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Myrtle Beach is a coastal city on the East Coast of the United States in Horry County, South Carolina. It is situated on the center of a large and continuous 60-mile stretch of beach known as "The Grand Strand" in northeastern South Carolina.
Ranked as the second fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country (per 2018 census estimates), Myrtle Beach is one of the major centers of tourism in South Carolina and the United States because of the city's warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches, attracting an estimated 14 million visitors each year. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 27,109, and in 2016 the estimated population was 32,240. The Myrtle Beach metropolitan area had an estimated population in 2016 of 449,495.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Long Bay area was inhabited by the native Waccamaw tribe. The Waccamaw used the river for travel and fished along the shore around Little River. Waties Island, the primary barrier island along Long Bay, has evidence of burial and shell mounds, remains of the visiting Waccamaw.
The first European settlers along Long Bay arrived in the late 18th century, attempting to extend the plantation system outward towards the ocean. Records are sparse from this period, with most of the recorded history pieced together from old land grant documents. These settlers were met with mixed results, producing unremarkable quantities of indigo and tobacco, as the coast's soil was sandy and most of the crop yields were of an inferior quality.
Prior to the American Revolution, the area along the future Grand Strand was essentially uninhabited. Several families received land grants along the coast, including the Witherses: John, Richard, William, and Mary. This family received an area around present-day Wither's Swash, also known as Myrtle Swash or the Eight-Mile Swash. A separate grant was granted to James Minor, including a barrier island named Minor Island, now Waties Island, off the coast near Little River.
Mary Withers' gravestone at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church speaks to the remoteness of the former Strand: "She gave up the pleasures of Society and retired to Long Bay, where she resided a great part of her life devoted to the welfare of her children."
As the American colonies gained independence, the area remained essentially unchanged, and the coast remained barren. George Washington scouted out the Southern states during his term, traveling down the King's Highway. He stayed a night at Windy Hill (part of present-day North Myrtle Beach) and was led across Wither's Swash to Georgetown by Jeremiah Vereen.
The Withers family remained one of the few settlers around Myrtle Beach for the next half-century. In 1822, a strong hurricane swept the house of R. F. Withers into the ocean, drowning 18 people inside. The tragedy made the Withers family decide to abandon their plots along the coast. Left unattended, the area began to return to forest.
The Burroughs and Collins Company of Conway, predecessor of modern-day Burroughs & Chapin, purchased much of the Withers family's land in 1881, and the growing community was called "New Town" around the start of the 20th century. A post office named "Withers" was established to serve the site of the old Swash in 1888. On February 28, 1899, Burroughs and Collins received a charter to build the Conway & Seashore Railroad to transport timber from the coast to inland customers. The railroad began daily service on May 1, 1900, with two wood-burning locomotives. One of the engines was dubbed The Black Maria and came second-hand from a North Carolina logging operation.
After the railroad was finished, employees of the lumber and railroad company would take train flatcars down to the beach area on their free weekends, becoming the first Grand Strand tourists. The railroad terminus was nicknamed "New Town", contrasting it with the "Old Town", or Conway.
Around the start of the 20th century, Franklin Burroughs envisioned turning New Town into a tourist destination rivaling the Florida and northeastern beaches. Burroughs died in 1897, but his sons completed the railroad's expansion to the beach and opened the Seaside Inn in 1901.
Around 1900, a contest was held to name the area, and Burroughs' wife suggested honoring the locally abundant shrub, the southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). The Withers post office changed its name to "Myrtle Beach" soon afterward. It incorporated as a town in 1938 and as a city in 1957.
In 1937, Myrtle Beach Municipal Airport was built. It was taken over by the United States Army Air Corps in 1940 and converted into a military base. Commercial flights began in 1976 and shared the runway for over 15 years until the air base closed in 1993. Since then the airport has been named Myrtle Beach International Airport. In 2010 plans to build a new terminal were approved. In 1940, Kings Highway was finally paved, giving Myrtle Beach its first primary highway.
The Myrtle Heights-Oak Park Historic District, Myrtle Beach Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Station, Ocean Forest Country Club, Pleasant Inn, and Rainbow Court are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also listed were the Chesterfield Inn and the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, both now demolished. The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the Boardwalk was built in 1946, and sells seashells and Myrtle Beach souvenirs. It claims to be the "nation's largest gift shop".
