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20 Best South Carolina Coastal Towns for Every Kind of Vacation

Find a charming town on South Carolina's coast to plan your next amazing vacation.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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If a seagull flies overhead, is that a coastal town? That’s the premise I used to craft a list of South Carolina coastal towns. But all of these towns have more than just seagulls in common. The salt-tinged air is moderately warm most of the year. Palm trees are as common as pine trees. And there is always a seafood restaurant nearby.

South Carolina’s coastal towns stretch nearly 200 miles from North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island. The 90-mile Grand Strand surrounding Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the country. Small towns like Conway, Summerville, and North Charleston offer a chance to escape the tourist traps.

And then there are the family-friendly beach islands like Garden City Beach, Folly Beach, and Edisto Island. In between those, foodie destinations like Murrells Inlet, Georgetown, and Sullivan’s Island await your arrival.

South Carolina’s coastal towns are more than just beaches. They’re destinations with endless opportunities for creating almost every kind of vacation. What kind of vacation would you make in one of these coastal towns?

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Map of South Carolina Coastal Towns

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.


No. 1

Little River, SC

Crossing the border into South Carolina on U.S. Highway 17 brings you into the small community of Little River. It’s not an oceanfront town but a waterfront on the Intracoastal Waterway. The town developed as a fishing community. Since 2004, the annual Little River ShrimpFest honors that tradition with two days in mid-October with fresh local seafood fried by vendors on the street.

Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens is a hidden oasis typically only known by the locals. The land was first settled by Jeremiah Vareen, Jr. in 1797 – just six years after his father guided George Washington through coastal South Carolina on his grand Southern Tour. In 1971, the land was donated as a public park. Go for a hike on a boardwalk trail across the salt marshes to a fishing pier on the Little River.

The Big M Casino set sail in 2000 after the state outlawed video poker. The three-story cruise boat sails down the Little River and three miles into the Atlantic Ocean into federal waters, where gambling is legal. The cruises last about five hours.

Inlet Point is a secluded and peaceful beach at the north end of town. (Top)
The ICONIC show is new in 2023 at the Alabama Theatre. (Bottom)
Inlet Point is a secluded and peaceful beach at the north end of town. (Top)
The ICONIC show is new in 2023 at the Alabama Theatre. (Bottom)

No. 2

North Myrtle Beach, SC

North Myrtle Beach is the quiet counterpart to its sister city, thirty miles south. Ocean Boulevard is lined with more rental homes and condos than hotels. But Highway 17 – Kings Highway to the locals – is a bustling entertainment thoroughfare.

In 1968, four oceanfront communities merged to create North Myrtle Beach, the peaceful escape from its bustling sister city to the south. The Cherry Grove Fishing Pier is one of the longest wooden piers in the state at almost 1,000 feet. The restaurant, bait shop, and observation deck at the end of the pier have delighted visitors since the 1950s.

Head over to the House of Blues for a concert, Alabama Theatre for a spectacular variety show, visit the South’s largest winery at North Carolina-based Duplin Winery, or spend an evening shopping and dining at Barefoot Landing.

North Myrtle Beach has a quasi-downtown at Main Street and Ocean Boulevard, where you’ll find a few restaurants and the famous Fat Harold’s Beach Club. The club offers dance lessons for visitors eager to learn how to do the Carolina Shag.


No. 3

Myrtle Beach, SC

Believe it or not, Myrtle Beach was a military town in the 1940s and 50s. The U.S. Army Air Corps built an airport that was later transferred to the newly created Air Force. When the base fell victim to Base Realignment and Closure in 1993, the area was redeveloped into The Market Common, a mixture of residential communities, sports complexes, and a popular retail center.


Today, Myrtle Beach is the heart of the Grand Strand, a 90-mile stretch of beaches on the upper South Carolina coast, and a mecca for East Coast beachgoers. It’s a popular family beach destination with places like Broadway at the Beach for shopping and dining and the Family Kingdom Amusement Park for thrilling rides.

One of Myrtle Beach’s most popular attractions is the 1.2-mile Boardwalk. It began in the 1930s as an oceanfront concrete sidewalk. But after The Pavilion closed in 2006, the local business owners pushed for an expansion. In 2010, a refurbished and expanded Boardwalk opened with wide wooden walkways, meandering concrete paths, and shade sails across the beach accesses. Fodor’s, National Geographic, and Conde Nast have named it one of the best boardwalks in the country.

In 2011, the 187-foot-tall SkyWheel opened on the oceanfront. Riders climb inside enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas for a “flight” – four revolutions around the massive wheel. Next door, the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove is one of the most popular gift shops on the East Coast. Opened in the 1940s by Justin and Eloise Plyler, the multi-level store features souvenirs, home décor, and a large collection of seashells.


No. 4

Conway, SC

Founded in 1732, Conway is the oldest town in Horry County. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was the headquarters for the logging Burroughs & Collins Company – the owners would later play a pivotal role in Myrtle Beach’s development.

Conway is the Gateway to the Grand Strand but an often-overlooked town favoring the oceanfront destinations. The Riverwalk on the Waccamaw River is a gorgeous place for an evening stroll. Downtown is shaded by massive numbered oak trees – you can pick up a brochure at many local businesses to learn the history of the trees.

It’s about a thirty-minute drive from Myrtle Beach. You’ll find local eateries, retail shops, and artwork in the shops throughout the walkable downtown.


No. 5

Surfside Beach, SC

Surfside Beach is a quiet oceanfront community south of Myrtle Beach. The biggest attraction is the Surfside Beach Pier. Built in 1953, the pier was all but destroyed when Category 2 Hurricane Matthew made landfall nearby in 2106. The pier is under construction with a planned opening something in 2023.

