If you haven’t driven to Myrtle Beach via Highway 501 in a few years, you may have missed the development of an entire town on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway. And the next time you drive past the sprawling community of Carolina Forest, it just might be bigger than Myrtle Beach.
Carolina Forest is a master-planned community filled with single-family homes and multi-family units inside residential neighborhoods and surrounded by increasing commercial developments. Located midway between Myrtle Beach and Conway and stretching from Highway 501 to the Intracoastal Waterway, Carolina Forest rests on a 25 square-mile area that is home to more than 21,000 full-time residents and dense green spaces consisting of pine trees and hardwood forests.
Future expansion and development plans call for as many as 35,000 residents by the end of the decade, and Carolina Forest residents are already preparing for incorporation. New road construction projects are under way to ease traffic congestion in an area that sprang up almost overnight. Carolina Forest Boulevard, the main drag through the community, is being widened to four lanes, and International Drive is being extended to connect to Highway 90 to the west. The eastern route, which becomes Robert Grissom Parkway at the Intracoastal Waterway, already connects Carolina Forest residents to the Myrtle Beach oceanfront in a matter of minutes, increasing property values on the west side of the Waterway.
Despite the rapid development in this area of unincorporated Horry County, Carolina Forest has set aside nearly half of the total area for conservation, and the community is bordered to the west by the 9,000-acre Lewis Ocean Bay Preserve to limit expansion. But there’s no stopping what has been put into motion. It’s just a matter of time before Carolina Forest blossoms into a major city on the Grand Strand.
Carolina Forest offers suburban living at its best. Serving as a bedroom community midway between the county seat of Conway and the centerpiece of the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, Carolina Forest is a nice retreat from the commercial and tourism centers. Hardwood forests and Carolina bays make up the vast majority of the land, creating a neighborhood that is surrounded by natural beauty.
Many of the new neighborhoods are in gated communities with their own clubhouses, swimming pools, playgrounds and other amenities meant for families. There are several condo communities to accommodate the booming student population at nearby Coastal Carolina University. New public schools, parks and recreation centers and strip-mall businesses have exploded throughout Carolina Forest since its inception to keep pace with the growing population.
Carolina Forest is also home to several golf courses along River Oaks Drive and the Highway 501 corridor, which has seen the addition of the Tanger Outlet Stores, hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. New roads have opened access to the coast so many Carolina Forest residents can go from home to the beach in less than 10 minutes. Homes along the Intracoastal Waterway also have their own means of escape tied up at their private boat docks.
The Carolina Forest area offers easy access to some of the most popular courses on the Grand Strand, including some residential developments containing their own golf course. Myrtle Beach National and South Creek on the north end of town feature two championship courses surrounded by high-end housing, and The Legends just across Highway 501 offers single family homes throughout the course.
Stand-alone layouts include The Witch, The Wizard and Man O’ War, a trio of courses built on the swampy but scenic stretches of wetlands that are common throughout Carolina Forest. The new General Hackler Course serves as the home course for the Coastal Carolina University golf teams and the school’s golf industry program, offering an affordable round of golf in a college setting.
New roads allow easy access to other courses that used to be a bit out of range for Carolina Forest. River Oaks Golf Plantation is a short drive down River Oaks Drive, and the Grande Dunes and Pine Lakes Country Club are just a quick trip over the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge on Robert Grissom Parkway.
Although the Myrtle Beach tourism market hasn’t quite reached across the Intracoastal Waterway to Carolina Forest, the area has benefited from a population boom that has brought more dining options to the western side of the Waterway. National and regional chains, such as Outback, Beef O’Brady’s, Ruby Tuesday’s and Buffalo Wild Wing, make up most of the family casual establishments, along with fast-food joints along the Highway 501 corridor.
However, more cosmopolitan eateries, such as King Kong Sushi and Sam Snead’s Oak Grill Tavern are moving into the strip malls and new shopping centers. The influx of Northern transplants has created a market for regional favorites like Boston Pizza Plus, Jersey Mike’s Deli, and Gino’s Real New York Pizza.