South Carolina enjoys an enviable location on the southeastern coastline of America. The state boasts miles of beaches, scenic islands and pleasant year-round weather, making it a popular vacation destination. You can visit gracious Southern plantations, bask in the renowned Southern hospitality, or enjoy the simple pleasures of a beach holiday. Whether you love arts, culture, or outdoor adventure, you will have plenty of choice. Here are the best South Carolina destinations. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Myrtle Beach
8.Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Beaufort
9.Hilton Head Island
14.Huntington Beach State Park
15.Caesars Head State Park
16.Congaree State Park
17.Falls Park on the Reedy
18.Hunting Island State Park
19.Sea Pines Forest Preserve
21.Angel Oak Tree, Charleston
23.The Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville
24.Hunting Island Lighthouse
25 Best South Carolina Destinations
- Myrtle Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Melpomene - Fotolia.com
- Charleston, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Greenville, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Columbia, Photo: Courtesy of SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com
- Spartanburg, Photo: Courtesy of mischenko - Fotolia.com
- Aiken, Photo: Courtesy of Matt - Fotolia.com
- Kiawah Island, Photo: Courtesy of kmm 7553 - Fotolia.com
- Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Beaufort, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- Hilton Head Island, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Dalton - Fotolia.com
- Mauldin, Photo: Courtesy of City of Mauldin/Facebook
- Florence, Photo: Florence, SC
- Rock Hill, Photo: Courtesy of digi dream grafix - Fotolia.com
- North Charleston, Photo: North Charleston, SC
- Huntington Beach State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Ballard - Fotolia.com
- Caesars Head State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Congaree State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Falls Park on the Reedy, Photo: Courtesy of cvalle - Fotolia.com
- Hunting Island State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- Sea Pines Forest Preserve, Photo: Courtesy of Nikolas - Fotolia.com
- Clemson, Photo: Courtesy of Robert Hainer - Fotolia.com
- Angel Oak Tree, Charleston, Photo: Courtesy of gnagel - Fotolia.com
- Litchfield Beach, Photo: Litchfield Beach, SC
- The Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville, Photo: Courtesy of Jefferson - Fotolia.com
- Hunting Island Lighthouse, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- Georgetown, Photo: Courtesy of Refocus Photography - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of kmm 7553 - Fotolia.com
Best South Carolina Islands
South Carolina’s Atlantic Coast shoreline is home to a large number of barrier islands, including parts of the Sea Islands chain, which encompasses more than 100 islands located between the St. Johns and Santee Rivers. The state’s Lowcountry region is noted for its former indigo and rice plantations and serves as a rich cultural center for African-American Gullah culture today. While major islands such as Hilton Head Island are internationally-known tourist destinations, lesser-known spots feature lush natural reserves, quaint local communities, and elite resort areas, providing a wide range of opportunities for day trips and overnight getaways. Whether you’re an avid fishing or water sports fan or a cultural enthusiast looking to sample the region’s unique cuisine, these islands offer a variety of family-friendly cultural, historic, and outdoor attractions.
Daufuskie Island was the setting of author Pat Conroy’s 1972 novel The Water Is Wide and feels like a place lost in time, retaining its pre-20th-century character due to its declaration as an island-wide Historic District. The island is accessible via passenger ferry from nearby Hilton Head Island and offers three miles of beachfront along the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, and Calibogue Sound waterfronts. Historic sites commemorate the island’s Civil War history, while a vibrant art gallery and studio scene celebrates the island’s Gullah culture through art forms such as basket weaving, pottery, and woodworking. Eclectic Lowcountry dishes are served at restaurants such as Lucy Bell’s Cafe and the Old Daufuskie Crab Company.
Kiawah Island is a resort island located approximately 20 miles off the coast of Charleston, featuring preserved maritime forest and marsh habitats and more than 10 miles of Atlantic coast beachfront. Conde Nast Traveler named the island America’s top island destination for its magnificent coastline and championship golf resort, which hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. 30 miles of hiking and bike trails are located throughout the island, part of an island-wide emphasis on natural preservation and ecology. Spectacular views of the Kiawah River are offered from Marsh Island Park’s lookout tower, while guided nature walks are presented by the Heron Park Nature Center.
