Myrtle Beach, S.C., is the second beach I ever visited and the first one I really remember. My grandparents took me, we stayed at a Sheraton, and I ate a cheeseburger for the first time; I was 9 years old. I didn’t know then that Myrtle Beach had only become incorporated in the 1920s, and that it was the sort of beach that Southern people visit when they go on vacation (as opposed to, say, Miami Beach, which is a place that New Yorkers visit when they go on vacation). To me, it was paradise.
In reality, Myrtle Beach has historically had to deal with a reputation that it's the kind of place where people comb the beaches with metal detectors and the hotels have signs that say "Welcome Snowbirds" and offer early-bird specials. As I grew up I visited fancier, less democratic beaches, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the "Grand Strand," as the 60 miles of Atlantic coastline stretching from Little River to Georgetown, S.C., and containing Myrtle Beach, is known. I am hardly alone: Myrtle Beach happens to be one of the most visited vacation destinations in America, attracting what its Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates as an annual haul of 14 million tourists. A lot of them come for golf (there are 102 courses currently, including a couple of public ones that have been rated among the country’s best of the genre). A lot of them come for special events, including the annual shag festival (the dance was "invented" in North Myrtle Beach) and Beach, Boogie & BBQ, a competitive cooking contest officially sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (a big deal, if you follow such things).
I brought my family with me to investigate, because if an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old can’t be entertained in a place like Myrtle Beach, they’re doing something wrong. And I figured that if I could find something delicious to eat in the process, I’d be doing the memory of my grandparents justice. If you’re going to Myrtle Beach, here’s the best way to enjoy it.
4 p.m.: To fully take in the town, you must drive both Ocean Drive and Kings Highway, the twin main drags that run north and south parallel to the ocean. Behold the frenzied array of all-you-can-eat buffets, strip clubs situated next door to mini-golf emporiums, every so-called "big box" chain you’ve ever heard of, T-shirt shops, pancake houses — it’s an incredible explosion of a certain notion of an "American vacation," whether you like it or not. Either way, there’s a lot to enjoy, from vintage 1950s-era signage to enormous statues of crabs. Literally: There is a giant crab affixed to the roof of The Giant Crab Seafood Restaurant. There are also more and better billboards than you are ever likely to have encountered in one place. Current favorite: "Your Mom? Yeah, We Did Her." (The product is, of course, "all area carpet cleaning" for $99.)
7 p.m.: After cruising the strip, an extremely rarefied experience sans giant crab sculptures is in order, and, thankfully, is easy to find at The Brentwood Restaurant in Little River. So what is a Breton chef doing 20 miles north of Myrtle Beach? "That’s a very good question that a lot of people ask me," replies Eric Masson, the suave salt-and-pepper haired chef and proprietor. Turns out Masson came to Myrtle Beach by way of Paris, where he was cooking at the restaurant Le Quincampe in Les Halles when in walked an American girl from Amsterdam — not that one, the one in upstate New York. Soon enough, Masson, too, was in upstate New York, where he married the girl and began cooking classic French cuisine at various restaurants — to good reviews — in Saratoga Springs and Albany. After Masson’s in-laws retired to Myrtle Beach, Masson and his own family followed in 2007. Only, instead of setting up stove at one of the established resorts, they bought an historic old home off the beaten path and quickly began making it their own.