South Carolina is justly famous for its gorgeous beaches. But there's more along the South Carolina coast than warm ocean waves and soft sand. A week at the beach also gives the animal lovers in your family the chance to see a wide and amazing array of creatures in ways you might have never even imagined.
We've packed this itinerary with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. As any parent can tell, though, you'll also need some down time - for both grownups and kids. That's easy - just head to whichever beach is closest for some water and sunshine. Whether you just incorporate a few of these ideas while you stay in one place for your vacation or embrace the entire journey down the coast, you'll get to see some of the very best animal encounters in the country.
To follow our seven-day itinerary, start your week in Myrtle Beach, at the northern end of South Carolina's 200-mile long seashore. There are dozens of hotels in Myrtle Beach. Try the Springmaid Beach Resort, a beautiful, family-friendly hotel right on the beach, with several pools and its very own fishing pier.
Day 1: Alligator Adventure
You'll get the chance to see hundreds of alligators, crocodiles and other creatures up close, including Utan, the world's largest crocodile in captivity, as well as two rare albino alligators at Alligator Adventure in North Myrtle Beach. There are other animals there, too, but really, the alligators are the stars. Make sure you go to the shows, which include alligator feeding and an interactive meet-and-greet with some of your favorite reptiles.
After lunch, head to Myrtle Beach State Park, where rangers offer a wide range of programs that let kids and adults get up close and personal with the aquatic life. Programs include crabbing and surf siding, among many others. See their website for a listing of programs and times. Of course, you could just relax on the sand and watch the birds. They're animals, too!
Day 2: Myrtle Beach Safari
T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) offers remarkable once-in-a-lifetime tours of its facilities, where they train tigers, cheetahs, chimpanzees and a wide array of other animals. You'll get to not just see the animals, but hold, pet and play with some of them. The tour is expensive, but probably like nothing else you've ever done. After all, it's not every day you get to play with tiger cubs and shake hands with orangutans. You'll need to make reservations for the Myrtle Beach Safari program in advance.
Day 3: Center for Birds of Prey
It's time to head south, down the coast to the Charleston area. Mount Pleasant is a great spot for your home base for the next few days because it's conveniently located near the public beaches on Isle of Palms, downtown Charleston and our next two amazing stops on the tour. Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms is an amenity-filled beachfront resort offering an array of options, from hotel rooms to vacation condos and even beach houses for rent. Another great choice is the Charleston Harbor Resort, which has incredible views of the skyline and bridge, as well as on-site restaurants, pools and bikes for guests to use.
Pack the kids in the car and head to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, outside of Charleston. This amazing bird refuge is home of the Avian Conservation Center, which cares for injured birds of prey, and conducts research and advocacy for these amazing birds. You can tour the refuge and meet the birds who now live there. During a flight demonstration, you'll have the chance to watch eagles, hawks, owls, kites and falcons as they soar through the air. The two-acre Owl Wood gives visitors the chance to see and learn about these amazing birds in their natural habitat.
Day 4: Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
One of the most beautiful places in a beautiful state, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is also home to some of the most endangered animals in the world - red wolves. The Sewee Center at the refuge's headquarters is home to six of the approximately 300 red wolves left in the entire world. The center's breeding program has been successful, with pups born in recent years.
The Sewee Center is on the mainland, but the vast majority of the refuge is accessible only by boat. It's worth the time to take the ferry out to Bulls Island to see the migratory and shore birds, which the refuge was created to protect, lining the beaches. And famous Boneyard Beach is not to be missed. The refuge contracts with a private company called Coastal Expeditions to run a ferry out to Bulls Island several times a day.
Day 5: Edisto Island Serpentarium
Time to hit the road again! You're on your way to Hilton Head, but make a little detour along the way to beautiful and mesmerizing Edisto Island. There, tucked away off the main road, is your chance to see snakes in a way you probably never have before. The Edisto Island Serpentarium exhibits hundreds of snakes in big outdoor snake pits. In these areas, snakes in rainbow colors climb trees, swim in ponds and hang off the branches. Really, it has to be seen to be believed. Even if you don't like snakes, give it a try. The Serpentarium is also home to alligators, turtles and lizards. But it's the snakes that make it amazing.
Hop in the car one last time and head to your hotel on Hilton Head Island. Sea Pines Resort is a great option for an animal-crazy family. Lawton Stables in Sea Pines offers horseback riding on the resort's 600-acre forest preserve. Ponies are ready to take the little ones for a ride, and there's a collection of small animals at the farm, too.
Day 6: Dolphin Tour on Hilton Head
After a week of seeing animals on land, it's time to venture out on the water. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins make the waters off Hilton Head their home, and are enormously fun to watch as they swim and leap in the water. There are several companies that offer dolphin tours on Hilton Head. Your options range from traditional tour boats to catamarans (double-hulled sailboats) to Zodiacs (motorized rubber rafts). Many offer guarantees on seeing dolphins.
Day 7: Rest Before the Trip Home
Exhausted yet? It's been a packed week. Take some much-needed rest on the beach. You've probably seen more animals in more incredible settings in this one week than you will the whole rest of the year! Can you even pick a favorite? While you're at it, you can pick up a few free South Carolina souvenirs from the shells that wash ashore. Just make sure these are animal free!