11 Top-Rated Beaches in South Carolina
South Carolina is not only a wonderful state to visit for its rich history and attractions, it's also home to magnificent beaches. Stretching for 187 miles along the Atlantic, South Carolina's coastline boasts some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the USA.
Some of the most popular beaches for tourists are located on the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of perfect sandy shores located between Georgetown and the Little River area that includes the beaches at Litchfield, Murrells Inlet, Surfside, and Myrtle Beach (the latter alone attracts some 10 million tourist visits a year). Add to this the beaches of Hilton Head Island, and it's easy to see what all the fuss is about.
To get the most from your time in this beautiful state, read our list of the best beaches in South Carolina.
1. Myrtle Beach
In terms of the volume of visits, Myrtle Beach is by far the most popular beach destination in South Carolina. While much of the draw is due to its many family-friendly tourist attractions, beachfront resorts, and diverse entertainment opportunities, the destination's magnificent white-sand beaches are what keeps them coming back.
Stretching for 60 miles to the north and south of the main beachfront area with its fun fairs and theme-park-style attractions, Myrtle Beach certainly seems endless... as do the opportunities for fun. Walk the beach (or its very long boardwalk), and you'll see people enjoying activities as diverse as surfing and scuba diving, as well as simpler pursuits such as collecting shells and building sandcastle, or just pulling up a sun lounger and relaxing.
For those wanting something a little less hectic, head a little farther up the coast to North Myrtle Beach. While the beaches are just as nice, they're generally quieter the farther away you travel from the busy tourist attractions of the main beach area to the south. There's plenty of room to spread out here, whether you're wanting to hit the water and swim, parasail, sea kayak, or just hang out and enjoy the sunshine.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Coligny Beach Park, Hilton Head Island
While Hilton Head Island is, in essence, really one very big beach - it boasts 12 miles of beautiful sandy shoreline - there are a number of distinct areas that stand out. For those seeking a wonderful family beach experience, head to Coligny Beach Park. The beach is reached through an attractive public garden with great facilities, including change areas and comfortable swing seats large enough to hold a family (there's even free Wi-Fi).
From here, follow the path to the matting that extends all the way to the water, enabling access for those in wheelchairs or using other assistive devices. After renting a beach chair and umbrella (or setting up your own), it's time to enjoy the water, secure in the knowledge that it's safe for kids, thanks to the presence of lifeguards.
Afterwards, take time away from the water for a stroll around Coligny Plaza, just steps from the beach. Here, you can enjoy a meal or a snack, get in some souvenir shopping, buy beach accessories and clothing, or enjoy a movie or live entertainment. While parking is at a premium during the busy summer season, the island does provide a great shuttle bus service for those willing to park a little farther away. Alternatively, park the car and rent a bike, which you can even use to ride directly on the beach at low tide.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hilton Head
3. Kiawah Beachwalker Park
Located just a short drive away from the beautiful city of Charleston, Kiawah Island boasts an impressive 10 miles of unspoiled sandy beaches. Flanked on one side by the Atlantic and on the other by a vast 10,000-acre tract of woodlands, Kiawah Beachwalker Park - easily accessible from the mainland by bridge - is a great spot for couples and families alike, with public amenities available, including washrooms and change rooms, outdoor showers, picnic areas with barbecues, a pleasant boardwalk, an easy-access ramp for those with mobility issues, and public parking.
Beach gear, such as umbrellas and chairs, are also available for rent. If traveling with kids, make for the well-marked designated swim areas, as these include lifeguards on duty during the peak season.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Charleston: Best Areas & Hotels
4. Folly Beach, Charleston
Folly Beach is another great sun spot within easy reach of Charleston. Just 20 minutes' drive from downtown, and you're on Folly Island, home to Folly Beach and its excellent fishing pier (don't forget to pack your rod), which also makes the perfect backdrop for a romantic selfie. Other fun things to do at Folly Beach include outdoor adventures such as sea kayaking and paddleboarding (plenty of rental locations are located nearby), surfing (lessons are available), and dolphin spotting cruises, to name but a few. It's also a pleasant beach to simply stroll along while enjoying the ocean views.
For a truly unique experience, rent a kayak and paddle around the inland shore of Folly Beach Country Park for some marine wildlife spotting, including dolphins, stingrays, and even bonnethead sharks.
5. Edisto Beach
Regarded as one of the last uncommercialized beach areas in South Carolina, Edisto Beach has a unique charm that makes it particularly attractive for those who like a quieter beach experience. The town of Edisto Beach itself is worth the hour-long journey from Charleston and is as popular for its restaurants as it is for its shops, galleries, quaint bed-and-breakfasts, and relatively laid-back vibe.
