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.
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1. Myrtle Beach
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Myrtle Beach is a very popular weekend getaway destination for both families and couples, combining great beach activities with some interesting museums, galleries, and other attractions for rainy days. Strolling along the famous Myrtle Beach Boardwalk is one of the most popular activities for visitors and residents alike; you can watch the sunset, ride the Skywheel Ferris Wheel, and absorb the holiday atmosphere.
The beaches offer good bathing, basking, paddling, canoeing, and kayaking, and there are several great golf courses. Off the beach, the town is packed with wacky family attractions such as the Backstage Mirror Maze, Ripley’s Wax Museum, and the Family Kingdom Amusement Park. Things to Do in Myrtle Beach
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Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina, is home to many historic buildings and some of the top South Carolina attractions. History buffs can visit several wonderfully preserved plantation homes and gardens dating back as far as 1672 – Magnolia Plantations and Gardens is one of the most popular, but there are several others.
The town has a thriving arts scene that you can explore by visiting the historic Charleston Music Hall and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, to name but a few. Charleston prides itself on showcasing Southern cuisine, and foodies can discover the vibrant flavors of the South on a Charleston Culinary Tour or a Charleston Brews Cruise to sample local craft beers. Next read: Romantic Getaways in Charleston and Romantic Restaurants in Charleston
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Greenville ticks all the boxes for a fun-filled family weekend getaway, combining good outdoor activities and educational and artsy attractions. You can visit the pedestrian-friendly downtown to soak up the atmosphere, have a meal, or do some shopping. If you love the performing arts, you will find the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, the Greenville Chorale, and the Carolina Ballet Theater at the Peace Center.
Families can spend hours of educational fun at the Roper Mountain Science Center and the Children’s Museum of the Upstate or get some exercise in the Caesars Head State Park where you can go hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching. The free Greenville Trolley is a great way for weekenders to get around town.
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As the capital of South Carolina, Columbia promises visitors a wealth of varied attractions to fill their vacation. If you are interested in history, you can tour the South Carolina State House and some of the many impressive historic homes and gardens, including the Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, which date back to 1818.
Families can visit the South Carolina State Museum (which incorporates an observatory, planetarium, and 4D interactive theater) for hours of educational fun or make their way to the EdVenture Children’s Museum or Riverbanks Zoo and Botanic Garden. Art lovers should not miss MAMM (the modern art museum), while foodies should consider joining a Columbia Food Tour.
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The historic town of Spartanburg has been around since 1753 and is packed with historic attractions and a wealth of cultural and outdoor activities. You can join the Historic Downtown Walking Tour or go on the RevWar.com self guided driving tour to learn about the town’s role in World Wars I and II. If you love music, you can follow the Spartanburg Music Trail while art enthusiasts can head to the Spartanburg Art Museum and the Chapman Cultural Center.
Car enthusiasts should not miss touring BMW Zentrum, the German car maker’s only museum and manufacturing plant in America. Nature lovers can explore hiking, biking, and walking trails or take a stroll through some of Spartanburg’s arboretums and nature preserves.
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Aiken is a city in the western part of South Carolina in the Central Savannah River Valley, best known for its equestrian culture and the large number of thoroughbred champions it has produced. Of course, there is more to Aiken than beautiful horses, fox hunts, and polo matches – it is also home to the largest urban forest in the country. Its downtown is a delight, with elegant streets shaded by ancient oaks and lined by a number of art galleries that showcase the city’s rich art scene. Citizens Park has several ball fields, hiking trails, a playground, and a splash pad. The Aiken County Historical Museum is great place to learn about the city’s past, while Richardson’s Lake Waterpark is an inviting family spot with a nice sandy beach and waterslides.
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You are never far from the water or a golf course on beautiful Kiawah Island, situated just a few miles south of historic Charleston in South Carolina. This peaceful barrier island off the South Carolina coast lays claim to over 10 miles of beaches and five championship golf courses as well as excellent wildlife spotting and hiking, walking, and biking trails.
You can explore the many waterways on the island by joining a kayak or stand-up paddle boat tour or hire a bike and explore on two wheels. If you fancy fishing you can organize a fishing charter or admire the coastline by motorboat. The island also offers tennis (and lessons), four spas, and many great dining options. Next read: South Carolina beaches and South Carolina resorts
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8.Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Beaufort
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The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort South Carolina is a striking example of how one man’s vision succeeded in turning a dilapidated harbor-side eyesore into an urban oasis for Beaufort locals and visitors.
The park lies between downtown Beaufort and the Beaufort River/Intracoastal waterway and is made up of several different areas, including scenic riverfront walkways, a children’s playground, swings, picnic areas, and a small pavilion, all with easy access to the National Historic Landmark District. You can come for a peaceful picnic, watch the constant nautical activities, or attend one of the annual events such as the Taste of Beaufort, the Shrimp Festival, or the Water Festival.
