Humans aren't the only ones that come out to enjoy the warm weather this time of year. So do our four-legged, finned and feathered friends, many of which are on display at local parks and zoos, as well as in the wild. For Myrtle Beach vacationers looking for encounters with nature and up-close looks at exotic animals, check out these six wild spots:
Alligator Adventure: Located at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, this nature park lives up to its name with hundreds of alligators and crocodiles on the property, including a 20-foot crocodile named Utan and live feeding shows. This certified rehab center for exotic animals is also home to a large collection of reptiles, cats, birds and even lemurs.
Dolphin-Watching Cruises: See these majestic creatures in the wild aboard one of the many charter boat outfitters on the Grand Strand. Patrons take a short trip off the Carolina coast to spot pods of dolphins — with a very high success rate — and the boats get close enough for snapping photos or simply watching our ocean friends feed and play. Book a tour with the Little River Fleet in Little River or Capt. Dick’s in Murrells Inlet, just to name a couple.
Ripley's Aquarium: This Broadway at the Beach attraction allows patrons to get up close and personal with some of the rarest and most dangerous fish in the sea. Featuring 1.5 million gallons of water filling a series of aquariums, Ripley's offers exhibits like Danger Reef, where you come face to face with various species of sharks, and Ray Bay, where you can pet stingrays. Other displays include sea creatures from the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon River and other tropical locales with colorful and unusual fish.
State Parks: The Grand Strand is home to two of the most beautiful state parks on the East Coast. Myrtle Beach State Park on the south side of the city is a 350-acre oceanfront oasis with beaches, hiking trails and a fishing pier. Huntington Beach State Park in nearby Murrells Inlet is home to alligators, exotic birds and other native species. Both state parks have on-site nature centers that feature exhibits about native species and offer educational programs and tours. Be sure to bring a camera.
T.I.G.E.R.S. Preserve: This unique wildlife preserve is home to a wide range of exotic animals, many of which are trained to perform in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Bubbles the Elephant highlights a star-studded cast of creatures that includes orangutans, stray dogs and, of course, big cats. The rare species of liger (part lion, part tiger) steals the “Wild Encounters Tour” show with his size, speed and power, and Preservation Station at Barefoot Landing has its own collection of critters.
Waccatee Zoo: Located in the Socastee section of Myrtle Beach, this family owned and operated zoo started out as a farm and grew into a home for a wide range of species, including lions, tigers and bears (oh my!). Visitors can see kangaroos, peacocks, monkeys and the rare zee-donk (part zebra, park donkey). There's also a petting zoo where the little ones can get up close with goats and more.
After a long day in the wild, take a step back into modern civilization at Long Bay Resort. With comfortable and modern accommodations, a spacious indoor and outdoor pool deck on the oceanfront, and other amenities like on-site restaurants, an arcade, a waterpark and free DVD rentals, Long Bay is your place to escape the wild for a relaxing walk on the mild side