By BRUCE SMITH
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Myrtle Beach, this year celebrating the 75th anniversary of its incorporation, is the heart of South Carolina’s $16.5 billion tourism industry. Myrtle Beach is in the center of a 60-mile reach of beaches that attracts more than 14 million visitors a year to dozens of golf courses, hundreds of restaurants and tens of thousands of hotel, motel and other rental units. There’s shopping at hundreds of stores and nine live entertainment theaters with almost 12,000 seats. But there’s a lot that’s free.
This is the reason people come to Myrtle Beach. In South Carolina, the beaches are public and there are regular beach access points. Some areas have lifeguards and some have umbrellas and chairs for rent, but all you really need is a beach blanket and a cool drink. There’s a beach for most every taste. Pawleys Island, to the south, is considered one of the oldest beach resorts on the East Coast with homes dating to the 1700s. The quiet beach is lined with weathered bungalows and proudly calls itself “arrogantly shabby.” In Myrtle Beach, the shore is lined with high-rise hotels and condominiums and it’s just a short walk to grab a burger along busy Ocean Boulevard. If you bring a pet, check local regulations for hours when dogs can be on the beach.
The boardwalk runs along Myrtle Beach’s oceanfront business district. Just over a mile in length, it was completed three years ago at a cost of more than $6 million. It’s a great place to wander along the shore without getting your feet sandy or to just to sit and watch people enjoy their summer escape. At sunset you can watch the oceanfront SkyWheel, the tallest Ferris wheel in the eastern United States, spin lazily, illuminated by a million LED lights. The boardwalk is being extended another block and the mayor has said he would like the city to eventually build the world’s longest, running 4.6 miles.
Summer means a lot of free entertainment. In Plyler Park, just off the boardwalk, the Hot Summer Nights series of free concerts and other events runs this year from June 3 to Aug. 31. On Mondays there are free kids carnivals, with concerts from reggae to rock and country to Dixieland other nights of the week. Every Wednesday there are fireworks over the ocean. Across town, at the Broadway at the Beach entertainment complex, there are free fireworks every Tuesday and most Fridays during the summer. North Myrtle Beach holds four free concerts on Friday evenings during the season in McLean Park while there are other concerts by the lake at Myrtle Beach’s Grand Park. As part of the Myrtle Beach birthday celebration, an oceanfront air show is set for June 28-30.
If you want to get out of the sun for a bit, stop by the Franklin Burroughs-Simeon Chapin Art Museum. Admission is free, but donations are always accepted. Located on the south end of Myrtle Beach, part of the structure is an almost 90-year-old beach house moved to its present location about 30 years ago. The museum has 10 galleries and an art studio for workshops. Beginning June 6, the museum hosts “Animation B.C. (Before Computers),” an exhibit focusing on the development of animation in the 20th Century. It features original production art including Mickey Mouse and Dora the Explorer. Also this summer, the museum features an exhibit with 45 works of golf art.
Conway, located 15 miles inland from Myrtle Beach, is the old tobacco town dating to the early 1700s that millions simply drive past rushing to the shore. But you may want to slow down and stop. The historic district includes almost three dozen National Register of Historic Places sites. The city’s scenic River Walk connects to the business district and runs along the gently flowing Waccamaw River, a great place to cool off on a sultry South Carolina afternoon. Conway, on the first Thursday of the month from June through November, hosts Alive After Five events as varied as a community gospel sing and a classic car show to an ice cream social.