Sunday, September 13, 2009

Myrtle Beach could use more charm, less concrete

Sunday, Sept. 6 -- OK, I'm jaded, but to me Hawaii is simply a much more inviting place for a sun and surf vacation than Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Besides having more than 100 area golf courses, Myrtle Beach is the acknowledged vacation mecca for much of the East Coast. Souvenir shops, hotels and condos flank the eastern side of the road, walling off the ocean for miles, while the inland side is lined with outlandish miniature golf courses, water parks and more shops.

Determined Labor Day vacationers throng a chilly Myrtle Beach

On the Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend, the weather wasn't the best, but that didn't deter hundreds of beach goers anxious to enjoy a few hours on the sand before the weather got even worse.

Holiday beach goers bask under overcast skies

The weather appeared to be better suited for an outing on the Cherry Grove fishing pier. It was definitely the kind of day in Hawaii where we'd rather forgo the beach.

Myrtle Beach condos and resorts wall off the ocean for miles

A lovely way to spend a vacation

From Myrtle Beach, US 17 continues up the coast, crossing into North Carolina after a few miles and eventually crossing the Cape Fear River into Wilmington, N.C., a city of about 100,000 population close enough to Wrightsville Beach, N.C., to avoid the kind of beach-resort over-development to which Myrtle Beach has succumbed.

The battleship North Carolina invites Wilmington visitors

The birthplace of Michael Jordan and David Brinkley, Wilmington has a mile-long river walk with restaurants, shops and the battleship North Carolina, distinguished from Hawaii's battleship Missouri by its camouflage paint job.

The city was founded in 1739 and was a base for Confederate blockade runners during the Civil War. It wasn't captured by Union troops until February 1865 and many of its gracious antebellum homes in its 300-block historic district survived the war relatively undamaged.

A kayaker paddles toward the drawbridge over the Cape Fear River

Wilmington's riverfront is a great place for a leisurely lunch

I stopped for lunch at the waterfront restaurant pictured above and enjoyed fish and chips and a salad and chatted with a fellow motorcyclist, a CEO of a bio-tech firm based in the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle. We enjoyed a glass of wine and swapped stories. Turned out, we had a lot in common. He'd studied chemistry at the University of Delaware about the same time that I was starting my newspaper career in Wilmington, Del. He'd also lived in Northern California, where I'd spent a few years in the mid-1980s before moving to Hawaii. In fact, he'd even lived on Maui for a few months.

Wilmington's waterfront is cozy but still sports a steamboat

After my pleasant lunch in Wilmington, I continued up the coast while the rain clouds gathered. While I considered exploring the small coastal towns, I figured I was better off staying on US 17 and stopping for the night at a motel in Morehead City. Camping in the rain held no appeal.

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