(And a few you may)
Jesse Broadt: Contributor
Almost everyone living east of the Mississippi knows where the Grand Strand is located, but many people erroneously think it is merely a part of Myrtle Beach. However, it is actually the other way around: Myrtle Beach–which was officially incorporated as a town in 1938 and a city in 1957–is just one part of the Grand Strand.
Beginning just above Little River at the North Carolina state line, the Grand Strand extends southward 60 miles to its southern border in Georgetown. Although its epicenter is most certainly Myrtle Beach, the Strand is comprised of 14 different communities and towns that pepper South Carolina’s coast, and it is this entire 60 mile stretch to which vacationers flock each year.
The phrase “The Grand Strand” was coined in 1949 by Claude Dunnagan, who used it as a title for his newspaper column. However, it was not until 1959 that this 60 mile panorama was officially called the Grand Strand. The phrase was created to promote tourism to the Myrtle Beach area, and history has proven that the region deserved–and lived up to–its grand name.
The area offers a stunning variety of things to see and enjoy. Today, several cities and communities on the Strand have put themselves on the map by successfully competing with their big sister, Myrtle. Each year the Strand seems to expand its array of adult and kid-friendly attractions and the most recent additions include the following:
The Grand Strand is situated mostly in Georgetown and Horry Counties–although some would argue that Brunswick County in North Carolina also belongs on the list. You may find yourself fumbling with the pronunciation of Horry on your first trip to the Strand, and the best way to avoid getting your face slapped is to realize that the “H” is silent. If this leaves you still struggling, just take the “O” off the end of Oreo and you’ve got it mastered. Interestingly, Horry County was named for Revolutionary hero, Brigadier General Peter Horry.
You may also find yourself wondering how Myrtle Beach got its name, which incidentally was not from a flapper-era beauty contestant resembling Vanna White, although the latter celebrity does have ties to North Myrtle Beach. The beauty queen story is simply a myth. The name Myrtle Beach was chosen at the beginning of the last century by a lady of the esteemed Burrough’s family, who named it after the southern wax myrtle shrub, which grow abundantly in the area.
While neither Ocean Isle Beach nor Calabash, North Carolina are officially part of the Strand, they have both enjoyed increased tourism throughout the decades. This popularity was fueled, in part, by their close proximity to the Strand’s attractions.
However, some Calabash and Ocean Isle locals may take offense to the suggestion that their success is solely due to their proximity to the Strand. Rather, business owners are typically quick to tell visitors that their towns are popular destinations in their own right and deserve tremendous credit for their enthusiastic, decades-long innovative approach to tourism.
Therefore, after explaining the reasons for their success, they are likely to display their hospitable nature by buying you a beer to thank you for visiting.
There is a virtually limitless number of reasons almost 20 million visitors flock to the Grand Strand each year, including the following:
More than three million rounds of golf are played annually along the Grand Strand, at one of nearly a hundred, top notch, public courses that appeal to both professionals and duffers. If your dream is to drop a 30-foot putt to win it all, this is the perfect place. Just bring your skills–or luck, which works just as well–and enjoy playing in one of the world’s most popular golfing destinations. Spring and fall are peak golf times along the Strand, when it is not uncommon to find condos and resorts booked solid by golfing foursomes from around the world. See a list of courses here.
The Grand Strand has the largest collection of mini-golf courses on the planet, making this the number one area in the country for this well loved activity. Although there are over 50 from which to choose, a few of the most popular are as follows:
Mini-golf has a long and interesting history, beginning in 1927 when Garnet Carter was the first person to patent a mini-golf course he dubbed “Tom Thumb Golf.” However, there were a few earlier unpatented versions, such as James Barber’s “Thistle Du,” which was constructed on the North Carolina native’s estate in 1916.
Myrtle Beach is the self-proclaimed miniature golf capital of the world and Grand Strand vacationers have enjoyed this fun, kid-friendly activity since 1930.
In 1958, the first movie theater came to Myrtle Beach, where “This Happy Feeling,” starring Debbie Reynolds played on opening night. However, live show theaters were not part of the Grand Strand until 1986, when The Carolina Opry opened its doors in Surfside Beach, before moving to Myrtle Beach in 1992.
The show boom continued with the Alabama Theatre, which opened in 1993 at Barefoot Landing, followed in 1995 by Medieval Times, a dinner and jousting show, and Legends in Concert, which features talented performers impersonating famous celebrities and singers.
