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Find Your Place in the Sun on an SC Beach

Marie McAden Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.
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Dreaming of a beach vacation this year? Whether you’re looking for quiet shores to kick back in a beach chair and soak up the sun or a vibrant coastal town with fun activities for the family, you’ll find lots of great options along South Carolina’s miles of coastline.

From the upscale Kiawah Island to the laid-back Folly Beach, each beach town has its own vibe and amenities, allowing you to pick what suits your taste and travel plans. Here’s a rundown of some of our most popular beaches to help you choose just the right spot for your seaside getaway.

Hilton Head Island 
Vibe: Voted No. 1 island in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler readers, South Carolina’s southernmost beach town is renowned for its carefully protected Lowcountry landscape and casually elegant lifestyle. Its unspoiled creeks, tidal marshes and maritime forests provide a stunning backdrop for all kinds of family-friendly outdoor activities.

Stand-out amenities: Home to the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing—South Carolina’s only PGA golf tournament—Hilton Head Island is a premier golf destination with more than two dozen championship golf courses, including the iconic Harbour Town Golf Links. A Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community, it also features more than 100 miles of paved pathways—and a hard-packed shoreline—to ride virtually anywhere you want to go on the island.

Edisto Beach 
Vibe: Proudly referred to by locals as “Edi-slow,” this laid-back beach town is popular with visitors whose idea of getting dressed up is slipping into a pair of flip-flops. Simple and unassuming, it’s a favorite destination for family vacations.

Stand-out amenities: Situated on the edge of the ACE Basin—the largest natural reserve on the East Coast—Edisto Beach State Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore and learn more about this pristine wetland ecosystem. You’ll also want to check out Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, a 4,600-acre wildlife management area with three breathtaking miles of undeveloped beachfront.

Kiawah Island
Vibe: With little commercial development, this upscale beach resort has purposely preserved the barrier island’s natural beauty for visitors to enjoy. Among its luxurious accommodations is the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, a stunning oceanfront hotel designed to feel like a grand seaside mansion.

Stand-out amenities: Host of the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championship, Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers five of the world’s most acclaimed golf courses designed by master architects Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Clyde Johnston and Gary Player. When you’re not on the fairways, you’ll want to explore the island’s 10 miles of pristine beaches, maritime forests, sand dunes and marshes, which serve as habitat to a wide array of wildlife.

Folly Beach
Vibe: The closest beach to downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is famous for its funky, let-your-hair-down flavor and easygoing attitude. With its eclectic shops, bars and restaurants, it offers a fun downtown scene to eat, drink, enjoy live music and just hang out.

Stand-out amenities: Locals know it as the “Washout,” a prime surfing spot with some of the best swells on the East Coast. Along with its rolling waves, Folly also boasts a 1,045-foot fishing pier—the second-longest on the East Coast—with an oceanfront restaurant and bar, gift and tackle shop, fishing stations and a 7,500-square-foot diamond-shaped platform for its popular Moonlight Mixer dance series.

Sullivan’s Island
Vibe: Perched at the mouth of Charleston Harbor just minutes from South Carolina’s most acclaimed tourist destination, this small island community has retained its residential feel with no hotels and little commercial development. An impressive selection of vacation house rentals allows visitors to experience the charm and hospitality of this quiet beach retreat.

Stand-Out Amenities: Learn more about the role Sullivan’s Island played in the Revolutionary and American Civil wars at Fort Moultrie national historic park. Among its most popular local restaurants are The Obstinate Daughter, the name a London political cartoonist gave to South Carolina’s Revolutionary war defenders, and Poe’s Tavern, honoring the legacy of the famed author who spent a year stationed at Fort Moultrie.

Isle of Palms
Vibe: This Lowcountry vacation destination offers plenty to do for the whole family and lots of lodging options, including the AAA Four Diamond Boardwalk Inn at Wild Dunes Resort. It won’t be hard to fill your itinerary with golf, tennis, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, bike riding, eco-tours and assorted watersports.

Stand-out amenities: Wild Dune’s two championship golf courses—Harbor Golf Course and Links Golf Course—were both designed by Tom Fazio to be challenging and scenic with beautiful water views. If you prefer a paddle to a club, you can bury the blade in the surf, the Intracoastal Waterway or the quiet tidal creeks on the backside of the island.

