A trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., is a virtual promise of sand, sun and surf.

The city is located at the heart of the "Grand Strand," which boasts some 60 miles of prime Atlantic Ocean beachfront. The area is blessed with mildly warm temperatures on land almost year-round, but ocean water that's generally 20 degrees warmer than in North Carolina and Virginia. In fact, the average temperature of the water can often match that found on the Florida coastline.

"Even when the air is 90 degrees in the heat of the summer, though, the cool breezes make it seem much more comfortable outside the water," notes resident Misty Compton, a transplanted Ohioan.

Swimming is hardly your only option in Myrtle Beach. The famed pursuit of pier fishing joins charter fishing and boating, kayaking, surfing, parasailing, scuba diving, sand castle building, sand Frisbee and volleyball, and wind-surfing as just some of the outdoor activities and sports available on and off the shores of the city.

And the golf greens here"”some 100 courses in all"”have been created by some of the world's best players: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, among them.

Vacationers and home-buyers alike flock to the South Carolina beachfronts and coastal cottages. The entire region "has been part of one of the most resurgent real estate markets in the Carolinas, if not the east coast in general," observes Paxton Tucker of Source One Communities on Pawleys Island. "Waterfront and historic inventory comes at a premium and never stays on the market long.

"There's a desire for a coastal Carolina address," he continues. "Coastal Carolina has never been mired in the mediocrity of mainstream real estate transactions."

BACK IN TIME

The area has a long history, beginning with those first tourists, a party of Spaniards from Hispaniola, who landed in the region back in 1526 to establish the first European settlement in America.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, vacationers discovered the beautiful beaches and camped out in rustic shacks and tents. Few permanent residents would build permanent homes here until the 1920s and '30s.

Myrtle Beach incorporated as a town in 1938 and finally became a city in 1957. The city's name came from the wax myrtle, a shrub found in abundance in the area.

Today, the South Carolina Hall of Fame, located in the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, pays tribute to the historic figures wh'™ve contributed to the region's rich history and continued development (the U.S. Census reports the city is the 13th fastest growing metropolitan area in America).

AT THE THEME PARKS

For a community with so many natural resources and built-in entertainment, Myrtle Beach is also blessed with many amusement parks and other land-based attractions.

Family Kingdom amusement park is known for its legendary Swamp Fox wooden rollercoaster and the state's largest Ferris wheel. Wild Attractions & Wild Water Wheels showcases cliff dives, serpentine side-winders, twin twisters and other water rides. And the NASCAR Speedpark boasts seven thrill ride tracks, two NASCAR themed golf courses and the state-of-the-art Speedome Arcade.

Believe it or not, the city is home to three Ripley's attractions: Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, Ripley's Haunted Attractions and Ripley's Aquarium (housing some of the world's most bizarre and deadly aquatic life).

And Brookgreen Gardens, located between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, is generally considered one of the Northern Hemisphere's most significant collections of figurative sculptures by American artists.

NIGHTLIFE SCENE

After dark, the city's rhythm changes tempo completely as the cooling ocean breezes sweep in and the oceanfront sunbathers defer to evening party-goers. Radiant neon lights and vibrant music take the place of leisurely sun 'n sand, as thousands flood into the nightclubs, sports bars and beach discos that dot the oceanfront avenues.

Broadway at the Beach, for instance, is a giant complex that features 10 nightclubs (from Fat Tuesday and Crocodile Rocks to a unique Hard Rock Cafe housed in a pyramid structure), 15 attractions, 20 restaurants and more than a hundred specialty shops.

Dining spots include Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Broadway Louie's Grill, Key West Grill, the Crab House, Landry's Seafood, NASCAR Sports Grille, Planet Hollywood, Shucker's Raw Bar, Tripp's Restaurant and more.

Wherever you go, be sure to try the traditional Calabash"”or Murrells Inlet-style"”preparation of seafood, with tender morsels that are broiled or grilled, then deep-fried in light batter.

Locals also recommend popular locales such as the Giant Crab Seafood Restaurant, which includes a seafood bar that presents crab legs, steamed oysters and clams, flounder, shrimp and scallops, all prepared in dozens of different combinations.

Another popular hot-spot is the Sea Captain's House, known for its hearty platters of rock lobster, deep sea scallops, Low Country crab casserole and shrimp Creole.

Great food, great sun and surf, great nightlife: "I can't imagine why anyone would want to visit, or live, anywhere else," is how resident Compton puts it.