10 things every true Myrtle Beach fan will remember
The Grand Strand is a place full of memories. From family photos snapped on the beach and foggy memories of nights spent cruising the strip to the silly souvenirs that you’ll keep for a lifetime, there’s undeniably something special about a vacation in Myrtle Beach.
There are some things so special that they rise above a simple tradition to become the icons that define a generation of vacations in Myrtle Beach. And while not all good things last forever, the timeless memories they create live on in the minds of many visitors still today.
If you’ve experienced any of these first-hand consider yourself lucky. If you’ve done them all we say it’s about time you started calling yourself an honorary local.
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 information on the 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 the tongue-in-cheek law” requiring everyone to wear a bathing suit — this festival was wholesome family fun at its finest. Over its decades long run, Sun Fun welcomed tens of thousands of guests, became the longest-running festival in the area and featured parades, celebrities, concerts, dances, bikini competitions and more. After celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, the event was inexplicably cancelled with officials later saying the event no longer paid for itself.” Big news came in 2016 with the announcement that the popular festival will make its return in June. Though this beloved event appears gone for good, a variety of summer substitutes live on including the Memorial Day Parade, Native Sons Salt Games and Hot Summer Nights concert series which each recapture portions of the fun that made the festival special.
2. Riding The Hurricane at The Pavilion
First built in 1948, the famed Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park served as the epicenter of family fun in Myrtle Beach for more than 50 years. From its oceanfront location in the heart of downtown to to classic attractions like the Herschell-Spillman carousel and German Baden Band Organ, there was plenty to like about this park, but it was the variety of wild rides which made it memorable for many. The park featured six rollercoasters during its run including smaller rides like the Comet Jr., Galaxi, Little Eagle and Mad Mouse as well a full-sized coasters like the steel looping Corkscrew and the park’s signature ride the Hurricane: Category 5. This thrilling wooden coaster was a favorite among guests from its opening in 2000 until the park’s closing in 2006 and featured a 100 foot drop and a top speed of 55 mph. These days, you won’t find a coaster quite like the Hurricane in Myrtle Beach — the closest is Family Kingdom’s Swamp Fox with a 75-foot drop — but you can still recapture some of the Pavilion’s magic at the Pavilion Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach.
3. Shopping at Myrtle Square Mall
Before massive malls like the 1,000,000 sq. ft. Coastal Grand and all-encompassing complexes like Broadway at the Beach ruled 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 in at more than 440,000 square feet, the mall was mammoth for its time — running successfully for three decades before shutting down for good in 2005. 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 an award-winning food court. Perhaps the most memorable of all the mall’s features was the huge lighted clock — claimed to be the world’s largest — which was the focal point of the mall. This spot not only was as a meeting spot for many tourists throughout the years, but also served as the skywheel” of its time, a unique attraction that appeared in more family photos than probably any other spot in Myrtle Beach. Though all that remains of the shopping center is a huge vacant lot occasionally used for special events, there are still plenty of great shopping options in Myrtle Beach including Tanger Outlets, Myrtle Beach Mall and The Market Common, to name just 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, it’s easy to forget that Hard Rock Park was actually 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 were you actually enjoyed your time there. From the 155-ft. tall steel Led Zeppelin rollercoaster 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. These days, 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 the Dixie Stampede.
Before she ever strapped on a Pirate costume to promote Pirates’ Voyage, country legend Dolly Parton was a little more true to her roots, opening the western-themed Dixie Stampede here in 1992. This beloved Myrtle Beach dinner show ran for 18 years and was responsible for tons of family memories of evenings spent noshing on downhome cookin’ and cheering on the North vs. the South in a competition that featured horse riding, lassoing, pig races and much more. Also featuring 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 show still goes on nightly, but since 2011 it’s been re-themed as Pirates Voyage, creating memories of high-flying, swashbuckling buccaneers instead of cowboys and rodeo queens.
