Sixty Miles of Beaches
The Grand Strand is a sixty-mile stretch of South Caroline coastline running from the State line to the town of Georgetown. It’s almost 100 miles away from the capital city of Charleston, and a world away from the fast city pace. It’s chock full of vacation homes, resorts, family attractions…basically much of what you would expect to find in Myrtle Beach. Actually, the Grand Strand’s character is really a sort of extension of the town of Myrtle Beach: Myrtle Beach, an extended version.
The Grand Strand – Vacation Spot Extraordinaire
Each year, more people visit the Grand Strand than Hawaii. In fact, this area hosts more than twice the number of travelers than Hawaii! Why are all these people coming to the Grand Strand? Of course, the beaches are the best, and naturally, they attract a majority of tourists here. But aside from the beaches, there are plenty of other reasons why so many people choose to spend their vacations here. You can sum it all up in one word: variety. There is so much to do along the Grand Strand, you have to remember to save time out for the beach!
Check out each of the major Grand Strand areas below and you’ll see all there is to do and see. Also, check out our Attractions page.
Areas of The Grand Strand
- North Myrtle Beach – Population 11,000
- Murrells Inlet – Population 5520
- Pawleys Island – Population 140
- Georgetown – Population 9000
Colonial History of Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach and the state of South Carolina were inhabited by Native Americans up through the 17th century when white settlers from Europe arrived. Settlers arrived in the mid-1500s from Spain and established a settlement that came to be called San Miguel de Cauldape. Although these Spaniards from Hispaniola abandoned the settlement only one year later and returned to Hispaniola, the European population of the region started growing bit by bit over the next three hundred years. The plantation system eventually evolved, as a large family-owned agricultural tract of land inhabited by wealthy aristocratic settlers formed the structure of society all across the Carolinas. Plantation owners were extremely wealthy and developed an aristocratic society revolving around land ownership and plantation structure. They grew lots and lots of rice on the plantations and the plantation culture thrived until the Civil War.
The First Vacationers
A few years after the War, the first vacationers began to arrive, in the late 19th century. These early vacationers were really roughing it, as there really was no resort structure in place at that time. They spent their beach days in rustic cabins and there really were no services or really many permanent residents, either. The ocean was a big draw, however, and people kept on arriving for beach solitude and fun.
The town of Myrtle Beach was not really a town for many hundreds of years after the European settlers first arrived. It was just a lonely stretch of beach with vacation homes here and there. At the turn of the 20th century, lots on Myrtle Beach were so cheap they were practically giving them away. There were incentives for builders to build nice structures. Lots cost just $25!! And you would get a second lot for free if you built something nice on the first lot you purchased.
These early visitors were drawn by the easy climate and the Atlantic Ocean. One visionary developer, F. G. Burroughs, bought 80,000 acres of coastline around Myrtle Beach and built a railroad called the Conway & Seashore Railroad to make it easy for tourists to get to the area, which at that time was called “New Town”. He then decided he needed a more exciting name to draw vacationers, and held a naming contest. Guess what: his wife won, and now we know this lovely area as “Myrtle Beach”. The area has grown in fame since then, from pretty rugged, simple vacation cabins to what travelers today would consider being some of the finest full-service ocean resort accommodations in the world, with a well-developed tourist industry that knows how to provide for the best vacations. With a healthy focus on welcoming tourists, Myrtle Beach has managed to retain its charm as well…it only became a city as recently as the late 1950s, and you can still find remote oases of calm quietness when you stroll the beach, if you want to feel like you’re getting away from it all, or getting closer to nature. Look for the ubiquitous wax myrtle shrub in the area, for which Myrtle Beach was named, for a connection to local flora. Its white-gray fruit was once used to make candles, and many locals use this aromatic shrub or small tree in their native landscaping designs.
