As you cruise down Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, you’ll pass buffet barn after barn, each with a sign shouting “170 items!”, “150 items!” or “200 items!” The owners hope that diners will rush in from nearby beaches to load up on barbecue, fried seafood, “chicken bog” and piping hot hushpuppies. These Southern-flavored all-you-can-eats are kitschily entertaining, rather tasty and a pretty good deal.
The same can be said of this coastal portion of the Palmetto State. There are so many different things to sample in the Myrtle Beach area—miniature golf, spas, musical revues, shag dancing, outlet shopping, amusement parks, beachcombing—that you might feel as if you’re tackling a monster buffet. So pick up a plate, decide what you’re craving and see how much you can pile on, given your limits. Here’s the best of all Myrtle Beach has to offer.
From toddler to tween to retiree, there’s a fun park or miniature golf haven here for everyone. Rollercoaster fans hit Freestyle Music Park while aquatic types tackle the slides at Wild Water & Wheels. Engine hounds race carts at Nascar Speedpark and miniature golfers take swings at Mutiny Bay. For old-school versions of all the above, try the 44-year-old Family Kingdom.
At the southernmost end of the new boardwalk, rent fishing poles and tackle from the 2nd Avenue Pier, a family-owned 74-year-old joint. The best biking is around the Market Common or Myrtle Beach State Park. Joggers, walkers and beachcombers avoid the summertime crowds when they hit the shore between sunrise and breakfast.
Serious golfers do well at any of the area’s courses, but the ones that regularly snag accolades are Barefoot Resort’s Dye, Love and Fazio courses; Dunes; Tidewater; and TPC of Myrtle Beach. While those courses can cost $100-plus a round, the well-loved Heritage Club, 40 minutes south on Pawleys Island, can run half as much.
Spa goers rave about the new getaway in the North Beach Plantation community—Cinzia, The Spa at North Beach Plantation. With a saltwater whirlpool and internationally themed massages, it’s the region’s crown jewel.
And for a blast from the (distant) past, visit Medieval Times’ Myrtle Beach Castle to watch swordplay, falconry and a jousting tournament over a roast-chicken feast.
Find the best of the worst cheap T-shirts and snow globes at Wings or Eagles (various locations), or visit the grandfather of them all—the gargantuan, six-decade-old Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the boardwalk. The area’s bounty of outlet malls keeps bargain hunters busy. The two Tanger Outlets malls alone include the likes of Banana Republic, Coach, Nine West and more (tangeroutlet.com). And the Coastal Grand Mall (coastalgrand.com), with more than 170 shops, is one of the state’s largest.
Anglers revel in the Bass Pro Shop. For a traditional Southern souvenir, check out the hand-tied hammocks at the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock.
Myrtle Beach has a crazy number of huge buffets, most offering more than 150 different dishes. These massive dining rooms can easily handle the busloads of hungry visitors who descend on them before heading off to nearby attractions. Places like The Original Benjamin’s and the Great American Steak & Buffet Co. offer local flavors like Calabash-style fried seafood and “chicken bog,” a Lowcountry dish of rice, chicken and sausage. The buffets are good value, but you might miss out on the nuances of Southern hospitality and home cooking.
Barbecue joints like Big D’s Bar-B-Que Barn or Little Pigs Bar-B-Q lack frills but serve up perfect pork platters, hushpuppies, and barbecue and slaw sandwiches. For a more traditional Southern supper, dine on crab casserole at one of the few waterfront dining spots on the beach: the 80-year-old Sea Captain’s House.
Just south of Myrtle Beach is Murrells Inlet, lined with restaurants, bars and a marina (murrellsinletmarshwalk.com). Visitors stroll the marshwalk, carrying their drinks as they move from one spot to another to catch live music and enjoy straight-from-the-water appetizers. Sports lovers head to the Market Common’s upscale King Street Grille, while club goers check out the evening scene at Broadway at the Beach.
Epicureans no longer get short shrift on the Grand Strand. The best options are the mod SeaBlue for small plates that start at $10; Greg Norman’s Australian Grille for surf and turf; and Pawleys Island’s High Hammock for nouveau renditions of Southern seaside favorites like shrimp and grits and crab cakes. The Cypress Room at the Island Vista serves upscale versions of downhome food and fresh catches; Divine Prime is the place for dressy steaks.
If you have access to a kitchen, visit the Mr. Fish seafood market for fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. The Crab Cake Lady sells handpicked, hand-shaped crab cakes. Go to a Piggly Wiggly (various locations) to stock up on grits, ham hocks and peanuts for boiling. The farmers market sells fresh produce on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Finally, don’t miss the Sunday gospel brunch at perhaps the coolest joint in town—the House of Blues