Time to head off to Wal-Mart to pick up your Coors Light and tube socks, because we are heading to Myrtle Beach. I received a lot of puzzled looks when I mentioned that I was going to Myrtle Beach, especially since I am looked upon by many as somewhat of a travel snob. Most people were perplexed as to why I would subject myself to such a low brow ordeal. The collective horror intensified when it was discovered I was heading down during Bike Week.
We chose Myrtle Beach for two reasons, 1) We needed desperately to get away 2) Charleston was too expensive. I will be the first to admit, my expectations were low for this southern right of passage. There were nightmares of fried possum sandwiches and 300 pounders in speedos. I learned a lot from this trip and my deep rooted biases. Sometimes when you least expect it, fun can creep up on you and deliver more than a few enjoyable moments. Myrtle Beach is not pretentious or high class by any means, but it gave us the opportunity to do something we rarely do on vacation: Relax.
The Good Things in Myrtle Beach
I found one of the best aspects of Myrtle Beach were the people. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice everyone was. It wasn’t in a creepy let me get you to my basement (or my friend’s shop in the case of Istanbul) sort of way. Everyone there, especially the locals, were genuinely friendly. I have been to tourist areas were locals acted like a tourist ran over their dog, they spoke to us with such unbridled rudeness (I’m looking at you New Orleans). In Myrtle Beach, everyone from the other guests to the bartenders were great.
The second thing I liked about this area was that you get a lot for your money. Our hotel room was bigger than at least two of my previous apartments. With a full kitchen, you can stock alcohol and food (for the love of God bring food! I will touch on this later).
Really, the best thing about my trip was I could just relax. How bad can a place be that combines happy hour, a beach, a pool and a lazy river? So, what if you have to avoid a few cigarette butts along the way.
The Questionable about Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach isn’t a hot bed of attractions, but it does have some highlights. I was most surprised about how much I enjoyed the aquarium. For about $25, you really get a lot for your money and it is a place I will return.
The rest of the boardwalk, or Broadway at the Beach, and the area on the whole for that matter, seems to be a mix of worn out touristy gimmicks. If you like fudge, funnel cake, old timey photos and Ripley’s Believe or Not museums you’ve hit a gold mine. Giant volcanos, King Kong on top of a building and various other gimmicks may remind you why you loved Barcelona so much, but on the bright side, there is enough alcohol wash away the acrid taste of any contempt you may have for the gaudy, indulgent carnival environment.
The beach itself was actually a lot more peaceful than I remember. It doesn’t have clear blue water, but it was surprisingly quiet, especially for Bike Week. I assume in the heart of the summer it is a madhouse. As mentioned, there wasn’t a lot to do there in terms of attractions, which was perfect. We did exactly what we wanted to: Nothing. There was no need to find a must see museum or heritage site location, just us letting go of the week.
The Bad of Myrtle Beach
The food is awful, there is no other way to put it. So awful, that my question of “where do we go for Sunday brunch” was met with “Charleston.” Yes, we actually drove two hours, out of our way, to go where the food was not only edible, but outstanding. It was as if every seasons first loser of Hell’s Kitchen was forced to work in Myrtle Beach. Everything was fried and the things that weren’t, you wish they would have. There should be a sign with a skull and crossbones on the door of every restaurant. Under it should read the caption: Don’t order delivery, you may want to die..a thousand deaths for every bite.
It was almost surreal how unlucky we were with what we ate at Myrtle Beach. Our first meal was on the boardwalk, Rooster’s Restaurant & Bar, it was late, we were hungry. I tried to block the majority of it out, but I vaguely recall terrible fried calamari, some weird fish nuggets and what I believe to be a couple of partially raw scallops. The entire Broadway on the Beach was filled with overpriced tourist traps and carnival food. As we made our way to our second hotel we didn’t fare much better. The Sea Caption should go down with his ship, it was another bust. We did find a seafood bar we went to twice, Mr. Fish, the food was inexpensive during happy hour, and surprisingly not terrible, but of course fried.
I’ve learned that alcohol and hunger do not mix. Our hotel must have been run by an 80 yr old woman since they stopped serving room service at 8PM on a Saturday. Not having a neon warning sign, I ordered a pizza so bad that I wasn’t sure if I should eat it or mourn it for all it could have been. Overall, I can only repeat this advice, go for the drinks, maybe nibble on some fried mermaid or whatever they are serving. In the end, get a room with a kitchen and cook for yourself.
At times, I may come across as somewhat insensitive, but I feel I am doing a public service. You will see things you may not care to see and things you can’t unsee at times. This is not Charleston or the Hamptons, people are not pulling up in Mercedes or Lincolns (Ok, some were). Everyone was extremely nice, but you will experience your fair share of chain smokers, that enjoy flicking their cigarettes on the beach. Also, sunblock is your friend, the literal interpretation of a red neck is real. I saw too many people I could have mistaken for a leather bag due to the sun’s wrath.
A Word about Bike Week
You would have thought I just announced I was going to Syria when I told people I was going to Myrtle Beach during bike week. There are two bike weeks, I will not separate them how most people do. I will simply write, I went to the “first” one. For the most part, it can be described as uneventful; I saw a couple of bikers on the road and a few at the aquarium, but nothing crazy. Other people’s experiences may differ greatly, but for me I hardly noticed. It reinforces a main theory of mine when it comes to travel: Don’t listen to people! (except for me, I know what I’m talking about!). In all seriousness, there is no reason to listen to those who give advice based on second hand stories and hype.
You shouldn’t go to Myrtle Beach for the attractions. You sure as hell shouldn’t go for the food, but you should go to just relax. It is relatively inexpensive compared to Charleston or Savanah and you get a lot more for your money. You just need to set your expectations at a realistic level and maybe screw your courage to a sticking place. Myrtle Beach is not a bucket list destination, but it remains a right of passage and it is a fine place to go if you live close, want to shut your mind off, and just ‘let go’ for the weekend..