Pawleys Island
Vibe: Pawleys Island’s world-famous namesake rope hammock is the perfect symbol for a beach town that prides itself on its shabby chic charm. One of the oldest vacation communities in the Southeast, it still includes 12 of the original residences dating back to the 1700s. The town’s quaint shops and restaurants along U.S. 17 draw visitors year-round.

Stand-out amenities: Among Pawleys Island’s chic offerings is Bistro 217 and Rustic Table, under the culinary direction of co-owner and chef Adam Kirby, a 2017 South Carolina Chef Ambassador. It also lays claim to several outstanding golf courses, including Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, Founders Club at Pawleys Island and True Blue Golf Club.

Litchfield Beach
Vibe: The serene natural surroundings on this stretch of Carolina coast make it the perfect place to vacation if relaxing is the No. 1 activity on your itinerary. You’ll find the beach more sparsely populated here, ensuring a quiet setting to take a long walk along the shore or settle into your beach chair with a good book.

Stand-out amenities: Located in the low-key “South End” of Myrtle Beach, Litchfield Beach has plenty to offer for the golfer with several top courses in the area, including Pawleys Plantation, Litchfield Country Club, River Club and Willbrook Plantation. The community also offers easy access to the scenic Wacammaw Trail, a paved multi-use path extending from Pawleys Island to Murrells Inlet.

Garden City Beach
Vibe: This is one of those small beach towns families return to year after year. With access to both the ocean and the marshes and creeks leading to Murrells Inlet, it’s popular with visitors who enjoy fishing, crabbing and watersports like parasailing and kayaking. It’s also known for its Fourth of July golf cart parade, a 30-plus year tradition.

Stand-out amenities: Garden City’s 668-foot fishing pier is its signature attraction, offering fantastic fishing during the day and live music summer evenings. The Garden City Pavilion Arcade is also a hub for family fun. And don’t miss the new creek walk stretching 1,300 feet along the salt marsh side of the peninsula.

Surfside Beach
Vibe: A family beach known for its two miles of pristine shoreline (it’s cleaned daily and supervised by lifeguards and police), the town has focused on making it accessible to everyone. In addition to offering ramps for persons with disabilities, Surfside is the first Autism-Friendly Travel Destination in the world.

Stand-out amenities: With 36 access points, you won’t have any trouble getting to the beach. Surfside also boasts seven public parks featuring playgrounds designed specifically for the 5 and younger crowd as well as physically challenged children. You’ll also find a variety of recreational facilities, including tennis, shuffleboard and bocce courts, ball fields and a horseshoe pit. There’s even a dog park for your four-legged family members.

Myrtle Beach
Vibe: Fun central. This famous South Carolina beach town has it all, from zip lines, go-carts and mirror mazes to miniature golf, water parks and amusement rides. And that’s just for starters. There’s also a wide array of entertainment, including Legends in Concert, Medieval Times and Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show. The hardest part is deciding what to do first.

Stand-out amenities: The 1.2-mile Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade offer dining, shopping and more opportunities for fun. Among its many attractions is the 187-foot-tall SkyWheel, Ripley’s 5D Moving Theater and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium. Broadway at the Beach is another fantastic dining and entertainment center with attractions like Ripley’ Aquarium, Dino Park and WonderWorks.

North Myrtle Beach
Vibe: Like Myrtle Beach, this Grand Strand beach town offers an endless array of activities and attractions—Alabama Theatre, Alligator Adventure, Apache Pier and Angelina, the Polka Queen, to name a few. For travelers packing their clubs, there’s the “Fantastic Four” at Barefoot Resort & Golf, offering play on courses designed by golf game legends Pete Dye, Tom Fazio, Davis Love III and Greg Norman.

Stand-out amenity: The Shag Capital of the World, North Myrtle Beach is where South Carolina’s official dance was born. You can experience this lively, “swing dance of the South” at shag hot spots like the Spanish Galleon Nightclub and Fat Harold’s Beach Club. If you’re into the outdoors, plan a visit to the beautiful Waites Island, an undeveloped barrier island accessible only by boat. Outfitters offer kayaking and horseback riding tours to the secluded beachfront.

Marie McAden
A former staffer with The Miami Herald, Marie moved to SC in 1992. She is passionate about the outdoors, and enjoys exploring the state’s many natural treasures from the Lowcountry to the Upstate.