So just what it is about Myrtle Beach, S.C., North Myrtle Beach to be exact, that would bring a 40-something here nearly 40 times in the last 22 years? Uncrowded and wildly pretty beaches? Dolphin sightings? Pre-Civil War history? Low country food? Outlet shopping? I do love it all and think Myrtle Beach and South Carolina in general have long taken a back seat to Florida when it comes to southern vacations.
However, MB has enjoyed steady traffic since post-WWII as northerners came straight down I-95 for fun in the sun. Canadians made the trek, too, as evidenced by MB's salute to them annually in March called Can-Am Days. In fact, in the 1940s-1960s The Grand Strand had its heyday, with teens piling in cars to drive across several states to come to The Pavillion - an amusement park on the ocean's edge. That landmark was just torn down this year and the site remains vacant with no current plans.
I can remember coming to Myrtle Beach in the mid-1980s when one could not drive down Ocean Avenue in the late spring for all the foot traffic, cruising cars and general mayhem. Not long before that, Myrtle Beach was home to the now-famous band Alabama (who would have followed a band named South Carolina?), who in their early days played spots like The Bowery and The Spanish Galleon and provided accompaniment for couples dancing The Shag. Thankfully, I am too young to know what that is, but it was created and made famous on the Grand Strand. Alabama paid homage to their MB roots by opening The Alabama Theatre and playing here several times a year. At one point they also opened an Alabama restaurant, but that has since become a Nascar Cafe, complete with driving experience, go-carts, big-name cars on site and bungee jumping (not sure of the tie-in? death, maybe?).
But, I don't come for any of these things. In fact, I've never been to any of the attractions I just mentioned. I do love the history. It's not hard to imagine shipping captains stopping here for the white sand beaches, and from there it's a short leap to thoughts of pirates, mermaids and all sorts of ghost legends, which run rampant here.
South Carolina in general also has plenty of Revolutionary and Civil War history, and although I haven't done it, I would love to visit some really old cemeteries. It's also not hard to see how South Carolina could have gone the way of the Confederacy and become it's own little country. The really old folks seem to recall those days fondly. The roadside shacks, although today a sign of severe poverty here, seem to harken back to those renegade times.
One place I have visited on several occasions is Brookgreen Gardens, one of the largest American sculpture gardens if not the largest US collection. Brookgreen Gardens was founded by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband and their former summer home/mansion can be seen at Hutington Beach State Park. At Brookgreen, which I last saw in March, I particularly enjoyed Frog Baby, whose Baby cousin (I guess) is a famous statue full of lore at my alma mater, Ball State University. I also really liked AHH's huge aluminum sculpture of Don Quixote, which appealed to the Spanish major in me, having read that a time or two and doing a couple papers on Miguel de Cervantes' hero/anti-hero.
Shelling is not the best here, at least not anymore. Twenty-five years ago we could find whole, large sand dollars and starfish, best found after a storm and more likely up the coast in North Carolina, at Sunset Beach or Holden Beach. It has been so long since I have found a whole shell bigger than one inch! Certainly, shelling is better in Florida, at places like Sanibel, Bradenton and others.
South Carolina also seems to have a more specific "menu" than the melting pot that is Florida. Low country cuisine includes very certain things and preparation styles. When I'm here, I say, bring on the cold boiled shrimp, the hush puppies and honey butter and those with a stronger constitution will add the collard greens, fried green tomatoes, crawfish, sweet tea and key lime pie (also a Florida specialty). Dining in MB is so popular there are caution lights and warning signs for driving on "Restaurant Row" during the dinner hour. Now, there is every possible chain restaurant and fewer and fewer famous local spots. Ella's in Calabash, NC, "just up the road" remains open for glorious fried seafood.
Sitting on the beach is of course a favorite and famous past-time here, made more enjoyable by the fact that the beaches are usually not too crowded, except during high season of June-August. Even then, it is not as elbow-to-elbow as Hilton Head, four hours to the south, or anywhere in Florida for that matter. But, in spring or fall, my favorites here and at home, one can sit on the beach, lie in the sun all day and not be bothered by anyone near. There are relatively few boats, fishermen, no motorized traffic allowed, no vendors hawking anything and only the occasional airplane with an advertising banner trailing after.
When I first came here, I used to think Myrtle Beach was only for "old" people. Now that it appears I may be one of "them," I see the last 22 years have taught me a lot about this favorite second home, and it is also much easier to see MB offers a lot for young people, children, adults, seniors and even late-night bloggers and artist wannabees. Something for everyone.