Callawassie Island is located along South Carolina southeastern coast within Beaufort County, approximately 30 miles up shore from Savannah, Georgia. Archaeological evidence shows that the island has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years, though it is best known today as the site of the 19th-century Callawassie Sugar Works, the state’s only known sugar mill ruins. Today, the 880-acre island offers lush salt marsh and maritime forest habitats and is designated as a Community Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation, with more than 200 personal residences on the island declared as Backyard Wildlife Habitats. The nature lover’s paradise also features the Sugar Mill, Magnolia, and Sequoia Parks, a colorful blooming Butterfly Garden, and a 27-hole golf course designed by noted architect Tom Fazio.
Capers Island is an undeveloped three-mile barrier island that is only accessible via boat from the mainland, located approximately 15 miles north of Charleston. The island was named after South Carolina citizen Reverend William Theodotus Capers and is preserved as a state-protected refuge today, offering 214 acres of beachfront and stretches of maritime upland, salt marsh, and brackish water land ecosystems. Visitors can explore the island’s famous Boneyard Beach region, which is littered with sun-bleached skeletons and tree stumps, or hike the five-mile McCaskill Trail, which winds through overgrown natural areas. Primitive camping is allowed with a permit for visitors wishing to wake up to the island’s beautiful unspoiled sunrises.
Deveaux Bank is a 215-acre Charleston County island that is home to a noted seabird sanctuary overseen by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Three miles of beachfront are showcased along its three coastal sides, along with a tidal lagoon region that spans its mainland-facing coast. The island is a popular kayaking day trip spot for visitors to the Charleston region, offering opportunities to spot wildlife such as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, bald eagles, bonnethead sharks, and snowy and great egrets. Visitors should note that tourist access is restricted to certain island areas during seabird nesting season, with seasonal beach closures designated during the summer months.
Dewees Island is a 1,200-acre barrier island refuge located approximately 11 miles off the coast of Charleston. Though access to the island is restricted to property owners and their guests due to environmental preservation concerns, a number of vacation rentals and summer home sales are available for visitors wishing to travel to the island. Three miles of undeveloped beachfront offer spectacular Atlantic Ocean views and opportunities to observe wildlife such as white-tailed deer, turtles, and shorebirds. Visitors are encouraged to engage in quiet reflective activities such as writing, reading, and photography and are asked to respect the island’s ownership and property codes.
Dreher Island is one of three islands that encompass the 348-acre Dreher Island State Park, which offers access to nearly 12 miles of Lake Murray’s popular shoreline. The island is connected to mainland South Carolina by causeway and bridge, located approximately 30 miles from the city of Columbia. It serves as a top regional fishing destination for catching striped and largemouth bass and is host to several major annual national fishing tournaments. Five lakeside villas and more than 100 tent and RV hookup campsites are offered for overnight stay, and a wide variety of opportunities are available for outdoor activities, including boat access ramps, hiking trails, and family picnic shelters and playground facilities.
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Edisto Island is one of the United States’ last remaining unspoiled beach communities, located approximately 40 miles from the city of Charleston within the Sea Islands region. The island provides a relaxed, quaint atmosphere for visitors looking for a respite from more developed tourist islands nearby, though a variety of local attractions provide ample opportunity for visitor entertainment. It is home to the 4,630-acre historic Botany Bay Plantation, which features a top regional golf course, and to the Edisto Island Serpentarium, which showcases unique exhibits related to the island’s wildlife populations. Kayak tours, fishing excursions, and history-focused eco tours are available for visitors, along with a variety of bike paths, shops, and restaurants for leisurely day-trip fun. Overnight campsites offer electrical hookups and restrooms with heated showers.
