until the total solar eclipse.

The Four Boardwalks of the Grand Strand

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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A hundred feet away an alligator floats silently in the still waters of the Waccamaw River. The wooden boardwalk is a safe place several feet above the water, but it’s still a bit scary when the predator suddenly picks up speed and vanishes beneath the surface. The sun is getting low, casting a warm hue across the green landscape, and a slight wind swings the Spanish moss hanging from giant oak trees. The air is as still as the water, and the silence is broken only by casual conversation from other visitors. Someone just mentioned dinner.

The Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of pristine beaches and cozy coastal towns, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Most vacationers come for the oceanfront resort hotels, sprawling shopping centers, and nightly entertainment for the entire family. But others come for the RV campgrounds, fishing opportunities, and peaceful starry nights. One attraction that caters to any tourist is a boardwalk, and there are plenty on the Grand Strand.

Spread out across the region are four boardwalks, each with its own unique identity and personality, each a smooth blending of nature and entertainment. But deciding which boardwalk to visit is a little more complicated than simply driving to the one nearest you. Do you want easy access to lots of entertainment for the family? Do you want a quiet walk before picking a restaurant for dinner? Do you want to spend your day shopping and eating from one end to the other? Do you want a peaceful place for an eventing stroll after a day of shopping for local art?

The Supermoon, a celestial event when the full moon coincides with its closest approach to the Earth, rises over the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

Watching a full moon rise is a real treat along the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. Almost all the beach access points include one or two benches with a great view of the beach and ocean.

The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk

The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is a lively place filled with the sounds of chimes from arcade games, soothing crashing waves on the beach, and the pleasant aroma of fresh seafood from nearby restaurants. The 1.3-mile boardwalk guides visitors along an oceanfront excursion between towering resort hotels and beautiful sand dunes from 2nd Avenue Pier, along a stretch of restaurants and shops, to the newest end at a Mexican restaurant. The northern half of the Boardwalk is comprised of wooden planks and is often the busiest, especially during concerts at Plyler Park. But the southern half, comprised of a winding concrete path, is less frequently crowded and a much more peaceful oceanfront walk.

The mostly urban boardwalk is certainly not lacking for places to eat, beginning and ending with a restaurant. At the southern end, the Pier House Restaurant at Second Avenue Pier offers great food with a great view of the beach and ocean. At the northern end, Banditos Restaurant & Cantina has a good menu of Americanized Mexican food with a great view of the beach. In between the two ends you’ll find plenty of choices for food at Oceanfront Bar & Grill, Dirty Don’s Oyster Bar, and another eatery over the water at Pier 14 Restaurant & Lounge.

But if you just came for the entertainment, there is plenty of that, too. You can play through one of two 18-hole miniature golf courses at the Shark Attack Adventure Golf, the only oceanfront putt-putt in the region. The kids can spend their spare change playing games at the Fun Plaza Arcade while the adults do some shopping at the iconic Gay Dolphin Gift Cove. The newest addition to the city skyline is perhaps the most daring bit of adventure entertainment in town: the 200′ tall SkyWheel takes visitors on a “flight” around the giant observation wheel in glass-enclosed, air conditioned gondolas.

Additional Reading: The Shark Attack Adventure Golf in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A woman paddleboards along the inlet behind a group of kayakers in Murrells Inlet, SC on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

Murrells Inlet is also a popular place for water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, jet skiing, and fishing.

The Marshwalk

Just 15 miles south is another popular, and much quieter, boardwalk at the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk. The Marshwalk is a half mile wooden boardwalk along Restaurant Row, the nickname for the long stretch of highway in the small inlet town known for the seafood restaurants and nightly entertainment.

The greatest feature of the Marshwalk is the long fishing pier stretching out across the water from the Crazy Sister Marina. Just about any day of the week the pier, just a few feet above the surface of the water at low tide and mere inches at high tide, will be filled with people fishing, lounging in comfortable folding chairs, and taking a stroll to the end and back. On just about any night live music from nearby Dead Dog Saloon fills the air, mixed with the frequent squawks from the peacocks on Goat Island.

