With its temperate climate and nearly 3,000 miles of tidal coastline, South Carolina boasts some of the country's most coveted beaches. From the bustling 60-mile Grand Strand in the state's northeastern corner to the unspoiled sea islands in and around the city of Charleston, South Carolina beaches offer a bit of everything. Outdoor adventures—including surfing, deep sea fishing, kayaking, and jet skiing—abound, as do indoor attractions like museums, aquariums, art galleries, and historic homes.
Whether you're looking for a quiet and remote getaway, an adventure-packed family vacation, or an easy beach jaunt during a trip to Charleston, here are the 10 best beaches in South Carolina.
With 60 miles of shoreline, Myrtle Beach is by far the state's most popular beach, drawing 14 million visitors annually for its celebrity-designed golf courses, sandy beaches, and wealth of family-friendly activities. Along the iconic boardwalk, you'll find arcade games, seafood joints, the Family Kingdom amusement park, and the SkyWheel, one of the largest ferris wheels in the country. Other popular spots include Ripley's Aquarium; the Carolina Opry; Myrtle Waves water park; and the Pelicans Ballpark, home of a Chicago Cubs minor league baseball team.
Links enthusiasts will want to check out some of the area's stellar courses (like the Bobby Jones-designed The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Arnold Palmer's King's North at Myrtle Beach National), while beachfront activities range from jet skiing and deep-sea fishing to kiteboarding and kayaking. For a natural retreat, head to Myrtle Beach State Park for hiking trails, a Nature Center, birdwatching, horseback riding, geocaching, and fishing from the pier.
Hilton Head Island
Located about 30 miles northeast of Savannah, Hilton Head Island has something for everyone: 13 miles of sandy beaches; more than 60 miles of bike trails; award-winning dining; shopping; and recreational activities like golf, zip lining, kayaking, and tennis. Other highlights of the luxury sea island include the Coastal Discovery Museum—a 68-acre property with trails, gardens, butterfly displays, and other exhibits dedicated to natural history—and the candy-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse.
Hilton Head's proximity to Savannah's celebrated restaurants, bars, parks, and museums is also a plus, so take the short 45-minute drive into town to visit attractions like Forsyth Park; the 100-acre Victorian-era Bonaventure Cemetery; historic River Street; and the Telfair Museum, the Southeast's oldest public art museum. While you're there, dine at award-winning restaurants like The Gray and Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room.
This tiny barrier island just 30 miles south of Charleston boasts some of the state's prettiest beaches; many are on private property, but they are often available as rentals for vacationers. For a day trip, the Beachwalker County Park on the island's southwestern side is open to the public. With 10 miles of marshy shoreline, nature trails, and a long boardwalk with a handicap-accessible ramp, the beach makes a perfect getaway for the whole family. Note there is an entry fee, which ranges from $5-10 depending on the season.
Kiawah Island is renowned for its golf courses; the most famous of these is the Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which offers 18 holes of scenic oceanfront golf. Not into the links? Indulge in a facial or massage at the resort's onsite spa at The Sanctuary Hotel. Here, you'll also find the island's best restaurant, the Ocean Room, an elegant steakhouse with a wine list 1,000 bottles deep.
Isle of Palms
With lush marsh creeks and 7 miles of beaches, Isle of Palms has long been a go-to beach destination for locals and visitors alike. Just 30 miles from Charleston, the barrier island is populated with several family-friendly resorts offering golf, tennis, swimming, kayaking, and other fun outdoor activities.
If you're not staying on the island, head to Front Beach on Ocean Boulevard between 10th and 14th Avenues for public beach access, parking, restrooms, and several shops and restaurants. Go-to eateries include the seafood-centric Long Island Cafe and laid-back breakfast spot Sea Biscuit Cafe. For live music, head to the Windjammer, an adults-only escape with oceanfront views and plenty of tropical drinks.
The island is also home to several endangered species like the loggerhead sea turtles. If you're lucky enough to visit during hatching season, you'll catch a glimpse of baby turtles making their way from their beach nests to the ocean.
A mere 15-minute drive from Charleston, the 6-mile-long Folly Beach is easily accessible as a day trip from the city or as a destination in its own right. Surfers from across the globe flock to the beach for its Atlantic Ocean locale and killer waves, particularly an area known as "The Washout."
More relaxing recreational activities are available as well, including stand-up paddleboarding; swimming at Folly Beach County Park; and fishing at the barrier island's iconic 1,045-foot-long pier, the second longest on the Atlantic coast.
The rest of the island is comprised of eclectic shops and restaurants. Try local favorite Bowen's Island Restaurant, which serves local Low Country fare like fried shrimp, fresh oysters, and Frogmore Stew.
With its sandy dunes and ideal location between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island has a long history as a resort community. Explore 12 homes from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries in its preserved historic district, play a few rounds at the Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, browse the downtown's art galleries, or just kick back and enjoy lounging on the island's pristine beaches.
Just south of Myrtle Beach, the 2,500-acre Huntington Beach State Park boasts 3 miles of pristine coastline, along with a 2-mile hiking trail, a fishing pier, 300 species of birds, and the historic Atalaya Castle. It's also adjacent to Brookgreen Gardens, a 1,600-acre park that's part pristine sculpture garden and part wildlife preserve. Highlights include a butterfly garden, 250-year-old oak trees, and the largest collection of figurative sculptures in the United States—2,000 works by 425 artists interspersed throughout the gardens and indoor gallery space.
Just 50 miles south of Charleston, this sea island is less commercially developed than its peers and offers a low-key beach experience that's perfect for families. Get free public beach access at Edisto Beach State Park, which includes 4.5 miles of sandy coastline, 4 miles of hiking and biking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and campsites and cabin rentals for those wanting a longer stay.
Take a boat tour or charter to explore local wildlife; during mating season, keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, which can be spotted in the Atlantic waters. The Edisto Island Museum is small but offers insight into the island's rich history, and includes an exhibit dedicated to the native Edisto tribe, the remains of a slave cabin, and Civil War artifacts. Get up close with snakes, frogs, alligators, iguanas, and other local reptiles at the Edisto Island Serpentarium.
Just 20 minutes from downtown Charleston, Sullivan's Island is ideal for a quick beach day. Soak up the views as you traverse the iconic Ravenel Bridge to the island, which has 3 miles of pristine coastline. When you get there, rent a bike or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking on the Intracoastal Waterway. Later, visit Fort Moultrie, a former military fortification originally built with the palmetto logs that inspired the South Carolina state tree.
No trip to the island is complete without stopping into Poe's Tavern, an outdoor café named after writer Edgar Allen Poe, who was once stationed at Fort Moultrie. Or try The Obstinate Daughter, which serves pizzas, small plates, and pastas all inspired by seasonal, Low Country ingredients.
Pro tip: The island is popular with locals and only offers street parking. If not staying on Sullivan's, plan on hitting the beach early to grab a prime spot and beat the crowds during peak season.
For a quieter getaway than nearby Myrtle Beach, head 20 miles northeast to the low-key Litchfield Beach. Vacation rentals are aplenty, and the laid-back vibe is great for families or couples seeking a relaxing trip. Rent a bike and cycle the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, a 26-mile pathway that runs from Murrells Inlet to Huntington Beach State Park. Play a few rounds at one of the city's three top-rated golf courses, cast your line in the pristine waters, or let someone else prepare the day's catch. Fresh seafood can be found at local spots like Austin's Ocean One, located in nearby Pawleys Island.