(The Myrtle Beach boardwalk)
If you're puzzled about the title of this blog post, allow me to explain. I've never been a sunworshipper due to my fair skin and I've always been too uncomfortable and impatient to even "work" on a tan. In fact, a colleague who was observing a photo of myself and my husband on my desk remarked years ago that I "looked like a mime." I will agree that I was a bit washed out there, but I still considered that comment a tad harsh.
So if you're the type who exclusively enjoys sandy beaches and riding waves, this post might not be for you. However, it you want to save some money, avoid the crowds and visit Myrtle Beach in an off season, you'll be happy to know that there's plenty to do in the area, from watching live shows, to taking an educational e-cruise, to touring a large sculpture garden and more.
What surprised me the most as a first-time visitor was how sprawling the area was. In fact, we spent quite a bit of time in the car driving back and forth to destinations. Two landmarks in the area are Barefoot Landing and Broadway at the Beach and each is about 20 minutes away from each other.
The few suggestions below are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything you can do in the Myrtle Beach area--without ever setting a bare foot on the beach.
Broadway at the Beach
Broadway at the Beach attracts an astonishing 11 million visitors a year. I learned this fact when I returned home my trip and suddenly I was glad that we visited in mid-April, when the crowds hadn't ballooned yet.
The 350-acre complex is a boon to shoppers, who can browse from among 100 specialty shops and foodies have their choice of about 20 restaurants. Some of the more familiar places include Landry's Seafood House, Senor Frog's, Paula Deen's Family Kitchen and the Hard Rock Cafe. And for the kids and those who are kids at heart, Broadway at the Beach features 20 amusement rides in three different parks.
On our first day there, we planned four activities at Broadway at the Beach, all of which were quite entertaining. This was a good thing because in mid-April the temperature had only reached the high 50s, so we were quite happy to enjoy time indoors.
Our first stop was Ripley's Aquarium
where we saw stingrays (which kids can pet), sharks swimming overhead in see-through aquariums, and perky penguins with nametags waddling around, which is a highlight for many. Those who pay an extra fee can be taken behind the scenes where they can touch the cute little creatures and learn more about them.
(Guests, for an extra fee, can learn more about penguins and have the opportunity to touch them)
(Young and old alike enjoy the Ripley's Aquarium experience)
(The stingray encounter is another popular exhibit)
Another destination at Broadway at the Beach features the Simpsons, a 4-D experience that is entertaining for both young and old alike. Upon arrival, we were directed to stand with Homer, Marge and Maggie for a complimentary photo before entering the theater for the show, which included puffs of air and moving seats, for a truly fun experience. Each mini-episode lasted between 10-15 minutes and there were plenty of jokes for adults. When we visited, Ayn Rand starred as a school administrator who refused to candycoat kids' talents, or lack thereof. I enjoyed the humor and the trip to the Kwik-E-Mart afterwards where "Lard Lad," donuts were for sale.
(The Simpsons 4-D is fun for all ages)
(After the shows, kids can enjoy a "Lard Lad," donut)
By this time, it was lunch, so we headed to another destination that is a hit with families: Dave & Buster's. When we visited, people of all ages seemed to be having a good time playing arcade games, virtual reality games, air hockey, tabletop games, claw games and more.
When I visit entertainment complexes like this I sometimes worry that the food will get short shrift, but I have to say that my husband and I really enjoyed our lunches. He opted for the fish and chips and I ordered the Korean chicken and we highly recommend both.
Our final stop at Broadway at the Beach was Wonderworks
--otherwise known as the "upside-down house," where the exterior alone is a draw.
(The unique exterior of Wonderworks)
Wonderworks is another destination where families can spend hours engaging in educational entertainment. Inside are more than 100 exhibits divided into several zones: the extreme weather zone, the physical challenge zone, the light and sound zone, the space discovery zone, the imagination lab and the wonderworks art gallery.
Experiencing high winds in a hurricane shack, feeling how cold the water was when the Titanic sank and jumping on keys to play a large piano like in the movie Big are just a few of the activities we observed people enjoying. If I had to choose, I'd say my favorite part of the visit was the 6-D extreme motion theater experience. Be sure you're strapped in!
Barefoot Landing on the Waterway is where tourists can spend hours shopping, eating and dining. It is a smaller version of Broadway at the Beach with familiar retail shops like Build-a-Bear, Sunglass Hut, Ron Jon Surf Shop and other smaller independent retail shops.
We visited Barefoot Landing to take a 1.5-hour cruise on a 70-foot authentic wooden riverboat known as the Barefoot Queen
, where we enjoyed dinner and a singer who often got the crowd involved. We even met a few new friends while watching the world go by from the back of the boat.
