Charleston is widely regarded as one of the best cities in South Carolina, but if you're planning to be here for more than a couple days, you might want to consider taking a day trip or two. The city is surrounded by incredible destinations for visitors of all ages, including peaceful barrier islands, historic plantation homes, and little-known towns and villages overflowing with antebellum mansions and Southern hospitality. Whether you're looking to escape into nature, learn about the area's history, or simply trade one city for another, here are the best day trips to take from Charleston.
The charming city of Beaufort can be found on Port Royal Island, one of the biggest Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, and it boasts excellent restaurants, unique art galleries, and a rich history. The entire downtown core has been designated a National Historic Landmark District, and the streets are lined with moss-draped oak trees and gorgeous antebellum mansions built before the Civil War. Visitors are welcome to stroll through the streets on their own, but the best ways to get a feel for the area are to join a professionally guided walking tour or to hop in an elegant horse-drawn carriage.
If you're looking for a day trip to do with children, Bee City is an excellent choice. A working beehive can be viewed from behind the safety of a glass wall, and visitors will learn about the different types of honeybees and why they're so important to the ecosystem. Groups of 15 people or more can book one of the field trip packages, which offer the option to bottle your own honey and make a small beeswax figurine or candle. Visitors are also welcome to explore the petting zoo, which is home to animals like donkeys, alpacas, ringtail lemurs, and even monkeys.
1066 Holly Ridge Ln, Cottageville, SC 29435, Phone: 843-835-5912
Set on the banks of the beautiful May River, Bluffton is a welcoming village known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, its excellent restaurants, and its eclectic boutique shops. The streets are dotted with historic antebellum homes, but the town's real architectural highlight is the historic Church of the Cross, which features palmetto-shaped detailing and a rose-hued sanctuary. The Promenade is the place to be if you're in the mood for shopping, and if you have time for a bite to eat, make sure to stop by the Bluffton Oyster Factory, where you can sample oysters harvested from the May River.
4.Botany Bay Plantation
Encompassing more than 4,600 acres on Edisto Island, the Botany Bay Plantation is a unique heritage and wildlife preserve that allows visitors to get a glimpse of how the South Carolina coast would have looked during the time of the original settlers. Much of the property consists of untouched forest and seashore, but the preserve is also home to several historic structures, including a plantation house, a gardener's shed, and an icehouse. A 6.5-mile driving route makes it easy to explore the property by car, but there are also plenty of excellent hiking trails for visitors who want to stretch their legs.
1066 Botany Bay Rd, Edisto Island, SC 29438, Phone: 843-869-2713
© Craig Zerbe/stock.adobe.com
Open to the public since 1931, Brookgreen Gardens was the first public sculpture garden built in America. The garden features more than 2000 works done by prominent American sculptors; many are the creations of Anna Hyatt Huntington, one of the park's founders, but approximately 420 other artists are featured as well. Plenty of beautiful walking trails wind their way through the gardens, but visitors who want to learn about the site's history as a former plantation should be sure to make time for the Lowcountry Trail, which is lined with interpretive panels. The gardens can also be toured by pontoon boat or by Trekker vehicle.
1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576, Phone: 843-235-6000
6.Columbia Museum of Art
© Columbia Museum of Art
Widely recognized as the best international art museum in the southeast United States, the Columbia Museum of Art is a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. The collections include works from Europe, Asia, and America, and they represent the history of art from antiquity until modern times. In addition to the regular permanent galleries, the museum also features temporary exhibits that change every few months. An interactive gallery invites visitors of all ages to play with displays like magnet walls and DIY animation stations, and family-friendly gallery guidebooks and exciting scavenger hunts are available to keep younger visitors entertained throughout the entire museum.
1515 Main St, Columbia, SC 29201, Phone: 803-799-2810
Nestled between the mouths of the North and South Edisto Rivers, Edisto Island is a secluded coastal paradise perfectly suited to families and anyone looking for a relaxing getaway. The island has remained largely uncommercialized, and while the main forms of entertainment are kayaking, camping, hiking, and strolling along the beach, the island's main town offers a handful of excellent restaurants, museums, and shops. Boating is another popular activity with islanders and visitors alike, and the waters around the island offer excellent fishing. Visitors who don't have their own boat can book a charter to take them as far out as the Gulf Stream.
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© Peter Kim/stock.adobe.com
Established in the late 1800s as a commerce center for farmers in the surrounding area, the tiny town of Elloree is set on the shore of Lake Marion. The historic downtown core boasts beautiful brick sidewalks lined with trees, and it still features many of its original 20th century buildings, which now house restaurants, antique stores, and an art gallery. The town is a living piece of history as it is, but visitors who want to learn more about its story are encouraged to visit the heritage museum and cultural center, which is open Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment.
9.Francis Beidler Audubon Forest
The largest remaining piece of untouched cypress-tupelo swamp forest in the world, the Francis Beidler Audubon Forest is a magnificent example of Mother Nature at her finest. A Visitor's Center provides plenty of information about the area's history and ecosystem, and a handicap-accessible 1.75-mile boardwalk trail passes by thousand-year-old trees and across murky blackwaters, allowing visitors to explore the heart of the swamp in a safe and exciting way. For a more in-depth experience, guided walking tours and canoe trips are offered on a seasonal basis. Special children's activities and programs are held during the summer months.
336 Sanctuary Rd, Harleyville, SC 29448, Phone: 843-462-2150
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Located between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, Georgetown is often passed over in favor of its more famous neighbors, but visitors who stop here are always amazed by its rich history, picturesque plantation homes, and Southern-style charm. The compact historic district can easily be explored by foot, and visitors can join a walking tour or conduct a self-guided tour using one of the detailed maps from the Visitor's Center. Narrated tram tours are also available Monday through Saturday, and visitors who would like to see the town's spooky side can book a guided evening ghost tour.
11.Givhans Ferry State Park
Situated along the Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail, Givhans Ferry State Park is the perfect place to begin or end a float down the peaceful Edisto River. It's often used as an ending point for a 23-mile downstream canoe or kayak paddle from Colleton State Park, but it's also well known for its limestone river bluff and sinkholes, some of which are as deep as eight feet. The park offers plenty to do on dry land as well, with highlights including a children's playground, a peaceful picnic area, and a multi-purpose trail that runs along the bluffs.
746 County Rd S-18-30, Ridgeville, SC 29472, Phone: 843-873-0692
12.Great Swamp Sanctuary
© Syda Productions/stock.adobe.com
Despite being located inside the City of Walterboro, the Great Swamp Sanctuary is a peaceful oasis that gives visitors a true taste of South Carolina's natural beauty. An incredibly diverse range of plant and animal species can be found in the sanctuary, making it an excellent destination for wildlife viewing, and the 600-acre property is made accessible by more than four miles of boardwalks and hiking trails, some of which are paved. Visitors are also welcome to bring their canoes to paddle along the creeks that flow through the sanctuary, and there are several picnic areas with tables and shelters.
570 State Rd S-15-260, Walterboro, SC 29488, Phone: 843-549-2545
© Steve Byland/stock.adobe.com
Dating back to the 1730s, the Hampton Plantation is a former rice plantation that has been declared a National Historic Landmark. The plantation is no longer in use and much of the 274-acre property has reverted to its natural state, but the site offers a fascinating glimpse at plantation life during colonial times. Visitors can take a tour of the property's three-story Georgian-style mansion, stroll through the manicured grounds, and visit the cemeteries of the Rutledge Family and the African American slaves who lived and worked on the plantation. Admission to the grounds is free, but a fee is charged to tour the house.
1950 Rutledge Rd, McClellanville, SC 29458, Phone: 843-546-9361
Perched at the southernmost end of the South Carolina coastline, Hilton Head is a semitropical barrier island popular with visitors looking for a luxurious getaway. The island's 12 miles of beaches boast soft white sand and the opportunity to enjoy water activities like kayaking and parasailing, and visitors can also book a charter fishing trip into the deep waters off the coast. If you'd rather stay on dry land, you can visit one of the island’s two dozen world-class golf courses, go wildlife watching in one of the nature preserves, or relax by the pool at one of the luxurious resorts.
1 Chamber of Commerce Drive, Suite A PO Box 5647 Hilton Head Island, SC 29938, Phone: 843-785-3673
15.Huntington Beach State Park
Boasting one of the most beautiful beaches on the Grand Strand, Huntington Beach State Park is an idyllic coastal destination that welcomes visitors of all ages. The beach is a popular swimming spot during the summer, but there are plenty of things to see and do in the park no matter what the time of year, including a plenty of walking trails and a nature center with hands-on exhibits. The property is also home to Atalaya, a gorgeous Moorish-style home that formerly served as the winter residence of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Visitors can tour the home for a small additional fee.
16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576, Phone: 843-237-4440
Only 25 miles away from Charleston, Kiawah Island is another beautiful barrier island known for its ten miles of stunning beaches and its championship golf courses. Most visitors are drawn here by the sparkling white sand and the challenging courses, but the beaches and golf courses are just the beginning; the island also boasts more than 30 miles of paved walking and cycling trails, an upscale spa resort, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor adventures like paddleboarding and charter sea fishing. When it's time for a bite to eat, there are plenty of waterfront restaurants to choose from, many of which specialize in seafood.
© Raymond B. Summers/stock.adobe.com
Surrounded by the Francis Marion National Forest, McClellanville is a laid-back fishing village with a rich history. A shrimp festival is held here every May to celebrate the town's success in the fishing industry, but the town is well worth a visit no matter what the time of year. The shady downtown streets are lined with towering oak trees and historic clapboard homes, many of which date as far back as 1860, and there are a handful of excellent shops and restaurants. Visitors can also hop on a ferry to the nearby Bulls Island, which offers hiking trails and a beautiful, unspoiled beach.
© Mepkin Abbey
Founded in 1949 by a community of Roman Catholic monks, Mepkin Abbey is an active monastery that can be found on a bluff overlooking the Cooper River. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds and gardens on their own, but the church can only be visited by guided tour, which are offered Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are required for groups of ten or more people, and all visitors are asked to check in at the gift shop, where they can browse a selection of products including gourmet oyster mushrooms grown and harvested on the abbey grounds.
1098 Mepkin Abbey Rd, Moncks Corner, SC 29461, Phone: 843-761-8509
19.Edisto Island National Scenic Byway
If you're looking for a day trip that's more about the journey than the destination, the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway is one of the best options in the state. The stunning 17-mile road winds past untouched marshes, maritime woodlands, and glittering creeks, and there are plenty of places to stop and take photos or simply enjoy the view. If you have more time to spare, there are a variety of wonderful activities and sights along the way, including a quaint farm market, a historic church built in 1832, and a public fishing pier with a picnic area.
20.Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden
© Tomasz Zajda/stock.adobe.com
Found in the small town of Bishopville, the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is a destination well worth the drive. The 2-acre property is dotted with more than 300 whimsical sculpted plants, many of which were originally rescued from the discard piles of local nurseries, and these living sculptures are complemented by unique "junk art" sculptures scattered throughout the garden. Brochures that lead visitors through a self-guided tour of the gardens are available free of charge, and guided tours can be arranged for groups of ten or more people. The gardens are open Tuesday through Saturday all throughout the year, and admission is by donation.
145 Broad Acres Rd, Bishopville, SC 29010, Phone: 803-484-5581
Tucked between the Beaufort River and Battery Creek, the town of Port Royal offers warm Southern hospitality and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The community prides itself on the beauty of its natural environment and its many preservation efforts, and visitors are encouraged to stroll along the boardwalks through the Cypress Wetlands, climb the observation tower at The Sands Beach, and learn about the area's ecosystem at the Lowcountry Estuarium. Seafood is the meal of choice in this coastal town, but visitors will find a surprisingly eclectic selection of restaurants to choose from, including Mexican, Thai, and barbecue options.
