There's a lot more to Myrtle Beach than meets the eye, especially if you happen to be a history buff. Before the Grand Strand became a popular vacation destination, the area cultivated a rich history that's still on display today. You just have to know where to find it.
From the native people of the Waccamaw and Winyah Indian tribes to the early European settlers, evidence of the Grand Strand's place in history can be discovered throughout the 60-mile stretch of Carolina coastline. Colonial era rice plantations, elusive bands of pirates and determined founding families all led to the establishment of Myrtle Beach as a tourist town.
So enjoy all the attractions, golf, shopping, dining and nightlife has to offer, but set aside some time to learn about the area's unique history. Here are five places to go to gain an appreciation for the past while also having a good time in the present:
* Brookgreen Gardens: Built on a former rice and indigo plantation dating back to the 1700s, this 9,000-acre property stands as a scenic reminder of a very different time in American history. Converted to a botanical sculpture garden by the Alston family, Brookgreen is the largest of its kind on the East Coast and features both the works of great artists as well as the natural beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry. See blooming flowers and ancient live oak trees surrounded by creative statues and sculptures. Brookgreen also offers the Gullah Cultural Arts Center that preserves local African American history and a Lowcountry Zoo that highlights animals native to the area.
* Historic Conway: The oldest settlement on the Grand Strand is about 15 miles inland of Myrtle Beach. Founded in the 1700s as a timber and turpentine producer for ship-building, the town has been relatively unaffected by the rapid development that surrounds it. Take a stroll down the Riverwalk along the banks of the Waccamaw River and through the downtown streets that are lined by local mom-and-pop shops and corner cafes. For a more in-depth lesson in local history, visit the new Horry County Museum and see the artifacts that tell the story of how the Myrtle Beach became a vacation destination.
* Hobcaw Barony: Originally a king's grant of 12,000 acres to Lord John Carteret, this former rice and indigo plantation situated between Pawleys Island and Georgetown is now preserved as a nature refuge and historic site. The on-site education center features interactive displays of native flora and fauna, and guided tours take guests to the old home site and slave quarters, as well as through the Lowcountry wetlands and woodlands. Hobcaw Barony is a great place to experience the natural beauty of the area while also getting a history lesson.
* Pavilion Nostalgia Park: For many longtime locals and visitors, nothing represents their memories of Myrtle Beach history like The Pavilion. The downtown amusement park and bandshell was once THE place to be, from the town's earliest beginnings until its closing in 2007. Although the original site now sits empty as a downtown park, a small piece of The Pavilion is preserved at Broadway at the Beach. Pavilion Nostalgia Park features some of the same carnival-style rides, including the century-old Herschell-Spillman carousel that was ridden by generations of vacationing children. Share the tradition with your kids, who are sure to love any history lesson that involves thrill rides.
* Vereen Memorial Gardens: This 115-acre park in Little River was once the homestead of one of the area's founding families. It now serves as a wildlife refuge with trails and boardwalks that weave through the swamps and forests and pass by a Civil War cemetery. A gazebo overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway from a distance and an observation deck allows for excellent views and photo ops. Best of all, the cost is free.