In addition to its excellent swimming (without lifeguards, so keep an eye on the kids), adventurous types can explore the unspoiled northern section of the beach, belonging to Edisto Beach State Park, on kayaks or paddleboards. Other fun things to do include beach-side camping, fishing, and, come nightfall, a delightful dolphin-watching or sunset cruise. The park also offers a number of great trails to follow, which in turn can lead to some very quiet places to stop and relax on the beach.
6. Front Beach, Isle of Palms
A pleasant 40-minute drive east of Charleston will find you on the Isle of Palms, an attractive beachside destination that is as popular with locals as it is with visitors to the region. It's to Front Beach that most people head, noted for its good public parking and easy beach access (all told, there are some 50 or more public access points). In addition to the usual human beach activities, the beach is an important stopover for sea turtles, who visit to nest and lay their eggs in the dunes (watch out for the warning signs, and be sure to stay clear of these areas). Popular activities include sea kayak tours, sunset cruises, fishing, surfing, and paddleboarding.
7. Family Beach, Surfside
Located a short distance south of Myrtle Beach, Surfside is a pleasant getaway for those seeking a great beach holiday. Often referred to simply as Family Beach (certainly among locals and those in the know), this two-mile stretch of sandy beach is, perhaps unsurprisingly, particularly popular for those traveling with children in tow. Not only is the beach attended by lifeguards, the swimming is safe, with a very gentle slope, ensuring plenty of shallow water for the wee ones to splash about.
In addition to fun do-it-yourself activities like kite flying and building sandcastles, the community offers a number of beachside activities for all ages to enjoy, from music concerts and a water park, to great dining and shopping. Adventure seekers are also well catered to with surfboard rentals and instruction.
8. Sullivan's Island Beach
Just 20 minutes away from downtown Charleston and located on the city's harbor mouth is Sullivan's Island, a largely unspoiled, resort-free area popular with day trippers for its natural setting. While the lack of public facilities may mean the beach isn't perfect for those traveling with younger children, those with teens - and, of course, couples - will appreciate the fact that there's plenty of room to spread out on this attractive beach. There's also the fun quotient, thanks to the availability of water sports rental services, including everything from Jet Skis to surfboards.
As one of the smallest inhabited islands on the South Carolina coast, there's also a very pleasant community feel, enhanced by the pleasant local dining options, shops, and B&Bs.
9. Seabrook Island
Located to the south of Kiawah Island (and accessed along the same parkway from Charleston), Seabrook Island actually consists of a number of very pleasant beaches. Occupying four miles of pristine Atlantic shoreline, the two main beaches - Pelican Beach and North Beach - are often considered hidden gems for their relatively peaceful and uncrowded feel.
If traveling with kids, you'll want to focus your attention on Pelican Beach, also known as "Sunset Beach" for (you guessed it) its amazing sunsets. The gentler current here makes it ideal for swimming. And while North Beach is great for early risers due to its magnificent sunrises, it's a great spot for nature lovers for its abundant bird life, as well as pods of dolphins that feed off shore (there's even a section here for dog owners to let their pets off leash).
10. Hunting Island State Park, Beaufort
Not only does Hunting Island State Park offer a superlative beach experience, it also offers plenty of other fun things to do for visitors to this lovely corner of South Carolina. Drawing upwards of a million visitors each year, it's also one of the most popular attractions in the state not just for the sea, sand, and sun, but for things like its diverse wildlife, some of which can be experienced at the informative nature center.
The park's landmark, the 130-foot-tall Hunting Island Lighthouse can (and should) be climbed for its spectacular views. The beach itself is stunning and unspoiled, comprising five miles of white sand, flanked on one side by the Atlantic and on the other by 5,000 acres of marsh and woodland habitats. It's also an ideal spot for those wanting to enjoy a great camping experience, offering numerous campsites to choose from, most with easy beach access.
11. Litchfield Beach
Another great spot close to Myrtle Beach is Litchfield Beach. An easy 30-minute drive south, and you'll think you're on a different planet - no crowds, no big resorts flanking the beach, just plenty of attractive cottages and a lovely 1.5-mile stretch of beach to enjoy. In addition to the great sunbathing and swimming, those seeking water activities can enjoy everything from sea kayaking to Jet Skis, as well as fishing (charters are available from local marinas). While parking is tight (arrive early), this, along with the fact there are only two beach access points, all but guarantees a quiet beach experience.
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Cha-Cha-Charleston: Assuming you can pull yourself away from the other attractions in South Carolina, the historic city of Charleston is a must visit destination. Highlights of a visit to this remarkably well-preserved gem of a city include exploring its famous Historic District on foot or, if you can, by horse-drawn buggy, as well as enjoying its museums, including Fort Sumter and the huge USS Yorktown aircraft carrier.
Something Fishy: South Carolina is well-known for its excellent fishing opportunities. Whether you're based in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or Hilton Head, there are numerous charter excursions available offering incredible deep sea fishing, along with inland waterways in which to fish.