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Anchoring the northernmost stretch of South Carolina's famed Grand Strand of beaches, North Myrtle Beach puts an eco-minded spin on the tourist offerings you'll find in most coastal resort towns.
Sure, there's the expected array of golf courses, arcades, restaurants, and shops, but the real focus here remains on the great outdoors — and North Myrtle Beach has plenty to brag about where that's concerned. The town is bordered by six miles of wide, white-sand beaches and a network of trails and waterways teeming with dolphins, herons, egrets, and ospreys. Local outfitters lead kayaking tours to watch the migratory birds in spring, or you can even take a helicopter ride over the wetlands to get the best view in town. Just offshore, you'll find privately-owned Waites Island, the site of a former plantation ringed by undeveloped beaches that now attract horseback riders and fishermen.
One popular area theme park's big draw is not rollercoasters, but reptiles: At Alligator Adventure, you'll come face-to-snout with the namesake reptile, along with crocodiles, lemurs, and warthogs. And a few miles outside of town, the attractions get even wilder: The 50-acre T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station is a refuge for tigers, elephants, and other exotic animals, where your admission cost goes toward protecting endangered creatures around the world.
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From mid-April through the end of June, the rivers and estuaries around North Myrtle Beach play host to migrating herons, egrets, and ibises, who come to hatch and raise their young here. J&L Kayak Ecoventures leads four-hour paddling tours of these nesting grounds around the Waccamaw River.
A few blocks from the beach, you'll find a downed, yellow Lockheed Harpoon airplane crashed alongside an orange Coast Guard helicopter. But don't call 911 just yet! These are the star attractions at the aviation-themed Mayday Golf, twin 18-hole putt-putt courses owned by two licensed pilots. The popular miniature golf course extends its hours during the summer, with night games stretching past 10:30 p.m. — an ideal evening outing for families with teens.
If you're visiting during storm season, which runs from June through November in the Myrtle Beach area, then the shops and restaurants at Barefoot Landing provide the perfect rainy-day diversion. Spread out across a network of wooden boardwalks built over a lake by the Atlantic, Barefoot Landing has the feel of an old fishing village. On November 15, the Landing kicks off the holiday season early with a fireworks display and Christmas-light show.
A day trip to Waites Island is like a vacation from your vacation. The privately-owned 1,380-acre island, just offshore from North Myrtle Beach, has an old plantation at its core, surrounded by white-sand beaches. Inlet Point Plantation leads one- and two-hour horseback-riding trips on Waites, including a moonlight beach ride, held only during the full-moon cycle from November through April.