Myrtle Beach: Gangsta Paradise

It’s called a Family Trek for a reason.  The mention of trekking implies there’s adventure, a degree of uncertainty perhaps, and a malleable spirit that willingly agrees to go where the wind takes you.

The wind took us to Myrtle Beach.  It was not in the plan.  Not when we woke up that morning.  Not when our family sat down for a Cracker Barrel lunch a few hours outside of Washington, D.C.  But there we were.

Even as we drove into town the previous night we knew that Myrtle Beach was like nothing we’d ever experienced before.  We’re accustomed to beach towns.  We lived in Santa Barbara and had spent a fair amount of time over the years on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.  But there was something different about Myrtle Beach.  We could sense it as we drove into town the night before.  As the sun rose and shed light on our home away from home for the next few days our initial reaction was reinforced.  Maybe it’s because I’m white and I grew up in Indiana and I only know three rap songs–but I could not get that Coolio song–Gangsta Paradise–out of my head.  It was typical beach town.  T-shirt shops galore.  They sold all the usual fare–sunglasses, sunscreen, styrofoam coolers, flip-flops.  Yet they also sold switch blades.  Knives.  Scopes.  Silencers.  Brass Knuckles.  Gangsta Paradise.

There was a little gangsta but plenty of paradise.  It was early May and the water was warm.  Bake in the sun for a while and take an occasional swim.  Just perfect.  Lifeguards start setting up early and when you are on your early morning walk on the beach you can reserve a beach chair all day for just $10.  You can even rent an umbrella.  Half day and weekly rentals are also available.

By chance or by fate we found the perfect hotel for our young family.  Traveling at the time with our 18 month old son, location is everything.  Naps and the sharing of parental responsibilities mean you want to be right on the beach.  And right on the beach we were.  Coming from California, we’re not accustomed to high rises on the beaches.  I’m glad we don’t have them in California, but there’s something to be said for figuring out how to put as many people as possible right where they want to be.

A few hours outside of Myrtle Beach, using the hotels.com iPhone app, we found the Sandcastle Oceanfront Resort at a bargain basement price.  First, a few things about what this hotel is not.  It’s not luxurious.  No 1,000 thread count sheets.  No mounted plasma TVs.  No turn down service.  Like anyone, I enjoy the luxuries of life, and I’m fortunate enough to have enjoyed some of life’s finest.  But when we’re traveling as a family there are some things that take precedent.  Space is one of those things.  Is there a convenient place to put a pack ‘n play that our baby can sleep in?  A kitchenette would be nice.  A fridge, for milk and all those other kid essentials, would be nice.  Sandcastle had those things.

And Sandcastle had location going for it as well.  When our son napped in the afternoon, my wife could lay out on the beach and take an occasional dip while I sat out on our balcony just a few feet away from our sleeping son, enjoy the view, and give an occasional wave to my wife to indicate everything was okay.

Now I’m not afraid of the ocean waves, but for some reason my 18 month old is.  The ocean is great, but it goes only so far for a little tyke who isn’t quite ready for the boogie or surf board.  And when our little Jackson was ready to leave the beach, Sandcastle had a rockin’ pool area.  If you’ve been to Disneyland, think about Goofy’s Playhouse and then add water.  A few thousand square feet of water not more than 18 inches deep yet enhanced by staged shipwrecks, shooting water spouts, and more.  Two years later, every time I look at the pictures, I still smile from ear to ear.

As we always do when traveling by car, we had the bikes with us.  One morning we hopped on our bikes for a little family trek and found ourselves at Big Daddy’s right on the beach for breakfast.  I’ve read the online reviews–both good and bad–here’s mine.  Have reasonable expectations of waterfront establishments that have a constant flow of tourists to support them.  With our reasonable expectations, decent coffee, quick and hot food, as well as that ocean view and the general atmosphere–the place was great.  When our son Jackson got fussy at the table and we were still waiting on the check there was a great gift and tackle shop for him to explore around with my wife while I settled the bill.

The best moments when traveling as a family are those serendipitous moments–those moments that only happen when you put yourself out there and experience some of the hard parts as traveling as a family.  Let’s face it, traveling as a family means accepting a certain way of things and that way is imperfect.  But then perfect happens and there you are with the people who mean the most to you in the world and it hits you–WHAM–life is good.

We’ve had family dinners at fast food joints that have ended in chaos.  So when we decided to wrap up our Myrtle Beach Experience by dining at Tommy Bahama’s Restaurant & Bar we were taking a risk.  But an afternoon stroll in this cool little urban village was followed by time on the playground and there we were at Tommy Bahama at just the perfect time for an early dinner.  I sampled a few rums.  We ate truly great food.  Our son ate and interacted with us like an 18 month old gentleman.  It was perfect.  And it meant it was time to leave Myrtle Beach.

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