The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (2024)

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Oysters, southern accents and easy living

The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (1)

By Dana Dickey

Published Jun 18, 2024

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The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (2)

Hunting Island Beach, Beaufort by Dana Dickey

I’ve spent most of my life comparing and contrasting beach towns. As a Florida native, I grew up exploring villages full of historic architectural charm, wide stretches of sand and beach bars with delicious fried food and raw oysters. Today I live in Los Angeles and spend most weekends taking day trips to the best beach towns in Southern California or California islands. So I was surprised when I recently vacationed in South Carolina, and vibed on an entirely new shoreline gorgeousness, as well as food that ranged from succulent barbecue to creative and healthful cuisine. And yes, more oysters. I took it upon myself to spend some time searching out the best beach towns in South Carolina, with input from natives. Here’s a short list of the 11 best beach towns in South Carolina, with details on why to go, what to do once you’re there and even where to stay. For school breaks, these would make some of the best vacations for kids in America or romantic couples vacation ideas, so figure out how to travel only with a carry-on and get going. Life’s too short not to vacation—or if you’re really lucky, live—in the warmth of a South Carolina beach town.

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The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (3)

Dana Dickey

1. Beaufort

I was entranced by the quiet lanes, friendly folks and beautiful shoreline of Beaufort, a town 90 minutes down the coast from Charleston. Located on Port Royal Island, one of the Sea Islands of the southeastern U.S., it’s notable for its history—the antebellum mansions of plantation owners were occupied rather than destroyed by Union troops, so they stand as historic relics today alongside postbellum sites such as the Penn Center, one of the nation’s first schools for formerly enslaved peoples, in Reconstruction Era National Park. If you’re sporty, there’s stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, and if you’re hungry, there’s a lot to choose from including Filipino cuisine and sushi in addition to fresh-caught seafood.

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Robert Loe/Getty Images

2. Myrtle Beach

“My family has been going to Myrtle Beach nearly every summer for over 15 years!” says Gallery Media Group audience development strategist Nicole Frazzini. “You can’t go wrong spending lazy days by the beach, especially since the water is warm and the waves are gentle. But we really love it because there’s so much to do beyond the beach. There are tons of great restaurants (Hook & Barrel being our fave) and things to do at night, like seeing the fireworks at Broadway at the Beach or catching a round of mini golf," she says. "Safe to say it’s a destination where no one gets bored.”

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3. Sullivans Island

"The whole town feels like something out of a movie scene, it’s historic & beautiful,” says Adele McNair, a realtor and South Carolina native. McNair’s a foodie, and recommends booking at table at Obstinate Daughter, the two-time James Beard Award nominated restaurant that’s part of the Charleston area’s progressive food movement and Poe’s Tavern, a gastropub with a white picket fence that honors American writer Edgar Allan Poe's year stationed on the island.

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4. Pawleys Island

  • Why We Recommend It: easy beach access, historic architecture
  • Attractions We Love: 9 golf courses, Brookgreen sculpture garden
  • Favorite Beach: Pawley’s Beach
  • Where to Stay:Sea View Inn (from $190/night), Crab Shack (from $205/night)

Founded in the early 1700s as a summertime coastal respite away from muggy, mosquito-heavy inland areas, Pawleys Island is a barrier island that’s a tad under four miles long and one mile wide. It’s got postcard-worthy beaches and sand dunes and a smattering of mansions in the historic district. Dine on a fresh catch fish taco at Bistro 217 and enjoy alfresco dining at Frank’s Outback—one of four restaurants eponymous restaurants, it’s named for the restaurant located “out back” of Frank’s mother’s home.

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Daniel Wright/Getty Images

5. Isle of Palms

The Isle of Palms in South Carolina is a pristine coastal barrier island that promises both relaxation and adventure. With its expansive, sandy beaches and smooth Atlantic waves, it's an ideal destination for sun-seekers and water enthusiasts alike. The island's laid-back atmosphere invites visitors to unwind amidst its picturesque landscapes, dotted with swaying palm trees and charming beachfront homes. Whether you're lounging under an umbrella, eating fresh local seafood at a fish house where you pull up on a boat or exploring nearby natural attractions like the miles-long Isle of Palms County Park, this dreamy destination is an unforgettable beach escape.

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Eric Sturdivant/Getty Images

6. Kiawah

A 10-mile stretch of hard sand beach and a serious conservation ethic set Kiawah Island apart. Sure, the community has luxury resorts and Pete Dye-designed golf courses, but it also has undisturbed dunes facing quiet beaches lapped by gentle ocean waves. The island's commitment to conservation is evident in its lush maritime forests and diverse wildlife, making it a haven for nature lovers. For those seeking outdoor adventures, there’s all that golf, as well as kayaking, biking and birdwatching. Southern charm and unspoiled nature? It’s all here.