Myrtle Beach has been separated from the continental United States since 1936 by the Intracoastal Waterway, forcing the city and area in general to develop within a small distance from the coast. In part due to this separation, the area directly northwest of Myrtle Beach across the waterway remained primarily rural, whereas its northeastern and southwestern ends were bordered by other developed tourist towns, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach. Since then, the inland portion of the Myrtle Beach area has developed dramatically.
Myrtle Beach is 67 miles (108 km) by highway southeast of Florence, South Carolina, 94 miles (151 km) northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, and 74 miles (119 km) southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 23.6 square miles (61.0 km2), of which 23.3 square miles (60.4 km2) are land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km2), or 1.03%, are water.
According to the Köppen climate classification, Myrtle Beach has a humid subtropical climate or Cfa – typical of the Gulf and South Atlantic states. The city enjoys abundant sunshine year-round with more than 2800 hours annually.
The summer season is long, hot, and humid in Myrtle Beach. Average daytime highs are from 83 to 91 °F (28 to 33 °C) and average night-time lows are near 70 °F (21 °C). The coastal location of Myrtle Beach mitigates summer heat somewhat compared to inland areas of South Carolina: Thus, while nearby Florence averages 65 days annually with high temperatures of 90 °F or higher – Myrtle Beach averages only 21. The Bermuda High pumps in humidity from the tropical Atlantic toward Myrtle Beach, giving summers a near tropical feel in the city. The warm Atlantic Ocean reaches 80 °F or higher in the summer months off Myrtle Beach, making for warm and sultry summer nights. Summer thunderstorms are common in the hot season in Myrtle Beach, and the summer months from June through September have the most precipitation. In summer, thunderstorms normally build during the heat of the day – followed by brief and intense downpours.
Myrtle Beach has mostly mild winters of short duration: Average daytime highs range from 57 to 61 °F (14 – 16 °C) and nighttime lows are in the 36 to 38 °F (2 – 3 °C) from December through February. Winter temperatures vary more than summer temperatures in Myrtle Beach: Some winters can see several cold days with highs only in the upper 40s F (7 – 9 °C), while other winter days can see highs in the upper 60s and low 70s F (19 – 23 °C). Myrtle Beach averages 33 days annually with frost, though in some years less than 15 days will see frost. Snowfall is very rare in Myrtle Beach, however a few times every 15 or 20 years a trace of snow might fall. In February 2010, a rare 2.8 inches (71 mm) of snow fell in Myrtle Beach. The spring (March, April and May) and fall (September, October and November) months are normally mild and sunny in Myrtle Beach, with high temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The beach season in Myrtle Beach normally runs from late April through late October. SST (Sea Surface Temperatures) are often in the lower 80's (26 – 28 °C) off South Carolina in summer and early fall.
Summer thunderstorms can be severe, but are brief, but tornadoes are rare in Myrtle Beach. Tropical cyclones occasionally impact Myrtle Beach, though weaker tropical storms and weak tropical lows are more common. Like most areas prone to tropical cyclones, a direct hit by a major hurricane is infrequent in Myrtle Beach. The last hurricane to cause significant damage in Myrtle Beach was Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The worst hurricane in the history of Myrtle Beach was Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
Myrtle Beach is the largest principal city of the Myrtle Beach-Conway-Georgetown CSA, a Combined Statistical Area that includes the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach metropolitan area (Horry County) and the Georgetown micropolitan area (Georgetown County), which had a combined population of 329,449 at the 2010 census.
As of the 2010 census, the population of Myrtle Beach was 27,109. Per the 2000 census there were 22,759 permanent residents in Myrtle Beach, 10,413 households, 5,414 families, 1,356.5 people per square mile (523.7/km²), with 14,658 housing units at an average density of 873.5 per square mile (337.3/km²).
The racial makeup of the city was:
Of the total Myrtle Beach population:
Myrtle Beach's economy is dominated by the tourist industry; hotels, motels, resorts, restaurants, attractions, and retail developments exist in abundance to service visitors.
There are approximately 95 golf courses in and around Myrtle Beach (as of 2015) as the golfing industry represents a significant presence in the area.
A manufacturing base produces plastic, rubber, cardboard, foam, and ceramic products usually in small scale.
