Life just feels better when there’s sand on your toes, a bit of salt in the air, and nothing but water on the horizon. There’s no shortage of that on South Carolina’s 2,876 miles of shoreline, where the beaches and small towns peppered throughout it look ripped from a summertime rom-com.
South Carolina’s coast is a big part of its identity—it is the Palmetto State, after all. From Myrtle Beach’s reputation as a place of family-friendly fun to the complicated colonial history of Sullivan’s Island, the variety found on each beach makes visiting a unique learning experience.
Here are seven of the best beaches in South Carolina to consider for your next visit.
1. Edisto Beach
Edisto Island, South Carolina
Go for: an uncommercialized beach experience
Just south of Kiawah, Edisto Beach isn’t the type of town where you’ll find sprawling hotel properties and fast casuals lining the streets. This low-key spot favors more nature-driven attractions, like Edisto Beach State Park.
The 1,255-acre park offers seven hiking and biking trails—including four miles that are ADA-accessible—and takes you through maritime forests that Native Americans inhabited long before European settlers reached this side of the world. There’s even the site of a Native American shell mound found here dating to 2000 B.C.E. Fishing practices have changed quite a bit since then, but the practice is still popular in the area. Try your hand at catching abundant flounders or even young sand sharks (don’t worry, those of Jaws-level are found in much deeper water).
Where to stay: Edisto Beach State Park
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Edisto Beach State Park offers seven furnished cabins and two campgrounds for those wanting to stay the night—and you should, to get the beach stargazing experience. Each of the campgrounds has restroom and hot shower sites, and several of the campgrounds have space to accommodate RVs.
How to get to Edisto Beach
Edisto Island is best reached from Charleston airport, which is well-connected across the country (even Alaska Airlines has a nonstop flight from Seattle). From there, drive about 40 minutes west on Highway 17 until you hit Highway 147 at Osborn. This 30-minute drive will take you straight to Edisto Beach.
2. Folly Beach
Folly Island, South Carolina
Go for: Splitting time between the surf and the city
Admittedly, it’s uncommon to see people on surfboards trying to hang 10 in South Carolina. The Atlantic waters prefer to gently hug the state’s coast rather than give dramatic shows of power like the Pacific does out west. But that doesn’t mean the sport is nonexistent here. One of your best bets for catching some waves is Folly Beach, a six-mile area known for surf in spots like the Washout, where Hurricane Hugo created a competition-level surfing landscape after “washing out” land in 1989.
When the waves aren’t cresting just the way you like, paddle back to shore and head inland for about 10 miles to Charleston. Founded in 1670, the city has plenty of history and holes-in-the-wall, making it the perfect place for sandy wanderers wanting some of the state’s best boutique shops, museums, and can’t-miss meals.
Where to stay: Beachside Boutique Inn
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Part of the Beachside Boutique Inn’s charm comes from the way the establishment fully leans into beach kitschy with whimsical decorations like stone-detailed bathtubs and multicolored beach decor. Don’t stress too much when choosing between a “Wooden Castle” room, “Quirky Cottage” room, or stand-alone cottage for your stay. With the huge amount of light let into your room through the ample windows, plus brightly colored walls, all have the appeal of a distant relative (albeit with questionable taste).
How to get to Folly Beach
The most efficient way to get to Folly Beach is to fly into Charleston International Airport. From the airport, drive 25 minutes to the beach on Folly Beach Road. If you’re coming on a holiday, be prepared for some traffic—this road is the only way in and out of Folly Island.
3. Cherry Grove Beach
Cherry Grove, South Carolina
Go for: the quiet side to Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach is South Carolina’s most popular beach, seeing about 19 million visitors annually (and with its own airport to boot). For stimulation-seeking families, the amusement parks and shopping centers of Central and South Myrtle Beach provide plenty of entertainment. Go north of Highway 22, however, and those sandy stretches get a lot quieter. Four communities—Cherry Grove, Windy Hill, Ocean Drive, and Crescent Beach—make up this section and are more suited for those looking for a vacay where the only verb involved is relax.
You can’t go wrong with any part of North Myrtle Beach, but Cherry Grove (the northernmost portion of North Myrtle Beach) is a particularly charming two-mile area. Sure, it may not have a gargantuan Ferris wheel plopped on its sand, but its 985-foot pier has its own appeal as a haven for anglers in the daytime and the night. While the pier is currently damaged due to Hurricane Ian, the pier’s manager said they’re “going to build a bigger and better pier.”
Where to stay in Cherry Grove: The Towers at North Myrtle Beach
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Nothing will stand between you and the beach at the Towers at North Myrtle Beach, which has prime waterfront real estate. But make sure you explore the water amenities before you head for the ocean, which include a rooftop pool, kids’ pool, hot tubs, and a lazy river ride. Best of all, the room types here—from studio to three-bedroom suites—cater to a wide set of travelers looking to stay in Cherry Grove.
How to get to Cherry Grove
Myrtle beach’s airport is a nonstop destination from over 50 cities in the country, with flights offered from budget carriers like Allegiant and Avelo in addition to big airlines like Delta and American. From the airport, Cherry Grove can be reached by driving 45 minutes north via Highway 17.
4. Kiawah Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Go for: privacy and internationally renowned golf courses
If the thought of screaming kids jumping over ocean waves sends a shiver down your spine, Kiawah Island may be the perfect spot to get some much-needed R&R. Solitude is abundant on this (mostly) private island, and people are willing to pay a premium for it—considering the presence of the Sanctuary, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and other luxury stays that occupy the island.