(The Barefoot Queen is a 70-foot authentic wooden riverboat)
(Just one of the beautiful properties we saw during our cruise)
We returned to Barefoot Landing the following day to have dinner at a fun dinner place called LuLu's
, which serves seafood, salads, sandwiches and cocktails and is owned by Jimmy Buffet's sister. Plenty of parrotheads make sure to stop there to eat while in the area. There they can listen to live music and hear the hits of Jimmy Buffet that play over the soundsystem. After dinner we visited their onsite gift shop to purchase a delicious hot sauce called "Perfect Pepper," that we tasted during dinner.
(Lulu's is a popular dining destination owned by Jimmy Buffet's sister)
Stroll the Boardwalk
The boardwalk at Myrtle Beach is 1.8-miles long and features shops, restaurants and rooftop bars, all within view of the beach. I was surprised to later learn that the boardwalk is relatively new, having been built in 2010. It took nine months to complete at a cost of $6.5 million.
During our time there, we visited Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium
. If you've read my previous blogs, you might be aware that I always make time for Ripley's when I'm out of town. I'm never disappointed at the quirky collections designed to amaze and amuse, like this gorilla comprised of old tires, a portrait of "The Rock" made of cigar ash and a horse created out of computer keys.
(This gorilla that greets guests upon arrival is made of tires)
(A horse crafted of computer keys)
(Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made with cigar ash)
Another highlight of the boardwalk area is a famous honky-tonk bar called "The Bowery," where Alabama played as the house band before they were launched into super stardom. The Bowery will celebrate 80 years in business next February, so they must be doing something right. The building exterior which was once brick is now wood, but the interior has stayed the same throughout the years.
(The outside of the Bowery)
(An antique Schlitz light fixture)
(The interior of The Bowery where the band Alabama got their start)
People were eating outside when we visited and the inside was closed until the evening when the place starts hopping as bands take the stage. When I explained why I was there to a waitress on staff, she kindly allowed me access to take a peak inside and snap a few photos.
Off the Beaten Path
(We learned about the Murrell's Inlet ecosystem alongside charter school students)
A short drive from Myrtle Beach to Murrell's Inlet will take you to a marina for an eco-tour to learn more about the area and its wildlife. The 1.5-hour trip is interesting and educational and makes a pit stop at a small beach so visitors can walk around, dip their feet in the water, or merely collect shells.
(Our guide shows us a sea urchin)
During our cruise, we learned alongside students who were there with a charter school. I even made bold to hold a sea urchin. Its little eyes made me sad, so I was glad that they threw him back in after passing him around. I also learned about jellyfish that they call "cannonballs" which don't sting. Our intrepid guide even licked it to prove this fact as the slime dripped down his arm. I passed on holding that one---no thanks!
(A jellyfish called a "cannonball.")
Other interesting tidbits that were new to me is that sand dollars stand to eat and that soft coral, which the guide holds in the photo above, is called carrageenan and is used in many ice-cream products. "The Hershey company uses the most," he said, giving a little shout-out to my native state of Pennsylvania.
Another destination that is a bit off the beaten path, just south of Murrell's Inlet, is Brookgreen Gardens
, an area so beautiful that I haven't enough superlatives to describe it. Lovely, fascinating and the best sculpture garden I've ever seen are my lame attempts at praise. I never thought any sculpture garden would beat New Jersey's Grounds for Sculpture
, but this one knocks them down to second place.
The 9,100-acre property, in addition to featuring sculptures, is also a wildlife preserve with a Zoo onsite, which we unfortunately lacked time to see, nor did we check out the $10 boat ride, which sounded like fun.
When it was all said and done, I had snapped about 65 photos and there were still more statues around every corner in this world-class outdoor museum. It's no wonder that Brookgreen Gardens has been designated among the top 10 Botanical Gardens in America. The destination has also received a Garden of Excellence Award from the American Public Garden Association.
A Gallery onsite is also part of admission. When we visited, Rodin was featured.
(Brookgreen Gardens features a gallery onsite)
Brookgreen Gardens is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Take in a Show
On our last night, we decided to take in a show at the Carolina Opry
, which celebrates its 37th season this year. The theater seats 2,200 and features state-of-the-art lighting and sound. We certainly weren't disappointed. On the bill was "Time Warp" a variety show with top-notch performers featuring music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
Jordan Gilmore Watkins, Director of Marketing, said that when his father opened the theater in 1986, the idea of a variety show was unheard of and the town practically rolled up the sidewalks at night. "There were plenty of restaurants and mini golf courses, but nothing for the family to do together in the evening," he said. Evidently he was onto something because the venue is still going strong decades later as people are drawn to its world-class shows.
It's not often that I visit a place that has a seemingly endless amount of things to do, but Myrtle Beach certainly fits the bill.
Hopefully these few ideas that I've listed here will pique your interest enough to arrange a visit.