Folly Island is a 12-square-mile barrier island within the Sea Islands that served as an important Union Army site during the American Civil War. It is home to the community of Folly Beach, known as one of America’s last remaining authentic beach towns, showcasing local hospitality and one-of-a-kind attractions. The historic Porgy House, the former home of 20th-century authors Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, is noted as the inspiration for George Gershwin’s famed Porgy and Bess opera. 2,500 feet of beachfront provides opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and wildlife watching, while Folly Beach County Park offers a lifeguard-staffed swimming beach and pelican rookery.
Fripp Island is a top family and golfing tourist destination near the city of Beaufort, spanning approximately 6.5 square miles off South Carolina’s barrier island coastal region. The island is considered to be one of the region’s leading resort beach areas, featuring 3 ½ miles of unspoiled waterfront terrain. Visitor accommodations are provided at the Fripp Island Golf and Beach Resort, which features the Ocean Point and Ocean Creek championship golf courses, along with tennis courts, kayaking opportunities, and a family water park offering a kiddie pool and animal-themed attractions. During the summer months, the resort’s Camp Fripp structures nature and history-themed activities for children. Several onsite restaurants also serve classic Lowcountry dishes such as she crab soup and lobster pot pie.
Goat Island is one of the South Carolina coast’s smallest islands, located along the Intracoastal Waterway between the Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant. The island was originally known as Eagle Island, but following World War I, it became a popular secluded refuge following its development by goat herders Henry and Blanche Holloway. Today, it retains its isolated charm, offering sanctuary from nearby urban areas. The island is only accessible via boat, located less than 20 minutes from Charleston Harbor and Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge. Its Marsh Walk boardwalk offers views of local wild goat and peacock populations, located along a stretch of natural marshland ecosystem.
Harbor Island is a private resort island within the Sea Islands region, located approximately 14 miles from the city of Beaufort. The 1,400-acre island, which formerly contained tidal marsh ecosystems and unincorporated hunting grounds, was developed into a resort community in the 1930s and is known today for its beautiful sand dunes and coastal grass landscape. Three miles of pristine waterfront are available for visitor exploration, offering ample opportunities for seabird, horseshoe crab, and dolphin watching. The island’s resort is available for condominium and vacation home rentals, featuring guest amenities such as three outdoor pools, a putting green, and tennis courts.
Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre barrier island that is preserved as part of the Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto Basin National Estuarine Reserve. The island is home to Hunting Island State Park, which was established in 1935 and is South Carolina’s most-visited state park today, welcoming more than one million annual visitors. It showcases the Hunting Island Lighthouse, the state’s only publicly-accessible historic lighthouse, which stands 130 feet over the Atlantic coastline. Five miles of beachfront and a saltwater lagoon area are offered for visitor access, along with a public fishing pier, a nature center offering environmental programming, and more than 100 campsites with electrical hookups and family playgrounds.
Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms is located along the Intracoastal Waterway less than 12 miles from the city of Charleston and has been one of the state’s most popular attractions since the early 20th century. The island is home to an affluent resort community that is known for its bustling business district, offering a variety of shops and gourmet restaurants. Live music and beach volleyball are showcased at The Windjammer, which hosts several annual beach volleyball tournaments. Other island attractions include the Wild Dunes oceanfront resort, which is home to two championship golf courses designed by pro architect Tom Fazio and an award-winning children’s recreation program.
Johns Island is South Carolina’s largest barrier island and is the fourth-largest island on the American East Coast after Long and Mount Desert Islands and Martha’s Vineyard. The island is most noted as the home of the famed Angel Oak, a Southern live oak tree that dates back at least 1,400 years and is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. Johns Island Presbyterian Church, one of the nation’s oldest churches, is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public for guided tours. The island is also home to the Mullet Hall Equestrian Center, which offers 20 miles of riding trails, and an annual Battle of Charleston historic reenactment that showcases the culture of 19th-century America.
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Lady's Island’s tourism has grown exponentially throughout the past several decades, making it a top destination today among South Carolina’s Sea Island while retaining much of its rustic historic character. The island is connected to mainland Beaufort County by two bridges that offer spectacular views of the surrounding waterways and is also accessible via several community boat ramps. Former indigo plantation land has been transformed into private residential areas set on large plots of land, featuring equestrian farms, maritime forest areas, and beautiful beachfront property. Several restaurants are offered on the island, and a number of vacation rentals and cabins are available for overnight and short-term stay.