Local places like Drunken Jack’s Restaurant, Dead Dog Saloon, Creek Ratz, and Wahoo’s Fish House offer great views of the water with outdoor patio seating right along the Marshwalk. Each of these waterfront restaurants has fantastic food and large menus, and easy to access during a stroll along the wooden boardwalk. Across the street from one end of the Marshwalk is the Lazy Gator Giftshop, a former restaurant now turned ginormous gift shop with lots of local artisan crafts for sale.
Dozens of boats docked along the Harborwalk in Georgetown, SC on Friday, September 6, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

A terrible fire in 2013 burned an entire block of the waterfront district to the ground, but Georgetown is still thriving with locally owned small businesses and well worth a day trip to visit the Harborwalk.

The Harborwalk

Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina, but you wouldn’t know it walking along the modern Harborwalk. The half-mile wooden boardwalk stretches along the edge of Winyah Bay, along the back side of shops and restaurants on Front Street. Pelicans fly over the water, weaving in between sailboats docked in the bay, heading out to sea. Every once in awhile a large fishing boat returns from a long excursion at sea, having just offloaded their fresh catch downstream at Independent Seafood.

With backdoor access to all the Front Street shops, it is entirely possible to spend an entire day shopping and eating along the Harborwalk. The Georgetown Art Gallery is a cooperative between a few dozen local artisans selling paintings, photography, sculptures, and more. Finding a great place to eat is easy with options every hundred feet: try Big Tuna for the outdoor patio seating, or the River Room for indoor seating with a view. You can also spend some time learning about history at the Rice Museum, the South Carolina Maritime Museum, or the Kaminski House Museum.

Visitors can easily fill the days on the Harborwalk with shopping and dining, but some of the best views come at sunset and afterwards. The sun sets across the waters of the bay, frequently turning a warm hue just before ducking below the horizon. The modern street lamps light the Harborwalk at night as the air cools and live music fills the air. Day or night, this is a place to spend some time at the south end of the Grand Strand.
The late evening sunlight creates a bright, calm atmosphere along the Riverwalk in Conway, SC on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Copyright 2015 Jason Barnette

Warm colors from the setting sun make the natural area surrounding the Riverwalk appealing and relaxing to all visitors.

The Riverwalk

When vacationers cross the Intracoastal Waterway just a couple of miles from the beach, they often never consider driving back across that barrier until their vacation is over. But they don’t know what they’re missing by not spending some time in Conway. The small town has a lot to offer, including one final boardwalk: the Riverwalk. The mile-long wooden boardwalk and concrete paths meander along the edge of the Waccamaw River for beautiful scenes of nature and peaceful relaxation away from the beach.

A few historical river warehouses, now empty but not forgotten, stand between the Riverwalk and the shore. The view across the still river is peaceful and the only sounds are the constant clack-clack of cars crossing the “Old Bridge” high above. There are places to launch kayaks onto the river, a floating boat dock, and more than a few benches to sit back and relax. The end of the Riverwalk spreads out into a large park filled with tables, swinging benches, and large trees. It’s a popular place for ladies to do yoga, families to play with their children, and locals to walk their dogs. This is a place where time could be forgotten.

Additional Reading: The 9 Piers Along the Grand Strand

What is not to be forgotten is the opportunities for shopping and dining just a block from the Riverwalk. The locally owned Conway Glass is a great place shop for local artwork and glasswork by Ed Streeter, and if you plan it just right you can watch a demonstration or even take a glassblowing class. Coppers Restaurant next door offers a great menu, but the Rivertown Bistro is a local favorite, especially during Happy Hour. A walk up Main Street takes you just four blocks from the Riverwalk for a short, easy round trip hike from nature to local shops and back again.

The alligator just vanished beneath the surface of the river, probably dining on a large catfish. It’s late in the evening, just minutes before sunset, and a slight wind is blowing across the Riverwalk. A couple just walked past asking each other where should they eat tonight. Dinner sounds good right about now. There are a half dozen great places to eat just two blocks from here. If I leave the car here, I’ll have an excuse to come back for one last visit before I leave the Riverwalk behind.


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