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9.Hilton Head Island
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Any town featuring the word “island” in its name immediately conjures up images of laid-back summer vacations, and Hilton Head Island more than delivers on the promise. You can choose from several bustling (Coligny Park Beach) or secluded (Burkes Beach) beaches, and if you love water sports, you can head to H2O Sports for lessons and equipment.
Another option is to set off by boat to explore the coastline with one of several outfitters. You can go hiking and nature-watching in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, take the children to the Sandbox Interactive Children’s Museum, or visit the Arts Center of Coastal California. End you day with a feast of fresh seafood at one of the island’s 250 restaurants.
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Located in an old agricultural and textile region in what is known as “upstate” South Carolina, Mauldin is a modern town overlooking the Appalachian Mountains with charming, beautifully preserved historic downtown. Mauldin has a rich and vibrant cultural scene with a renowned symphony, theatre, and ballet that offer yearly programs at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. With the Blue Ridge Mountains to the north of town and Conestee Lake and the park to the west, there is plenty of green space for outdoor enthusiasts, with miles of paved hiking and biking trails. Frankie’s Fun Park offers indoor and outdoor fun with go-carts, arcades, and other family games. Pelham Mill Park is a popular riverside park with remains of an old historic textile mill and post office.
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© Florence, SC
Florence was established as a railway hub roughly halfway between New York City and Miami and played a prominent role during the Civil War. Historians can visit the War Between the States Museum, the Florence Stockade and National Cemetery, and Veterans Park to learn more. You can admire the art of William H. Johnson and other prominent artists at the Florence County Museum or attend a concert at either the Francis Marion University Performing Art Center or the Florence Little Theatre.
If you enjoy the great outdoors, you can hike along a trail system connecting Veterans Park and Timrod Park or try the canopy walk in the Lynches River Park. Foodies should definitely not miss the City Center Farmer’s Market and the annual Oktoberfest and the Pecan Festival.
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Rock Hill is situated in north central South Carolina, where a mild year-round climate attracts many visitors to come and enjoy a variety of outdoor activities. You can take a gentle stroll in Glencairn Garden or Fountain Park or get more energetic along the Piedmont Medical Center Trail and the Carolina Thread Trail. Cycling enthusiasts can try the Rock Hill Outdoor Center, while paddlers can explore the Catawba River by canoe or kayak.
Daredevils can have fun at Camp Canaan, which offers zip-lines, climbing, and other fun activities. On rainy days, you can head to cultural and heritage sites such as historic Brattonsville, the Museum of York County, and the Children’s Museum in Old Town Rock Hill.
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© North Charleston, SC
North Charleston offers visitors an interesting mix of unusual museums, a thriving arts and culture scene, and the convenience of being close to all the historic attractions of the city of Charleston. History buffs can see a recovered 1864 submarine and learn about the pivotal role it played at the fascinating H.L. Hunley Museum and then move on to see the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial in River Park.
You can take the kids to the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center where they can see both vintage and new fire engines. Art lovers can spend some time at the North Charleston City Gallery or watch a concert at the North Charleston Coliseum.
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14.Huntington Beach State Park
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Huntington Beach State Park is an ideal coastal getaway for campers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and nature lovers. You can bring the family (and even your dog) and pitch a tent or park your RV at a serviced site to spend a few nights getting back to nature.
You can go hiking and bird watching along various trials (for all fitness levels) to wildlife observation points, enjoy sunbathing and walking along the pristine beach, and learn all about marine life at the Nature Center. The surf fishing is rumored to be the finest in the state, but you can also fish off a jetty or launch a boat at Oyster Landing.
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15.Caesars Head State Park
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At Caesars Head State Park on the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment, you will find some of the best hiking in the state through the 11,000-acre forested Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. The trails vary in length from less than a mile to 10 miles, offering something for everyone. If you would like to venture further afield, you can go backpacking and sleep trailside under the stars at 18 primitive backcountry campsites.
The 2-mile Raven Falls Trail takes you to the suspension bridge overlooking the 420-foot Raven Falls and is one of the most popular. Bird watching, particularly the fall Hawk migration, is a popular activity, and you can also cast a line to catch some trout.
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16.Congaree State Park
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The Congaree State Park is located 20 miles outside Columbia and is one of the only places in the entire country where you can see a large tract of old-growth hardwood forest sustained by the floodplains of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers.
There are two ways to explore this amazing habitat, which supports a large variety of wildlife – you can take to the waters along the marked 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail in a canoe or kayak (you need to bring your own craft), or you can hike an assortment of hiking trails. You can pitch your tent at one of two campsites, try your hand at fishing, or enroll in a ranger-led program.
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17.Falls Park on the Reedy
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Falls Park on the Reedy is situated in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End, providing locals and visitors with an urban oasis where they can meet, enjoy outdoor and cultural attractions, and admire beautiful gardens. Gardeners can go on a guided tour of the park or simply stroll through Pedricks Garden to admire the landscaping and sunflowers.
