Who hasn’t heard of world-famous Myrtle Beach? This small seaside town welcomes over 14 million visitors to its stretch of shoreline each year. For generations, families have been making their annual pilgrimage to the golden sands of the Grand Strand along South Carolina’s northeastern coast to enjoy a fun-filled vacation of sunbathing, swimming, golf, dining, amusements, shag dancing and about a hundred other things to do!
And while most of the well-known visitor activities and attractions, there are also some really great but lesser-known points of interest that are off the beaten path in Myrtle Beach that can really round out your itinerary and enrich your family’s vacation experience.
Explore miles of beach on horseback: Saddle up at Inlet Point Plantation Stables and take your family on an equestrian adventure! From beginner to experienced rider, the riding tours offered are designed to accommodate family members of all skill levels and ages. Enjoy an oceanfront trot along a private island beach, explore tranquil plantation pathways along Dunn Sound, or enjoy a romantic sunset ride for two, for a truly unforgettable vacation experience. To make reservations, call (843) 249-2989.
Visit An Area Vineyard: When you think of the grape-producing regions of the world, coastal South Carolina probably doesn’t figure high on your list. But this part of the world is home to the native muscadine grape, a hearty variety that produces wines of varying sweetness. Sample some delicious select vintages in the wine-tasting room at La Belle Aimee Vineyard in Little River, about 20 miles north of Myrtle Beach along the Grand Strand. This local vineyard regularly hosts wine tastings, vineyard tours and concerts with live local bands all year long. For a list of upcoming tastings and events, call (843) 399-9463.
Cuddle Up with a Siberian Tiger: Want to make a family vacation memory you won’t soon forget? Visit T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach and see the world’s rarest tigers up close and personal for free as they play and relax in a tranquil outdoor environment. This interactive animal conservation facility is also home to a range of exotic wild animals including apes, chimpanzees, orangutans, elephants and many more, but what makes this place so memorable are it’s “animal ambassadors”–including Siberian tiger cubs–who you can pose and interact with for a fee. The fees help fund the care of the animals and support international wildlife projects, so it’s a win-win for you and the animals! Hours of operation vary throughout the year, so call at (843) 361-4552 for current hours.
Have a Shark Sleepover: For a memorable family experience, pack up the kids and head to Ripley’s Aquarium located in the heart of Myrtle Beach to spend a fun-filled night camping in Dangerous Reef Tunnel. The exhibit is Ripley’s most popular and most enchanting for good reason, with thousands of sea creatures of all shapes, sizes and colors (including giant stingrays, sea turtles and several species of shark) swimming all around you in crystal-clear water–you’ll feel like you can almost reach out and touch them!
Young campers also get to enjoy an aquarium scavenger hunt, educational craft activities, and a self-guided aquarium tour. Late night snacks and continental breakfast are also included. To make a reservation, call (1-800) 734-8888, EXT. 3226.
Explore Enchanted Gardens: Brookgreen Gardens is a gorgeous 9,100-acre outdoor museum located just 18 miles south of Myrtle Beach. In 2013, TripAdvisor included Brookgreen in its list of Top Ten Public Gardens in the U.S. It is home to lush and colorful display gardens featuring 300-year old oaks, plus over 1,400 elegant sculptures and a zoo with an amazing variety of rescued wildlife.
The land itself occupies an abandoned rice plantation, and self-guided educational trails inform you about the history of the place as well as the heritage of the indigenous Gullah-Geechee culture, which evolved from the West African slaves who were brought to work the rice fields of the Carolina and Georgia coastal areas. To learn more about programs and tours, call (843) 235-6000.
Get Close and Personal with South Carolina’s Largest Predator: Heading inland from Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand lies a vast coastal plain–a network of rivers, lakes, streams and ponds that drain from the Appalachians east toward the Atlantic. These wetlands, or swamps, form an important part of the state’s ecosystem, and are home to thousands of indigenous species, including the American alligator which can grow up to 15 feet in length!
You can stay high and dry and still marvel at these fierce creatures with a visit to Alligator Adventure at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. Live feedings showcase the strength and prowess of these creatures, who leap out of the water to snap their powerful jaws around a meal. If you’re feeling brave, you can even touch a real live gator! Purchase tickets online at AlligatorAdventure.com, or call (843) 361-0789.
Get a Bird’s-Eye View of the Beach: Hop aboard an exciting helicopter ride and get a different perspective on Myrtle Beach and the surrounding coast! Myrtle Beach Helicopter Rides offers a range of tour options to fit all budgets and schedules, from a short but breathtaking two-mile aerial tour of Broadway at the Beach, to a 52-mile long flight that takes you all the way north along the gorgeous Grand Strand to the North Carolina state line. They promise that all their flights are smooth and easy, so there’s no need to worry about airsickness. Call 1-800-FLY4FUN to get more information about tours and pricing.
Travel Back to 1732: A leisurely half-hour drive south from Myrtle Beach brings you to the incredibly charming city of Georgetown, South Carolina’s third-oldest city. Dubbed “Little Charleston,” Georgetown is a giant when it comes to historic attractions. This colonial-era seaport city will instantly charm you with its oak-lined avenues, riverfront shopping and dining, scenic Harborwalk, dozens of majestic antebellum mansions, and rich history. Its central historic district dates back to the early 18th century – when the area was bustling with plantations – and is incredibly well-preserved. The historic buildings along the waterfront have mostly been converted into restaurants, bars and boutique shops, and are a great place to shop and stop in for a bite.
Since it is surrounded by water, one of the best ways to explore Georgetown is by boat. Hop aboard a 56-foot pontoon boat Cap’n Rod’s Lowcountry Plantation Tours for a relaxing tour of Winyah Bay and the surrounding rivers, where you’ll pass plantation mansions and long-abandoned rice fields. On board, your experience is enhanced by Lowcountry native Cap’n Rod, who entertains and enlightens his passengers about the history and local lore of the area. Call 843-477-0287 to book a boat tour.
Feeling adventurous? Stick around on a Friday until after sunset and take a haunted, lantern-led tour through the historic district hosted by Ghosts of Georgetown, where the spirits of the past are said to still roam centuries-old streets. It’s a fun (and spooky) way to learn about Georgetown’s long history, as well as the 18th-and-19th-century rice planters, sea captains, servants, sailors, heartbroken brides-to-be and many other colorful characters who lived here during the last 275 years. For tour information and reservations, call (843) 543-5777.
On the way to Georgetown from Myrtle Beach, you’ll pass through Pawleys Island, a small, sandy island about 3 miles long that was a popular resort destination in the 19th century and famous for it’s Pawley Island hammocks. Today, it still retains a quaintness and relaxed pace that makes it an ideal locale for a day of cycling, or just lounging in the sun on the dunes facing the blue Atlantic.