Hosting over 14 million visitors annually, the Grand Strand is home to an array of tourist attractions, and the area receives a large influx of visitors during all seasons. Nearly 100,000 visitors a year are estimated to come from overseas, with tourists from Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Myrtle Beach hosts a variety of special conventions, events, and musical concerts. The area's attractions include its beaches and courses, as well as a number of amusement parks, an aquarium, Legends In Concert, retail developments, a number of shopping complexes and over 1,900 restaurants including seafood restaurants. The area also has dinner theaters, nightclubs, and many tourist shops. Myrtle Beach has an estimated 460 hotels, with many on the beachfront, and approximately 89,000 accommodation units in total. Also in the city is Myrtle Waves, one of the largest water parks on the East Coast of the United States. Myrtle Beach has the Sun Fun Festival early each June.
The Carolina Opry is another highly acclaimed attraction, which features various musical, comedy, dance, and entertainment shows, including the Carolina Opry (variety show), Good Vibrations (best of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s), Light—a Laser Extravaganza. During the holiday season, the venue hosts the Carolina Opry Christmas Special. It is housed in a 2,200-seat theater.
The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk opened in 2010 and has been recognized as the nation's #3 boardwalk by National Geographic and one of the best US boardwalks by Travel + Leisure magazine. The Myrtle Beach Skywheel opened at the boardwalk in May, 2011, and is a 200-foot (61 m) observation wheel, similar to a ferris wheel, with glass gondolas that look over the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first wheel of its kind in the U.S. Myrtle Beach State Park, established in 1935, has just under a mile of Grand Strand beach and is a prime location for camping, swimming, hiking, biking, and fishing. Pier 14 by the Boardwalk.
The Myrtle Beach Convention Center is a large facility that hosts a variety of meetings, conferences, exhibits, and special events every year. The expansive center, which opened in 2003, has a Sheraton hotel and resort.
Each March since 1951 during Ontario's spring break, Myrtle Beach has hosted Canadian-American Days, also known as Can-Am Days. Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the area for a week's worth of special events. Myrtle Beach is also home to Coastal Uncorked, a food and wine festival held in the late spring annually. In June, recently graduated high school seniors come to Myrtle Beach for Senior Week.
With numerous professional fireworks displays along the oceanfront, Myrtle Beach is recognized among the top destinations for Fourth of July travel. Priceline.com ranked Myrtle Beach among its top 20 destinations for Fourth of July in 2010.
The majority of visitors make their way to the region during the high season (June–August) looking to make the most of its fine weather.
Although gambling is not legal in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach residents and visitors have easy access to gambling by boat, as passengers can travel into international waters beyond the reach of federal and state gambling laws.
The city and surrounding area is served by Myrtle Beach International Airport. With regular flights to and from destinations such as Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Washington, the airport itself is well connected for both domestic and international tourists visiting the region. The airport also serves as a seasonal gateway to and from the likes of Chicago, Dallas and Toronto.
The city is located between Wilmington, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina with U.S. Route 17 serving as the main transport link for those journeying from the north and south.
Thongs (or any swimwear revealing any portion of the buttocks) are not permitted anywhere in public in Myrtle Beach, including all beaches. Violators of the ban may be arrested, jailed, or fined. The city's "thong ordinance" has been in effect since the 1990s.
Myrtle Beach Bike Week, also called "Harley Bike Week", is a week-long motorcycle rally first held in 1940, the same year Kings Highway was paved. The event has attracted as many as 200,000 visitors to the city every May. Black Bike Week, founded in 1980, takes place the weekend around Memorial Day Weekend and is the largest African American motorcycle rally in the US and attracts as many as 400,000 visitors. The event was created in response to a history of discrimination against African-American visitors and riders to Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand Area.
The Myrtle Beach government created 15 new laws aimed at preventing all sanctioned motorcycle events within the city in response to controversy including accusations of racism by African-American riders during their event and complaints of lawlessness and poor behavior during all highly attended events. Several lawsuits by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) against Myrtle Beach businesses were settled with agreements that discrimination cease, compensation be given to some plaintiffs, and employees be given diversity training. The NAACP suit against the City of Myrtle Beach was settled in 2006 without the city paying damages, but with the agreement police would use the same traffic control rules during both the black and the white motorcycle rallies.
The South Carolina Supreme Court in June 2010 unanimously overturned one of the 15 ordinances, which had required all motorcyclists to wear helmets, on the grounds that the state law, requiring helmets only for riders under age 21, cannot be preempted by a city ordinance. In addition, the Court ruled that the ordinance created undue confusion, and that the city itself had invalidated their own helmet law and some other ordinances in a subsequent amendment. The law had been challenged by a group of motorcyclists and a group of Myrtle Beach businesses called BOOST, Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism, who opposed the city's anti-motorcycle tourism policy.
