has been upholding the tradition of making the original rope relaxation creation for more than 25 years. Inside the shed is wallpapered with postcards, photos and thank yous from customers who visited and at times lend a hand in weaving a few loops with Grant, now a local celebrity.
Rooted in History
More scenic strolling awaits at Brookgreen Gardens, although the pathways here take you away from modern amusements and back in time to when the land was used for rice plantations in the 1800s. Named one of the Top 10 Public Gardens in the U.S. by TripAdvisor, the nonprofit outdoor museum with majestic oaks and world-renowned sculpture reminded me of the natural beauty found in historical lawns of London, England. The Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve are rich with native plants and animals, like alligators, eagles, otters, wild turkeys and deer, and a picnic area invites you to truly stay awhile. It’s easy to get lost for hours exploring, yet that is hardly enough time to see all the thousands of acres; that’s exactly why admission here is good for seven consecutive days.
Another historic community hides a short drive away to charming Conway, where visitors can get a taste for Gullah culture at Ultimate Gullah, local art at Conway Glass (their work has been displayed in the White House) and, of course, more seafood at Rivertown Bistro. The latter serves their spin on Southern favorites like the Lowcountry Spring Rolls – chicken, spinach, Tasso ham, cheddar and jack cheese, fried and served with honey Dijon – and housemade Yam chips with smoked tomato ranch, to start. The dining room is a pleasant surprise, juxtaposed from the smalltown street outside and made me feel like I was discovering one of the Grand Strand’s best-kept secrets.
Like the way a perfect summer day feels carefree and sun-kissed, the memories and pleasant discoveries made along the coast are, after all, a souvenir to last a lifetime.
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