Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Population = 27,109 (Metro area = 465,391), elevation = 30 feet, average January low temp = 37.3, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 218, annual snowfall = 0.9”, annual rainfall = 49.1”, air quality index = 85.1, water quality index = 28, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 39.5
A good 60 miles of the coast of South Carolina is what is known as The Grand Strand. This is uninterrupted sandy beach, as far as the eye can see and more. Myrtle Beach is the largest city on the Strand and its number one industry is tourism. Ocean Boulevard is the street closest to the ocean and the site of hundreds of resorts, condos, and hotels. Viewed from the ocean, the resorts look like the teeth in a gigantic mouth; some glistening new white ones, some older yellowed ones, and a few gaps where hurricanes have delivered a punch.
Downtown is flypaper for tourists. Get a T-shirt with something corny or sexy painted on it. Or maybe a legal bathing suit (thongs are illegal here). Buy something fried on a stick. Play video games. Walk the boardwalk. Ride the Skywheel 200 feet into the air. Walk out onto a pier. Visitors centers have info and discount tickets for local attractions and coupons for things you didn’t even know you wanted. Get pierced or tattooed. In November, Downtown is scarcely populated, but in the summer it is jammed with sunburnt flesh. Myrtle Beach gets roughly 14 million tourists a year.
The next road in from the beach is Kings Highway. This is where the entertainment district starts. It is lined with restaurants (especially pancake), bars, souvenir shops, golf shops, lots of miniature golf parks. and strip malls. This where you go after hanging at the beach, when you need food or gear or beer or something else to do on a cloudy day.
Between Kings Highway and Highway 17 is a wide open area with parks, golf courses, and malls. Driving through here, you can see the evolution of the American Mall. Phase one is the strip mall: shops in a row and a parking lot in front. Phase two is the enclosed mall; one big building with surrounding parking, with maybe another ring of big box stores around that. Phase three is the amusement park mall; a cluster of non-connected shops, bars, restaurants, games, and rides with scattered parking lots. Phase four is the lifestyle mall; a little village of upscale shops, restaurants, and bars with parking both curbside and in lots. The retail is at street level and there are condos on the floors above and in rows all around the village.
There is a lot to do in Myrtle Beach. That is the whole point. This is a town wholly given over to entertaining tourists. Beach and golf are the main product, but there are lots of other venues for soaking up those tourist dollars when it gets dark or cloudy.
We enjoyed walking the beach in Myrtle Beach. We enjoyed the great variety of food and shopping. We enjoyed touring the sheer tackiness of the downtown tourist shops. But, other than that, it seemed to me that something was missing. There is no real history here, no classic old buildings, no tradition. To me, the beach is a metaphor for the city; miles of beautiful sandy beach, but the rest rooms are for customers only.
Next stop: Charleston, South Carolina