Myrtle Beach has many stores and malls, is one of the largest shopping areas in the Southeastern United States, and is the largest shopping destination in South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach is home to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Carolina League baseball team and a Chicago Cubs farm franchise. They are also the home to the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, a pro soccer team playing in the Premier Development League.
From 1998-2009 and again starting in 2011 (no Saturday races were held in 2010 due to snow), the area hosted the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon presented by Chick-Fil-A, every February featuring (since 2004) the Friday night Royal Bank of Canada 5K and the Saturday Dasani Half Marathon and Bi-Lo Marathon (from 1998 until 2008, a relay was held but dropped because of the popularity of the other events). Marathon day draws the limit of 6,000 runners annually (2,500 full, 3,500 half) and results usually in an unusual dawn as the race starts before dawn (6:30 AM) in order to finish by 2:30 PM.
TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark is the home field of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and is located just off Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach. It opened in 1999 and seats 6,500 people. It is the finish point of the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon. TicketReturn.com Field is also home of the annual "Baseball At The Beach" collegiate baseball tournament. Hosted by Coastal Carolina University each year, the tournament pits participating NCAA Division I baseball programs in the United States.
NASCAR-sanctioned Stock car racing is held at Myrtle Beach Speedway, a .538-mile (866 m), semi-banked, asphalt-paved oval track located on US 501. Drivers in the Late Model classes will compete (against those of Greenville-Pickens Speedway) for the South Carolina Championship in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. South Carolina Champions' scores will be calculated against other state and provincial champions for a continental championship.
It hosted the 2010 UOA Nationals where 8 collegiate ultimate teams from 5 conferences will be represented.
The area is home to numerous golf courses and mini-golf courses along the Grand Strand and further inland. Myrtle Beach has been called the "Golf Capital of the World" because of the roughly 100 golf courses located there, the record 4.2 million rounds played, and many miniature golf courses. 3.7 million total rounds of golf were played in 2007. The majority of the area's golf courses are public. The Grand Strand is home of "Hootie and the Blowfish Day After the Masters Tournament". Extensive Chinese investment to the Myrtle Beach area golf market has resulted in a significant surge of Chinese tourists to the area and also resulted in 25+ golf courses being owned and/or operated by Chinese nationals.
Some of the notable golf courses and/or resorts include:
The city of Myrtle Beach has a council-manager government. The Mayor sits as a Council member-at-large and presides over City Council meetings. In the event that the Mayor cannot preside over a City Council meeting, the Mayor Pro-Tem is the presiding officer of the meeting until such time as the Mayor returns to his seat. The City Manager is responsible for the administration and the day-to-day operation of all of the municipal services and city departments. The City Manager also maintains intergovernmental relationships with federal, state, county and other local governments. The city of Myrtle Beach reformed into a council-manager government system in 1974 under the administration of Mayor Bob Hirsch and city manager David Stradinger, who moved away from the city's former strong-mayor form of government.
The current mayor of Myrtle Beach is Brenda Bethune, who has served since 2018.
Myrtle Beach is served by a single public school district. Horry County Schools educates around 40,000 students and is the third largest school district in South Carolina.
Below is a list of private schools and charter schools within the city of Myrtle Beach.
The largest university in the Myrtle Beach area is Coastal Carolina University, a state-supported, liberal arts university located eight miles northwest of Myrtle Beach in neighboring Conway, with a satellite campus in Myrtle Beach. The university is a national sea-grant institution and owns part of Waties Island, a 1,105-acre (4.47 km2) barrier island which serves as a natural laboratory. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers compete in NCAA Division I as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The football team competes in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS. The football team plays at Brooks Stadium, which is notable for its teal artificial turf. The Myrtle Beach metro area has the following college and post-secondary schools:
The Grand Strand and Florence, South Carolina share a common defined market by Nielsen Media Research in Horry, Marion, Dillon, Darlington, Marlboro, Scotland, Robeson, and Florence counties.
The Sun News is the largest daily paper published along the Grand Strand, with a readership base extending from Georgetown, South Carolina to Sunset Beach, North Carolina. The paper has been in existence since the 1930s and was formerly published by Knight Ridder before that company was bought by The McClatchy Company. Myrtle Beach is also served by The Myrtle Beach Herald, a weekly newspaper that is part of the Waccamaw Publishers group. It is locally owned by Steve and Cheryl Robertson. The Herald also produces a newspaper targeted at tourists called Visit!
