Insider tips from the Grand Strand’s dining authority, who kindly also offers tips on where to burn off some calories.
Text and Food Photos By Becky Billingsley
Now that our sons are adults, my husband and I get to see our hometown of Myrtle Beach with fresh eyes focused on great dining and enjoying the natural surroundings.
We’ve lived here for 16 years, and while the kids were growing up we had our fill of amusements and fast food. Now we’re hitting the restaurants we couldn’t afford to visit with two children in tow (especially when they were hungry teenagers!) and enjoying hours of scenic hikes and bike rides.
Myrtle Beach is in the middle of a 60-mile stretch of South Carolina coastline that starts at the North Carolina border at Little River and extends south to Georgetown. It’s called The Grand Strand, and the name is fitting. Many area visitors opt for shopping and shows, but we think the area’s wildlife and landscapes are far grander.
If you’re in the mood for great food and lovely places to walk off the feasts, here’s our version of the perfect Myrtle Beach area adult weekend.
You’ve just arrived in the Myrtle Beach area and checked in at your hotel or resort. If you had to leave after work on Friday, it may be late. If you’re hungry, there are several restaurants that stay open late.
Foster’s Café & Bar, 6307 N. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, (843) 449-7945
The surroundings are humble, but the pizzas are great. It’s a locals’ hangout that’s busy late at night with people who work in the service industry.
Kitchen stays open ‘til 1 a.m. (and sometimes 2 a.m.)
King Kong Sushi, 1306 Celebrity Circle, Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach, (843) 626-2444
Broadway at the Beach, a dining/shopping/entertainment complex, is a fun spot in the heart of Myrtle Beach for late-night partying and dining, and King Kong Sushi has excellent light meal choices.
The kitchen stays open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays; ‘til 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays
Sundown Restaurant & Sports Pub, 810 Surfside Dr., Surfside Beach, (843) 238-1240
This longtime (30 years) restaurant and bar south of Myrtle Beach has comfy and casual indoor and outdoor areas and a friendly atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.
Sundown is known for its Prime Rib Philly Dip served with jus and horseradish cream, but there’s a LOT more on the menu, from tacos and wraps to entrée salads, pizzas, hummus, vegetarian sandwiches and the Low Country Burger topped with pork barbecue, white cheddar, fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes and fried pickles. If you’re out really, really late – like ‘til the next morning – from 7-11 a.m. there is a $5 Hangover Special with two eggs, home fries or grits, toast and a Bloody Mary.
The kitchen stays open until midnight (or sometimes later) Thursdays-Saturdays, and until 11 p.m. (or sometimes later) Sundays-Wednesdays.
Saturday Morning Meal
The Surf Diner, 11 S. Ocean Blvd., Surfside Beach, (843) 712-1850
Located on Surfside Pier, the ocean view just doesn’t get better than this. The restaurant was recently remodeled, and it’s a fantastic place for breakfast before or after a beach stroll. They serve fruit and yogurt bowls, Carolina waffles (light and crispy) with pecans, biscuits and gravy, omelets and much more.
Toffino’s Italian Bakery & Deli, 550 Farrow Parkway, Myrtle Beach, (843) 477-1598
Recently expanded and renovated, the bear claws, cheese danish, fruit danish and many more pastries are legendary in the Myrtle Beach area. The bakers also craft fresh breads for breakfast sandwiches, and they can whip up an omelet. If you like bocce ball, Toffino’s has two well-groomed regulation-size outdoor courts.
Saturday Morning Activity
Myrtle Beach State Park, 4401 S. Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, (843) 238-5325
Surf Diner and Toffino’s are close to Myrtle Beach State Park, which has one of the few remaining maritime forests on the East Coast. The nature trail is only about a mile long, but it has interesting plaques identifying many of the enormous old-growth trees.
The park has a pier that’s nice for strolling or grabbing an ice cream cone from the shop, and they rent fishing tackle if you’d care to dip a line. The nature center has many family-style education seminars, but if you’d like to be alone on the beach, here’s a tip: Drive into the park and turn right at the pier. Go all the way to the end of the road, to the last oceanfront wood pavilion, and park. At this location, there is a long expanse of beach with no development and hardly any people most of the year. It’s like the beach of your childhood dreams – nothing but dunes, sea oats, sand, shells and waves.
Admission to Myrtle Beach State Park is a few bucks per person, but if you have a South Carolina State Park Pass, it’s free.
The Saturday afternoon activity suggestions are south from Myrtle Beach State Park, so the following restaurants are along the way, listed in the order you’ll come to them.
Pink Pineapple Bakery & Café, 810 3rd Ave. S., Surfside Beach, (843) 712-1757
Venezuelan natives who have lived for many years in England and the U.S. are baking pastries such as turnovers and fruit tarts, plus fresh artisan breads and croissants. A wholesale bakery located behind Pink Pineapple supplies the just-baked bagels and morning breads. You can also purchase sandwiches and other sweets and savories for a snack or lunch.
If you like New York-style deli food, Tom and Dianne VonDerLinn and their sons, Bobby and Brian, will hook you up with slow-roasted rare corned beef, hot pastrami, egg salad, chopped chicken liver, matzo ball soup and award-winning rice pudding, among dozens of other choices, and you can also have a cold beer. There’s plenty of room to dine in, or they’ll quickly wrap you up a carry-out order.
Graham’s Landing, 5225 U.S. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet, (843) 947-0520
It resembles a well-heeled fish camp, and it’s located at the extreme south end of the waterfront in Murrells Inlet with a gorgeous natural view. Graham’s Landing is a quiet spot where you can sit indoors or out on a waterfront deck to enjoy she-crab soup, a bucket of steamed local cluster oysters (they’re so sweet and salty, and they’re also seasonal), fried seafood platters or fish tacos. There’s a full bar.
Saturday Afternoon Activity
Here are two choices: Huntington Beach State Park or Brookgreen Gardens. They are located across U.S. 17 from each other, and have a linked history.
Huntington Beach State Park, 16148 U.S. 17 (which is also called Ocean Highway), Murrells Inlet, (843) 237-4440
Huntington Beach State Park is my husband’s and my favorite place for bird watching. As you enter the park, you’ll drive over a causeway with an inland marsh on both sides. On the right side look for wild alligators sunning themselves on tiny islands. On both sides are migrating birds, from different kinds of herons and ducks to even tundra swans. You can park your car at the end of the causeway and walk back along its walkways for closer looks and photos.
If you turn right at the end of the causeway, you’ll come to a beach access with handy outdoor showers for washing off sand, a restroom, the visitors center and a few picnic tables. There’s also a Moorish castle that was moved to its site from Spain back in the early 1900s by the property’s owner, wealthy New York industrialist Archer Huntington. The castle is called Atalaya, and it was the Huntingtons’ winter home. Archer’s wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, was a prominent American sculptress, and in part of Atalaya visitors will see her sculpting studio where she kept bears, horses and other wildlife that she used in her artistic process. The Huntingtons donated the land for the park.
If you turn left at the end of the causeway, you’ll come to a parking lot with a restroom. There is another beach access here, and if you go to the beach and turn left, you’ll walk along some gorgeous and pristine coast. The walk ends at a long rock jetty. Also beside the parking lot is one end of a forested walking trail that meanders around a fresh water pond. Bird watching observation points are set up in several places around the pond.
Brookgreen Gardens, 1931 Brookgreen Dr., Murrells Inlet, (800) 849-1931
Brookgreen is also a legacy from the Huntingtons, and it is the world’s largest outdoor sculpture garden. It has more than 9,000 acres of former rice plantations abutting the Intracoastal Waterway and more than 1,400 sculptures dating back from the early 1800s to the present.
This natural showplace has manicured gardens with gorgeous flowers, glorious indigenous trees, a natural “zoo” with native animals, boat tours and more. If you like art, nature and history, Brookgreen Gardens will thrill you.
Brookgreen also has a terrific culinary staff in its restaurants. My favorite place to eat there is the Old Kitchen, which is an actual old plantation kitchen.
Tickets to enter Brookgreen are $14, and they’re good for one week’s worth of admission. Wear comfortable walking shoes!
Going a little farther south from Murrells Inlet is Pawleys Island, which has many fine dining options.
Frank’s Restaurant and Frank’s Outback, 10434 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island, (843) 237-3030
While maintaining quality in every aspect of the Frank’s experience is of utmost importance to owners Salters and Woofie McClary and longtime executive chef Pierce Culliton, seafood is a particular point of pride. The shrimp comes from Bull’s Bay, and fish is fresh off the many boats maintained by Seven Seas Seafood in Murrells Inlet.
Locally sourced ingredients and the chef’s deft touch have created legendary dishes such as pan-fried cornmeal and black pepper encrusted grouper with shrimp over fried Johnsonville grits in creamy Dijon three peppercorn sauce; or sautéed jumbo lump crab cakes with risotto, broccolini and whole grain mustard aioli.
Frank’s Outback is literally “out back” of Frank’s, and is a dramatically romantic alfresco restaurant. In cool months a mammoth fireplace and several heaters keep diners comfortable.
Outback has the same exacting culinary standards as Frank’s. A few dishes are repeated from the Frank’s menu, but the majority of offerings are uniquely Outback, from spinach salad with fried goat cheese balls and bacon buttermilk dressing to potato gnocchi with pulled chicken in rich chicken stock, cream, chopped tomato and parmesan; or a half-pound USDA Prime Burger with apple wood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, roasted portabello mushroom and sharp white cheddar cheese on a ciabatta roll.
Bistro 217, 10707 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island, (843) 235-8217
You enter Bistro 217 at the courtyard, where wrought iron tables are ringed by painted brick walls and sheltered by sturdy reinforced canvas. The space can be enclosed with zippered plastic drops, or opened to allow balmy beach breezes. Well-maintained plants add color, ivy crawls along the walls, and diffused natural light provides a Zen-like aura.
Inside the restaurant are banquettes and booths, a well-defined bar area and nifty little nooks for business meals or pleasurable privacy. Fresh flowers are a given.
At night the chef’s mastery of flavor combinations is shown off in Coriander Duck Breast with candied local sweet potatoes, baby bok choy and Japanese ginger dressing. Chef Adam Kirby’s palatable genius shines with cornmeal encrusted flounder over stone ground grits, fried okra, New Orleans style crawfish and Andouille sausage Creole; while seared Georges Bank scallops with sausage and butternut squash risotto and honey glazed baby carrots is always a mouth-watering choice.
Of course the chef has dessert surprises, including house-made ice creams.
Louis’s at Sanford’s, 251 Willbrook Blvd., Pawleys Island, (843) 237-5400
Chef Louis Osteen received a Best Chef Southeast James Beard Award in 2004, and nowadays he is creating fine Southern food with mid-range prices.
Some of the dishes are classic, while others are unique creations or reinvented Southern favorites. Seasonal specials are always an excellent choice, but menu standards include she-crab soup with aged sherry, summer tomato pie, preserved duck over creamy grits with redeye gravy, Izy’s Reinvented Waldorf Salad, Perfect Po’ Boy, shrimp and grits and the proper Southern vegetable plate with beer-braised collards, macaroni and cheese, squash casserole and slow-cooked green beans.
Saturday Night Activity
Several spots in Pawleys Island have live entertainment most weekends, and these are a couple of lively ones.
Nosh, 10880 Ocean Highway, in the Hammock Shops, Pawleys Island, (843) 314-9014
Nosh is also a fine place to have lunch or dinner, but on Saturday nights their covered outdoor pavilion rocks out.
Pawleys Island Tavern, 10635 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island, (843) 237-8465
Known for jumbo lump crab cakes and take-out pimento cheese, Pawleys Island Tavern has a sprawling outdoor area with a band stand in a pretty natural setting under ancient live oak trees. The music usually has rock roots, but expect anything from bluegrass to blues.
Gulf Stream Café, 1536 S. Waccamaw Dr., Garden City, (843) 651-8808
This restaurant’s westward-facing waterfront view of Murrells Inlet is entrancing.
At the buffet, a chef is standing ready to make customized omelets. Other buffet choices include blueberry, banana nut and poppy seed mini muffins; a variety of bagels; scrambled eggs, French toast, fresh fruit salad, cheese grits, hashbrowns, sausage and bacon.
The a la carte menu is exquisite with choices including oyster shooters with Absolut Peppar vodka, fresh fruit with vanilla-honey yogurt, she-crab soup, stuffed French foast, king crab omelet and black & blue tuna salad.
10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays – full bar, Bloody Mary bar, buffet and a la carte
Chestnut Hill, 9922 U.S. 17 N., Myrtle Beach, (843) 449-3984
Located beside a small pond where there’s a resident alligator, the lavish brunch at Chestnut Hill is one of the area’s longest-running Sunday dining traditions.
The number of dishes offered is impressive; just a small sampling includes poached salmon, fresh local shrimp, Waldorf salad with apples and walnuts, fresh fruits, oysters on the half shell, eggs benedict, corned beef hash, sweet and savory cheese blintzes, Certified Angus top round of beef au jus, baked Virginia ham with honey mustard sauce, southern fried chicken, chicken teriyaki, grilled quail and tenderly moist barbecue ribs. Desserts are a specialty at Chestnut Hill, like homemade bread pudding, Chestnut Hill’s signature fruit and nut cobblers and cheesecakes.
10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sundays – full bar, buffet
Crady’s Eclectic Cuisine, 332 Main St., Conway, (843) 248-3321
If you are headed westward to go back home on Sunday, you could stop in historic Conway for a delicious brunch, see the town’s gorgeous live oak trees and stroll the River Walk.
Brunch goes way upscale at Crady’s, with eclectic surroundings and dishes to match, such as star fruit salad with roasted macadamia nuts and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette; Barbara’s house-made quiche and fresh cinnamon rolls; crab cake eggs benedict; and seared flounder with caper tarragon butter sauce over stone-ground grits and grilled asparagus.
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays – full bar, a la carte
You’ll depart Myrtle Beach with delicious memories.
-Aerial view of Myrtle Beach photo courtesy www.visitmyrtlebeach.com