Here's where to stay, play, and dine on your next trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
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Myrtle Beach Family Beach Guide
Imagine scrunching your toes in the sand or lining up a trick-shot putt through the mouth of a dinosaur. Your sunny beach getaway is closer than you think, and this is the perfect month to start planning. Whether it's your first summer vacation to Myrtle Beach or your 40th, don't make reservations until you consider some of our favorite spots.
Resorts vs. Condos
Cruise beachside Ocean Boulevard, and the condo buildings, hotels, resorts, and classic mom-and-pop joints wash over you like waves. Good news: You have options. Decide now what kind of lodging best fits your family's desires. Do you need to cook big meals, or would you rather have daily clean sheets, a maid service, and other amenities?
above: Miss the crowds by making Myrtle Beach State Park your base camp. It's a family-friendly place to enjoy the water.
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Condos vs. Hotels
Family Resort: Check in and relax at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort at Grande Dunes (pictured). The phenomenal pool, featuring a delicious restaurant and comfortable hammocks, was enough to sell us. The exceptional service seemed like icing on the cake.
Condos: One of the best affordable properties we found is Atlantic Coast Resorts with clean, adequate condos and a great pool. We also like Roxanne Towers, which opened in 2004 and features tasteful, ocean-themed decor. Perhaps the crème de la crème of condo properties in the area, Island Vista blends the best of a condo and resort stay.
Hotel: You'll also enjoy the newly renovated Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront. Each guest room features a mini-fridge and microwave, comfortable beds, and puffy comforters. Cool off in their pool, or walk right out the back gate to the beach.
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You can't wield your fork around here without poking an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet or pancake house. Don't feel guilty for quickly losing interest. We've found some unique restaurants fairly off the beaten sandy path.
You might assume The Bagel Factory is a one-trick pony, but they also offer good omelets ($4.75-$5.25) and three pancakes with eggs ($4.95). Of course, a toasted bagel with a specialty cream cheese ($2.42), such as walnut-and-raisin or jalapeño-and-Cheddar, always pleases.
Our favorite lunch stop remains the authentically Italian Luigi's Trattoria with its imported prosciutto di Parma sandwich with fresh mozzarella ($6.95).
photo: Reserve an evening during your vacation to splurge at Greg Norman's Australian Grille.
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If you're out by the Coastal Grand Mall, snag a booth at the Dead Dog Saloon. We like the Hot Hound Crab Dip ($6.95), followed by Pugsly's Po' Boy ($7.95), which is crammed with lightly fried shrimp.
A local introduced us to the quaint Sun City Cafe located downtown, and now we're lifelong fans of the spicy fish tacos ($10.95). The limited menu features West Coast cuisine and a laid-back atmosphere.
For a splurge, reserve a waterside table on the back deck at Greg Norman's Australian Grille. Yes, this is a much fancier dinner, but children are still welcome. You'll love the rich decor, including aboriginal artwork and live music Wednesday through Sunday nights. Start with the fried calamari ($8.95 medium, $12.95 large) tossed in a sweet-and-sour chile glaze with cilantro and Parmesan cheese. Ask about the fresh fish specials, or try the black pepper-encrusted Atlantic salmon ($19.95) as an entrée.
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What To Do While You're There
Hit the Beach
In case you don't have beach access out your back door, we recommend spreading your towel at Myrtle Beach State Park, just 15 minutes south of the craziness. You'll have to pay a fee ($4 adults, $1.50 ages 6-15), but the more peaceful experience and restroom facilities make it worth every cent. Rent an umbrella and chairs ($20 per day) if you must, but we suggest bringing your own.
Ditch the Sand
You want serenity? Take a three-hour tour to a deserted island. Myrtle Beach's family-friendly allure grows from its flashy attractions and the guarantee that, rain or shine, your vacation will never suffer boredom. More than 100 shops and 20 restaurants fill the giant, redbrick-paved village known as Broadway at the Beach. Tease the fire-breathing dragon outside the Dragon's Lair Fantasy Golf (pictured), and aah at the fireworks show over the lagoon on Tuesday nights after Memorial Day. Par is the least of your worries at Capt. Hook's Adventure Golf, where the smoking skull, pirates, and journey through never-never land are more than enough to keep you occupied.
If you want to hit the real links, you're in luck. The Grand Strand's high seasons for golf are spring and fall, and rates drop during summer months. Amid the sea of tee time booking agencies, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday ( www.golfholiday.com) and Myrtle Beach National (www.mbn.com) consistently win our allegiance.
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Myrtle Beach Dining Guide
Dining • The Bagel Factory: 2012 North Kings Highway; (843) 626-6445. • Luigi's Trattoria: 503 61st Avenue North; (843) 497-7080. • Dead Dog Saloon: 760 Coastal Grand Circle; (843) 839-3647. • Sun City Cafe: 801 Main Street; (843) 445-2992. • Greg Norman's Australian Grille: 4930 U.S. 17 South; www.shark.com/australiangrille or (843) 361-0000.
• Driving Tip: In-season traffic around Myrtle Beach can be brutal, but State 31 conveniently bypasses the ever-busy Kings Highway/U.S. Business 17, especially if you're trying to get from the north end of Myrtle Beach to the south.
Tips From Beach Pros
John and Anita Schwartz of Gastonia, North Carolina, spent their honeymoon in Myrtle Beach and have been coming back just about each year for the last 35 years. We asked them to give us a couple of their beach tips.
• Pack wooden beach chairs. They're sturdier and sand doesn't stick to them.
• Freeze water bottles and pack them in your cooler to keep the fruits and veggies cold. When they melt, you'll have extra drinking water.