In an attempt to lure more fall visitors to our shores, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce kicked off a new ad campaign this month, highlighting what it terms “Myrtle Beach’s 60 Best Kept Secrets.” We’ve got nothing against the chamber’s list. Most of the activities on it are great choices and would thrill any visitor or local. But many are also not particularly secret. Ripley’s Aquarium, Alligator Adventure, the SkyWheel and Brookgreen Gardens are not covert operations. We’re sure most tourists will be able to find these places on their own.
It is good to see some local attractions often less highlighted, but just as worthwhile, on the chamber’s list, including Little River’s Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens, boat tours to Sandy Island and the slave village at Hobcaw Barony.
But the chamber, being charged with improving the businesses of its members, is limited somewhat by the need to direct visitors to those businesses. We’re not. So we’d like to take just a minute to offer some of our own favorite local treasures and tips, events and places that we love but rarely see visitors flocking to. Yes, there’s an understandable urge to keep these secret to keep them from being overrun, but we’re of the opinion that spreading better appreciation of our area and its offerings is good for all of us. So, without further ado, a few slightly more secret pleasures:
The Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge: Stretching from up near Conway down to near Pawleys Island, this 27,000 acre refuge offers hiking, kayaking, hunting and fishing. With multiple parking areas, including one just minutes from Coastal Carolina University, it’s easy to access, and yet visitors can often walk the trails for an hour without seeing anyone else.
Want even more of the great outdoors? Across U.S. 501 and accessible from S.C. 90 is the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, almost 9,700 acres of preserved land also open to hikers, birders and horse riders.
Those who prefer the beach and its pleasures can take advantage of a few less publicized tips: Want to spot some sharks in the wild? Your best bet is often to walk out on one of the area’s fishing piers, where the ocean predators gather to snap up what’s thrown back after fish are cleaned. If you’re at the Apache Pier in North Myrtle Beach it’s also worth checking out the saltwater aquarium of indigenous fish.
Low tide can reveal some unexpected sights, such as the formations at Hurl Rocks Park at 21st Avenue South in Myrtle Beach. A commenter on The Sun News’ Opinion Blog also pointed out what he called a “huge rock reef” accessible to the right of the Second Avenue Pier at low tide, a good place to spot starfish and anemones. Another commenter said the inconspicuous oyster shell recycling area on U.S. 17 south of Murrells Inlet is his favorite spot from which to launch a canoe or kayak and explore the inlet’s waterways.
But of course, there’s much more to the area than just nature. Entertainment and culture draws many to the area. Those who want a great show for less have some good options as well, many of which don’t get the same publicity as the giant theater productions. Consider checking out a local high school production. Carolina Forest High School in particular puts on some great shows. Take in some free music at the Fresh Brewed Coffee House in downtown Myrtle Beach (or any of the many other eateries and bars that regularly showcase our region’s talent). Our weekly Kicks entertainment guide lists upcoming shows.
In the summer and fall, it’s hard to go a week without some festival or another offering a weekend of fun, but did you know that you can also watch quite a few movies for free? Libraries, senior centers and local cities all regularly show films at no cost. Prefer literature to music or movies? Check out the Moveable Feast down in Pawleys Island, which hosts weekly events with authors at area restaurants. And we can’t leave out CCU, which has its own strong lineup of cultural events all year long, many of them free and too often sparsely attended.
There are many more places, events and tips that deserve to be better known, and which we just don’t have space to highlight in detail. There’s the SC-CARES animal shelter in Georgetown, which offers tours of its more than 100 animals, many of them exotic. And there’s the tiny Traveler’s Chapel in Conway that’s been ministering to roadside visitors since 1972. Like baseball? You can check out a Little League game many nights during the season at Grand Park near The Market Common. If you prefer some inspiration with your sports, stop by a Grand Strand Miracle League match. Like good deals? The thrift store shopping is usually best down south, near Pawleys Island.
Our brief list here is hardly exhaustive. If you’ve lived in the area for any length of time you undoubtedly have your own private pleasures. As you examine your own list, compare it to ours, and perhaps ask others about their own, it can prompt a realization we have too infrequently as we go about in our little spheres of life: This amazing place we’ve decided to call home is bigger and deeper than we realize. Full of unexpected pleasures, it’s a multi-faceted, layered, constantly surprising location. Every time we think we know everything about our area, we learn something new. And we hope that never stops.