When I was homeschooling my son, I loved that everyday offered teaching opportunities. We often planned our vacations around our science and history lessons making school enjoyable for all of us. Myrtle Beach and the whole Grand Strand is a fantastic place to tackle science lessons in geology and biology.
What is a hammock?
When you arrive you may see signs welcoming you to the Grand Strand and "Hammock Coast" in the lower part of our 60 miles of coastline and assume its speaks about rope woven into a hanging bed, but the hammocks here are something so much richer! Way before humans populated this area, mother nature designed her own ecological maritime hammocks, full of evergreen hardwood trees, combining to form a dense canopy anchored into inland coastal dunes. These trees protect themselves with a low, streamlined profile preventing them from uprooting during hurricanes.
Huntington Beach State Park and Myrtle Beach State Park host some of the most beautiful and pristine hammocks in the Grand Strand. Choose any one of their walking trails and you will be treated to the sweetgum, myrtle, live oaks and other plants unique to this part of the state. Be sure to listen for native birds such a warblers, indigo buntings and barred owls who live in these woods year-round. Most public hammocks have flora and fauna lists online so be sure to grab that before you come so your scientist can check things off their list.
What shaped the shoreline here into a crescent?
The Grand Strand extends from Little River, SC to Winyah Bay, SC. The Grand Strand beaches are uniquely shaped by the waves that change seasonally to move sand up and down the coast. Barrier islands, formed by drifting sand, exist on the northern and southern part of the Grand Strand. A visit to Murrells Inlet MarshWalk is a shocking difference from the sandy beaches. Its robust ecosystem, with the help of estuaries, form narrow barrier islands and spits which look like a maze of islands. The ocean seems miles away! While at Murrells Inlet you can grab a delicious meal and do bird watching at the same time while sitting on a waterside deck.
What's under the water?
If your little scientist wants to get up close to what’s under the water, book a trip with a charter fishing boat such as Captain Smiley which departs from Little River. Captain Smiley offers a four-day long day kids’ camp which teaches fishing lessons, fish identification, knot tying, boating rules and safety, and environmental awareness. If the whole family wants to get on the water, Captain Smiley can help with that too through half or full day charters.
If you’d like to focus on dolphins, Blue Wave Adventures in Murrells Inlet offers a dolphin watch cruise with the only 360 degree viewing area available. Another option for dolphin sighting is Voyager Deep Sea Fishing and Dolphin Cruising that received 2019 Best of North Myrtle Beach Award for deep sea fishing and dolphin cruises. For a very intimate view of the water and all of its magic, try kayaking with J&L Kayaks, LLC. With their knowledge, you will paddle on calm waters while learning about the estuaries, wetlands, birds, shells and nesting turtles. Other options include guided tour of Murrells Inlet Salt Marsh or the Cypress Swamp on the Waccamaw River.
Birds and alligators everywhere!
One of my very most favorite things about the Grand Strand is the wealth of birds. Visit any beach and you’ll be delighted by pelicans and terns fishing just off the shore. But drop into the state parks and you’ll see even more. Huntington Beach State Park has freshwater and saltwater bodies which attract an amazing collection of birds such as ibis, plovers, rakes, varieties of ducks and herons, loons, and peeps. The boardwalk takes you right out over the marsh for easy viewing of birds, fish and crabs. A visitor’s center has a bird feeder that attracts other locals like indigo buntings, sparrows, warblers, woodpeckers and chickadees. The highlight of this park is the alligators! As we enter spring, they become more visible and start to fight for territory. It’s not unusual to see them sunbathing on the causeway so be sure to give them plenty of space. While walking in the woods, listen for a rustling noise and you may spy a green anole or skink. These harmless lizards are the pest control of the whole area and often live on buildings too! Snakes and turtles live here as well so watch for those on logs or sunning on pathways.
If you want to learn more about our native alligators visit Alligator Adventure for an exciting and educational experience. And if you want to taste an alligator, a few restaurants, such as Greg Norman Australian Grill in Barefoot Landing, offer fried alligator bites with dipping sauce.
Where are the penguins?
And finally, no visit for a scientist would be complete without a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. Ripley’s Aquarium is a little scientist’s dream come true. It’s beautiful displays begin with a visit to penguins! A tunnel brings children and grown children to a bubble that puts you in the middle of the penguin display. If you are celebrating a special occasion, book a “VIP Penguin Experience” to meet with an aquarium expert, encounter and touch a penguin, and take home a painting done by a penguin. Other exciting experiences include hand feeding stingrays or riding in a glass bottom boat above the shark tank. No matter which experiences you choose, you’re bound to learn something new and help out Ripley’s conservation efforts too.
So get out there and explore. There’s so much to see and learn on the Grand Strand!