Waves crash on the beach ahead of you. The ebb and flow of the water stretches out of sight to the horizon. Seagulls fly overhead. A strong wind blows off the ocean, knocking back the hot and humid summer air. Beaches have long been a favorite tourism destination as people seek sand, sun, and smiles for a pleasant distraction from life.
South Carolina lies within a “Goldilocks Zone” of beaches during the prime tourism season running from Memorial Day through Labor Day: not too cold, not too hot, but just right. Millions of people a year flock to the beaches between Little River and Daufuskie Island clamoring for a 40 square foot piece of the beach a few hours a day. But which of these beaches should you visit?
While dozens of beaches and cozy beach towns are worth mentioning, I narrowed the choices down to a list of the top five beaches of South Carolina. It was not easy to create this narrow list, but that just goes to show these are the best choices for fun in the sun. Which of these beaches will you visit next?
5. Myrtle Beach
The heart of The Grand Strand has changed a lot over the last few decades, but it is still the Mecca of all beach destinations on the East Coast. The wide, long beaches fill with thousands of fresh tourists every week. Whether you come for the golf, family entertainment, all you can eat seafood buffets, or the bustling beaches, Myrtle Beach has what you need.
The beaches are crowded, but the water is warm and inviting during the summer months. But the main attraction for Myrtle Beach isn’t what you do on the sand, but rather what you do off it. Families will enjoy the entertainment from places like the Family Kingdom Amusement Park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, and dozens of miniature golf courses. When the adults get a chance to shop you won’t have to go far to find unique gift ideas at Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing, Tanger Outlets, or the Market Common. Seafood buffet restaurants are a dime a dozen along Kings Highway, but you’ll also find some great local food during a walk along the 1.4-mile Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.
4. Folly Beach
One of the six beaches within an hour drive of Charleston, this small beach town packs a lot onto a small island: long, wide beaches, the Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier, a vibrant local scene, and a large public beach park. Locals from all around the Charleston area struggle each day during the summer to reach this island retreat for a piece of the beach, but tourists with rental homes on the island can kick back and relax all day. With Charleston just a half hour away the opportunities for food, entertainment, and shopping are endless, but you can also find plenty to do without ever leaving Folly Beach.
Center Street is very much the center of town with lots of local restaurants, bars, and shops to keep you fed and entertained. Driving north on the island will eventually lead to a dead end at a cul-de-sac and parking for a few cars at a time. A ten-minute walk along an abandoned street, past concrete foundations of homes long since lost to nature, takes visitors to a secluded beach with a view of the Morris Island Lighthouse. At night the stars twinkle brightly in the sky, and the light from nearby Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse pulses every few seconds from across the water. At the opposite end of the island Folly Beach County Park provides a large, flat beach with plenty of room to stretch out, play bocce, and take a leisurely stroll among the shells and driftwood.
3. Edisto Beach
Another of the six beaches near Charleston, Edisto Beach is one of the most peaceful beach towns in the state. In fact, you won’t find a hotel on the entire island (although the Wyndham Ocean Ridge Resort is listed as a hotel, it is in fact a set of rental villas). Families come here for the opportunity to escape from the world, spend time lounging on the wide beaches, and playing board games in giant beach houses.
But when you have that itch to get out and do something, Edisto Beach delivers. Visitors can enjoy the view from Fins Restaurant & Bar located on a former pier, or drive a few blocks back from the ocean to the tiny SeaCow Eatery. Locals love Whaley’s Store, a restaurant and bar located inside a former gas station (the old gas pumps are still out front). On the backside of the island adventurers can take a guided kayak tour of Big Bay Creek, or hop on a half-day fishing excursion. Feel like taking a hike? Try the Swamp Moss Nature Trail at Edisto Beach State Park. Whatever you decide to do during the day, the nights are guaranteed to wrap you in the silence of nature along quiet streets and dark beaches.
2. Hilton Head Island
At some point in the past the residents of Hilton Head Island made a conscious decision to blend commercial and residential developments with the nature of the island. Driving down the wide four-lane William Hilton Parkway you almost struggle to spot shopping centers, businesses, and rental homes behind lush groves of trees. Everything from the street signs and traffic lights to exterior design of grocery stories is painted with earth tones. But make no mistake about it: Hilton Head Island has everything you would need to enjoy a week without ever leaving the island.
You wouldn’t have to hit a golf ball very far to find a golf course on the island, and that is one of the biggest draws for tourists. But while some members of the family are off playing a few rounds, the rest of the family can take advantage of the quiet beaches and the fact more than half the rental homes on the island feature a swimming pool. If you feel the desire to shop you can visit one of the many small shopping centers featuring locally owned stores, or you can take a drive off the island to the Tanger Outlets in Bluffton. You can find just about every type of commercial chain restaurant you could want, but you can also find just as many great local places to keep you fed and watered.
1. Hunting Island State Park
Hunting Island State Park is the best beach in South Carolina because it is the least occupied, most natural, and completely peaceful beach in the state. Just a half hour outside Beaufort, the state park features the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, several hiking trails, and quiet beaches where visitors can just forget the world. The park has a well-equipped oceanfront campground, but for those who prefer a solid roof over their head can travel to Beaufort for a few well-equipped B&B’s.
When visitors are ready to get off the beach, Beaufort and the Sea Islands offers endless opportunities for great local food and entertainment. The downtown area of Beaufort takes you back in time with antebellum-era homes, cobblestone streets, and gas lanterns. Bay Street is a great place to find a local place to eat, or do some shopping at one of the many galleries, clothing stories, or artisan guilds. Visitors can enjoy a stunning sunset view across the water from the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Nearby Port Royal offers a few local favorites for food including a former one-room schoolhouse turned restaurant at Mikki’s Schoolhouse Diner. Visitors can finish off a night with a walk along the Henry Robinson Boardwalk at Sands Beach, or enjoy a quiet evening horse drawn carriage tour.