From Coney Island's hot dogs to San Diego's fish tacos, we're going coast-to-coast with beach babes and surf studs counting down the top 10 summer foods. Traveling from one exotic, sunny destination to the next, we're seeking out the juiciest burgers, crispiest fries, most irresistible sweets and hottest snacks that summer in America has to offer.
With sunshine to spare, your family can spend a long weekend or week at Myrtle Beach simply enjoying the view from the sand with boogie boarding, sandcastles and shelling. Beyond the beach, there is even more fun to be had. Many area hotels come complete with waterslides and lazy rivers, but if you’re forgoing the resort experience for a rental that doesn’t mean your family should miss out on the fun. Thank goodness for the endless fun along the Grand Strand with amusement parks, waterslides, miniature golf and nightly activities on the Boardwalk in the shadow of the towering SkyWheel.
Beyond the beach (precisely, 18 miles) you can appreciate a different aspect of lowcountry beauty at the 300-acre Brookgreen Gardens. Little ones will love seeing the alligators, otters and more at the on-site Lowcountry Zoo. For an extra fee, the Whispering Wings butterfly house is a colorful sight to behold from April through October with hundreds of butterflies flying about the tropical plants. Then there are 2 unique children’s centers -- the Discovery Room and Garden Room -- where wee ones play and check out interactive exhibits on the surrounding nature and art. And on Thursday nights beginning in June there are evening programs with animal interactions and games. Beyond the kid-centric activities, there are 1,400 sculptures, stunning 250-year-old oak trees and more than 2,000 species of plants to enjoy along the meandering trails. Insider’s Tip: Prioritize a visit to Brookgreen Gardens for the beginning of your vacation as garden admission is good for 7 consecutive days.
The Family Kingdom has 13 acres of dry rides and another 2 of water park fun right on Ocean Avenue near the center of the action. The most infamous ride is the Swamp Fox, a wooden roller coaster that has been thrilling riders with a bumpy ride since 1966. More modern, but equally thrilling, are the fast-moving Hurricane and the 100-foot free fall on the Drop Zone. Younger riders can get their own thrills with kiddie classics such as the Scrambler, Tilt-a-Whirl, carousel and a train that chugs around the park. As the only water park on the beach, you can slip and slide on 7 slides or let the babes (under 48 inches) splash in the play pool complete with sprinklers and pint-sized slides. Flexible ticketing options include all-day wristbands, per-ride tickets or a combo pass for the water and amusement parks that do not need to be used on the same day.
Insider’s Tip: Looking for the fastest ride on the Swamp Fox? Experiments found that the train runs between 8 and 10 seconds faster at 9:00 p.m. than it does at 2 p.m. You may not feel the difference, but the kids will like the bragging rights for the extra speed.
The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is a classic summertime destination with a line-up of family-friendly attractions, souvenir shops and restaurants overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The 1.2-mile wooden boardwalk runs from the 14th Avenue to 2nd Avenue piers parallel to the equally busy Ocean Boulevard. The Hot Summer Nights at Pyler Park on the Boardwalk keep families entertained with free activities like the Monday night kids’ carnival (complete with face painting, bounce houses and stilt walkers), Wednesday night fireworks and live music the remaining nights of the week. But the real showstopper is the 196-foot-tall SkyWheel, a fancy Ferris wheel that upgrades the classic festival experience. Each of the 42 gondolas is temperature-controlled and holds up to 6 people; kids 2 and under are free. Visit after dusk to see the nightly light show, when over 1 million twinkling LED lights illuminate the towering SkyWheel. Insider’s Tip: For a more peaceful experience (especially if you’re looking for naps in the jogging stroller), head to the less developed southern stretch of the boardwalk near the 2nd Avenue pier.
While the grownups may be going for the big-time golf in the “Seaside Golf Capital of the World,” little ones can soak up the fun in Myrtle Beach with a few rounds of mini-golf. Dragons and pirates and dinos, oh my! The Myrtle Beach Family Golf complex includes 5 themed mini-golf courses around town, with Jungle Safari and Shipwreck Island rounding out the options. The whole family can navigate the ball around life-sized obstacles with plenty of challenges along the way, such as waterfalls, streams and larger-than-life animals.
Insider’s Tip: The Fantasy Golf package is tempting, but be realistic about your family’s interest level in mini-golf. Unless you plan on playing 5 rounds on your trip, you’re probably better off paying the admission and saving some cash by printing the web coupons before you arrive.
The sun shines an estimated 214 days a year on Myrtle Beach, so it’s no surprise that the beachgoers are there to soak up the rays on the popular stretch of sand fronting the boardwalk and row of hotels and condos. For a change of scenery, experience a different side of the Grand Strand at Myrtle Beach State Park. This state park boasts 1 mile of undeveloped beach, nature trails through maritime forest and a long fishing pier for fishing or crabbing. From June through August, kids over 5 can earn patches for participating in programs like nature walks or sea turtle patrol at the nature center.
Insider’s Tip: Myrtle Beach State Park is a great spot for beachcombing, with the best time to search for special shells during low tide and after storms along the water’s edge and high tide line. Just remember to always check intact shells to make sure there are no living creatures inside.
Can’t get enough of the wonders of the sea? Spend a few hours seeing the marine wildlife at Ripley’s Aquarium where tanks are teeming with brightly colored exotics, smooth sting rays and fierce sharks. Hop aboard the 340-foot moving walkway through the tunnel at the Dangerous Reef where you can watch dangerous sharks and gigantic sea turtles swim overhead. Watch the mesmerizing rays swim through Ray Bay and then step up to Friendship Flats for a chance to touch these gentle giants, and even meet a “real-life” mermaid at this same spot during daily shows. You’ll save a minimal amount of cash but possibly a lot of time by purchasing your tickets online before you arrive. You can come and go as you please with your ticket -- unlimited entry during the day.
Insider’s Tip: Fight the urge to laze another day on the beach and wait for the most perfect peach day to head to the aquarium. Your reward for missing a few hours in the sun will be shorter lines and smaller crowds. Like most indoor attractions, the aquarium is packed on rainy days.