The tranquility of Kiawah makes it a great place to tee off, too, as the PGA championships have been held several times on Kiawah (most recently in 2021). If doing some big spending for a weekend stay isn’t your thing, Kiawah Beachwalker Park offers those same pristine sands as the island’s only public beach. You will, however, need to pay a car fee that can be anywhere between $5 to $20 depending on the season.
Where to stay: The Sanctuary
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The Sanctuary encapsulates island living at its most luxurious, from the dark-wood furnishings to the complimentary shoe shines. A stay in one of its 255 rooms feels like your own private world with elements like marble floors and vanity space to private balconies overlooking the coast. You’ll also get access to on-site amenities like the adults-only pool and the spa, as well as all five of its golf courses on Kiawah Island, including the famous “Ocean Course.”
How to get to Kiawah Island
Just south of Folly Island, Kiawah Island is best reached by driving from Charleston’s airport. By car, drive south for about an hour. If you’re heading toward Kiawah Beachwalker Park, take a right onto Beachwalker Drive from Kiawah Island Parkway. Otherwise, be prepared to present a hotel or restaurant reservation when you reach the guard gate at the entrance of the island community.
5. Pawleys Island
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Go for: the quintessential beach town that hasn’t changed for generations
While many parts of South Carolina’s coast pride themselves on their glitzy charm for the upscale crowd, Pawleys Island remains close to its unfussy roots. Its four miles of beach were first settled by rice planters in the 1700s and have attracted summer visitors since the 1800s (many of them looking to avoid malaria), making it one of the earliest summer destinations on the East Coast. The island’s centuries-old residences form a small historic district parallel to the beach.
Pawleys is special in its laid-back appeal, where grocery stores, gas stations, and other establishments of the modern world don’t have a place. If bed-and-breakfasts like the Pelican Inn and Sea View Inn are any indication, it’s the kind of place where you let the island take care of you.
Where to stay: Sea View Inn
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Each of the Sea View Inn’s 20 rooms come with a private half bath, a single bed, a double bed, and views of either the ocean or marsh. Breakfast is served for $15 a person, with mid-day and evening meals available as well.
How to get to Pawleys Island
The closest airport to Pawleys Island is Myrtle Beach International Airport. Fly in from one of its 50 nonstop destinations, and then drive south on Highway 17 for about 45 minutes to get to the island. Charleston’s airport isn’t too far, either—you can get to Pawleys Island from there by driving north for about 90 minutes.
6. Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Go for: a smorgasbord of coastal excursions
Hilton Head island’s Coligny Beach Park is a prime five-mile stretch for vegetating under the sun (there’s even free Wi-Fi here). But don’t miss out on all the island offers by limiting your stay to the sand. Here you can learn about South Carolina’s Lowcountry, the state’s southeastern region characterized by its marshes and coastal waterways. Its landscape creates a biodiverse ecosystem full of alligators, herons, and other wildlife. You can see these swamp critters at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which sits between Hilton Head and the state’s mainland.
Hilton Head’s Lowcountry region is equally characterized by its cultural influence from the Gullah people, descendants of enslaved West Africans who have preserved traditions in the art of creating sweetgrass baskets, quilting, and knitting fishing nets. You can read about their history at the island’s Gullah Museum, or learn about other aspects of the island’s history at the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum and the Coastal Discovery Museum. Savannah is a mere hour-long drive or boat ride away too, so you have no excuse to not explore this part of the South.
Where to stay: The Inn & Club at Harbour Town
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The Inn & Club at Harbour Town, a hotel that’s a part of the Sea Pines Resort, is a 60-room property on the south end of island; it’s a luxurious base for travel around Hilton Head. Featuring three golf courses and a tennis program developed by former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Stan Smith, the hotel offers a cushy place to rest your head and up your game.
How to get to Hilton Head Island
You can fly nonstop from nearly 40 destinations to get to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (most recently from New Haven via Avelo). The airport is on the outskirts of Savannah, so the drive to Hilton Head Island will take around an hour.
7. Boneyard Beach
Bulls Island, South Carolina
Go for: wildlife watching
No, you aren’t going to find animal carcasses scattered throughout this beach. This Bull Island locale gets its ominous-sounding name from the bleached tree trunks of pines and myrtles that cover the area, thanks to high tides.
Contrary to the name and trees of this place, the beach is teeming with life and is the biggest draw for visitors: It’s part of the 66,000-acre Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, a federally protected area established in 1932 as a migratory bird refuge. More than 300 different types of birds have been recorded in the refuge, making it a playground for bird-watchers hoping to glimpse pelicans nesting or the American oystercatcher.
Where to stay: The Sweetgrass Inn
Book now: The Sweetgrass Inn
While Boneyard Beach is a fun day trip, overnight camping isn’t allowed. Instead, look to the flurry of options on the nearby Isle of Palms, like the Sweetgrass Inn. The inn, which is a part of the Wild Dunes Resort and the Hyatt Destination Hotels network, is about 20 miles from the Garris Landing dock. It’s a stay that mixes minimalist elements like a sleek bed with colorful coastal patterns on the upholstery, artwork, and walls.
How to get to Boneyard Beach
Bulls Island—the island where Boneyard Beach is located—can’t be reached just by road. You’ll first need to drive to Garris Landing in Awendaw, which is about 40 minutes from Charleston International Airport. From Garris Landing, you’ll take the Bulls Island Ferry for about 30 minutes. Once you’re at the dock on Bulls Island, you will need to walk about 1.5 miles to get to the beach.