The Grand Strand: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
By Meg Carter
It’s been some time since striped awnings over every window were in style, but you can still see a hint of this past age when you drive down Ocean Boulevard. Roll down the windows and feel the sea breeze coming from just over the dunes. Squeezed between homes and hotels, each beach access gives you a quick glimpse of the ocean. As you drive by checking for a empty parking spot at each avenue, you can’t help but feel eager to get your toes in the sand of this famous beach.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, or “The Grand Strand,” is where I have called home for the past 14 years. In the time I have lived here, I have seen many changes in the area. Over 14 million people a year vacation to Myrtle Beach, making the area mostly known as a tourist destination. However, Myrtle Beach is quickly becoming a relocation destination. According to census data, Myrtle Beach was the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States between 2016 and 2017. Most of the new residents were originally vacationers but fell in love with the area’s warm weather, lower-cost homes, low taxes, and the beautiful beaches.
If you are ready to come visit, each time of year has its advantages. Spring is my favorite time here: the grass turns green in April and all the flowers spread across the landscape like magic. However, if you have bad allergies, it might not be the best time for your visit. My second-favorite time of year is October, when the tourists are gone but it is still warm enough to go swimming and the beaches are beautiful. The only downside is that fall is prime season for hurricanes, so be sure to get insurance on your reservation. You should also plan your trip to catch—or avoid—some of the big events such as biking events, country music festivals, or the Myrtle Beach Marathon.
For shopping and more, The Market Common area is great. This part of town is at the location of the old Myrtle Beach Air Force Base—responsible for the original growth of the area. The Market Common has shopping, dining, movies, and a playground that kids only thought existed in their dreams. Free activities include a farmers market on summer weekends and an outdoor summer movie series. Festivals, live music, sporting events, and craft shows are always happening in this location so be sure to check their schedules.
Sea Captain’s House built in 1930 is one of the oldest buildings in town, which is rare given the number of hurricanes that have knocked out many of the older structures. If you want beautiful and delicious oceanfront dining, this is the place. While visiting, a short ride south to Murrells Inlet will be well worth it to visit Brookgreen Gardens, a definite must-see. After a stroll through the gardens and oak trees, head across the street to Huntington State Park where you will get to see and walk through Atalaya. The Moorish-architecture home was built, designed, and owned by Anna and Archer Huntington. Anna was an accomplished sculptor and many of her works decorate the grounds of the gardens across the street.
Ready to hit the beach? Of course you are! All of the beaches here are very similar. You are not going to find rocky coves or hidden secret beaches, as it is all one long beach for as far as you can see. Most of the locals tend to frequent two parts of the long beach. The Myrtle Beach State Park is a great area of the beach with plenty of parking close to the beach and restrooms. The park also has a pier that visitors can walk on for free, but fishing requires a fee. The park has camping sites close enough to let the crashing waves put you to sleep at night.
Another great spot is what locals refer to as the Golden Mile. The stretch of beach between 31st Avenue North and 52nd Avenue North has only private homes along the coast—no hotels—so the beach is not as crowded. There is beach access and parking at the end of many of the avenues.
With miles and miles to walk, the beach has no shortage of things to fill your treasure bag. The Lettered Olive shell (oliva sayana) is the state shell and will be something you can usually find. Other shells you may come across are clam, angel, auger, cockle, whelk, scallop, and moon snail shells. Be sure to check all of these to make sure they don’t have anything living in them before tossing them in your bag.
If you are lucky, you may find some shark teeth. These are one of my favorite things to look for and my husband, Jon, and I have a amassed a fairly large collection over the years. To find shark teeth, you have to filter out everything except for black shiny triangles. The best place to look is in shell beds that have broken shells. You can also search the sand as the waves move sand around right at the shoreline, but you have to be quick because the teeth tend to tumble in the sand with the wave before disappearing in the next wave. Finding white shark teeth is rare, since most of the teeth are black because of fossilization.
Speaking of fossils, keep a lookout for those, too. When dredging is taking place along the beach, it is prime time for fossils to wash up. This was the case for me this past fall when I picked up a fossil that was later identified as an internal cast of a cucullaea. The fossil was formed when the inside of the closed shell was filled with sediment and over time fossilized. This particular fossil is regularly found in Myrtle Beach.
Unfortunately, the area is not known for sea glass. The pieces of sea glass I have found on the beach here I can hold in one hand and they are nothing to brag about. As with all beaches these days, you used to be able to find more sea glass. A dear friend I have met through my jewelry business lived here in the 80s and 90s and walked the beach everyday and found plenty
of sea glass. Sadly, it is tough to find now.
If you have never been to the Grand Strand or haven’t been in years, it is time to make your reservation. The sunny beaches and ocean breeze may be just the ticket for the vacation you have been thinking of over the winter. You never know: you might be calling it home soon, too!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.
No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.