Family Fun and Food Along the Grand Strand

the Skywheel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, along the Grand Strand

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the centerpiece of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of beach running from the North Carolina–South Carolina border southward along the Atlantic coast. Myrtle Beach is a family-friendly destination with tons of attractions, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment for all ages.

Written by Nancy Meeks

the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Boardwalk and Pavillian

The heart of Myrtle Beach is the downtown Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade.

The 1.2-mile beachfront path extends from the 2nd Avenue Pier to the 14th Avenue Pier, with information signs along the way telling the history of the area and numerous benches and seating areas to sit a spell and take in the sights. Cast out your fishing lines at the piers, or take your pick of souvenir shops and arcades, ice cream parlors and hot dog stands, and cafés and bars all along the Boardwalk. Be sure to take a ride on the glass-enclosed, air-conditioned, 18-story-high SkyWheel for sweeping views of the Grand Strand.

From the Boardwalk, head north to the Sea Captain’s House for an iconic Myrtle Beach dining experience.

She-Crab Soup and Hush Puppies at The Sea Captain's House restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Built in 1930 as a private residence, then transformed into a guesthouse and later a restaurant, Sea Captain’s has been serving fresh seafood dishes with Lowcountry touches for more than 50 years. Nautical décor and lounging areas with comfortable furnishings remind visitors that this was a home and create a cozy oceanside atmosphere. Start your meal with a cup of She-Crab Soup finished with sherry and served with crispy, golden-brown hush puppies while you contemplate your main course. Choose from traditional seafood platters, local stuffed flounder, shrimp and grits, surf and turf, and much more, including the chef’s fresh catch of the day that is pecan-crusted, pan-fried, and served with a citrus butter sauce. Breakfast and lunch are also served seven days a week.

For a day of family fun from sunup to sundown, plan a visit to Broadway at the Beach.

This 350-acre attraction has something for everyone. Younger children will love the Play Park area, with a playground, picnic seating, and friendly ducks to keep them company, or check out Pavilion Park for traditional carnival rides including carousels, swings, and bumper cars. You can also choose from miniature golf, a movie theater, boat rides, an aquarium, a zipline, helicopter rides, and fireworks displays.

Broadway at the Beach has more than 25 restaurants and casual food joints and more than 70 retail shops, including The Paula Deen Store.

The Paula Deen Store at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

This is your one-stop-shop for all things Paula. You’ll find an extensive collection of Paula’s cookware, bakeware, dishes, and kitchen items, including her famous acacia wood round salt box and pewter measuring cups and spoons, aprons and linens, a wide assortment of her condiments and gooey butter cake mixes, and specialty seasonal products and gift items. There is a children’s section with clothing, toys, and books that encourage and celebrate kids’ interests in food and cooking, plus artwork by Paula, her cookbooks and magazine, and even ladies’ clothing items similar to wardrobe pieces that Paula loves. It’s a must-visit for any Paula fan.

About 15 miles south of central Myrtle Beach is the quaint, laid-back fishing town of Murrells Inlet, “the seafood capital of South Carolina.”

Murrells Inlet has a centuries-long history dating back to Native Americans. Spanish explorers, pirates of the high seas, and English colonists followed, and by the 1800s, several plantations in the area were growing rice, which at the time was as valuable a cash crop as cotton and tobacco. Wealthy citizens who spent the summer in the area generally arrived by steamboat, and many of the boats’ cooks settled in there, giving the area its culinary foundation.

sunset at Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Some of the best restaurants in the area are located along the MarshWalk, a half-mile-long waterfront path with incredible views of salt marshes, river grass, and abundant wildlife. The walk ends at Veterans Pier, which is dedicated to boat captains. All along the path you’ll see fishing boats coming and going amid folks parasailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and taking in the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

At the southern end of the MarshWalk on Crazy Sister Marina is The Wicked Tuna.

Seafood, of course, is the focus here, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find it any fresher elsewhere. The restaurant operates its own fishing boat, which goes out several times a week, bringing back everything from local triggerfish, grouper, and flounder to shrimp and oysters. The catch of the day is immediately unloaded and processed on-site, going from the water to your plate in a matter of hours. Choose from diverse options such as the Stuffed Flounder Stack, featuring flounder fillets layered with crabmeat, mushrooms, and spinach topped with sun-dried tomato and macadamia nut crust and served with Parmesan cream sauce, or the Surf and Surf, pan-seared fresh fish with shrimp and Creole cream sauce over risotto.

sushi at The Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

The Wicked Tuna also has a dedicated sushi kitchen and raw bar where you can get ceviches, cold seafood salads, oysters on the half shell, and handcrafted nigiri, sashimi, and rolls. The specialty roll is the Maryland, which includes tuna, shrimp, blue crab, and cucumber topped with Maryland-style lump crab cakes, a sweet-spicy sauce, and green onion.

Plan your time in Murrells Inlet to include a visit to Brookgreen Gardens, the largest outdoor public sculpture gardens in the country.

Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Founded by Archer Milton Huntington and his wife, artist Anna Hyatt Huntington, Brookgreen has been open to the public since 1930 and has more than 1,400 pieces by more than 350 artists in its collection. In addition to stunning works of art surrounded by graceful oaks and gorgeous flowers and plants, Brookgreen features an arboretum, a labyrinth, butterfly house, a wildlife preserve and zoo dedicated to native Lowcountry animals, and pontoon boat rides along historic rice fields. Special exhibits and events rotate throughout the year.

Head a few miles down the road from Murrells Inlet to The Hammock Shops Village in the heart of Pawleys Island for some leisurely shopping and strolling.

You’ll find more than 25 shops and eateries connected by brick- and pebble-lined pathways planted with azaleas, camellias, oaks, magnolias, and more. There is a playground just for kids in the center of the village, and a dog-walk area is adjacent to the village. Don’t miss the daily hammock-weaving demonstrations, and then pick up your own hammock at The Original Hammock Shop, which has been selling the hand-woven cotton-rope hammocks created in 1889 by local riverboat captain Joshua John Ward since 1938.

If hunger strikes, there are several options to choose from in the village, from quick bites to fine dining.

For casual yet delicious fare, pay a visit to bisQit. You can’t go wrong with any of their towering biscuit sandwiches, such as the Lowcountry with root beer-braised pork belly, smoked Gouda, and slaw or the Wedgefield with country-fried or blackened chuck steak with lettuce, tomato, and blue cheese dressing. For burger cravings, bisQit has 13 variations to choose from plus a ton of toppings, including grilled or pickled onions, pimiento cheese, bacon jam, chorizo, an all-beef frank, and nine types of cheese to customize them. Be sure to save room for a milk shake; bisQit has 16 thick, fluffy concoctions such as the Funky Monkey featuring bananas, chocolate chips, and strawberry jam; the sweet-spicy-tart Mango, Cayenne & Lime; and the Sweet Swine with bacon, maple syrup, and sea salt. You can also spike any shake with a shot or two for a grown-up treat, or order it virgin in a go-cup to sip on as you meander through the village.

Crazy for Calabash

Throughout Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand, you’ll see signs for Calabash-style restaurants. That phrase originated with the tiny fishing village of Calabash, North Carolina, which proclaims itself “the seafood capital of the world.” Seafood in Calabash, particularly shrimp, traditionally was fried with minimal seasoning and very little breading and served in generous portions. These days, though, Calabash style often indicates all-you-can-eat fried seafood buffets.

Photos courtesy of Visit Myrtle Beach, Kat Murphy Photography/Katrina Murphy, and Brookgreen Gardens

This content was originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine. ©2016 Hoffman Media