The infamous House of Blues opened at Barefoot Landing in 1997, with a ceremony featuring appearances from John Goodman, the Blues Brothers and R&B legend, James Brown. The newest addition to the area’s theater world was the Pirates Voyage, an action packed pirate-themed dinner show that opened in 2011.
In 1951, two of Myrtle Beach’s longest-running events began. These are the Sun Fun Festival, a celebration to kick off tourist season, and the Canadian-American (Can-Am) Days Festival, held in honor of the numerous Grand Strand visitors who make their way to sunnier skies from the Great Icy North.
Can-Am Days takes place all along the Strand and offers discounts to participants on everything from lodging to appetizers. The Sun Fun Festival reappeared in 2016 after a five-year hiatus. It is normally held in early June and is recognized as the official start of the Myrtle Beach summer season. This three-day Myrtle Beach oceanfront event features a parade, as well as a big live entertainment line-up.
Other festivals include:
Miles of both indoor and outdoor shopping can be found all along the Grand Strand. However, shopping here began quite humbly, with establishments such as Chapin’s Department Store in 1928 and the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove in 1948, the latter of which still thrives. Now, visitors can browse hundreds of stores at Tanger Outlets or experience the shopper’s paradise of Broadway at the Beach. In 2004, more shopping options were added with the opening of the one-million square foot Coastal Grand Mall. The Market Common, an impressive, upscale open-air shopping center, opened in 2008.
From chocolate fudge, kites, and souvenirs, to apparel such as bikinis, beachwear or formal attire, the Grand Strand has it all. Whether you want to have a hammock built or browse for a unique flea market item, every day is a good day for shopping on the Strand.
The Family Kingdom Amusement Park, which opened in 1966, is still a thriving seaside ride park that draws millions of visitors each year. Even large, expensive amusement park projects could not oust it from its number one spot among Grand Strand vacationers.
The Broadway Grand Prix is another family fun favorite, and boasts seven go-kart tracks and two, 18 hole mini-golf courses. The Pavillion Park and The Track also offer spectacular family entertainment.
Since 1985, Myrtle Waves Water Park has grown from just a few slides to a 20-acre establishment featuring celebrated rides such as the Rockin’ Ray, Night Flight and Arooba Tooba.
Voted the Grand Strand’s most extreme water park, Splashes is another ideal choice for vacationers in search of white-water thrills with an ocean view.
Visitors also rave about Surfside Beach’s Wild Water & Wheels Park, which has grown over the years to a 16-acre facility with a wave pool, 24 slides, go-karts, mini golf and more.
Bowling is perhaps the Grand Strand’s best kept secret and if you are a bowler, you will be pleased to know that options abound in the Myrtle Beach area. Below are some of the most popular lanes on the Strand:
Whether you want to catch the big one or just have fun, the Grand Strand offers fishing opportunities galore, for both pros and novices. You may have childhood memories of coming home with your dad to tell mom how you caught “a Pepsi bottle full and a bunch of little ones,” but it was likely just as much fun as if you would have caught the big one.
Ultimately, however, it does not matter what you catch, because just like you did, your children will enjoy lasting memories about those trips to the beach, sitting for hours in the sand or on a fishy-smelling wooden bench on the pier, closely watching the tip of their fishing rods for the slightest bump.
Seven piers, and of course the surf, are available on the Strand and offshore party boats often bring home large catches of Spanish mackerel, bonito tuna and bluefish, sea bass, amberjack and tuna. Fishing is a great sport, but it is also about catching up with your kids before they suddenly have no more time for fishing. However, if you decide to fish at Bird Island–North Carolina’s last barrier island–beware that it extends a quarter of a mile into South Carolina, which means you may need a fishing license in two states to stay legal.
Huntington Beach and Myrtle Beach State Parks are two of the Grand Strand’s most popular family attractions. The former lays claim to over 300 bird species; an astonishing number that draws birdwatchers from around the globe. However, many of them are difficult to spot and require great diligence. The state’s most prolific seasonal bird is easily spotted during winter at both parks.
This is the celebrated snowbird, which is the tiny cousin of the American sparrow. They weigh in at under an ounce and are less than six inches long. In the winter they leave their homes in the northern United States and Canada and fly southward to warmer destinations along the southern United States Sun Belt, Mexico, and Caribbean locations.
