Vacationing in the Myrtle Beach area can be an expensive endeavor. From gas or airline tickets to get there to the many lodging, dining, shopping and entertainment options such as golf and theaters, it can cost a pretty penny just to spend the week on the Grand Strand, but that doesn’t have to involve doing nothing.
With a little creativity and knowledge of the area, visitors can find lots of enjoyable activities without going broke, or even spending a penny. That can be a handy bit of information for families vacationing on a budget, retirees seeking the simpler things in life, or spring-breakers who are road-tripping with empty pockets.
The most obvious option is also the best – the beach. For all the man-made resorts and fancy restaurants, golf courses and theaters on the Grand Strand, the area’s No. 1 drawing card is still, and always will be, the Atlantic Ocean and the strip of white sand that surrounds it. It’s like a free playground for all ages.
But there are plenty of options off the immediate coast that don’t cost a thing, such as the many entertainment complexes in the Myrtle Beach area with no admission fees. The Burroughs and Chapin Art Museum near Springmaid Beach requests only donations for admission, and there are lots of local festivals and events that are free to the general public.
Travel just north of Myrtle Beach on Highway 17 into the Little River community and you’ll see a sign for this 115-acre park and designated wildlife refuge. The trails and boardwalks extend into the salt marshes and pass by a Civil War cemetery. The natural scenery is breath-taking, featuring beautiful beautiful salt marshes and small islands, with a gazebo overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway with the Little River waterfront in the distance. A wide observation deck extends into the waterway and allows for some excellent photo opportunities of birds and other wildlife. The view is great and the cost is free.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Vereen Gardens is located on the old homestead of one of the Grand Strand’s earliest settlers.
Terry’s expert tip: This is a good place for bird-watching and to experience the unique coastal landscape of low country salt marshes.
Learn about the rich history of the Grand Strand area from its humble beginnings as a logging and railroad town to one of the top tourism destinations in the world. Displays feature old photographs and documents that tell the story of how early settlers made a hard-scrabble living off the land before making the transition to a tourism-based economy. But this Conway-based museum features much more than human history. The natural history of the region is fascinating for its unique bays and wide range of wildlife, which includes displays of bears, alligators and other creatures. The museum also offers changing exhibits of local, regional and national significance.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Horry County Museum recently relocated into a larger and more modern facility.
Terry’s expert tip: The huge aquarium inside the winding staircase was featured on the popular TV show “Tanked” and is filled with native species.
History never looked so fun as a trip to the Pavilion Nostalgia Park, a smaller but memory-provoking version of the old Pavilion that served as the centerpiece of downtown Myrtle Beach for decades. Located at the popular Broadway at the Beach complex, this miniature theme park features rides that generations of visitors used to ride at the Pavilion, such as the century-old Herschell Spillman carousel that stands as a testament to another era. Other rides include the Pirate Ship, the Wave Swinger and the Caterpillar. There are also plenty of rides for younger children, like the Tea Cups and Kiddie Boat Ride. Other attractions include an arcade, carnival-style food and drinks and a miniature golf course.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: There’s no admission fee to Pavilion Nostalgia Park, so parents and grandparents can join the kids and see some familiar rides from the old days.
Terry’s expert tip: Pavilion Nostalgia Park has been expanded to three different sections of Broadway so you’re never too far from a thrill ride.
Located on the first floor of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, this display features portraits and exhibits of famous South Carolina historical figures, including eight of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a Nobel prize winner. John C. Calhoun, Andrew Jackson, Apollo astronaut Charles M. Duke, Robert Mills and Dizzy Gillespie are just some of the personalities featured here. Other interesting members include Ronald McNair, the nation’s first African-American astronaut who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy and controversial baseball figure “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was banned from the majors following his involvement in the Black Sox scandal.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The South Carolina Hall of Fame gives visitors and residents a new appreciation for the Palmetto State.
Terry’s expert tip: While you’re here, check out the rest of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for other interesting displays and the adjoining Sheraton Hotel.
