Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
It’s no big city, but Myrtle Beach has bright lights aplenty. The Grand Strand boasts 60 miles of beaches, but just as many people visit for the golf, go-karts and generous buffets. Behind the glitz, there’s deep culture and wild nature to explore. This is where shag dancing began, and you can still cut a rug with the old-timers at the clubs along Main Street in North Myrtle Beach. Several piers offer productive fishing, and Huntington Beach State Park is home to dozens of alligators that lie around lazily in the sun. Hungry diners choose from platters of Calabash-style fried seafood, piled high, and an endless array of pancake houses. Myrtle Beach is a beachside Gatlinburg, or Las Vegas sans the sin. The best approach? Relax and embrace this vacation-oriented stretch of coast in all its gaudy glory.
There’s no interstate to Myrtle Beach, so sit back and enjoy the scenery through the backroads of the Carolina Sandhills and Pee Dee regions. Cue up The Tams and Chairmen of the Board for a classic beach music playlist as you drive southeast, roughly paralleling the North and South Carolina border. Head out of Charlotte on US-74E to Monroe. Then, either stay on 74 to Wadesboro, crossing the border to Cheraw, or drop onto 601 to drive through the heart of the Pee Dee (and pass directly alongside Darlington Raceway NASCAR track). Driving time is the same, so make the trip part of the adventure and try one route for each direction. The diverging roads meet in Marion, S.C. From there, it’s a straight shot down Highway 501 to the heart of Myrtle Beach.
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Leave Charlotte after an early breakfast to arrive hungry, and head straight to Rockefeller’s Raw Bar. Grab a seat in a distinctive captain’s chair barstool. The no-reservations joint has lines out the door at dinnertime for its steamed scallops, clams and mussels, so revel in your leisurely lunch. If you’re running behind or don’t eat seafood, Dagwood’s Deli builds a mean loaded sub.
Spend the rest of the afternoon soaking up the sun on the beach or at your hotel’s pool, unless you’re ready to explore. Helicopter Adventures offers two-mile aerial tours for $20 that help you get your bearings. Directly next door is Broadway Grand Prix, where seven go-kart tracks let you channel your inner Dale Earnhardt.
In the evening, take a sunset drive to Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, where diners take their pick from seven waterfront restaurants. Enjoy the stroll across the salt marsh and the outdoor live music, but then head two minutes further south to your reservation at Costa, a cozy Italian spot bathed in cool blue hues. Costa’s kitchen impresses with its focus on local seafood, paired with an excellent wine list. For a more casual option, head to the Hot Fish Club, a creekfront institution where live bands play the sun to sleep over the marsh.
Cap the night with a ride on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, taking in views across the boardwalk and ocean from 200 feet in the air, or go dancing at the Spanish Galleon Night Club, where the music appeals to everyone by varying from modern EDM to Carolina Beach music from the ’70s.
Migrate from your oceanfront hotel room to an oceanfront table. Order a crab and shrimp Seafarer’s Omelet at Sea Captain’s House, a classic joint in a beachside mansion now dwarfed by high rises on either side.
If you’re a golfer, save Sea Captain’s House for lunch and beat the heat with an early tee time at Pine Lakes, the “Granddaddy” of Myrtle Beach links and the place where Sports Illustrated magazine was born. Otherwise, sleep off breakfast with a lazy morning on the beach, or cast a line from the Cherry Grove Pier—fishing rods, tackle and bait are all available for rent onsite.
With satiated bellies, catch a dive show at Ripley’s Aquarium, or get your adrenaline pumping with a high-speed ride at Beach Rider Jet Boats. Then it’s time for more beach/pool R&R before a big night out. Make reservations at The Parson’s Table, a chef-owned, historic church-turned-restaurant where a farm-to-table ethos drives the surf-and-turf menu.
When the sun goes down, head to Main Street in North Myrtle Beach for a night of club hopping that’s distinctly South Carolina. Fat Harold’s Beach Club is home base, where the décor and dancefloor feel like stepping back in time to a simpler age when teenagers and old-timers all shagged to the same familiar tunes (they still do that here). Hop across the street to Duck’s Beach Club, where live cover bands keep hips moving, before dropping into OD Arcade & Lounge for more shag dancing or a game of pool.
Shag late and sleep in later. When you finally emerge, head straight to the House of Blues at Barefoot Landing, where the Gospel Brunch on Sundays reinvigorates the spirit with Southern gospel singing and an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Today is recovery day—no need to push it. Play 18 leisurely holes at Hawaiian Rumble, lorded over by a 40-foot volcano and home to the annual Master’s Tournament of Mini-Golf.
Round out your trip with a visit to Huntington Beach State Park and Atalaya, the ruins of a sprawling early 20th-century estate, and gawk at the alligators that laze around the freshwater lake. Take a last dip in the ocean before swinging through the Hammock Shops Village in Pawley’s Island for a souvenir rope hammock. Before hitting the road, work yourself into a food coma at Hog Heaven, where the buffet tempts you to go way overboard with both fried shrimp and pulled pork. You’re navigating backroads to get home, so leave yourself some daylight for the scenic drive. Eat a salad for dinner—or what the heck, scarf that leftover BBQ—before collapsing into bed.
WHERE TO STAY
The majority of Myrtle Beach hotels are oceanfront high rises, of varying levels of swank. Many tend to be jam packed with families during the summer months. For an adult getaway, Ocean 22 features modern décor, suites with balconies overlooking the Atlantic and a classy covered beachfront pool area. If you have kids in tow, Caravelle Resort is an affordably priced classic that features a waterpark, lazy river and multiple pools. Or if quant and quiet are more your style, head a bit further south to Pawley’s Island to the Sea View Inn, where amenities come in the form of rocking chairs on the oceanfront porch, communal Lowcountry boils, and waves just outside an open window.
WHEN TO GO
The Grand Strand comes alive in the summer, when families descend from across the Eastern Seaboard. Although many attractions close or limit hours in the winter, you’ll find significantly reduced hotel prices, restaurant wait times, golf green fees and beach crowds between October and March (and daytime temps are generally more comfortable than during the sweltering peak season of mid-summer).