A "hard rockin'" new theme park and welcoming wide beaches make Myrtle Beach a top pick for summer vacation.
The Grand Strand, as the Myrtle Beach area is popularly known, stretches for 60 miles along the Atlantic coast, luring more than 14 million visitors annually. Tourist action zeroes in on commercial Broadway at the Beach with shopping, restaurants, hotels, bars and nightclubs, all bordering a 23-acre lake.
Beyond the neon, you'll find public gardens, small amusement parks, and some of the most challenging and breathtaking golf courses in the world.
Matter of fact, you can't mention Myrtle Beach without golf -- more than 100 courses, designed by such legendary names as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and PB Dye, ring this area of the Grand Strand.
From 18 holes to miniature dragons and windmills, golf is just one of the many activities for visitors to enjoy along the beaches of the Grand Strand.
Compass Cove, 2311 S. Ocean Blvd., 866-280-9585; compass cove.com. Like pools? Here's your jackpot. Compass Cove has 22 pool features, including six indoor/outdoor pools, three indoor/outdoor lazy rivers, hot tubs and kiddie pools. Three buildings and 530 spacious units comprise the resort, with two having undergone a recent $8 million makeover. Call for rates.
Ocean Reef Resort, 7100 N. Ocean Blvd., 888-322-6411; oceanreefmyrtlebeach.com. Voted best of the beach last year, this oceanfront resort boasts new condo units and an onsite kiddie water park with bucket drops and waterfalls. Arrive on a Sunday and get an oceanfront room for just $69.
The Breakers Resort, Oceanfront at 21st and 27th avenues North, 843-444-4444 or 800-952- 4507; breakers.com. Within walking distance of the convention center, The Breakers features restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, a lazy river and even a pirate ship where kids can have adventures. Summer rates: $189-$530.
Drunken Jack's, 4031 Highway 17 at Murrells Inlet, 843-651-2044; drunkenjacks.net. Learn about Myrtle Beach's true pirate past while noshing on the restaurant's splintery deck overlooking Murrells Inlet. Seafood is served up all styles -- try the Lobster Theo appetizer ($18.50) loaded with chunks of lobster meat and melted cheddar cheese, or go for fried frog legs, Southern style. Entrees: $17.95-$39.95.
Benny Rappa's, 1453 Highway 17S, North Myrtle Beach, 843-361-1056; bennyrappas.com. A plain exterior belies the exquisite Italian selections that'll transport you to a fine New York bistro. Chalkboard menus change daily, but the potato gnocchi bolognese is a regular must-have. Closed Sundays. Entrees: $12-$22.95.
Louis's at Pawley's, 10880 Ocean Highway, U.S. 17, Pawleys Island, 843-237-8757. A James Beard award-winning restaurant, you'll find upscale cuisine influenced by local waters and market produce set amid a plantation house scene. Carolina quail, Blue Ridge rainbow trout, and shrimp and grits are standouts, as well as the worldwide wine selection. Enjoy live music and happy hour (4 p.m.-7 p.m. daily), and grab a steaming bowl of she-crab soup. Entrees: $23-$29.
Prosser's BBQ, 3750 Highway 17 at Murrells Inlet, 843-357-6146. Abandon diets, all ye who enter here. Prosser's piles on home-style soul food in a casual setting. Known for excellent Southern-style BBQ, the rage is the $5.95 lunch buffet, which includes plump fried oysters, local shrimp, grouper, chicken fried steak, collard greens and more rib-stickin' staples.
Studebaker's, 2000 N. Kings Highway, 843-448-9747. Popular dance club in '50s-style decor with a slightly "older" crowd be-boppin' to DJs spinning Motown and oldies.
Celebrations Nitelife, Celebrity Square, Broadway at the Beach, 843-444-3500. Four venues in one offer a variety of entertainment. Malibu's and Froggy Bottomz skew toward young partygoers. Club Boca imitates the South Beach scene with the well-heeled grooving to Latin and hip-hop, while Broadway Louie's has a large arcade for family-friendly entertainment.
Le Grande Cirque, Palace Theatre, 1420 Celebrity Circle, 800-905- 4228; palacetheatremyrtlebeach .com. A dose of culture off the well-worn boards can be found at the Palace Theatre. A highly flexible cast of more than 50 world-class acrobats, jugglers and performers dance, jump and fly around the stage in an acrobatic spectacle. Tickets are $10-$45.
Hard Rock Park, 211 George Bishop Parkway, 843-236-7625; hardrockpark.com. Myrtle Beach's newest (and the world's only) theme park affiliated with Hard Rock Cafe blasted onto the scene this year, pairing all music genres with amped-up roller coasters. It's open now, but promises backstage pass-worthy extras for the "official" grand opening June 2-3.
Children's Museum of South Carolina, 2501 N. Kings Highway, 843-946-9469; cmsckids.org. Need a break from the sand? Visit this hands-on museum where kids can climb, explore, touch and play while learning about the environment.
Pavilion Nostalgia Park, Broadway at the Beach, 843-913-9400. Take a spin on the 1912 Herschell-Spillman Carousel and nosh on a corn dog-on-a-stick while enjoying some old-fashioned carnival fun. Classic rides, games and food.
Pawleys Island Hammock Shops, Highway 17, Pawleys Island, 843-237-8448. Birthplace of the rope hammock, this small village contains more than 20 specialty shops and restaurants amid a pastoral setting of low-country cottages, graceful oak trees and, of course, comfy hammocks for visitors to enjoy.
Tanger Outlet Center (West), 4635 Factory Stores Blvd., 843- 236-5100. Big names from J. Crew to Cole Haan and Polo Ralph Lauren can be found at this Myrtle Beach location of the popular outlet-stores chain. The nearby East location, 10835 Kings Highway., 843-449-0491, offers slightly more upscale retail outlets like Kate Spade, Kenneth Cole and Coach.