10 Memories Celebrating the Old Myrtle Beach
When fans remember the old Myrtle Beach of the 1980s and 1990s, Mother Fletchers, Freaky Tiki, Purple Gator, and the Pavilion all come to mind. From family photos snapped on the beach, to foggy memories of cruising the strip, to the silly souvenirs you’ve kept for a lifetime, there’s so much to celebrate about those old Myrtle Beach vacations.
Let’s take a look at some of the special moments, businesses, and landmarks that defined trips to Myrtle Beach for generations. We know not all good things last forever, but the timeless memories they created certainly do. We’ve gathered the top 10 memories of Myrtle Beach to help you relive the fun again. If you’ve done them all, you’re an honorary local, but if you’ve experienced even a few of these experiences first-hand, consider yourself lucky.
Note: A special thanks to Wayne Aiken of Myrtle Beach Remembered for photos provided for this post. Check out the site for more photos and history of Myrtle Beach.
1| Attending the Sun Fun Festival
Beginning in 1951, the annual Sun Fun Festival held in downtown Myrtle Beach was a fundraising event and a celebration of all things beachy about our area. From the human checkerboard games to the Sun Fun Jail—a place for anyone breaking from wearing summer attire—this festival was wholesome family fun at its finest. Over its decades-long run, Sun Fun welcomed tens of thousands of guests and became the longest running festival in the area. It featured parades, celebrity appearances, concerts, dances, bikini competitions, and more.
After celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, the event was canceled due to financing, but came back in 2016 and continues today. The success of Sun Fun and other events in the 1980s and ’90s solidified Myrtle Beach as the hub of family-friendly festivals in the Southeast. To this day, vacationers flock to Myrtle Beach for Sun Fun and these yearly events:
2| Riding The Hurricane at the Pavilion
Built in 1948, the famed Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park served as the epicenter of family fun for more than 50 years. From its oceanfront location in the heart of downtown to its classic attractions, like the Herschell-Sillman carousel and German Baden Band Organ, there was plenty to like about this park, but the wild rides were the most memorable part for many. The park featured six roller coasters during its run, including smaller rides like the Comet Jr., Galaxi, Little Eagle, and Mad Mouse, as well as full-size coasters like the steel looping Corkscrew and the park’s signature ride, the Hurricane: Category 5. This thrilling wooden coaster featured a 100 foot drop and a top speed of 55 mph—it was a favorite among guests from its opening in 2000 until the park’s closing in 2006.
You won’t find a coaster quite like the Hurricane in Myrtle Beach today, but the Family Kingdom on Ocean Boulevard features the Swamp Fox with a 75-foot drop, and you can still recapture some of the old Myrtle Beach magic at the Pavilion Park at Broadway at the Beach.
3| Shopping at Myrtle Square Mall
Before massive malls like the million-square-foot Coastal Grand and entertainment complexes like Broadway at the Beach dominated the area’s retail landscape, there was a memorable ‘must-visit’ shopping spot in the center of town called Myrtle Square Mall. Opening in 1975 and measuring more than 440,000 square feet, the mall was mammoth for its time. Perhaps the most memorable of all the mall’s features was its huge lighted clock. This focal point of the mall was claimed to be the world’s largest. In addition to staples such as Belk, Sears, Coker’s, and Collins Department Stores, the mall was also known for attractions like the Magic Cavern Arcade, Carousel Court, and its award-winning food court. The mall was the Skywheel of its time, appearing in endless family pictures in Myrtle Beach in the 1980s.
The shopping center ran successfully for three decades before shutting down for good in 2005. Now all that remains of it is a huge vacant lot occasionally used for special events, like the Run to the Sun Car Show. Today’s retail options in Myrtle Beach are plentiful, including Tanger Outlets, Myrtle Beach Mall and Market Common, to name a few.
4| Checking Out Hard Rock Park or Freestyle Music Park
Remembered by most as a $400 million failure and one of the biggest busts in the history of Myrtle Beach attractions, Hard Rock Park actually offered a pretty good time for those who attended. If you’re one of the select few who chose to brave The Great Recession in 2008-09 to visit Myrtle Beach and actually attend one of the park’s two incarnations, then chances are you actually enjoyed your time there. From the 155-foot-tall steel Led Zeppelin roller coaster to the trippy Nights in White Satin dark ride and the various live shows and themed areas, there was plenty to like about the park itself. Problem was, the ticket prices were a bit steep (originally pegged at $50 per person) for what was offered and the park couldn’t have opened at a worse time, when many loyal vacationers were staying home due to financial concerns.