6. Dancing at Mother Fletcher’s, Studebaker's or The Magic Attic
…or The Beachwagon … or The Freaky Tiki … or The Afterdeck. OK you get the point. Myrtle Beach has seen a ton of iconic nightspots come and go over the years. From charming downtown dance clubs to rowdy country music venues and raunchy dive bars, each of them held a special spot in the minds of the many visitors who spent a few nights a year letting loose within their walls. Entire generations have come of age with evenings full of music, fun and summer flings in Myrtle Beach, thanks to these awesome late night haunts. While some spots live on (the former Mother Fletcher’s/Freaky Tiki is now the completely rebuilt and renovated 8th Avenue Tiki Bar) others have been replaced by undeniably unhip shops (both Studebaker’s and The Beach Wagon are now Dollar General discount stores). But one thing’s for sure, even if these icons of Myrtle Beach nightlife have moved on, there’s still plenty of great hot spots to visit including Broadway at the Beach’s Celebrity Square, Main Street North Myrtle Beach’s shag clubs and the long-running 2001 Entertainment Complex on Restaurant Row.
7. When all the bars used to serve mini bottles
While we’re on the topic of nightlife, here’s another wrinkle in the history of Myrtle Beach you might recall. 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” were not just cute souvenirs that served as miniature replicas of their full-sized friends, they also packed quite a wallop, holding roughly 75% more per pour that the average shot. Though the law was changed beginning on New Year’s Day in 2006, the blurry memories remain for quite a few visitors.
8. Driving through Myrtle Beach traffic
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 height of tourism season. But if you’re one of the brave souls who traveled up and down Kings Highway or through the heart of town during the pre-Bypass days, then chances are you’ve seen your fair share of traffic in Myrtle Beach. Of course, there’s those who will say that life moved at a slower pace back then and fondly remember visiting in the days before Myrtle Beach tourism and development really took off in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But 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 that 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 served as home to 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. Despite plans in the mid-90s to develop a theme park on the land, it was eventually split up among a variety of entities including Myrtle Beach International Airport, Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Santee Cooper utility company. Since 2008, the area has also played home to a number of residential developments and The Market Common, an upscale shopping center with a variety of stores, restaurants and one of the areas largest sports complexes, Grand Park. Visitors wishing to relive some of the history of the Myrtle Beach AFB can do so by visiting Warbird Park, on Farrow Parkway near U.S. 17 Business, a park with a number of replica warplanes and various monuments dedicated to honoring those who served at the base.
10. When Waccamaw Pottery was full of shops
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 — with more than 100 stores. Back before a pair of Tanger Outlets ruled the discount shopping scene locally, Waccamaw Factory Shoppes was THE place to shop in Myrtle Beach. With folks flocking to stores such as Liz Claiborne, DKNY, Bon Worth, and QVC 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. Though the shopping center, located just off of U.S. 501 in the Fantasy Harbour area, slowly lost traffic over the year and its parent company went out of business in 2001, the area still has a few tenants today and has been under new ownership since 2012 with talks of revitalization in the works.
Do you remember?
Of course, there’s way more than just 10 experiences which made past visits to Myrtle Beach such a special occasion. Check out these nostalgic places 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 resort and club is Pine Lakes Country Club)
• Chesterfield Inn – 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 La Festa Italian Cuisine)
• 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. Altanticus Minotaur Goff)
• The Purple Gator – Concert venue open from late 80s to mid-90s 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 mid-1990s in the Fantasy Harbour area (Now Christ United Methodist Church and Beach Church, respectively)
• Camelot Theatre – Open from late 1960s to early 1990s at 1901 N. Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach (Now Kono Japanese Steakhouse & Kansas City Steakhouse)
• Santa Fe Station – Restaurant located at 1101 Hwy. 17 N. in North Myrtle Beach (Now Mellow Mushroom)
• 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 Bar & Grill)
• NASCAR Cafe – Theme 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 open 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)
From The Blog
Want to learn more? Check out these The Myrtle Beach Area articles written by our staff: