The SkyWheel at Myrtle Beach: What goes around...
Myrtle Beach - a town that trots out a new "next big thing" just about every year - is about to outdo itself with the SkyWheel, a beachfront Ferris wheel that's being billed as only the second such attraction in North America.
When it opens in late May, it will have 42 gondolas. As the wheel turns, you'll eventually be 200 feet above sea level - able to see roughly 25 miles up the coast to the North Carolina border.
It will take approximately three minutes to complete a revolution. Each ride will take eight to 12 minutes, given loading time and occupancy (each glass-enclosed gondola can hold up to six passengers).
The cost? $12; $8 for ages 3-11, military and 55 and older; 2 and younger, free. (The extra-cost VIP gondola will have bucket seats and a glass floor.)
The attraction will be fitted with 1 million LED lightbulbs for after-dark display. Special effects will kick in for a full-blown light show once or twice a night.
SkyWheel, 1101 N. Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach. Hours (seasonal): 10 a.m.-2 a.m. initially. Details: 843-839-9200; www.skywheelusa.com.
That Tarzan touch
The 943-acre Palmetto Islands County Park in Mount Pleasant is nature- and family-oriented, with bike paths, picnic sites and grills. As the setting has a tropical look, so does the park's 50-foot observation tower, whose roof looks monsoon-resistant. (In fact, it survived Hurricane Hugo.)
Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park, 444 Needlerush Parkway, Mount Pleasant. Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset daily; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. in summer. Park admission: $1; 2 and younger, free. Details: 843-884-0832; www.ccprc.com.
Sights and stripes at Sea Pines
Hilton Head harbor holds a 90-foot tower that, in 1970, was the first privately-built lighthouse in America since the 1800s. (Harbour Town is owned by Sea Pines Resort, www.seapines.com.) Climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse for $3.50 (5 and younger, free) to enjoy a view of Hilton Head Island. Tower hours: 10 a.m.-sunset daily. The landings on your climb serve as a museum that tells the history of the area.
Harbour Town is within Sea Pines; there is a $5 per-vehicle fee at the gate to enter. The lighthouse is at 149 Lighthouse Road, Hilton Head. Details: 866-305-9814; www.harbourtownlighthouse.com (the site has a webcam).
Light touch at Hunting Island
Drive to where U.S. 21 hits the sea between Charleston and Hilton Head and you'll find beautiful beaches and marshlands, maritime forest and lagoons at Hunting Island State Park, a semi-tropical barrier island. The wildlife is amazing - and so is the state's only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. Built in the 1870s, it has a white bottom and black top. Climb to its top - 132.5 feet - for a great view of the Lowcountry terrain and the Atlantic.
Hunting Island State Park, 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island. Park admission: $5; $3 for ages 6-15. $2 charge to climb the lighthouse between 10 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. daily. Lighthouse programs at 11 a.m. Saturdays (also Wednesdays, starting in May). Details: 843-838-4868; www.southcarolinaparks.com.
See any U-boats?
Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, was first built during the Revolution to safeguard Charleston. During World War II, the Army and Navy had a submarine tower there: There were incidents with German U-boats mining Charleston Harbor.
All ships entering or exiting the harbor had to be cleared by this defense post, which became operational from 1944 and was decommissioned in 1947.
The tower's top was 36 feet above the ground level; an apparatus with antenna or signal flags went up another 30 feet. These days, you can walk to the tower's 28-foot landing and get a beautiful view of the Atlantic, the harbor and Fort Sumter.
Fort Moultrie: $3; $5 per family; 16 and younger, $1. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed New Year's, Thanksgiving and Christmas) Details: www.nps.gov/fosu/historyculture/fort_moultrie.htm.
The four-deck treatment at Port Royal
On Port Royal's Paris Avenue, just north of 16th Street, take the walking trail into the fresh-water wetland bird sanctuary. At London Avenue, go south and follow Sands Beach Road to the architect-designed four-level observation tower, where you can see the marshes of Battery Creek... and often see dolphins in the waters. The tower is open dawn to dusk; there's no admission fee. There's a free public beach there, too. Details: www.portroyal.org.