Life Travel

Wild about Myrtle Beach

Kevin Hann, Postmedia Network

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- What do Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Aubrey Hepburn have in common?

You'll find them all hanging out and waxing poetic in South Carolina.

They are among dozens of stars who have been cast in the latest hit to open on the Grand Strand.

The Hollywood Wax Museum has been drawing rave reviews since it opened in June 2014; it's a mirror image of the original venue in California.

Located on Hwy. 17 across from the mammoth Broadway at the Beach shopping and entertainment complex, the museum boasts an incredible roster of A-list celebrities, from gods and goddesses of the big screen to music's biggest stars.

Walking in the door, you're invited to pose with King Kong before venturing into the 2,415-sq-metre, two-storey building that once housed a NASCAR Cafe.

The interactive exhibit welcomes guests to snap photos with the likes of Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. You can strike a pose at a 1950s soda shop with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Or you can get comfy in bed with Playboy tycoon Hugh Hefner. That's if you survive a face-to-face encounter with ghouls from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

More than 15 million people venture to Myrtle Beach annually. Sunny climes, an oceanfront beach stretching for kilometres and more than 100 challenging golf courses make it a favourite for Canadians.

But, when the going gets too hot, or Mother Nature isn't being on her best behaviour, there are many options like the wax museum to be found away from the beach.

The Horry County Museum (horrycountymuseum.org) in Conway details the rich history and growth of the region.

It is beholden to Franklin G. Burroughs who, as a Wall St. developer, would occasionally venture south to duck hunt. About 150 years ago, he moved to Conway to launch a building company and turpentine manufacturing business, according to museum director Walter Hill.

Burroughs dreamed of one day creating a pathway to the ocean to create beachfront developments that would rival Atlantic City.

He is quoted as remarking: "I may not live to see it, but one day, this whole strand will be a resort."

Burroughs died in 1897 but his family would make his vision a reality. Along with Burroughs' business partner Benjamin Collins, a rail link to the beach was completed and, by 1901, they had opened the Seaside Inn -- the first resort on the beach.

Originally known as New Town, Myrtle Beach got its name through a contest won by Burroughs' wife, whose entry was inspired by the numerous wax myrtle trees growing in the area.

As Myrtle Beach blossomed it drew more interest from visionaries.

A wealthy Simeon B. Chapin of Chicago joined forces with Burroughs & Collins in 1912 to create Myrtle Beach Farm Company. The firm worked diligently to attract industry, draw tourists and build infrastructure.

The company became Burroughs & Chapin in 1990 and today is an empire including entertainment venues, a shopping complex, golf resort and various land holdings.

The Conway museum features a gallery of black and white photos from Jack Thompson tracing the modern-day development of the area.

There are exhibits containing Civil War uniforms, weapons and letters from Confederate soldiers; machines from the textile boom supported by cotton in the south; pre-historic pottery; and relics honouring the Waccamaw natives who settled the area.

The history of the American deep south is firmly rooted in South Carolina.

From the days of African American slavery to the early days of cessation, the Confederacy and Civil War, the legacy is preserved and stories told at places like Brookgreen Gardens (brookgreen.org) about 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach.

It sits on the site of a former rice plantation operation and home built by William Allston (also spelled Alston) and his family starting in the mid-1760s. It was later acquired by Joshua John Ward, sold to Dr. Louis Hassell in 1865 after the civil war, then sold to Hassell's brother-in-law before Archer Huntington and his sculptor wife Anna Hyatt Huntington purchased it in 1931.

The Huntingtons sought Brookgreen Gardens as a stage to display Anna's works of art. Walkways and gardens were carved out of heavy oak forest.

The couple, based in New York, also purchased nearby land for construction of a summer home they named Atalaya. The European-styled, castle-like fortress was also used to show off Anna's sculptures and featured an elaborate water-retention system, 30 rooms and a 12-metre tower overlooking the grounds.

The Atalaya National Historic Landmark was donated to the state in 1960 and can be found on the grounds of Huntington State Park.

Brookgreen Gardens is considered a stately treasure and today is rated by Trip Advisor as one of the Top 10 public gardens in the United States.

One admission is good for seven days, which is excellent value considering the amount of ground to cover.

Various tours and exhibits take visitors on an educational journey back in time.

You can walk with a guide on the Oaks Plantation & Nature Tour, which recounts the Allston family history and includes a visit to the plantation house, the family cemetery and the slave village.

The all-terrain Trekker Excursion covers swampy areas around the plantation that alligators, owls, hawks and eagles call home. Or you can cruise on a 14.6-metre pontoon boat along tributary creeks of the Waccamaw River.

Indoor galleries host regular sculpture exhibitions. The National Sculpture Society held its 81st Annual Awards Exhibition here last fall.

The Lowcountry Trail takes hikers on an outdoor adventure across the grounds and rice fields worked by slaves in the 1800s. It's a fascinating and educational walk along trails and boardwalks overlooking historical landmarks. At stops along the way, audio presentations and information panels detail life on the plantation and the role slaves played in growing the southern economy.

Eventually the meandering pathway lands at the Lowcountry Zoo featuring rare breeds unique to the area, like Marsh Tacky horses, which once thrived as workhorses in boggy lowland areas, plus Red Devon cows and Tunis sheep. There's an enclosed aviary built on a cypress swamp and an animal preservation showcasing river otters, red and grey foxes, deer, wild turkeys and birds of prey.

This is the deep south, where alligators are king. And you'll find plenty at Alligator Adventure -- the reptile capital of the world. This expansive facility is one of the biggest reptile zoos on the planet and is home to more than 500 alligators. Scheduled daily feedings are spectacular sights as the giant beasts leap from the water to snatch rotting chickens from the zoo staff.

The park is also a sanctuary for some rare and endangered species of birds, reptiles and jungle animals including a pair or albino crocodiles. Admission always includes a second day free.

Downtown Myrtle Beach has transformed itself in recent years. The construction of an almost 2-km-long beachfront boardwalk was a springboard for new shops and restaurants to open oceanside. It's the perfect place for an early morning stroll, afternoon cold drink or evening dinner.

Towering over the boardwalk is the striking Skywheel, a 57-metre-high Ferris wheel with glass-enclosed cars and air conditioning, providing awesome views up and down the beach.

Speaking of cool rides, the fun continues across Ocean Blvd. at Ripley's 5D theatre. Brave guests are strapped into seats for thrill rides incorporating big-screen videos (on this day a winter toboggan ride) combined with sensations created by shifting seats and watery spray.

South Carolina is renowned for golf and that includes 50 elaborate mini-putt layouts like Hawaiian Rumble, home of the Masters Tournament of mini-golf, where a hissing volcano is the centrepiece of two challenging tracks.

After cruising the boardwalk, the Barefoot Princess is ready to wine and dine you with a trip along the Intracoastal Waterway, gliding past a millionaires' row of palatial estates and some low country scenery.

MORE INFO

-- For details on lodging, dining, adventures and attractions, go to visitmyrtlebeach.com.

ACCOMMODATIONS

-- The Caribbean Resort and Villas is centrally located in Myrtle Beach close to all the action. This family friendly resort has two-, three- and four-bedroom suites with full kitchens, dining areas and living rooms. It has an on-site waterpark, poolside bar and is just a short drive to major attractions. See caribbeanresort.com.

TRAVEL TIP

While many families visit Myrtle Beach during the summer months when the children are off school, spring and fall bring significant bargains.


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions