The South Carolina coast is home to 11 lighthouses. Only two of them still function as lighthouses run by the US Coast Guard and many are not open to the public. They remain beautiful nonetheless, tall and graceful, dotted along (an in one case, right in the middle of) the pounding surf.
They are in varied in color and height, even in shape, and in history and function. But all are in beautiful locations and worth seeking out to visit, even if you can only see some of them from afar.
The Georgetown Light is also known as the North Island Light, both for the island where it’s located, and the town it once led sailors to. It’s the oldest lighthouse in South Carolina, dating from 1811. It’s also one of the two still functioning lighthouses, managed by the US Coast Guard, to aid navigation. Because of this, it’s off limits to visitors. You can see it up close, though, if you take Cap’n Rod’s shelling tour to North Island.
The Harbour Town Lighthouse on Hilton Head Island is what’s known as a facsimile light. It never functioned as a real lighthouse to aid in navigation, it was built as a lovely decoration. It is open to the public, has a great view from the top and functions like a tiny museum as you walk up to the top, with the walls covered with plaques explaining some of the history of Hilton Head. It’s a must-see when visiting the island.
The Morris Island Lighthouse, off the coast of Folly Beach, was once on shore, but no longer. Standing tall in the middle of the ocean, the light has been left surrounded by the sea by decades of erosion. This erosion has left it in a remarkably striking, but also precarious position. Because it is now so fragile, no visitors are allowed. But it is just so unusual and arresting, standing out there in the water, that it’s worth seeking out to see.
The Charleston Light is actually on Sullivan’s Island, just the north of Charleston, is the other still working light in the state. It too is used by the USCG and not open to the public, but it’s maintained by the National Park Service and visitors are welcome to explore the lovely lands around it. It’s one of the most modern lighthouses in the entire country and a highly distinctive lighthouse too, with an unusual triangular shape you won’t often see elsewhere. And, Sullivan’s Island is a fun place to visit, with lots of hip restaurants to explore.
Hunting Island Lighthouse is a treat for lighthouse lovers. More than 130 feet tall, the 19th-century lighthouse is open to the public. Brave and hardy visitors can climb all the way to the top to stunning views of Hunting Island State Park.
The Leamington Lighthouse on Hilton Head Island is a rare example of a rear lighthouse. It’s in the middle of the Palmetto Dunes private community, overlooking a golf course, and not on the ocean. It’s an unusual lighthouse that had an unusual purpose, and is worth seeking out for lighthouse enthusiasts.
The Governor’s Lighthouse in Little River is another facsimile light house, built in 1984 as a tourist destination in a neighborhood of beach houses. It has a great view from the top.