It's something of a tradition in South Carolina to go as a family to the beach for a day or a week at a time. With almost 200 miles of coastline stretching from North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island, it's easy to find just the right seashore to suit your family and your mood.
While the beaches are all beautiful with soft, white sand and warm ocean waves, the beach towns are distinctly different, each with its own personality and vibe. Some are quiet and laid back. Others are upscale and sophisticated. And then there are those that are all about fun.
Each beach town offers myriad restaurants, shops and activities. But there is always one particular attraction that seems to sum up the town in a unique and curious way.
Here are our utterly unofficial picks for five not-to-miss places to take your family on your next South Carolina beach vacation:
Mount Atlanticus in Myrtle Beach
Oh, there's so much to do in Myrtle Beach, from pirate-themed dinner shows to the chance to play with baby tigers. For kids, Myrtle Beach is the ultimate dream vacation. But if we had to choose just one attraction that seemed most Myrtle Beach-ish of all the crazy fun that is Myrtle Beach, it has to be Mount Atlanticus Mini Golf. It might not be the obvious choice, but hear us out: It's a huge, multilevel mini golf course in a town that lays claim to the highest concentration of mini golf courses in the entire world. This one doesn't just offer entertaining and challenging courses - it covers the entire mythology of the ancient and lost civilization of Mount Atlanticus and the Minotaur who once reigned there, complete with kooky paintings and descriptions, ice caves and sea creatures. And of course, you've got the flaming torch of Mount Atlanticus towering over the Myrtle Beach boardwalk like a beacon of fun.
Hammock Shops on Pawleys Island
Pawleys, the little barrier island dotted with old, sprawling summer houses, is the epitome of a laid-back beach vacation. In fact, Pawleys has raised relaxation to an art. The woven rope hammock-the kind you probably picture when you think of a hammock-was invented on Pawleys Island by a riverboat captain named Joshua John Ward. At Hammock Shops, located on Highway 17 on the mainland, you can visit the workshop where the hammocks are made. There, in a low-slung cottage, Marvin Grant skillfully spins spools of plain rope into intricately knotted and beautifully entangled creations of relaxation. The workshop isn't the only place to delight families at the Hammock Shops. There's a toy shop and candy store, a place to get cheeseburgers and milkshakes, and a playground, too.
Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet
A sculpture garden may not seem like a not-to-be-missed beach destination for children. But that's only if you've never been to Brookgreen Gardens. This popular attraction is an astonishing delight for kids and adults alike. Created by the famous sculptor Anna Archer Huntington, the gardens contain many of her enormous and stirring bronze and aluminum animal sculptures, as well as pieces by dozens of other artists. As stunning as it is, there is nothing stuffy or staid about the place. Instead, it invites you to wander, to explore, to be amazed and delighted at every turn, from its enormous allee of live oaks to its whimsical and charming children's garden.
Crabby Mike's in Surfside Beach
All-you-can-eat seafood restaurants are plentiful along Highway 17 on the Grand Strand, and many vacationing families make it a tradition to try to beat the buffet at least once per vacation. Perhaps the most famous and beloved of all these palaces of seafood is Crabby Mike's. The tables start filling up as soon as the restaurant opens, and most nights you'll see crowds of devotees waiting for their turn to pile their plate - or, more likely, multiple plates - with everything from fried oysters to spaghetti to soft serve ice cream. The buffets are massive. The restaurant is massive. The all-you-can-eat crab legs are massive. And it's massively fun.
Bike Trails on Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head is internationally, and justifiably, famous for its miles of long white sandy beaches. But its become nearly as well-known for its miles of long, flat and smooth bike trails. In fact, the barrier island has been recognized as one of the most bike-friendly places in the US. And for good reason. More than a hundred miles of dedicated bike trails wind under live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, past posh restaurants and shops, alongside tranquil ponds, to the ocean and just about anywhere else you want to go on the island. The trails aren't just a great way to get around and get in some healthy family exercise, they can also be a first delicious taste of some vacation freedom for tweens and teens wanting to explore the resorts and beaches on their own.