Everyone knows the side of Myrtle Beach with the neon lights and man-made attractions. But there's a more natural side beyond the roller coasters and putt-putt golf courses that some never see. For many, the natural beauty of the Grand Strand is a bigger draw than the amusement rides and water slides. Here are five of the area's most scenic spots on the Strand that are a short drive away from Bay View Resort:
* Atlantic Ocean: For the ultimate escape, just go a few miles east. There's no traffic and you are literally surrounded by nature. Of course, you're going to need a boat to make this journey, and there are many local outfitters where you can charter or rent a boat for the day, if you have a captain's license. Take a deep-sea fishing trip or go on a dolphin-watching cruise. Even the Big M Casino boat goes out far enough to enjoy a panoramic ocean view. For those who get seasick, a ride down the Intracoastal Waterway on the Barefoot Princess or on a rented jet ski is a nice alternative.
* Brookgreen Garden/Huntington Beach State Park: It's easy to visit these two Murrells Inlet parks on the same day since they are located on the same former rice plantation. On the inland side of Highway 17, Brookgreen Gardens is the East Coast's oldest and largest botanical sculpture garden. See beautiful flowers and trees surrounded by works of art in a scenic Lowcountry landscape. There's also a zoo, boat rides, a Gullah Cultural Center and more. On the ocean side of 17, Huntington Beach State Park is a pristine piece of property that features salt marshes, lush sand dunes and wide beaches. Atalaya Castle overlooks the ocean and is open for tours, and nature trails take visitors through maritime forests and wetlands.
* Myrtle Beach State Park: Located just south of Myrtle Beach's main drag and Market Common, Myrtle Beach State Park is hidden from view by old-growth forest. But inside the gate resides a slice of what this area looked like before the tourism boom, and the scenery is breathtaking. Hike through woodlands and wetlands before coming to a sandy trail that leads to the beach, then stroll down one of the few undeveloped stretches of coastline on the Grand Strand. For those who prefer a little taste of civilization, there are picnic shelters, bathroom facilities, camping and cabins and oceanfront picnic shelters.
* North Myrtle Beach Sports & Recreation Complex: Opened in 2014, this multi-purpose park offers three different hiking trails that wind through a meadow and around a lake. The truly adventurous can test their skills and bravery at the Go Ape zipline and ropes course through the forest, or the JetPack Adventure that uses jet propulsion to let you fly high over the lake. Sports fields, an outdoor amphitheater and a dog park are among the many amenities you can do in the great outdoors at this free public park.
* Waccatee Zoo: This Socastee-area venue is more like visiting a family farm than a zoo, and that’s because it is. The Futrell family has been collecting rare species of creatures as well as common farm animals for years and finally converted it into a zoo after curious onlookers kept stopping for a roadside gander. Now the farm is home to elephants, lions, tigers, kangaroos, monkeys, llamas, camels and more, as well as domesticated critters like goats, peacocks, donkeys and chickens. Dirt trails lead visitors through a maze of amazing animals, some which can be hand fed by guests. The office includes a reptile center with a wide range of snakes, turtles and lizards.