Grand Strand Medical Center (GSMC) is a 345-bed acute care hospital and Level 1 Adult Trauma Center known for its programs in cardiology, heart surgery, and stroke treatment. It was opened in April 21, 1978 to succeed the former Ocean View Memorial Hospital (1958-1978), the first major hospital in Myrtle Beach. GSMC contains the only cardiac surgery and neurosurgery programs in the greater Myrtle Beach area and was a recipient of the Healthgrades 100 Best Hospitals for Cardiac Surgery in 2012 and 2013. As a teaching hospital, Grand Strand Medical Center is the home of ACGME accredited residency training programs (internal medicine, general surgery, and family medicine), and hosts rotating medical students from the University of South Carolina and Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM). Over 270 physicians and 1,400 staff currently serve at the facility.
The Waccamaw Coast Line Railroad is a 14.1-mile (22.7 km) short-line railroad division of the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad, extending from a connection with the Carolina Southern Railroad, another division of that company, at Conway to Myrtle Beach. The line was opened in 1900 by the Conway Coast and Western Railroad, a predecessor of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The Seaboard System Railroad sold the line to Horry County in November 1984, and it was operated by the Horry County Railway until October 1987, when the WCLR took over. The Carolina Southern Railroad acquired the WCLR in September 1995, and since then it has been a division of the Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. The line is owned by Horry County, but was leased in 2000 to the Carolina Southern Railroad.
Carolina Southern Railroad is a short line rail operator running on less than 100 miles (160 km) of rail at a maximum speed of 10 mph (16 km/h). It transports mostly freight brought to it from national rail operators. The company makes one scheduled delivery per month into the City of Myrtle Beach. It is located off of Main Street in Conway, South Carolina and is one of the few remaining train depots in South Carolina. It has been Painstakingly restored to its former glory and the Carolina Southern Railroad has become one of the frequent destinations for freight services as well as passenger cars and observational locomotives. The railroad was originally erected in late 1886 and the first train steamed into the Conway Depot in December 1887. The Carolina Southern Railroad stands as a permanent landmark in Southern History. Carolina Southern Railroad is a member of the Carolina Rails system with connections that run from Whiteville, North Carolina to Mullins, South Carolina and also from Chadbourn, North Carolina to Conway. Carolina Southern railroad is also responsible for operation of the Waccamaw Coast Line Railroad, which is a railway that runs from Conway to Myrtle Beach. On August 30, 2011, Carolina Southern Railroad voluntary shut down because several bridges along the rail were overdue for maintenance. The shutdown caused Carolina Southern Railroad to lay off nearly all of its employees. On May 24, 2012, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) commenced a bridge inspection on the CSR and the Waccamaw Coastline Railroad (the Horry County portion of rail). Fifty-two of 187 bridges were inspected and seven had critical defects. On May 26, 2011, the CSR voluntarily ceased operation, so that they could bring in a certified bridge engineer to inspect the seven critical bridges and prepare a plan for their repairs. Based on the engineer’s recommendations, CSR made the necessary repairs on the bridges and CSR resumed operations August 8, 2011. The FRA returned to inspect the bridges and made a recommendation that CSR cease operations until all bridge repairs were completed. There are currently efforts to bring the railroad back online.
In 2015, railroad operator RJ Corman acquired the former CSR line and plans to re-open freight service in early 2016.
Within the last decade, new roads have been created to ease congestion caused by the yearly influx of visitors. Most of these roads follow the Metro Loop Road Plan, organized in 1997 to improve the traffic flow of Myrtle Beach. Some of the roads included have either been funded through Road Improvement Development Effort (RIDE I) funding or through the City of Myrtle Beach.
RIDE II plans include the third phase of S.C. Highway 31, a graded separation of Farrow Parkway and US 17 Bypass at the back gate of the former Air Force base, and many other projects. The county is currently debating where to allocate the $400 million generated through a proposed 1-cent sales tax. Other road projects in Horry County, including some in Aynor and Conway, will be included when voted upon.
Plans exist for Myrtle Beach to be eventually served by two interstates, Interstate 73 and Interstate 74. The Robert Edge Parkway will connect I-74 to downtown North Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach is served by the Coast RTA and the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority.
Myrtle Beach has five sister cities, as designated by Sister Cities International:
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