Myrtle Beach musts for travellers on a budget

A view of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. NICOLE FEENSTRA/QMI Agency

A view of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. NICOLE FEENSTRA/QMI Agency

Nicole Feenstra, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:57 AM ET

Myrtle Beach has long been a favourite destination of Canadian travellers looking for a budget-friendly escape no matter the season.

Nearly one million Canadian tourists arrive in the coastal South Carolina city each year to enjoy its legendary golf, kilometres of beach and can’t-miss shopping. Such a large percentage of its visitors come from the Great White North that the city introduced the Can-Am Days festival 52 years ago. Public events, music and deals for Canadian travellers from local hotels and businesses mark the occasion - our own Maple Leaf flag is even hung around the city. The 53rd annual event will take place from March 10 to 18, 2014.

No matter if you’re planning a Myrtle Beach trip for spring, summer or fall, though; this affordable anytime destination is ideal for young families, retirees and guys’ and girls’ getaways.

Here are six musts for any Canadian travelling to Myrtle Beach on a budget.

STAY IN AN OCEANFRONT HOTEL

There are more than 90,000 accommodation units in Myrtle Beach available at all price points and all locations on the Grand Strand, from independently owned oceanfront hotels to big chains like Hilton. The added benefit of staying along the nearly 100 km long beach is easy access to the sand for a super affordable, fun beach day, with many hotels just steps from the beach. Book a hotel with an in-room kitchen to save on eating out and prepare your family’s own meals for a vacation that’s even easier on the budget.

See Photos From This Trip: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

My mom and I were hosted by the Embassy Suites during our visit, a recently-renovated hotel by Hilton on the sprawling Kingston Plantation, a gorgeous resort that houses the hotel, a condo and vacation rental homes. We loved the space our two-room suite offered, the incredible views of the always wavy Atlantic Ocean from our balcony and the ease of getting to the beach from the lobby.

The hotel provides a complimentary buffet breakfast to all guests, stocked with favourites like pancakes and bacon and local specialties like biscuits, thick white gravy and grits. My only complaint about the property is that it doesn’t provide free Internet and WiFi access to guests. See embassysuites3.hilton.com.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum is a hidden gem located near the airport that makes a fantastic diversion for travellers on a budget. The museum does not charge entrance, but visitors can leave a donation if they choose.

A lovely variety of visual arts are on display at the house-turned-museum, from the intricately woven tapestries of Jon Eric Riis to the colourful, close-ups of sea glass by photographer Celia Pearson. An exhibit of more than 50 paintings by southern artists, including celebrated Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green, is on display on the second level of the museum, showcasing the talents of local artists and the area’s Gullah roots. See myrtlebeachartmuseum.org.

In the evening, plan to see Las Vegas-quality live entertainment, without paying the Las Vegas ticket price. Check out One – The New Show at the Alabama Theatre (established in 1993 by southern rock band Alabama) or The Carolina Opry. Both top-rated TripAdvisor attractions are high-energy variety shows that mix stand-up comedy, dancing and singing in genres ranging from country to rock to Motown. Numbers from musicals like 'Les Miserables' and 'Wicked' are also impressively performed in full costume.

Former 'Star Search' male vocalist of the year Greg Rowles hosts the show at Alabama Theatre, while the Carolina Opry counts reality TV stars LaToya London of 'American Idol' and clog dancers All That of 'America’s Got Talent' among their performers. Other shows ready to heat up your Myrtle Beach nights include celebrity impersonator-extravaganza Legends in Concert, 60s and 70s-themed Good Vibrations and the Carolina Opry’s Light Laser Show. See alabama-theatre.com and thecarolinaopry.com.

FORE!

Myrtle Beach is perhaps best known for the more than 100 championship golf courses that dot its landscape. What many travellers may not know is that it is also the miniature golf capital of the world. Dozens of mini putt courses, most with extravagant décor and themes ranging from dinosaur adventures to pirates, are located in the coastal city and make an affordable, fun-for-any-skill-level afternoon outing.

GO SHOPPING

Find a deal or two on clothes, housewares, shoes, fragrances and more at Myrtle Beach’s outlet and factory shopping malls.

We stopped by Tanger Outlets off North Myrtle Beach’s Highway 17 to check out the deals at stores like Gap Factory Store, J. Crew Factory, Michael Kors and more. Tanger Outlets houses more than 50 stores, offering discounts or deals on some of the most popular brands in fashion today. I was able to pick up some very cute boots for just $35 (winter is coming, afterall) and my mom found a great deal on pants at the Old Navy Outlet. See tangeroutlet.com.

Planning to shop a little more? Myrtle Beach hosts several other must-visit shopping destinations that offer both stores and restaurants for a complete day out. Consider Broadway at the Beach (Claire’s, Victoria’s Secret), Barefoot Landing (Sunglass Hut, Roxbury Boutique) or Coastal Grand Mall (Aeropostale, Bath & Body Works).

STROLL THE BOARDWALK

Myrtle Beach opened their revitalized boardwalk and promenade in 2010, creating a stunning 1.9 km-long walking path along the Atlantic Ocean with three distinct areas perfect for a free beachside stroll in the evening.

Watch the waves of the Atlantic lap against the sand on the South Promenade Section and take in the landscape and vegetation of the natural beach dunes on the North Dunes Walkway section. Or, people watch, window shop at kitschy tourist shops and hop on the new 60-metre-tall SkyWheel observation wheel for amazing views of downtown Myrtle Beach along the bustling Central Wooden Boardwalk section. See myrtlebeachboardwalk.com and myrtlebeachskywheel.com.

SPLURGE AT THE SPA

If you need a break from the greens and the beach, make a visit to one of Myrtle Beach’s spas your vacation splurge. My mom and I were treated to signature 70-minute massages at Cinzia Spa at the gorgeous new North Beach Plantation resort. The signature massage has a price tag of $180, but the service and luxury Cinzia Spa offers really makes this a good value.

I especially loved the warming soyaffin – a natural, more moisturizing alternate to paraffin – mitts that kept my hands toasty during my massage and left them ultra soft after. I have never experienced this pampering extra during other massages, making the Cinzia signature treatment all the more unique.

Guests are free to lounge before and after their treatments in the spa’s meditation room or at the outdoor hot tub and can take advantage of fully stocked locker rooms (no need to remember to bring along deodorant, moisturizer or even a comb; any toiletries you would want are provided) and soothing eucalyptus steam rooms. See thecinziaspa.com.

NEED TO KNOW

You will need to rent a car for your vacation as attractions are spread out across Myrtle Beach and neighbouring North Myrtle Beach. All major rental car companies operate out of the just-opened Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Porter Airlines and WestJet offer direct, seasonal service from the Toronto Island Airport or Pearson International to Myrtle Beach. Connecting flights are available for Canadians travelling from other cities.

For more information on Myrtle Beach and Can-Am Days, or for help planning your own Myrtle Beach trip, see visitmyrtlebeach.com.


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