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7. Folly Beach

Folly Beach is nicknamed "The Edge of America," because among this cluster of Low Country barrier islands, it’s the last land facing the seemingly endless Atlantic Ocean. It’s only 12 miles from downtown Charleston, but it has laid-back charm and funky beach-town energy—surf shops, seafood shacks and beachfront bars. The island's lively atmosphere is perfect for those seeking a relaxed getaway filled with sun, sand and Southern hospitality. Folly's iconic pier and expansive beaches provide endless opportunities for surfing, paddleboarding and fishing, while its maritime forest and bird sanctuary offer serene escapes into nature. Whether strolling the quaint streets lined with colorful cottages or sampling fresh local cuisine, Folly Beach promises a charming escape from the rat race.

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Thomas Northcut/Getty Images

8. SeabrookIsland

Seabrook Island is all about sunbathing, shell hunting and relaxeing. Known for its pristine beaches, Seabrook offers miles of unspoiled shoreline, lush maritime forests and diverse wildlife habitats, making it a haven for eco-tourists and nature enthusiasts. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy championship courses set against stunning ocean views, while those craving relaxation can indulge in spa treatments. With its wide-open spaces and lack of huge resorts, Seabrook Island is the serene definition of “less is more.”

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Michael Hanson/Getty Images


9. Bluffton

  • Why We Recommend It: village browsing, historic home eyeballing
  • Attractions We Love: antebellum Church of the Cross, walking tour of Old Town Bluffton
  • Favorite Beach: Brighton Beach
  • Where to Stay: Bluffton apartment (from $130/night), Bluffton Farm Cottage (from $263/night), Montage Palmetto Bluff (from $463/night)

Bluffton, South Carolina, beckons visitors with its charming blend of Lowcountry history, Southern hospitality and natural beauty. Nestled along the banks of the May River, this picturesque town exudes a relaxed vibe, so pack your most comfortable travel shoes because you'll be exploring its quaint historic district dotted with antebellum homes and oak-lined streets. Visitors can poke around in art galleries, boutiques and cafes along Calhoun Street, too. The culinary scene is a draw all by itself with charming waterfront restaurants turning out fresh seafood dishes and Southern comfort food. Outdoor enthusiasts can kayak or paddleboard on the river, tee off at championship golf courses, or simply unwind on nearby beaches. With its blend of history, charm and scenic beauty, Bluffton provides a delightful retreat for those looking to experience the heart and soul of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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10. Mount Pleasant

Lowcountry charm with a smidge of Hamptons chic, Mount Pleasant mixes scenic beauty with modern stores that have an upscale feel (feel free to roll only the best luggage brands into these parts). Located just across the Cooper River from Charleston, this village is quieter than its big sister city, and has its own distinct character. Visitors can explore the town's rich history at attractions like Boone Hall Plantation, one of America's oldest working plantations, or stroll through the charming Old Village area with its historic homes and waterfront parks. The town's proximity to pristine beaches such as Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island makes it an ideal base for coastal adventures, from surfing and sunbathing to dolphin-watching cruises. Culinary enthusiasts will delight in Mount Pleasant's diverse dining scene, offering everything from fresh seafood shacks to upscale waterfront restaurants. Whether exploring its historical sites, enjoying outdoor activities or savoring local cuisine, Mount Pleasant promises a memorable experience steeped in Lowcountry charm and hospitality.

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11. Hilton Head Island

With 12 miles of sandy beach, fancy golf courses and nature preserves, all wrapped up into one destination with upscale amenities, how can anyone who has a chance to vacation on Hilton Head Island resist? Since being developed in the 1950s and founded as a town in the 1980s, this destination has become synonymous with Southeasterners’ idea of the good life. Along with sunning, swimming and Sunfish sailing, guests can take to the extensive bike paths and nature reserves, such as the Coastal Discovery Museum and Sea Pines Forest Preserve, which showcase the island's rich flora and fauna. Golf enthusiasts will find world-class courses designed by renowned architects like Robert Trent Jones and Pete Dye, set against stunning coastal backdrops. For a taste of local culture, visitors can enjoy fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants or browse art galleries and boutiques in Coligny Plaza. With 69 square miles of eco-developed land, there’s something for everyone in Hilton Head.

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The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (14)

Dana Dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...

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The 11 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina (2024)

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