With winter suddenly back on the scene in New England (it was 50 degrees out this week and I wore a COAT to work!) I can’t help but fantasize about our next vacation. It seems like we’d only just installed our air conditioners for Memorial Day Weekend, only to have this rainy cold snap float through. While I wait for it to be over, I thought I’d indulge my vacation-fantasizing mind by finally sharing our trip to South Carolina from the fall!
In September, we took the best family trip to Myrtle Beach, and I wanted to share some pictures of our favorite activities and the awesome Southern food we enjoyed. It was very different from Boston, and as foreign as it felt at the time, I find myself thinking back to the trip fondly and hoping we can return when Georgia is a bit older. There’s so much to do for bigger kids that it felt like we barely scratched the surface of this resort town.
I was honestly not sure what to expect, but it turns out there is a LOT going on at Myrtle Beach — stuff like amusement rides, mini golf and theme restaurants that she was just too little to appreciate (not that she didn’t have a blast). We are so lucky that she basically travels well, sleeps OK on the road, and doesn’t get overwhelmed by all the stimulation of eating out nightly, seeing strangers, being in a rental car, etc. She’s fairly adaptable and it feels like she’s just along for the adventure wherever we take her. Plus, she’s a total water baby, which makes beach vacations awesome 🙂
Vacations are so essential. I know everyone says how important it is to decompress and avoid burnout, but studies show many Americans don’t take advantage of their earned time off (15% of us take none of our vacation every year!)
I don’t know why, but I’m definitely one of those people that accumulates vacation faster than I take it, and then I struggle to unplug while I am away.
I think it’s partly because Mark doesn’t really get paid time off except under very rare, specific instances dictated by his union, so every time we travel it isn’t just drawing down our savings (or racking up our credit cards)…it’s actually lost earnings for him, which makes it hard for him to agree to trips, and even harder to enjoy being gone. One of our resolutions together this year, though, was to put those concerns aside and take seriously the very real need for humans to unplug and recharge (pardon the awful mixed metaphor).
We’ve both seen first hand how much vacations help you avoid burning out at work, and we’ve gotten hooked on the productivity boost we seem to get in the weeks immediately following a relaxing trip. So when we went to Myrtle Beach, we made a pact: he’d agree not to complain about the job opportunities he was missing during our week away, and I agreed not to check my work email constantly. We both kept our promises, and relaxation ensued.
What we Did
We were staying in a timeshare with my family, so accommodations were taken care of, but Myrtle Beach is awash in great hotel choices. Most tend toward the high-rise-on-the-beach category, and many of those have “lazy rivers” and miniature water parks right there on site, multiplying your options for beating the heat. Of course, the boardwalk and beach are open to everyone, so staying off the waterfront is by no means an indication that you’ll miss out on the action.
Myrtle Beach has its own airport, but from Boston you need to get a connection through Raleigh or Charlotte. Other areas may fly direct. We rented a car at the airport (a minivan, actually) and it was invaluable as this is not a transit/walking/biking friendly place, unless your hotel is right on the boardwalk and you don’t intend to take advantage of any of the zillions of surrounding sites to see. Again, because there’s so much to do, I’d plan not to stick close to your hotel every day. (If you just want to drink and walk to the ocean there are better resort towns for that!)
essentials of the seasoned baby flier: chewbeads on mom, a hook-on diaper bag for your lightweight travel stroller, and a big strong daddy.
What to do
Everywhere you look, there are arcades, water parks, mini golf, ice cream, beachwear shops, amusement rides, waffle & pancake houses, outlet malls, golf courses, theaters and night clubs, so there really is something for everyone. There’s also a gorgeous state park with camping, hiking trails and a mile of undeveloped beach, just down the road from the resort & high-rise laden “Grand Strand” that most people think of when they picture Myrtle Beach. Those 60+ miles of shoreline offer swimming, wind surfing, sunbathing, fishing, surfing, kayaking, para-sailing, scuba diving and boardwalk dining, all of it very family-friendly in our experience. Georgia loved her first mini golf outing, and she tried lots of new foods, from she-crab soup to hoppin’ john and gumbo.