Known for its holdings of Waccamaw Arts and Crafts Guild works and a wonderful collection of antique maps and prints, the Burroughs-Chapin Art Museum is a must-see. The contemporary art museum first opened in 1997, but it was some 13 years in the making. It’s housed in the former Springmaid Villa, a 10,000 square foot 1927 mansion that originally stood at 5429 North Ocean Boulevard. In 1984, it was slated for demolition, but an enterprising art lover managed to get it moved to its present location eight miles south and fill it with art, and the rest is (recent) history. The museum hosts frequent special events and art classes.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Burroughs-Chapin Art Museum features special touring exhibits, as well as a standing collection that tells the history of Myrtle Beach in photos and paintings.
Terry’s expert tip: The Burroughs & Chapin Art Museum accepts donations in lieu of an admission charge so be prepared to support the cause if you choose to do so.
After the old Pavilion closed, Family Kingdom was left as Myrtle Beach’s only oceanfront amusement park. Rather than rest on its monopoly, Family Kingdom expanded into two attractions in one. The amusement park has several new and modern thrill rides to go with the famous Swamp Fox, plus about 30 other fun rides with a mix of fun and fear that appeals to the whole family. The water park is right on the beach and features several flumes, slides and wave pools. The amusement park is open March-September, but daily hours vary so call ahead. The water park is open from Memorial Day-Labor Day daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Family members who don’t want to ride the attractions can tag along for free and laugh along with the thrill-seekers.
Terry’s expert tip: Guests can get a nice discount by purchasing passes to both the amusement park and water park.
This multi-purpose complex offers the best in entertainment, dining and shopping in one scenic location on the Intracoastal Waterway in North Myrtle Beach. The House of Blues, Alabama Theater and Alligator Adventure are among the fun stops along the way through the maze of unique restaurants and shops. Located across the Waterway from Barefoot Resort, Barefoot Landing is a great place to unwind after a day on the links. Of course, it can cost a pretty penny to visit the restaurants and theaters, but there’s no charge for window-shopping and enjoying the festive atmosphere, which is bolstered by roving mimes, stilt-walkers and jugglers.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Barefoot Landing is the Grand Strand’s No. 1 place for entertainment.
Terry’s expert tip: Barefoot Landing holds fireworks displays during the summer months and other special events throughout the year.
This multi-purpose complex brings the feel of an upscale, urban shopping district to the Grand Strand. Featuring dozens of entertainment, dining and shopping opportunities, Market Common offers national outlets that can’t be found anywhere else in South Carolina. Dine at P.F. Chang’s or Tommy Bahama’s, shop at Orvis or Coldwater Creek, catch a movie or some fireworks – all in one truly unique location. Although Market Common is home to some of the pricier restaurants, shops and attractions on the Grand Strand, it’s also the perfect place to walk the streets and soak up the atmosphere without spending a single dime.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Market Common has developed into its own village with a thriving residential community and retail district.
Terry’s expert tip: Grand Park is across the street from the shops and features playgrounds, bike trails, picnic tables, and free movie nights in the great outdoors on select evenings.
This multi-purpose complex is home to some of the best entertainment, dining and shopping on the Grand Strand. Featuring top attractions, such as Wonder Works and Ripley’s Aquarium, Broadway features hundreds of business surrounding a large lake. Check out the nightlife at a dozen clubs in Celebrity Square, dine at some of the best restaurants in town and shop at major national outlets and locally owned stores. Broadway at the Beach also hosts special events that attract millions to this popular venue annually. Although the many surrounding shops, restaurants and attractions can be expensive, there’s no charge for strolling through the property and enjoying the sights and sounds.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Broadway at the Beach is the most popular spot in Myrtle Beach because of its diversity of things to do.
Terry’s expert tip: In the summer months, Broadway puts on free fireworks shows twice weekly.
The downtown district has been revitalized by this new attraction, highlighted by the 190-foot SkyWheel that lights up the Myrtle Beach skyline. The largest Ferris wheel on the East Coast offers scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the entire Grand Strand, but it’s the area right around the SkyWheel that shines the most. A 1.3-mile wooden walkway spans the beachfront on one side and open-air cafes and shops on the other. Left abandoned when the Pavilion closed in 2006, the downtown area is back and better than ever thanks to the new Boardwalk. The downtown district offers lots of window-shopping and people-watching opportunities.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is the new hub of summertime activity in the downtown district.
Terry’s expert tip: The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade is host to free concerts and fireworks all summer.