Of course, another type of snowbird “flies south for the winter” each year for similar reasons: the human snowbird. Some stay a few days, others stay several weeks or months, and some fall in love with the area and never go home.
Whether you are searching for steak, seafood, a monster breakfast with buttery grits, an oyster shooter appetizer or a plain old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Grand Strand has the restaurant for you.
Nearly 2000 restaurants, bars and pubs are available from which to choose, where you can enjoy anything from a Gospel brunch to European cuisine. It would likely take years to work your way through just a fraction of the many eateries in the Myrtle Beach area.
Interestingly, boiled peanuts are South Carolina’s official state snack, and if possible, you should buy them in August or September when they have just been freshly harvested. Make sure to boil them as soon as possible before they dry out. This task is easier than you think: simply throw them into a pot of salted-to-taste boiling water, reduce the heat, simmer them for a few hours and enjoy a tasty snack.
Peanuts also freeze well, so you can buy them in bulk and save some for later. However, always boil them for several minutes prior to putting them in freezer bags. If you feel adventurous you can spice them up with your favorite seasonings.
Founded in 1999, the Pelicans are members of the Carolina League and in 2016 they won their most recent championship. Any fan of the sport will enjoy watching a live game at the Pelicans Ballpark during baseball season.
Every day from Little River, South Carolina, vacationers to the Grand Strand can enjoy gaming action. Although gambling is not legal on land, once the casino ship reaches international waters, it becomes a floating, mini-Las Vegas, as landlubber rules no longer apply. Passengers can enjoy buffet style food, drinks, roulette, craps, blackjack, poker and of course, the one armed bandit.
Most people are familiar with the two motorcycle rallies that take place each year on the Grand Strand: the Spring Bike Rally and the Black Pearl Cultural Heritage and Bike Festival. However, the first-ever Myrtle Beach Bike Week event dates back to 1940, and took place in Murrells Inlet. It drew less than 100 motorcycle enthusiasts, but a long-term trend was obviously set.
Car shows are a tradition on the Strand. The Run to the Sun Car Show is probably the most well-known auto show in the area and draws thousands of people each year. However, it is not by far the only event of its type on the Strand. The Cruise into Spring and Cruisin the Beach auto shows are fun and entertaining as well.
Nightclubs abound on the Grand Strand, from Shag dancing bars to contemporary clubs or sophisticated lounges with intimate dance floors.
South Carolina’s state dance is the Shag, which is mostly performed to rhythm and blues music, but can be performed to almost any tempo. The National Shag Dance Championships were held for first time in Myrtle Beach in 1984, which was also the year the Shag was declared the state’s official dance. This competition is the country’s longest continuously running shag dance contest.
However, many regard North Myrtle Beach as the epicenter of the shag dance. Fat Harolds Beach Club definitely presents a good argument for this belief, and fun and exciting Shag competitions are held at this establishment on a yearly basis.
Many other types of night clubs were added throughout the decades, including the renowned no-frills, honky-tonk bar, The Bowery, which first opened in 1944 and played home to many musical acts over the years, including future country music Hall of Famers, Alabama.
As of 2019, some of the most popular clubs are Celebrations Nitelife, which is a Vegas-style nightclub in Myrtle Beach featuring five different lounges, and the Spanish Galleon in North Myrtle Beach. Other great choices include:
Interestingly, Myrtle Beach was once a sleepy little seaside town and Conway, South Carolina was considered “the big city.” Now, Conway is dwarfed by the Grand Strand, where nearly 100,000 hotel and resort units book to capacity during peak season. So make your reservations early and take your pick from one of the largest selections of lodging units on the East Coast.
Not surprisingly, the main attraction associated with the Grand Strand is its 60 miles of expansive shoreline. South Carolina is renowned for its soft, sandy beaches, calm waters, and breathtaking sunrises, which are a reprieve to visitors escaping their daily routines back home.
Many beach-goers begin their day shell-hunting, walking or jogging. As the morning wears on, families, umbrellas and lifeguard stands set up shop. Soon after, sand buckets, sand castles and cornhole players make their daily debuts.
Suddenly, it’s lunchtime, when you will probably discover like many vacationers before you, that fried chicken and potato salad somehow taste better when you’re sitting on a sandy beach with your family. So goes a day on a Grand Strand beach. Lazing in the sun while listening to the surf is an integral reason millions of people from around the world vacation on the Strand.
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Be sure to check out JoJo’s Beach Shop. She always has a selection of great stuff for your next vacation.
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