To this day, the park remains empty—so empty that it was used in NBC’s apocalyptic drama Revolution—but some of its rides have been appropriated to Family Kingdom, while others have been sold and are moving to a park in Vietnam.
5| Seeing a Show at Dixie Stampede
Vacationers reliving Myrtle Beach in the 1990s will remember the dinner shows at Dixie Stampede. Before country legend Dolly Parton ever strapped on a costume to promote Pirates Voyage, she opened the Western-themed Dixie Stampede in 1992. This beloved Myrtle Beach dinner show ran for 18 years and hosted tons of families making memories noshing on down home cookin’ and cheering on the North and the South in a competition that featured horse riding, lassoing, pig races, and much more. Shows included dancing, singing, and comedy wrapped up in one big, modern-day Wild West revue. Dixie Stampede became one of the most popular shows in town during a time when the Myrtle Beach show scene was really thriving.
These days, the dinner-and-a-show entertainment continues nightly, but was re-themed in 2011 as Pirates Voyage. The cowboys and rodeo queens have been replaced by high-flying, swashbuckling buccaneers, but nonetheless, these shows play a part in many Myrtle Beach memories.
6| Dancing at Mother Fletchers, The Freaky Tiki, or Studebaker’s
Visitors looking to let loose on vacation in Myrtle Beach in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s counted on nightclubs like Mother Fletchers, The Freaky Tiki, Studebakers, The Beachwagon, the Magic Attic, and The Afterdeck for fun. Even those in town from the rock or metal crowd could count on the Purple Gator in Myrtle Beach in the ’90s to bring in top live acts. The evenings here have seen many hot spots come and go over the years. Mother Fletchers closed in 2004 and The Freaky Tiki in Myrtle Beach closed before the 2006 season. Both The Freaky Tiki and Mother Fletchers Myrtle Beach locations became the completely rebuilt and renovated 8th Ave Tiki Bar. Other nightlife spots have been replaced by undeniably unhip shops (both Studebaker’s and The Beach Wagon are now Dollar General discount stores).
From teen and adult dance clubs to rowdy country music venues and raunchy dives, the old Myrtle Beach bars and nightclubs played host to many coming-of-age tales. Though these clubs have moved on, there are still plenty of bars, clubs, and places to dance,including Riptydz, and the long-running 3001 Nightlife (formerly 2001 Nightclub) and The Bowery for vacationers to make new memories.
7| When the Bars Poured Drinks From Mini Bottles
While we’re remembering nights at Mother Fletchers and other popular nightlife spots, you might recall the drinks being stronger in Myrtle Beach than anywhere else—and you’re right. For more than 30 years, South Carolina was known for serving the strongest drinks in the nation, due to a state law that required all bars to serve liquor exclusively from mini bottles. These airplane bottles” packed quite a wallop, holding roughly 75% more per pour than the average shot. Though the law changed on New Year’s Day in 2006, the blurry memories remain for quite a few visitors.
8| Driving Through Myrtle Beach in Traffic
Navigating the old Myrtle Beach streets during the pre-Bypass days are memories that stick with vacationers. Some insist life moved at a slower pace back then and fondly remember visiting in the 1970s and early 1980s, before Myrtle Beach tourism and development really took off. Even with the addition of many highways over the past several decades, getting from place to place can still be a dicey proposition during the busy season. Trust us, if you’re trying to get from Surfside Beach to Little River or from Conway to North Myrtle Beach, you should be glad roads like S.C. 31 and S.C. 22 exist. Now if only they’d ever finish the Highway 74 project that’s been in the works for decades, perhaps traveling to Myrtle Beach would really be a breeze….
9| When the Airport Was an Air Force Base
Built in 1940 as a World War II training base, the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base hosted thousands of U.S. troops over more than 50 years in operation. After serving as a front-line base throughout the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Persian Gulf War, the base closed for good in 1993, sparking a variety of ideas as to its future use. Visitors wishing to relive some of the history of the Myrtle Beach AFB can visit Warbird Park, on Farrow Parkway near U.S. 17 Business, which features replica warplanes and various monuments honoring those who served at the base.
