Stretching from the North Carolina border south to the city of Georgetown, the coastal region known as the Grand Strand bustles with some 60 miles of fast-food joints, beach resorts and three-story souvenir shops. What was once a laid-back summer destination for working-class people from across the Southeast has become some of the most overdeveloped real estate in the country.
From just north of Charleston, the southern half of the South Carolina coast is a tangle of islands cut off from the mainland by inlets and tidal marshes. Here, descendants of West African slaves known as the Gullah maintain small communities in the face of resort and golf-course development.
Beaufort & Hilton Head
The southernmost stretch of South Carolina's coast is popular with a mostly upscale set of golfers and B&B aficionados, but the area's got quirky charms aplenty for everyone. On Port Royal Island, the darling colonial town of Beaufort (byoo-furt) is often used as a set for Hollywood films about the South.
Ashley River Plantations
Three spectacular plantations line the Ashley River about a 20-minute drive from downtown Charleston. You'll be hard-pressed for time to visit all three in one outing, but you could squeeze in two (allow at least a couple of hours for each). Ashley River Rd is also known as SC 61, which can be reached from downtown Charleston via Hwy 17.
Charleston County Sea Islands
Several islands are within an hour's drive from Charleston. About 8 miles south of Charleston, Folly Beach is good for a day of sun and sand. Folly Beach County Park, on the west side, has public changing areas and beach-chair rentals. The other end of the island is popular with surfers.
Greenville & The Upcountry
Cherokee Indians once roamed the state's mountain foothills, which they called 'The Great Blue Hills of God.' The region today is known as the Upcountry. Geographically, it's the spot where the Blue Ridge mountains drop dramatically to meet the Piedmont. The region is anchored by Greenville, home to one of the most photogenic downtowns in the South.
Around Myrtle Beach
Fifteen minutes down I-17 is Pawleys Island, a narrow strip of pastel sea cottages that's worlds away from the neon of Myrtle Beach. There's not much to do here but kayak and fish, but that's just fine. Another 15 minutes will bring you to mellow Georgetown, South Carolina's third-oldest city.