You’ll also find gently rolling dunes as you explore the beach, similar to what the Waccamaw and Winyah Indians saw when they inhabited Myrtle Beach and its environs. Historians don’t know a lot about these native Americans, but artifacts are discovered regularly, such as arrowheads, pottery, and other clues, that shed more light on the Waccamaaws and Winyahs. These original inhabitants called the area “Chicora”, and during the period when they lived here, they would have also found giant oak trees just behind the dune line, giving the area a grand sense of wild beauty and protection.
Nobody found oak trees much protection from pirates, however, who arrived on the Carolina shores in the 1700s, regularly appearing and wreaking havoc, reveling, or just hanging out waiting for their next adventure. Maybe you’ve heard of the legend of “Blackbeard”…who pirated up and down the Carolina coast, and for a couple of years the inhabitants, especially the sailors of North and South Carolina lived in terror, never knowing when the next ambush at sea would occur, turning passengers into hostages and cargo into loot. The area has a robust history of pirate legend and folklore, drawing on the activities of English colonists who used the waters of the Atlantic, and off Myrtle Beach, for trade routes. Merchants needed to move goods from place to place, up and down the Atlantic, and Pirates needed to steal those goods. Pirates’ favorite tactic was the ambush, which requires hiding spots. The Carolina coast, and places like the inlets along the Grand Strand, were ideal nooks for hiding a pirate ship and waiting for rich merchant cargo ships loaded with wonder booty. Treasure hunters still hope to find sunken items from ambushed ships in the 1700s. One pirate’s loot in particular is still sought in the inlets of Myrtle Beach, Captain Kidd. Local legends like Blackbeard and Drunken Jack awaken our imagination, even though their origins are a bit cloudy, and most of the stories have been handed down from generation to generation, embellished at each telling.
Other Myrtle Beach folklore, rivaling the romanticism and excitement of pirate stories, are local ghost legends the Gray Man, and Alice Flagg. Poor Alice fell in love with a young man who somehow failed to meet the strict standards of her family. To add to her troubles, she developed a high fever and became bed-ridden, fighting for her strength. With her lover’s ring strung on a ribbon worn around her neck, she lay in bed fighting for her life and her heart. Poor Alice Flagg, instead of finding comfort from her family during her illness, she was met with rage and hostility from her brother, who lost control when he saw the ring-ribbon necklace she wore, ripped it off her neck, and threw it into the ocean. She never recovered from the heartache, and her ghost creeps around in the waters trying to find her lover’s ring, so rudely flung into the inlet by her mean-spirited brother so long ago. The Gray Man is another ghost who roams the area around Myrtle Beach pining a lost lover. He was a soldier returning from the war, counting the minutes until he could see his beloved wife, who had been waiting and waiting for his return. After surviving the war, he was ironically killed on horseback on the way home, and never reunited with his wife. He was able to communicate to her from the other side of the spirit world, to warn her of an approaching hurricane. He saved her life, and since that initial warning, locals have reported being warned by the Gray Man before hurricanes.
The Lure of Perfect Sandy Beaches
In 1938 the town of Myrtle Beach was incorporated, and grew and grew over the next twenty years. The name comes from an indigenous evergreen shrub called the wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), found growing everywhere in the coastal area around Myrtle Beach. In 1949 the term Grand Strand was coined by a newspaper columnist. He created the name to describe a sixty-mile stretch along South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, including Myrtle Beach. The area was and still is known for its white sandy beaches that stretch far back onshore, making them some of the widest beaches in the world. In fact, a beach replenishment project recently completed gives credence to the claim that the beaches along the Grand Strand really are the widest in the world. At low tide, the beach stretches back 100 yards.
In 1957 Myrtle Beach had grown enough that it officially became the City of Myrtle Beach. And it has continued to grow steadily since then. In 2003 the population was recorded at 24,691, and Myrtle Beach is the thirteenth-fastest growing area in the United States. The percentage of retirees is growing year by year all along the Grand Strand. Today, the Myrtle Beach area has been named one of the country’s best vacation destinations for retired Americans over the age of 55.