Family fun in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

by Sally.Dowling

If you're looking for a family holiday in the US but have "done" Florida, check out the theme parks, water park, fairground rides and variety shows at Myrtle Beach – a firm favourite with Americans

Often referred to as "Las Vegas by the sea", Myrtle Beach in South Carolina is America’s second most popular holiday destination – and it is easy to see why. The city has grown alongside 60 miles of beautiful white sand beach and is now home to theatres, theme parks and other attractions. With perfect summer weather and the Gulf Stream to warm the ocean, the beach has to be the number one draw. Known as the Grand Strand, the coastal strip has a huge range of watersports including fishing, boating and surfing; or you can just kick back and soak up the sun on the spotless sands.

When you are ready for a change of scene, Myrtle Beach has it all – and with most attractions open well into the evening, you don’t have to miss a thing. The quaintly named Barefoot Landing is a unique collection of shops and restaurants strung alongside the Intercoastal Waterway just north of Myrtle Beach. The area is laid out around a lake and has the feel of an old Southern fishing village with a selection of shops that vary from individual boutiques and gift shops to more major names in retail.

When the sun goes down you can enjoy live entertainment at the Alabama Theatre where a variety of spectacular productions takes place – including the acclaimed One – The Show, an extravagant mix of comedy, excerpts from musicals, tribute bands and dance. For some old-fashioned fun, Family Kingdom – located right by the beach – is the original old-time amusement park that children just can’t get enough of. Hold tight on the thrilling wooden roller-coaster or enjoy breathtaking views of the ocean on South Carolina's largest ferris wheel. Just across the street is the Family Kingdom waterpark, open during the summer months of May through to the end of August. Cool off in the heat of the day by drifting along the "lazy river" or hurtle down the water flumes with a drop of more than 100ft.

Another great complex – part theme park, part shopping mall and part entertainment complex – is Broadway on the Beach. This beautifully laid-out area is huge, so more than one visit is needed to do it justice. Call by during the day to browse the individual shops and boutiques and enjoy a coffee or lunch overlooking the water. Meanwhile, children can get lost in the fantasy world of Magiquest, searching for secret treasures, slaying dragons, solving puzzles and saving the day, all with the wave of a magic wand. At the IMAX cinema, immerse yourself in the world of dinosaurs and sea monsters or explore some of the world’s most amazing landscapes – all in crystal-clear 3D.

For a change of pace, Brookgreen Gardens is as suitable for children as it is for adults. The exquisite gardens are home to more than 900 works of art by 300 of the greatest names in American sculpture, past and present. Follow the guidebook and search them out – though be warned, it will take you more than a day.

During the 18th and early 19th century, Brookgreen was one of the most successful plantations in the South for growing rice, a crop that brought great wealth to the owners through slave labour. The slaves, mostly from West Africa, had the unbearable burden of turning a swamp forest into productive rice fields, working long hours in harsh conditions. Their poignant story is told during a leisurely boat trip along the tidal creeks where it is hard to imagine such cruelty and hardship among the now tranquil surroundings. As well as charting the colourful history of the plantation, the boat trip provides information on the varied eco systems with their birds and wildlife. There will usually be an alligator or two basking in the sun, waiting to be spotted.

One legacy that has survived from the days of slavery is the varied cuisine of the Southern States. In restaurants throughout South Carolina and Georgia, you will get the chance to try fried green tomatoes, grits, collard greens and gumbo. The most widely available and delicious example, however, is the Southern barbecue – always pork, which is slow-cooked and then shredded or "pulled" off the bone and served with a variety of sauces. If you have "done" Disney and want to explore a different area of the United States, give Myrtle Beach a try.

Where to stay

I stayed at the Island Vista hotel in North Myrtle Beach. At first glance, it appeared to be the kind of place I would avoid. It is very big and sits awkardly on the beautiful beach – but despite its size, it turned out to be one of the friendliest and most comfortable resorts I have ever stayed in.

Accommodation is in self-catering suites – a popular choice at American resorts, offering the convenience of hotel facilities but with the space and amenities to cater for yourself. Recently refurbished to a very high standard, our suite had three decent-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen as well as wonderful views of the ocean. Pretty gardens run down to the beach, there are indoor and outdoor pools, a Jacuzzi and water play facilities for the kids. The rocking chairs on the front deck are a lovely touch and just the place to relax and watch the world go by. The breakfasts are extremely good value, cooked to order and delivered to your table by waiter service – unlike many other resorts. The ocean view from the restaurant was a bonus. 

Getting there

Connecting flights are available from London with US Airways, Delta and British Airways. I flew into Atlanta (non-stop) with Delta. Myrtle Beach is just under 400 miles from Atlanta, which sounds a lot but is very easy driving. I stayed overnight in Augusta en route, to break the journey.