You can bring a picnic and relax on the expansive lawns or have a meal at one of two on-site restaurants. Hikers and cyclists can use Falls Park as their springboard to the 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, while art lovers can have fun uncovering several public sculptures dotted around the park.
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18.Hunting Island State Park
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Located just 16 miles from the historic town of Beaufort, Hunting Island State Park is a popular beach-front getaway destination. You can simply relax on the pristine three-mile beach or explore the abundant wildlife-watching opportunities provided by the lagoon. You can visit the Nature Center and Pier to see some live reptiles and to fish or take a ranger-led guided tour of the Marsh Boardwalk.
For a great overview of the island, you can climb to the top of the historic 1859 Hunting Island Lighthouse. Other fun activities include shell collecting and crabbing. You can pitch a tent or park your RV at the campsite, which offers easy access to the beach.
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19.Sea Pines Forest Preserve
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The 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head Island is a great place to escape the glitzy island resorts and spend some time communing with nature. You can discover the preserve by walking or hiking along several trails, including the blue arrow trail (one hour) and the orange arrow trail (two hours), or along the wetland boardwalk through Vanishing Swamp, which will bring you into close contact with resident wildlife.
If you prefer to explore on horseback, tale advantage of the cleared bridle paths available. You can picnic at Fish Island in the center of the preserve, admire the Wildflower Field at Lake Thomas, and visit Indian Shell Ring, the site of a 4000-year old Indian Village.
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Clemson, South Carolina lies in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where parks, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes provide countless opportunities to get back to nature. If you love history, you can tour several historic homesteads such as the Hanover House (1716) and the Hunt Cabin (1825) at the South Carolina Botanical Garden or Ashtabula Plantation (1790).
You can immerse yourself in the town’s vibrant arts scene by visiting the Blue Ridge Arts Center and attending one of several performing arts venues. Outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy boating and hiking at Lake Hartwell or High Falls Country Park or hike to the Big Bend Falls and Bee Cove Falls.
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21.Angel Oak Tree, Charleston
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Just a short detour off the road will bring you to Angel Oak Tree in Angel Oak Forest on John’s Island, 12 miles outside Charleston. The tree is one of the oldest living trees in the country, and it would be a shame to miss seeing this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon if you are in the area.
The Angel Oak is believed to be at least 400 to 500 years old and has managed to stand tall and strong, surviving much adverse coastal weather, including several severe hurricanes. You can have your photo taken alongside the imposing 66.5-foot tall tree, and it is fun to see how many people are needed to form a chain around its 28-foot circumference.
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© Litchfield Beach, SC
Litchfield Beach is perfectly located on the Pawley Island section of Grand Strand and is arguably one of the best beaches in South Carolina. Here you can escape the crowds and find an unspoiled wide sandy beach perfect for walking, sunbathing, and swimming. If you enjoy cycling, surfing, or paddling, you can get equipment at several Pawley Island outfitters, including Surf the Earth.
You can play a round of golf at one (or all) of the five golf courses in the area, treat yourself to a pampering spa treatment, or dine at many excellent local restaurants. No visit to Litchfield Beach would be complete without exploring beautiful Brookgreen Gardens, where you will find acres of color, a sculpture garden, a zoo, and a children’s garden.
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23.The Swamp Rabbit Trail, Greenville
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Walkers, runners, cyclists, and skaters can all enjoy some outdoor exercise along the (nearly) 20-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail that links the towns of Greenville and Travelers Rest, South Carolina. A large section of the trail follows the course of the Reedy River, so you can enjoy great scenery en-route.
The width of the trail varies from 8 to 12 feet, and you can cycle, skate, or walk along the paved part, while runners can use the rubberized running track. A separate section of the trail meanders through the Lake Conestee Nature Park where visitors will be making their way through 400 acres of forest and wetland and enjoying good wildlife watching opportunities.
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24.Hunting Island Lighthouse
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The Hunting Island Lighthouse is located in the Hunting Island State Park and offers visitors a chance to combine a little history with a great day on the beach. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1933 and is the only South Carolina lighthouse open to the public. You can climb the 167 steps of the steep spiral staircase to reach the viewing platform (132 feet above the beach) where you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the park and the ocean.
Interestingly, the lighthouse was built with overlapping steel plates rather than bricks, which made it possible for it to be dismantled and moved farther inland in 1889 when it was threatened by beach erosion.
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You will find the historic coastal town of Georgetown nestled on the South Carolina coast between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, offering visitors a big helping of small-town charm, loads of history and plenty of attractions. There are several ways to learn about Georgetown – you can go on a walking tour (Strollin on the Sampit), a tram tour (Swamp Fox Tours), and even a ghost tour.
There are five museums you can visit, or you could just stroll along Front Street to admire the quaint shops and galleries or eat ocean-fresh seafood. Boat tours are also very popular, and you can spend a day picnicking on a remote barrier island with Island Picnic Cruises.
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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.
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.
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, including Momma Lou's Gullah Cuisine and The Tavern in Royal Pines, 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.