You may have seen a snake exhibit or two at the zoo, but the odds are good that you've never seen anything quite like the Serpentarium, a unique facility home to hundreds of snakes, turtles, alligators, lizards, and other reptiles. The exhibits have been specially designed to give visitors the thrill of spotting reptiles in their natural habitat, and instead of being kept behind glass walls, most of the reptiles are kept in low-walled enclosures filled with trees, streams, and rocks. There is also an indoor showroom where visitors can marvel at tropical snakes that change color to blend in with their surroundings.
23.St. Helena Island
Separated from the mainland by the Beaufort River and a handful of tiny creeks, the spacious St. Helena Island offers an authentic taste of rural South Carolinian culture. Fishing and shrimping are still two of the biggest industries on the island, and freshly-caught seafood will likely find its way to your plate whether you stop at a local fish shack or make a reservation at one of the upscale restaurants in downtown Frogmore. While you're on the island, don't miss the opportunity to visit the Penn Center, one of the country's first schools for freed slaves.
1374 SC-174, Edisto Island, SC 29438, Phone: 843-869-1171
Wadmalaw Island is located only half an hour away from downtown Charleston, but visiting for the day feels like stepping into an entirely different world. Much of the island is covered with rolling farmland and untouched marshland, and there are no major shops or restaurants to be found here. However, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in a delicious drink or two; both of the island's major attractions revolve around beverages. The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only place tea is grown in the country, and the local winery and distillery specializes in sweet tea vodka and muscadine wine.
Known by locals as the "Front Porch of the Lowcountry", the small city of Walterboro is the perfect place to relax on a hot summer day. The peaceful Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is less than five minutes away, and downtown, East Washington Street is lined with antique stores selling everything from elegant furniture to fake noses. On the first Thursday of every month, this street is closed to traffic, making the shopping experience extra-enjoyable. If you're more interested in purchasing something new, make time to visit the South Carolina Artisans Center, which sells folk art and crafts made by South Carolinian artists.
242 Hampton Street Walterboro, SC 29488, Phone: 843-782-1000
25 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Charleston, SC
- Beaufort, Photo: sbgoodwin/stock.adobe.com
- Bee City, Photo: peter/stock.adobe.com
- Bluffton, Photo: Rosemarie/stock.adobe.com
- Botany Bay Plantation, Photo: Michael/stock.adobe.com
- Brookgreen Gardens, Photo: Craig Zerbe/stock.adobe.com
- Columbia Museum of Art, Photo: Columbia Museum of Art
- Edisto Island, Photo: Martina/stock.adobe.com
- Elloree, Photo: Peter Kim/stock.adobe.com
- Francis Beidler Audubon Forest, Photo: Gerry/stock.adobe.com
- Georgetown, Photo: Joe/stock.adobe.com
- Givhans Ferry State Park, Photo: naftizin/stock.adobe.com
- Great Swamp Sanctuary, Photo: Syda Productions/stock.adobe.com
- Hampton Plantation, Photo: Steve Byland/stock.adobe.com
- Hilton Head, Photo: Margaret/stock.adobe.com
- Huntington Beach State Park, Photo: Maryna/stock.adobe.com
- Kiawah Island, Photo: Jeff/stock.adobe.com
- McClellanville, Photo: Raymond B. Summers/stock.adobe.com
- Mepkin Abbey, Photo: Mepkin Abbey
- Edisto Island National Scenic Byway, Photo: Martina/stock.adobe.com
- Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, Photo: Tomasz Zajda/stock.adobe.com
- Port Royal, Photo: dmsphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Serpentarium, Photo: John/stock.adobe.com
- St. Helena Island, Photo: sbgoodwin/stock.adobe.com
- Wadmalaw Island, Photo: ThierryDehove/stock.adobe.com
- Walterboro, Photo: digidreamgrafix/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: sbgoodwin/stock.adobe.com