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11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in South Carolina

Whether you're interested in history, love relaxing at the beach or are looking for interesting things to do with kids, you'll find it in South Carolina's many engaging tourist attractions. Take your pick from high-quality stage shows, golf, and water parks in Myrtle Beach, or relax at the fashionable holiday resorts on Hilton Head Island. Explore the atmospheric streets of Charleston on a romantic carriage ride or tour some of the south's most beautiful plantation homes nearby. You can visit the fort in Charleston harbor, where the Civil War began, or revel in the breathtaking views and quiet trails of Caesars Head State Park. Take the kids to two great zoos or a planetarium to learn about the stars. Whatever you choose, you're sure to enjoy South Carolina.

Use this list of the top attractions in South Carolina to plan your trip:

1 Charleston's Historic District

Charleston's Historic District
Charleston's Historic District
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Immerse yourself in the gracious atmosphere of the antebellum south in Charleston, where more than 1400 historic homes, churches, and other buildings line the streets. A carriage ride will give you an overview and a little history as well, or you can join a walking tour that includes a peek into some of them. You can tour several historic homes, including the Aiken-Rhett House and the 1808 Nathaniel Russell House, which holds priceless collections of fine and decorative arts.

Exhibits at the Old Exchange Building and Old Slave Mart Museum reveal more about the city and its long history, and be sure to visit the Charleston City Market to watch "basket ladies" weave sweetgrass baskets, a long-cherished tradition here.

2 Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach
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One of the most popular things to do in South Carolina in the summer is to retreat to the miles of pristine sands that line the coast at Myrtle Beach. As appealing as the beaches themselves are the many traditional seaside pleasures to choose from here. The Carolina Opry produces musical shows, and the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel takes visitors on 10-minute rides above the beach and boardwalk.

Broadway at the Beach is the state's largest entertainment and shopping venue, with rides, mini golf, Ripley's Aquarium, movies, specialty shops, dining, and other attractions in a pedestrian-only area around Lake Broadway. Families love the slides, splash rides, and swimming pools at water parks and at major hotels,

3 South Carolina Plantations

South Carolina Plantations
South Carolina Plantations
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Walking in some of South Carolina's 2,000-plus plantations is like entering a dream. The grand historic homes and spectacular grounds are scattered throughout the state, but Charleston is home to some of the state's most beautiful, and many are set amid equally outstanding gardens. Middleton Place sits above America's oldest landscaped gardens, and is fully furnished in original style. Magnolia Plantation is in America's oldest publicly accessed gardens, begun in the early 1700s and first opened to visitors in 1870. They are unique as America's last grand Romantic-style garden. Boone Hall Plantation in nearby Mt. Pleasant is one of the nation's oldest plantations still operating as a working farm and is best known for its picturesque, three-quarter-mile Avenue of Oaks. You get a rare glimpse of original 18th-century craftsmanship in the ornamental details of the interior of Drayton Hall, which is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America that's open for tours.

4 Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island
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While Hilton Head Island doesn't have the glamorous stage shows of the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, this low-country beach town offers laid-back relaxation and smaller crowds. You'll find beautiful bicycling trails at Hilton Head, along with shopping, dining, and golf courses, and of course the wide sand beaches. Wildlife-watchers can spot rare and common species up-close at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.

5 Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor

Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor
Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor
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The attack on Fort Sumter, the federal fort guarding Charleston Harbor, by Confederate forces on April 12, 1861, began the American Civil War. The excellent National Park Rangers' interpretation here today brings those events vividly to life and sets the stage for a better understanding of Civil War history. You can visit the island and the well-preserved ruins of the fort by boat from the Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square, or from Patriots Point. Or you can get good views of the fort from a 90-minute tour on a sightseeing boat that takes you along the Cooper River to Fort Sumter National Monument. The tour is fully narrated to provide historical background for Charleston's role in the Civil War and other eras of its history. It also gives good views of other forts, the Civil War prison at Pinckney Castle, the USS Yorktown, and the Ravenel Bridge.

6 Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park
Huntington Beach State Park
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With over 300 bird species, Huntington Beach is considered by many to be the best birding location in South Carolina. Guests can usually spot alligators at the park's freshwater lake. Art lovers enjoy the juried Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival held every September in the former residence of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. The philanthropist and sculptor are also responsible for the neighboring Brookgreen Gardens.

Address: 16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Huntington Beach State Park

7 South Carolina State Museum, Columbia

South Carolina State Museum, Columbia
South Carolina State Museum, Columbia Melissa Wilkins / photo modified
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The South Carolina State Museum is the state's largest, with four floors of exhibits covering the South Carolina's natural history, art, culture, science and technology. Many of the educational exhibits are hands-on, which makes the museum especially engaging for young visitors. The museum also features a science theatre, a planetarium, and changing special exhibits.

Address: 301 Gervais Street, Columbia

8 Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia
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As if kangaroo joeys and koala cubs weren't enough, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 2,000 other animals, representing more than 350 species. The two-acre African Plains exhibit reproduces an African savanna, where you can see giraffes, ostriches, and zebras along with African lions and baboons in their own separate natural habitats. The Ndoki Forest area is a sanctuary for gorillas, elephants, and meerkats. Siberian tigers and Komodo dragons, among other species, represent Asia, while North American species include grizzly bears and California sea lions. The zoo includes a botanical garden and ziplines.

Address: 500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, South Carolina

9 Caesars Head State Park

Caesars Head State Park
Caesars Head State Park
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Caesars Head State Park in Cleveland encompasses the heights of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and is filled with photo ops. The most impressive is from The Overlook, with its breathtaking view of Table Rock. The Raven Cliff Falls Trail leads to South Carolina's tallest waterfall, and the Jones Gap Trail leads to a series of swimming holes. The escarpment attracts hawks on their migratory route to South America, and Caesar's Head Hawk Site is a count site along the Atlantic Flyway. There are fishing rivers in the park, and for treasure-hunting enthusiasts, several geocaches are hidden, to be located by GPS.

Address: 8155 Geer Hwy, Cleveland, South Carolina

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Greenville, near Caesars Head State Park

10 Greenville Zoo

Greenville Zoo
Greenville Zoo David Hill / photo modified
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If you're in upstate South Carolina (perhaps checking out Caesars Head State Park), swing by the Greenville Zoo to meet exotic and North American animal species. Elephants, monkeys, leopards, and toucans have a home at the zoo. Special features include family adventures and programs, as well as overnight stays.

Address: 150 Cleveland Park Drive, Greenville, South Carolina

11 Dupont Planetarium

You can explore the night sky during public shows at the Dupont Planetarium in Aiken. While the planetarium's main focus is astronomy, other shows may take watchers into wild weather events or the molecules of a living cell. The planetarium encourages visitors to make reservations for shows, as seating is limited.

Address: 471 University Pkwy, Aiken, South Carolina

More Must-See Destinations near South Carolina

Although the sands of Myrtle Beach and the charms of historic Charleston will keep you busy right here in South Carolina, don't overlook the attractions in North Carolina. Just over the border in the southwestern part of the state is North Carolina's largest city, Charlotte, and also close to the border on the coast not far north of Myrtle Beach is Wilmington, with its historic district of antebellum homes. North of Charlotte, Winston-Salem is considered one of the top romantic getaways in North Carolina. Just across South Carolina's southern border in Georgia is beautiful antebellum Savannah, and in the center of the state is Atlanta with all its lively cultural attractions.

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