With the temperature beginning to dip in the North, your thoughts may turn to that summer vacation you never quite got around to. Fear not: there's still time to nab a last bit of warm weather. Head to South Carolina where temperatures linger in the 70s through November, the crowds thin out, and hotel prices drop. I recently took a trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston to scout out two types of trips: a long weekend with the kids, and a romantic getaway to reconnect with your partner before the holiday season.
Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand
The nerve center of South Carolina's strip of beach communities known as the Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach is a kid's paradise of mini-golf, sandcastles, ice cream, and fun. It's still possible to play in the waves this late in the season with water temperatures in the 60s. A little further down the shore is a relaxed playground for adults, Pawleys Island.
Best with Kids
Driving down U.S. 17, the first thing I noticed was the larger-than-life mini-golf courses sporting everything from pirate ships to mythical creatures. In North Myrtle Beach, Hawaiian Rumble has a steaming volcano which erupts with real flames every 20 minutes. It is home to the pro mini golf Master's tournament, but the holes are easy enough for kids, too. Tip: I won the round by aiming shots at the yellow paint strip near each hole.
Dive under the sea without getting wet at Ripley's Aquarium where the Dangerous Reef tunnel puts you face to face with sharks, giant stingrays, and other deep-water fish.
Brookgreen Gardens on nearby Murrells Inlet is a wonderful place for a stroll with the family; it even has a zoo with Lowcountry animals. Take the narrated creek excursion tour to see gators in the wild and learn about the history of rice planting in the area.
Finding a family-friendly place to rest your head is easy in Myrtle Beach. Check out Affordable Family Resort, Embassy Suites at Kingston Plantation, or the Caribbean Resort and Villas for properties geared toward kids with pools, water slides, and lazy rivers.
With a bit of planning, it's possible to have a quiet vacation at Myrtle Beach. Pack a picnic and spend a relaxing day at Myrtle Beach State Park (4401 South Kings Hwy.), which has bathroom facilities, a fishing pier, and a nature trail. Tip: Quiet beaches can also be found between 30th and 48th avenues North.
If you'd rather spend a day on the green, you're in luck as many of the Grand Strand's more than 100 golf courses are championship layouts. Tee Times Central (843/347–4653) makes it easy to book tee times at nearly all the Strand's courses.
For a decidedly sophisticated dinner, I went to the chic Sea Blue restaurant in North Myrtle Beach. The booth seating is perfect for an intimate meal. Try the sea bass filleted tableside or share small plates and a flight of wine.
You can also do what locals do to get away from it all and head to Pawleys Island about a half hour south of Myrtle Beach. To really soak in the slow-paced lifestyle, plan to stay the night at nearby Litchfield Plantation. The first glimpse of the live-oak–lined driveway took me back in time. This former rice plantation, located on the Waccamaw River, has views of rice fields and trees dripping Spanish moss. If you can, stay in the Plantation House, with its period furnishing and Old South charm. You don't have to sacrifice the beach by staying here either—access to a private beach club and a pristine strip of sand is included. Tip: There are no lifeguards on Pawleys Island, so swim with care.
Once you've spent an hour relaxing on a Pawleys Island hammock at Litchfield Plantation, you may just have to take one home. The Hammock Shops let you do just that. You can even watch weavers create the rope hammocks that made this community famous at the Weavers Pavilion. While you're there, stay for lunch or dinner at High Hammock and don't leave without trying their signature shrimp and grits.
This historic and picturesque city, with church steeples and horse drawn carriages, looks like something out of the movies. Since you'll want to walk the storied streets for yourself, the milder fall temperatures are actually a bonus. Although it's mostly thought of as a grown-up city, kids can enjoy themselves here, too.
Best With Kids
It may seem touristy, but a carriage ride is one of the best ways to get to know the city, especially if you have younger kids in tow who aren't game for a 2-mi hike. Most carriages queue up at North Market and Anson streets and tours last about an hour. Locals recommend Palmetto Carriage (www.carriagetour.com) for mule-drawn tours. For a thrill, take the Ghosts of Charleston (www.tourcharleston.com) walking tour, which explores historic graveyards.
Kids won't want to miss the suspended whale skeleton at the Charleston Museum, which has great natural history, archaeology, and Civil War exhibits. The Children's Museum of the Lowcountry is also packed with hands-on activities.
If the kids have been especially good, head to Baked Charleston for the brownie Oprah deemed one of her "favorite things" or a cupcake that's out of this world.
Even for non-history buffs, a historical walking tour can be utterly fascinating. Mary Coy, a local teacher-turned-tour guide, led me on her Charleston 101 Tour (www.charleston101tours.com). Throughout the two-hour stroll, she pointed out architectural details like the wrought iron fences of legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons. I also learned about the city's lesser-known role in the Revolutionary War and experienced the lighter side of history snacking on bene wafers (sesame seed cookies), a treat from Charleston's past.
For an intimate stay, check out Charleston's many B&Bs. The Historic Charleston Bed & Breakfast Association (843/722–6606, www.historiccharlestonbedandbreakfast.com) can help you find the perfect room. After checking in to the Wentworth Mansion, in the heart of downtown, I found it hard to leave the exquisite room—complete with fireplace, sitting area, day bed, and a view of Charleston's rooftops. Tip: For an even better view climb the spiral staircase to the cupola. The knowledgeable, helpful staff provides a tour of the home explaining its history and highlighting artful details like Tiffany stained glass windows. Luckily, I didn't have to go far for dinner, with fine dining in the mansion's former carriage house at Circa 1886. The modern Southern cuisine gussies up favorites like light and flavorful fried catfish with hopping john (field peas and rice) and chowchow (pickled slaw with mustard sauce).
A visit to Charleston isn't complete without at least one house tour. Check out the Nathaniel Russell House for sumptuous period furniture. For a completely different experience, take the Aiken-Rhett House's audio tour. Rather than lush interiors, the interest here is the slave quarters and outbuildings preserved much as they were when occupied.