The 1990s plans were to develop a theme park on the land, but it was eventually split up among a variety of entities, including the Myrtle Beach International Airport, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, and Santee Cooper utility company. Since 2008, residential developments, including the Market Common have popped up. This upscale district features shopping, dining, and the Grand Park Athletic Complex, one of the largest in the area.
10| When Waccamaw Pottery Was Full of Shops
Back in the 1990s, the Waccamaw Factory Shoppes were the place to shop in Myrtle Beach. Growing from a humble home furnishings business started in Myrtle Beach in the late 1970s, Waccamaw Pottery quickly grew into a retail chain in the 1980s and ’90s with stores throughout the South and Midwest. At the height of its popularity the store served as the hub of the Waccamaw Factory Shoppes, an enormous 750,000-square-foot outlet shopping complex—at the time, the nation’s third largest—that included more than 100 stores. With folks flocking to Liz Claiborne, DKNY, Bon Worth, QVC, and other stores, and people coming from all over the country just to buy the top-notch ceramics Waccamaw Pottery was famous for, it was a popular stop for many tourists.
The shopping center, located just off of U.S. 501 in the Fantasy Harbour area, slowly lost traffic over the years and its parent company went out of business in 2001. The area still has a few local shops and part of the land was used for the Freestyle Music Park.
There’s way more than just 10 experiences making Myrtle Beach so special to everyone who has visited; check out these memorable spots and attractions or visit the awesome Myrtle Beach Remembered website for even more historic photos and info:
- Ocean Forest Hotel: Myrtle Beach’s first luxury hotel built in 1930 and demolished in 1974. (Now part of Pine Lakes Golf Course and Country Club)
- Chesterfield Inn: This oceanfront hotel and inn at 700 N. Ocean Blvd. opened in 1946 and was demolished in 2012. (Now Shark Attack Adventure Golf)
- Cagney’s Old Place: 9911 N. Kings Hwy., Myrtle Beach (Now Carolina Seafood & Steak)
- Astroneedle Amusement Park: Between 8th Avenue North and Chester Street (Now Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures)
- Rivoli Theatre: 904 Chester St. in Myrtle Beach (Now Ground Zero Teen Club)
- Chapin’s department store: Open from 1928–1992 on U.S. 501 near Kings Highway (Now Mt. Atlanticus Minotaur Goff)
- The Purple Gator: Concert venue in the 1980s to mid-’90s in Myrtle Beach, located at the Magnolia Shopping Center off of Kings Highway near Restaurant Row.
- Marvin’s Food & Games: 918 N. Ocean Blvd., along Myrtle Beach Boardwalk (Now Moe Moon’s)
- Gatlin Brothers Theatre & Ronnie Milsap Theatre: Two separate show venues open in the mid-1990s in the Fantasy Harbour area (Now Christ United Methodist Church and Beach Church, respectively)
- Camelot Theatre: Open from the late 1960s to early 1990s at 1901 N. Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach (Now La Casona Mexican Restaurant)
- Santa Fe Station: Restaurant located at 1101 Hwy. 17 N. in North Myrtle Beach (Now Mellow Mushroom Pizza)
- Around The World In 18 Holes: Oceanfront mini golf course open in the 1960s and ’70s next to Gay Dolphin in downtown Myrtle Beach (now Plyler Park)
- The Pink House: Open from 1947–2005 as an inn, restaurant, and holiday shop at 4301 N. Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach
- Sherwood Forest/Barefoot RV Campground: Family campground located at 4825 Highway 17 South in North Myrtle Beach
- Castle Dracula: Haunted house at 907 N. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach, next to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! (Now multiple beachwear stores)
- PirateLand & Magic Harbor: Theme parks open from mid 1960s to early 1990s at 4901 S. Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach (Now PirateLand Campground)
- KISS Coffeehouse: Rock-themed coffee shop at 1320 Celebrity Square at Broadway at the Beach (Now Rooster’s Restaurant & Bar)
- NASCAR Cafe: Themed restaurant at corner of 21st Avenue North and U.S. 17 Bypass (Now Hollywood Wax Museum)
- Broadway Theatre: Movie theater at 811 Main St. in downtown Myrtle Beach (Now Encore Video Productions)
- The Pad: Shag club at Main Street and Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach from 1955–1987 (Now part of O.D. Pavilion Amusement Park)
- Club Kryptonite: Off of U.S. 17 Bypass near 29th Avenue North (Now Legends In Concert)