Morris Island is an uninhabited island located near Charleston Harbor that is incorporated as part of the cities of Charleston and Folly Beach. It is noted for its role in the American Civil War and is home to the remains of five historic forts, including Fort Wagner, which is home to an iconic red-and-white-striped lighthouse constructed in 1876. Morris Island Light is also located on the island’s southern end. A number of boating tour companies provide guided island excursions, including Adventure Harbor Tours, which offers shell-seeking excursions, and Thriller Charleston, which rides adventurous waves aboard a 55-foot power catamaran.
Pinckney Island is part of a 4,053-acre National Wildlife Refuge that also spans nearby Big and Little Harry, Buzzard, and Corn Islands, though it is the only part of the refuge that is open to the public for visitor access. The refuge is located near Hilton Head Island and is home to large populations of seabirds within its salt marsh, tidal creek, fallow field, and brushland ecosystems. It is open for exploration seven days a week from dusk to dawn, manned by an unstaffed electric gate, and is a popular site for nature enthusiasts, featuring more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. 115 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites are also showcased throughout the island.
Port Royal Island
Port Royal Island is Beaufort County’s most populated island and is a noted historic site that has been inhabited since the 1520s, when the Santa Elena fort was established by early Spanish explorers. The Lowcountry island takes its name from the name of a nearby 1562 French settlement led by Jean Ribault, which is used today to refer to the island and its main incorporated city. The city of Beaufort also features a historic downtown region, which showcases historic antebellum mansions, majestic moss-draped live oaks, and gourmet restaurants. A number of homes are open to the public as living history museums, and the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park offers a public performance stage and children’s playground.
Saint Helena Island
Saint Helena Island is one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands and is noted as the inspiration for the children’s television series Gullah Gullah Island, which showcased African-American Gullah culture. The island is connected to the nearby city of Beaufort by highway and spans an area of 64 square miles, which contains the communities of Frogmore and Lands End. Fort Fremont Historical Park and Beach showcases the remains of a Spanish-American War-era fort, while the Penn Center offers educational exhibits and programming related to the island’s African-American heritage. Other attractions include the historic 18th-century Chapel of Ease and the art galleries of downtown Frogmore’s cultural district.
Spring Island is a 3,000-acre Sea Island that is maintained as a natural refuge and intimate residential community. The island is home to the Colleton and Chechessee Nature Preserves, which protect more than 1,100 acres of unique coastal habitats under the supervision of Spring Island Trust. More than 600 species of native plants are showcased throughout the island’s coastal topography, including majestic live oaks. Residential resort amenities include an award-winning golf course, an equestrian center and sports complex, and a network of more than 300 hiking trails. An annual summer camp is held at the island for children and youth, featuring activities such as an annual shark fishing tournament.
Wadmalaw Island is connected to mainland South Carolina via bridge and spans an area of 10 by six miles near Church Creek and the North Edisto River. The island is noted for its historic attractions, including the Charleston Tea Plantation, the United States’ only operating team plantation, which produces over 320 types of Camellia sinensis tea and offers free daily visitor tours. The Firefly Distillery is the state’s largest distillery, noted for its production of sweet tea vodka, and is home to a tasting room and an outdoor indie music recording venue. Other attractions include the 48-acre Irvin-House Vineyards, the state’s only domestic winery, and the Ambrose Family Farm, which harvest vegetables year-round and offers a seasonal picking orchard.
Waties Island is an undeveloped coastal barrier island that is used as an educational facility by Coastal Carolina University. The island’s Anne Tilghman Boyce Coastal Reserve spans a portion of the island near its Cherry Grove Beach and conducts graduate, undergraduate, and independent marine research. Field workshops for K-12 students and adult groups are offered periodically at the reserve, led by college faculty educators. Indigenous artifacts are preserved on the island, including ceramics and burial mounds. The island is also accessible via boat for independent visitors and kayaking tour groups showcasing local populations of bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles.
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