Does it feel like forever since you’ve felt warm weather? More than one million Canadians escape the cold climate every year by heading to Myrtle Beach in search of sunshine and surf (as well as shopping and golf). It’s not as hot as Florida (the average year-round temperature is 24°C), but you’ll shave hours off your driving time. (If you’re flying out of Toronto save even more travel time with two-hour nonstop flights from Porter Airlines from February until May.)

Mrytle Beach Pier - Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach Pier – Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

In addition to spring break revelers and laid-back seniors, families make up a big part of the Myrtle Beach tourism demographic. Check into a beachside hotel with a waterpark for onsite amusement and then venture further afield to explore the many communities spread across the 100 km of sandy South Carolina shoreline that make up the area known as the Grand Strand.

Skywheel on the Boardwalk - photo by Anne Bokma

Skywheel on the Boardwalk – photo by Anne Bokma

1. Hit these three hotspots

The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade, Broadway at the Beach and Barefoot Landing are three distinct areas within just a few kilometres of each other that feature shopping, restaurants and plenty of attractions. The highlight of the 2 km walkable oceanfront boardwalk is the towering iconic SkyWheel, a fixture on the shoreline landscape.

Broadway at the Beach, located about two km from the ocean, is a sprawling entertainment centre with live shows and family attractions, including the state’s largest waterpark with a wave pool and lazy river, the Hollywood Wax Museum (you can’t miss the great ape climbing up the side of the building), a play park for school-age kids and preschoolers and two of the best museums in Myrtle Beach: WonderWorks, an interactive science museum billed as “an indoor amusement park for the mind,” with 100 interactive exhibits, including a bed of nails and a virtual roller coaster, and Ripley’s Aquarium, an 85,000 sq. ft. collection of wonders of the sea, where you can touch friendly horseshoe crabs, sea urchins and star fish and watch stingrays being fed by divers during several daily shows.

The fun continues at Barefoot Landing (1.6 km from the ocean), which also has plenty of retail and restaurant options and where wildlife takes centre stage with Alligator Adventure, one of the largest facilities for reptile life in the world, and the T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station where you can watch cubs and large cats as they interact and play. Here’s where you can also ride an authentic representation of a Barnum & Bailey carousel, featuring 40 animals cast from original molds.

Marsh at Murrells Inlet Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

Marsh at Murrells Inlet Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

2. Take a drive along the coast

Tour the Grand Strand to check out the variety of sandy beaches and some of the 14 communities along the shoreline, including the quaint fishing village of Murrells Inlet (be sure to stop in at the Dead Dog Saloon where patrons have pinned up hundreds of photos of their dearly departed canine pals) and Surfside Beach, known as one of the most family-friendly beaches on the Strand—it’s cleaned daily, supervised by lifeguards, features free games such as shuffleboard and is the area’s first autism-friendly travel destination.

Mini golf at Spy Glass Adventure Golf Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

Mini golf at Spy Glass Adventure Golf Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

3. Plenty of greens for little golfers

Myrtle Beach is known as a golfer’s paradise (it boosts more than 80 courses, including 14 that have been ranked among America’s top 100), but it’s also popular with little tykes. The dozens of mini putt courses each have an innovative theme, including Spy Glass Adventure Golf, with a tropical setup featuring waterfalls, ships and caves, and Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf, where there’s a pirate battle every half hour.

4. Take in two awesome state parks

Huntington Beach State Park and Myrtle Beach State Park are within a half hour of the hustle of the commercial strip. Huntington Beach, with 2,500 acres, is the larger of the two and it’s a sweeping, wide-open beach with not a condo tower in sight. It boasts the best bird watching in the region, the opportunity to see alligators in its freshwater lake and the park’s wide variety of programming includes the chance to see loggerhead turtles and other endangered plant and animal species up close.

NASCAR Myrtle Beach - photo by GrownupTravels

NASCAR Myrtle Beach – photo by GrownupTravels

5. Spin around the track at Myrtle Beach Speedway

Myrtle Beach Speedway, a half-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval track, has been the training ground for some of NASCAR’s biggest stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Get a taste of what it’s like to be on the track when you buckle up for a ride with a professional racing instructor. You’ll go fast enough to rev your adrenaline, but it’s safe enough for all ages (kids must weight 45 kg and be 1.5 m tall). The NASCAR Pace Car experience allows for one passenger riding shot gun in the front and two in the back while the Ride Along experience is just you and the driver.

Horse at Medieval Times Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

Horse at Medieval Times Photo courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach

6. Love the nightlife

When the sun sets, the curtain goes up on a number of show-stopping family-friendly live shows. Watch knights duel on horseback at the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, pirates battle for lost treasure at the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show and talented singers belt out the soulful hits of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and The Jackson 5 in a Motown Tribute Show at GTS Theatre.

Oak trees at Brookgreen Gardens. Photo courtesy Brookgreen Gardens

Oak trees at Brookgreen Gardens. Photo courtesy Brookgreen Gardens

7. Visit a magical garden

You might think your kids wouldn’t be interested in the artistic and horticultural wonder that is Brookgreen Gardens, but this stunning 550-acre property, featuring the world’s largest collection of sculpture in a mythological landscape with hundreds of ancient southern live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, truly appeals to all ages. Its kid-friendly features include a butterfly house, native wildlife zoo and a dedicated children’s garden. Located adjacent to Huntington State Park, the Gardens are also home to the 30-room Moorish “castle” known as Atalaya (guided tours are offered), the home of artist Anna Hyatt Huntington and philanthropist Archer Huntington who bought up 9,000 acres of former rice plantations here in 1930 and donated their property as part of their legacy

Great deals for Canadians until the end of April

When’s the best time to visit Myrtle Beach? How about right now? Myrtle Beach rolls out the red carpet of southern hospitality with its annual Can-Am Days promotion that offers big discounts (up to 55%) on select hotels and 30% off attractions right through to the end of April.

A complete lineup of Can-Am Days special offers is available at Can-Am Days