With 2876 miles of tidal coastline, South Carolina is a beach-goers dream, whether you’re looking for solitude, family fun, or a spring break vibe.
South Carolina beaches entice visitors, not just with the cool, sparkling Atlantic and broad, sandy beaches that hide dazzling seashells. You can see wildlife, dive deep into history, enjoy water sports, and dine, shop, and spa.
Each of South Carolina’s beaches has its own vibe. Many are a short drive from Charleston, a nexus of southern charm. So, consider South Carolina for your next beach vacation if you want to steep yourself in luxury or make memories that will last a lifetime without spending a mint.
Best beach for surf town vibes
Just south of Charleston, Folly Island has the Atlantic Ocean out the front door, and the Folly River out the back door. The intersection of the two waterways created six miles of broad beaches around the island’s perimeter, where visitors can surf and boogie board, kayak and fish, boat or water ski.
Folly Beach's rich and storied history begins with its original residents, the Bohicket Indians, who lived in the area in the 1600s until European colonists forced them to move.
Sometimes called one of America's last true beach towns, the 12-sq-mile barrier island has 2400 residents. A charming and funky surf town, Folly Beach's Center Street is lined with boho clothing shops and seafood restaurants.
The island teems with ocean-focused attractions, including 1000ft Folly Beach Pier, a pelican rookery and the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve.
Explore the Folly River marshlands by kayak – it’s an adventure that’s safe and fun for kids of any age.
Folly Beach is a great place for culture too. The Porgy House was home to Charleston authors Dubose and Dorothy Heyward in the 1930s. This is also where, in 1934, George Gershwin wrote Porgy and Bess, based on Dubose Hayward’s novel.
Best beach for luxury
Famous for its luxury accommodations, low country-beaches and more than 23 world-class golf courses, Hilton Head was the first eco-planned destination in the United States.
Steep yourself in decadent luxury at Hilton Head’s spas, dine in its four-diamond restaurants and play a round or two between bronzing and beach-combing,
The 42-square-mile barrier island is bordered by 12 miles of stunning beaches, and many of the island’s exclusive hotels have private access. The Gulf Stream keeps the daytime temperature at a delightful 70°F, and the ocean waters are close to the same.
While Hilton Head is famous for its high-end offerings, there’s plenty of exploring for families and nature buffs. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to deer and alligators and is a maze of salt marshes and lagoons. Moss-draped oaks, magnolias, pines, and palmettos make it a birder’s paradise.
Travelers on a budget will appreciate the public beach access with metered parking available at eight of the island’s beaches.
Best beach for nature lovers
One of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Beach, located on Edisto Island, is a great rustic getaway for nature lovers. A vacation at Edisto beach invariably involves adventure in the great outdoors.
The Beach State Park is crosshatched with hiking and biking trails, including the state’s longest system of ADA-accessible hiking and biking trails. Hike, bike, explore the beach, fish and splash in the shallows. Edisto Beach provides affordable beach fun, based, from furnished cabins perched in the woods, as well as oceanfront and forest campsites.
The park also has an environmental education center with exhibits on the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin. The ACE Basin boundaries include the watersheds of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers. The park is also is a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles.
When it’s time for the beach, search the mile-and-a-half, palmetto-lined strip of sand on Edisto Beach for shiny and colorful seashells, pause to catch a sunrise and keep an eye peeled for fossils.
Best beach to avoid the crowds
Stepping onto Bull Island—also called Bulls Island– in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, is like setting out on an east coast safari.
Accessible by ferry or kayak, with 16 miles of trails and roads, and seven miles of undeveloped shoreline to explore, this is the perfect island to avoid the crowds.
Bull Island is known for its bird life, with more than 293 species recorded there. Kids love spotting a regal American Bald Eagle. Naturalist-guided tours are great for all ages if observing alligators, catching a glimpse of black foxes, and spotting bottlenose dolphins is on your bucket list.
The 66,000-acre island is the largest of four barrier islands within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge contains saltwater estuaries, barrier islands, freshwater impoundments and maritime forests.
Bottlenose dolphins raise their calves in Bull’s Island protected creeks, and loggerhead sea turtles nest on the island beaches.
Boneyard Beach, named for the bleached skeletons of oaks, cedars, palmettos, and pines that litter a three-mile stretch of beach on the island's northeast corner, is popular with photographers.
Go for the day or just a few hours. It’s fun for the entire family, and a great day trip from Charleston, which is about 50 minutes from the ferry launch in Awendaw.
Best beach for families
Myrtle Beach is South Carolina’s most popular, with more than 19 million visitors annually. Tourists come for the family-friendly attractions, beachfront resorts, entertainment, and of course, the white-sand beaches.
Crescent Beach, one of North Myrtle Beach's four beaches, is the city's hidden gem and the best spot to post up with a beach umbrella with a good book as the kids boogie board or build a sandcastle.
Rub elbows with the locals at Molly Darcy’s Irish Pub and Bay Watch Cafe on South Ocean Boulevard. You’ll find plenty of adventure and water sports in North Myrtle Beach. From wakeboarding and jet-skiing to surfing and parasailing, the beach is an adrenaline junky’s paradise.
Best beach for privacy
A private island with 10 miles of white-sand beaches, Kiawah Island is often called paradise. One of the best beach destinations for a luxury vacation. On Kiawah, a world-class resort and a vibrant village coexist along a pristine coastline, 10,000 acres of maritime woodlands, sand dunes,and marshes populated by whitetail deer, alligators, bobcats, seabirds and sea turtles.
The natural maritime setting is being preserved and enhanced for current and future generations. Soak up the sun and splash in the surf—the island is as welcoming to families as adult travelers. Visit the five centuries-old Angel Oak Tree. Grab a meal or a drink at Charleston Tea Garden and Firefly Distillery.
Most beaches are private and accessible to property owners, guests and renters. Visitors who aren’t staying on the island can sun and swim at Beachwalker County Park.