Everyone deserves a moment of paradise.
Digging your toes into the warm sand, the scent of the balmy salt air, the call of seagulls punctuating the light music playing under an umbrella, a chance to wear your favorite beach dress—and maybe pick up another one . . . What could be better?
Perhaps your paradise looks more like a solo adventure, full of maritime wilderness exploration, marveling at the wonders of nature, and self-reflection.
Even on a busy day, there’s a stillness along the coast—a quiet universe for you and yours to discover as you shed the worries of the world and just be.
From the Grand Strand to Hilton Head Island, the coastal region of the Palmetto State is filled with white sand beaches, historic cities, fresh-off-the-boat seafood and world-class golf courses. South Carolina is home to some of the most scenic coastal areas in the country. With more than 2,876 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, there are dozens of charming towns and spectacular views.
The area is bursting with history, from the glimpses into indigenous cultures from millennia past to the rich Gullah-Geechie way of life that is so intertwined with the state’s Lowcountry past—descendants of West African slaves who held fast to their art, linguistic and cultural traditions over the last few centuries. No matter your preference, the Palmetto State’s diverse beaches are sure to make your trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whether you are looking for a remote shore, a luxury resort, a family-friendly adventure or a boneyard to explore, South Carolina’s barrier islands offer all kinds of getaways—and always a different experience.
South Carolina’s tranquil barrier islands are sometimes called the state’s best-kept secret—and offer the perfect destination if tranquility is your goal.
Accessible only by boat, St. Phillips Island, off the coast of Beaufort, is a 4,600-acre wilderness and wildlife haven largely untouched by progress and development. Billionaire Ted Turner bought the island in 1979, and over the years he worked to put strict conservation protections in place before selling it to the South Carolina State Park Service in 2017. The Turners’ five-bedroom house is now available for vacation rental. The 30-minute ferry ride departs from nearby St. Helena Island.
A golf cart is your best bet for getting around the mostly unpaved roads on Daufuskie Island to explore the shops, historic sites, and dining . . . not to mention three miles of white sand beaches. Rich with Gullah culture, be sure to take the guided history and artisan tour. Daufuskie Island, off the coast of Hilton Head Island, is also accessible only by boat. It is home to about 450 people year-round.
Known for its trails and camping options, Edisto Beach State Park, on Edisto Island is a 1,255-acre park with 1.5 miles of seashell-laden beaches. It’s one of four oceanfront parks in South Carolina, and it boasts 120 camping sites for RVs or tents, plus seven cabins available for rent.
Hilton Head Island, an ultimate beach-lovers vacation, is a South Carolina coastal resort offering 12 miles of irresistibly inviting shoreline to relax in the sun and play in the surf. The Sea Pines Resort, which has attracted visitors for 60 years, features three golf courses that are ranked among Golfweek’s list of Top 200 Resort Golf Courses in the United States.
The island’s most popular oceanfront park, Coligny Beach Park features outdoor showers, seasonal lifeguards, shaded gazebos with swings and chairs, and a wheelchair-accessible matted path down to the water. This beach has Wi-Fi and is across the street from Coligny Plaza, a collection of more than 60 shops and restaurants.
Known for its world-class resorts, spas, golf and dining options, Isle of Palms rests comfortably in Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader’s Choice Top 10 North American Islands. Less than a half-hour from Charleston, you will find six miles of white, sandy beaches and the renown 1,500-acre Wild Dunes Resort, featuring an 18-hole Tom Gazio golf course and multiple pools.
The Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which boasts five championship golf courses and multiple five-star amenities, consistently ranks among the country’s top resorts. Find a home away from home at the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, a Forbes Five Star/AAA Five Diamond 255 room hotel and spa, or in one of the nearly 500 private villas and luxury homes. The resort is located along 10 miles of pristine beach less than 30 miles south of Charleston.
Nestled along the bustling Grand Strand coastland, Myrtle Beach State Park is known for its oceanfront maritime forest, pier and surf fishing, mile-long undisturbed beach and abundance of camp sites. Three educational programs allow little buoys and gulls the chance to earn three unique patches.
About a 30-minute drive from Charleston, Folly Beach County Park boasts 4,000 feet of oceanfront beaches and 2,000 feet of riverfront fun along the Folly River. Amenities include picnic tables, showers, seasonal snack bar and boogie board rentals. During the summer, lifeguards are on duty at the public beach access.
Bulls Island is an uninhabited, 6.5-mile island that is home to thriving wildlife, endangered species and more than 275 species of birds. After a 45-minute drive from downtown Charleston, keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins on the 30-minute ferry ride to the island. And once you get there, be sure to visit serene Boneyard Beach, miles of sand riddled with sun-bleached tree trunks, sand dollars and other treasures.
Called “one of the most dramatic spots along the entirety of the South Carolina coast” by Conde Nast Traveler, be sure to bring everything you need with you to the entirely undeveloped Capers Island. The only sign of civilization you will see is a small dock and boardwalk across the marsh, which leads to an unpaved nature trail. Check out the tangled trees in the Bone Yard, or maybe take a guided tour. Primitive camping is allowed with a permit.
For guided exploration, book one of the Botany Bay Ecotours from Edisto Beach State Park. Owned by a local biologist, these tours will help you and your family enjoy and understand the awe-inspiring plant and wildlife of the area. Combining cultural and natural history, private tours are available March through November, while public tours are available in the spring and summer. Beachcombing walks and sea island cooking lessons are available year-round.
Always More to Discover
The best thing about South Carolina’s white sand beaches is that there’s always something new to discover—from riding
the SkyWheel in Myrtle Beach to golfing on Kiawah Island to carriage rides through historic Charleston. (Don’t forget White Point Garden and Rainbow Row!)
Visit the historic Hunting Island lighthouse, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina, after exploring the beach, marsh and maritime forest on the 5,000-acre state park that shares its name—the most popular state park in South Carolina. Spend the day on St. Helena Island, home of one of the first schools in America for freed slaves, and dive into the oral histories, music and crafts of hundreds of years of African American history. Or explore Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island’s most visited marina, full of shops, dining, live entertainment, watersports, fishing charters and sightseeing cruises.
Discover South Carolina and you are likely to discover a little bit about yourself. The sea and the sand, after all, have many stories to tell. And for every moment of paradise you capture, they listen to yours—memories that will last a lifetime for you folded into the rich tapestry of coastal life.