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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, isn’t what you might expect—even after you get there. For one, the beachside fun is easier to access from the West Coast than might at first be anticipated, with only one additional hop required in Denver, Chicago, Dallas or any number of other cities closer to the eastern seaboard. But once you’re there, you’ll be glad you came.
Myrtle Beach is located along a stretch of Atlantic shoreline affectionately known as the “Grand Strand,” stretching from southern Pawleys Island and 60 miles up to North Myrtle Beach. Fishing, crabbing, sailing, jet skiing, kayaking and biking are just some of the activities available in the outdoors—all of which will work up an appetite to be slaked at any of the numerous high-end restaurants along the Strand.
One of those must-visit eateries is Hook and Barrel, a major player in the local seafood-and-wine experience. Unusual for most such restaurants, Hook and Barrell’s wine selections are served directly from taps—yes, as in those metal things that typically dispense beer. I learn this is considered a sustainable method of serving wine versus bottling, and that it allows for aeration as the liquid goodness is dispensed from the tap. Unsurprisingly, its cellar is heavy on California favorites.
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For first course we choose a half-carafe of Baroni Fini Pinot Grigio from Italy, with its hint of acidity that pairs excellently with the fish bites appetizer, today consisting of swordfish, trout, monkfish and scallops with a delectable remoulade. The grilled octopus, served with a special Korean sauce, is as wondrous as the she-crab soup.
This far south, it’s typical to dine outdoors most of the year but for a few wintry months. Because COVID-19 is still with us, the owner, whose day job is as a doctor, insists on masking for indoor dining or trips to the bathroom—bucking certain stereotypes about Southern effrontery to such measures. (Be advised that many restaurants in these parts do not take reservations.)
Our next course is locally sourced oysters and steamed shrimp served by the half-pound. You have to peel them, of course, but that makes the reward so much better. The mac n’ cheese with crab is decent, and pairs nicely with a Chateau St. Jean chardonnay from Sonoma.
Following a Hook and Barrel dessert of chocolate mousse, my wife and I make our way to Broadway by the Beach, an outdoor destination that is part mall, part amusement park and part beach boardwalk all wrapped into one. On the artificial lake at the attraction’s center, a speedboat is taking brave visitors on high-velocity loops around its perimeter, while high above others in search of adrenaline zipline across the lake. Live entertainment abounds, including at the on-location Broadway Theater, where professional shows worthy of the Great White Way are assured.
And for the nerdily inclined, head to the “Simpsons in 4D” experience. You enter through a marquee made up to look like fictional Springfield’s Aztec Theater, then walk into a shop stocked with all manner of Simpsonalia.
Tickets purchased, you queue in a “lobby” of the Aztec, gazing at life-size versions of Homer, Marge, et al. Then on into the Aztec itself, 3D glasses in hand as you find a seat for the simulation ride. The live experience has you step “inside” an animated adventure with Homer and Bart and the gang, as sound effects, moving seats and other gags play up the immersive experience.
Make sure to grab one of the famous donuts with purple frosting on your way out, but be warned that, as with any bakery, the earlier in the day you show up, the better your chances at snagging one. And it’s worth the extra few bucks to get your official photo with Homer, Marge and Maggie.
Victoria and I are staying across the street from the beach, which allows us to walk mere feet to the sand late in the morning to grab a prime spot. The water is pleasant, allowing for tackling some serious waves with the new board I’ve purchased at one of the many surf shops in town. And for those so inclined, waking before dawn to watch the sun come up over the Atlantic is a pleasure like few others.
Today we opt to take a drive north to the riverside hamlet of Little River. We stop for lunch at a spot called Cab Catcher’s on the Waterfront, sited along the Intercoastal Waterway. It’s a great place to enjoy hush puppies, mussels and steamed crab legs while beholding fishing boats, pleasure yachts and even jet skis making their way toward open waters and the adventures therein. Cocktails either frozen or mixed complete the picture of content.
Only a few miles away is the Twelve 33 Distillery, run by the husband-and-wife team Rebecca and Kevin Osborne, longtime California vintners who relocated to the Carolinas to fashion higher-alcohol beverages.
Twelve 33 features a rather spacious tasting room, with warm wooden paneling and friendly staff who helpfully guide us in choosing what to sample. Of particular note are the Arethusa Single Barrel Rum, the Jojo Gin and Carolina Peach Vodka, infused with a fruit much in evidence in these parts. If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous, try the 3 Peppers Vodka, infused with jalapeno, habanero and Carolian reaper juice. One or two sips neat was enough for my palate, but this would be killer in a Bloody Mary.
The distillery also offers VIP tours, which culminates in a private tasting in the distillery’s “hidden” speakeasy.
As Myrtle Beach is the self-proclaimed mini-golf capital of the world, no trip to this seaside city of fun is complete without trying out one of the many courses lining Route 17. They appear to be busy day and night, so the early worm will win the day. For an extremely fun course, I recommend Captain Hook’s, with various holes set upon pirate ships and in caves wherein fake treasure is stashed. If you look carefully while putting the ball, you might even catch local toads watching you trying to cheat your score.
We haven’t even tried the Ferris wheel or the Carolina Opry Theater or the local “trampoline park.” There’s so much to do, and we need more than a long weekend to try it all—in between naps on the beach and a cocktail or two mixed in with South Carolina spirits from North Charleston’s Firefly Distillery.
Myrtle Beach’s motto might as well be: “Have fun, y’all!”
Photos: Instead of birthday gifts, Napa kid asks for nonprofit donations