What we Ate
The food was like landing on another planet. From hush puppies and waffle huts to grits and fried, well, everything, even drive-thru menus at chain restaurants had different offerings than up north. We indulged, and then proceeded to spend the next month working it off. Ooof. South Carolina is known for its low country cuisine, of which we tried to sample almost everything.
mainstays of low country cooking: baked mac n’ cheese, shrimp & grits, spinach, fried catfish and hush puppies (mmm)
We took a couple really awesome excursions worth mentioning. One was to Murrells Inlet, a saltwater estuary with boardwalk that’s just a couple miles down the coast from Myrtle Beach. A historic fishing village, it’s a hub for that low country and Southern Cuisine, especially seafood. We had a blast dining out, listening to live music, and walking along the marsh on the elevated boardwalk.
The other day trip we took was two hours south to Charleston! You may remember, before this happened to our bathroom in 2013, Mark and I were planning a “baby-moon” to the Holy City together. It never happened because, you know, we had to take down the side of our house to fix 40-year-old mold rot, so this day trip solo was the next best thing. And we are planning to come back. Because we were site-seeing all day, we weren’t dressed properly for any of the fancy/trendy restaurants you always hear about, like Fig, Two Boroughs Larder and Husk. So, thanks to an awesome travel piece in the Boston Globe, we ate at the laid-back Rarebit on King Street, where we indulged in chicken & waffles, fried catfish, and granny smith apple pie, with some Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale.
We packed a weekend’s worth of Charleston activities into one day trip, and it was both exhausting and well worth it. Because we had family very generously babysitting G for the entire day, we left early in the morning to make the two-hour drive and got back to Myrtle Beach around 11 p.m. In between we took a carriage tour of the city, rode the ferry out to Fort Sumter, toured the fort, rode back, visited the historic Charleston City Market, and had dinner. I was completely ill-prepared for the all-consuming heat we experienced, and saying I sweat through my clothes is probably the biggest understatement I’ll make all year. We probably walked about 10 miles that day. But check out what the humidity did to my hair:
There are lots of things I’d like to do on a three-day excursion back to Charleston (not the least of which is to visit nearby Savannah, too!) If I could flesh out a longer itinerary, it would include:
- Buying a sweetgrass basket and lingering longer at the historic (and recently renovated) City Market
- Doing a ‘steeple chase’ of the city’s historic houses of worship (from which the nickname The Holy City comes)
- Shopping the vintage and indie stores in the up-and-coming Upper King Street area
- Taking a break from traditional low country cuisine to sample more raw bar offerings
- Taking a more focused tour of the land-marked homes and architecture south of Broad Street
- Visiting more historical sites related to Charleston’s sad past as a key part of the slave trade and Civil War, in particular the Old Slave Mart Museum and the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
- Seeking out some bakeries and confections! Like the doughnuts at Glazed Gourmet (s’more? orange pistachio? sweet corn & blueberry? These are not everyday flavors!)
All in all, we had a great time in both Myrtle Beach and Charleston, and we can’t wait to go back — maybe a little better prepared for the heat, which was worse than even southern Florida where my family lives! And we would probably try to stay longer next time, because a week was just too short to see everything this area has to offer. We never even got out to any of the beautiful antebellum homes and estates, like Drayton Hall, Middleton Place or Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. And, if you are a serious golfer, then this is one of the nation’s top golfing destinations (Mark does golf, but I have never been).This is really the kind of place that you can go for a weekend away without kids, or take children along and have endless activities.
I’d highly suggest going when we did if your kids aren’t yet school aged, because early September is still very warm there, but the resorts are no longer as crowded (and aren’t yet closed up for the off-season). And if you do take little kids, make sure you have plenty of sun screen, sun hats, rash guards, and shaded floaties, and try to hit the beach in the later part of the day when peak sun isn’t shining. The best thing would be to stay somewhere that has its own pool, so that everyone can cool down in the late afternoon after a day of touristy activities. That’s what we did!
So, is there something I missed that we should keep in mind for our next trip? Have you been to Myrtle Beach or Charleston, or another part of South Carolina, and know some good tips? Let me know in the comments!