Myrtle Beach: It's One Big Playground for Outdoor Adventure

By Terry Massey, Myrtle Beach Local Expert

Think of the Myrtle Beach area as one big playground, but this one is for all ages. From the huge sand box and kiddie pool that are the beaches on the Atlantic Ocean to the giant jungle jim amusement and water parks, the Grand Strand is a sandy, 60-mile stretch of coast that specializes in great times in the great outdoors.

The main attraction is the beach, of course, and it also happens to be the cheapest. Visitors on the oceanfront can enjoy fun on the beach and chilling by the pool. But for those with a little sense of adventure, there are plenty of outdoor activities to provide spine-tingling thrills or some much-needed rest and relaxation.

For visitors looking for excitement, the Grand Strand has lots of outfitters offering parasailing, island tours, jet-ski rental, deep-sea fishing and dolphin sightseeing cruises, such as Capt. Dick's in Murrells Inlet. If you prefer man-made thrills, water parks like Myrtle Waves and amusement parks such as Family Kingdom offer family fun and some spine-tingling rides.

Looking for something a little tamer? The Grand Strand has more than 100 golf courses where you can put your skills to the test, or take a leisurely walk through the natural beauty of the area at Brookgreen Gardens without the hassle and headache of playing golf. Or simply club down to a putter with a round of miniature golf. Myrtle Beach has all kinds of golf.

10. La Belle Amie Vineyard

La Belle Amie makes wonderful traditional Southern muscadine wines from grapes grown in their own vineyards; they also import specially blended wines from family-run wineries in France. Several lively events are offered every year, from charity functions to music festivals, including the very popular Parrot Had festivals in February and July. Tours of the scenic property are available, and the tasting room offers five samples for $5, which includes a souvenir wine glass. After you've tried several, choosing what to purchase in the gift shop should be a little easier. Hours vary slightly from season to season, so call ahead to verify.

9. Atalaya Castle in the Sand
Photo courtesy of South Carolina State Parks

Located inside pristine Huntington Beach State Park, this grand home of Archer and Anna Huntington was built in 1931 in the style of the same-named Spanish castle/Moorish fort. Self-guided tours of the grounds are available daily and free of charge with park admission. Stroll the brick-lined hallways and enjoy the beach view from the iron-rod hurricane windows. The interior of the castle features a courtyard filled with wildflowers and palmetto trees, creating a lovely place for weddings and special events. The beach is only a short walk through the sand dunes and sea oats so visitors can explore while taking a break from a day on the beach.

8. Wild Water – Water and Race Theme Park

Wild Water & Wheels is home to thousands of thrills for kids of all ages - even the grown-up ones. With 16 acres featuring water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, an arcade, mini-golf, and go-cart racing. Special passes allow kids to play for the entire day or purchase unlimited access to certain parts of the park, like the go-cart track or the water park rides. Perfect for birthday parties, family reunions or other special events, Wild Water & Wheels is designed with kids in mind but perfect for the entire family. Open May through September, but daily hours can vary.

7. Captain Dick's
Photo courtesy of Captain Dick's

Experience the thrill of flight high above the Atlantic Ocean with a parasailing adventure at Captain Dick's. Go solo or ride tandem with a friend as you are strapped into a safety harness that's attached to a parachute, which lifts you off the back of the boat and into the sky for a wonderful thrill and view. Boat rentals, jet ski and wave runner rentals, saltwater marsh exploring adventures, cruisin' the beach trips, dolphin sightseeing cruises, pirate adventure voyages, marina and bottom fishing, gamefish trolling and charter fishing are also available. Prices, dates and times vary by the season, so call ahead for details.

6. Waccatee Zoo
Photo courtesy of Waccatee Zoo

This 500-acre family farm was transformed into a wildlife refuge and eventually a public zoo after bypassers nearly caused crashes at the site of camels and elephants feeding in the roadside fields. Waccatee Zoo is now home to more than 100 species of animals, including lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) and native creatures like alligators of birds of prey. Unlike many of the concrete jungles that keep animals caged in close quarters, Waccatee Zoo is a more natural, farm-like atmosphere where animals have room to roam. Nature trails connect different parts of the park to give the park a more rustic atmosphere, and the adjoining Waccamaw River and Socastee Creek (hence the name "Waccatee") provide a beautiful backdrop for picture-taking or bird-watching.

5. Family Kingdom

After the old Pavilion closed, Family Kingdom was left as Myrtle Beach's only oceanfront amusement park. Rather than rest on its monopoly, Family Kingdom expanded into two attractions in one. The amusement park has a new roller coaster to go with the famous Swamp Fox, plus about 30 other fun rides with a mix of fun and fear that appeals to the whole family. The water park is right on the beach and features several flumes, slides and wave pools. The amusement park is open March-September, but daily hours vary so call ahead. The water park is open from Memorial Day-Labor Day daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

4. Go Ape Treetop Adventure
Photo courtesy of Tyler Watkins

Hang out in the trees where only birds and monkeys dare to explore at the Go Ape Treetop Adventure course at the new North Myrtle Beach Sports and recreation Center. Located off Highway 31, this ropes and zipline course offers 40 different obstacles for the adventurous types. Zoom down the 900-foot zipline over the 25-acre lake, swing on a rope and land on a giant cargo net in the classic Tarzan move, and navigate your way through a series of ropes and obstacles from more than 60 feet in the sky. A 30-minute safety course is required before tackling the two- to three-hour adventure, and experienced guides are on hand to help you have a fun but safe experience.

3. Brookgreen Gardens
Photo courtesy of Navin75

The beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry is in full bloom at Brookgreen Gardens, a 9,100-acre property located about 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach. Visitors can stroll through the many sculptures, fountains and flowers and take a break in the shade of giant live oak trees that pre-date the U.S. Constitution. This former rice plantation also features boat rides through the marshes and a zoo featuring alligators, birds and other creatures native to South Carolina. A new butterfly pavilion exhibit allows visitors to get up close and personal with various species of butterflies. This is Lowcountry nature at its best.

2. Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade
Photo courtesy of Discover South Carolina

The downtown district has been revitalized by this new attraction, highlighted by the 190-foot SkyWheel that lights up the Myrtle Beach skyline. The largest ferris wheel on the East Coast offers scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the entire Grand Strand, but it's the area right around the SkyWheel that shines the most. A 1.2-mile wooden walkway spans the beachfront on one side and open-air cafes and shops on the other. Left abandoned when the Pavilion closed in 2006, the downtown area is back and better than ever thanks to the new Boardwalk. It's a great place to stroll or to rock 'n' roll.

1. Dunes Golf & Beach Club
Photo courtesy of Dunes Golf & Beach Club

A Robert Trent Jones signature course (he oversaw its renovation in the 1970s and early '90s), The Dunes Club was completed in 1948 and stands today as one of the Strand's most respected – even revered – golf clubs. One of the course's most endearing qualities is that each hole has been individually named to give golfers a better idea of the challenges awaiting them. The signature hole is the par-5 13th hole, famously known as "Waterloo" thanks to the sharp dogleg it takes around crystalline Lake Singleton. The Senior PGA Tour Championship and other major tournaments have called the Dunes Club home.