The draw of Surfside Beach is the abundance of rental homes and the almost complete lack of towering oceanfront hotels. It’s a much quieter place to spend a vacation halfway between Myrtle Beach’s entertainment and Murrells Inlet’s restaurants.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 6

Garden City Beach, SC

Like Surfside Beach, Garden City Beach is a quiet oceanfront community whose biggest attraction is a fishing pier. When Category 4 Hurricane Hugo destroyed the original pier in 1989, a bigger version was built. The Pier at Garden City Beach features the only live music stage at the end of a pier on The Grand Strand.

Atlantic Avenue is the most scenic route into town, crossing the marshes with beautiful views. A wooden walkway alongside the road leads to a fishing pier beside the bridge and access to the sandy patches, a perfect place to watch summer sunsets.

Get something to eat at Causeway Grill or the iconic Sam’s Corner, a local eatery opened in 1976 boasting “world famous hotdogs.” Or go for a 10-minute drive toward the end of the island to Gulfstream Café, a restaurant with one of the best views in the area.


No. 7

Murrells Inlet, SC

In the 1950s, Murrells Inlet earned a reputation as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina.” When that industry moved on, it was replaced by waterfront restaurants using fresh catch seafood. It’s the best foodie town in coastal South Carolina that needs to be on everyone’s travel bucket list.

Bovines is the odd one serving delicious wood-fired pizzas with spectacular outdoor seating. Wahoos Fish House gets its seafood from local sources, has a sushi menu, and features outdoor seating. Creek Ratz offers outdoor seating and a rustic atmosphere in which to enjoy their seafood and raw bar.


Drunken Jack’s Restaurant & Lounge only has indoor seating, but the large picture windows provide a beautiful view from most tables. They get the seafood locally and offer one of the best menus in town. Jack’s Seafood Platter has fried or broiled flounder filets, fantail shrimp, oysters, and a stuffed crab.

Dead Dog Saloon only has indoor seating, but you’ll soon forget about the view when you see the menu. The restaurant branches out from more than just local seafood with burgers, steaks, and barbecue smoked on-site. The Claw House next door has an impressive 90 craft beers on tap to accompany their local seafood menu.

All of the restaurants are connected along the 1-mile MarshWalk. The wooden boardwalk is great for a stroll after a hearty meal. Walk to the end of the fishing pier for a sweeping vista of the inlet.

After leaving Murrells Inlet, you’ll pass the greatest natural attraction and botanical garden in coastal South Carolina. Huntington Beach State Park is a waypoint for migratory birds, alligators, and the stunning oceanfront Atalaya Castle. Brookgreen Garden is an outdoor museum with over 2,000 sculptures by 400 artists. The 9,000-acre attraction includes a butterfly garden, a zoo featuring local wildlife, and several guided tours.


No. 8

Pawleys Island, SC

When George Washington traveled through coastal South Carolina in 1791, he spent the night at George Pawley’s plantation. Like the rest of The Grand Strand, tourism developed in the 1930s. And shortly after, the town’s best attraction opened.

Arthur Lachicotte and his wife Virginia Wilson opened a small store in 1916 selling hand-woven hammocks. After twenty years of solid sales and growing popularity, they opened the Original Hammock Shop in 1938. The hammocks are still hand-woven, and visitors can sit or lay on them at the shop.

The Hammock Shops Village was built around the retail shop, adding historical structures from a nearby plantation to serve as retail shops. The Christmas Mouse is a Virginia-based year-round Christmas store with nine locations, including Pawleys Island. BisQit is a local eatery serving handcrafted burgers, creamy milkshakes, and creative cocktails.

Oceanfront and sound side rental homes line the streets on the barrier island. The beaches are wide and relatively calm compared to the super popular Myrtle Beach. The South End Beach Access is the largest public beach access in the county. The sandy parking lot has 140 parking spaces and about half a mile of beach at the end of the island.


No. 9

Georgetown, SC

Georgetown is South Carolina’s third-oldest city, established forty years after Charleston. But it’s often bypassed as eager drivers whisk through the town to Myrtle Beach or Charleston. That’s a shame because Georgetown has one of the most charming downtowns in coastal South Carolina.

The Harborwalk was built in the 1980s as a place for locals to moor their boats while visiting downtown. The docked boats include some operated by Rover Tours and Lowcountry Tours, offering scenic tours to the Georgetown Lighthouse and sunset cruises. The Harborwalk is ten feet wide, stretching from both ends of downtown, connecting all the waterfront shops, restaurants, and museums.

Visitors in Georgetown don’t go hungry from a lack of options. Big Tuna Raw Bar is a rustic restaurant with fresh catch seafood – get their seafood platter for the ultimate meal. River Room Restaurant is a casual upscale experience with fresh seafood and large panoramic windows overlooking the bay. Buzz’s Roost features the only rooftop seating in Georgetown with spectacular views along with craft beer, seafood, fish tacos, and steak.

In 2006, the husband and wife team of Skip Yeager and Cindy Hedrick bought Sweeties Homemade Ice Cream & Sweets. A couple of years later, they began making ice cream in small batches in the equally small confectionary shop. The only thing better than the smell inside the shop is the taste of freshly baked pecan pralines or cold craft ice cream.


No. 10

McClellanville, SC

McClellanville is a tiny town on a tidal creek. The St. James Santee Parish was established in the early 1700s when enough colonial settlers had moved into the area. In the 1900s, the town developed as a fishing village – an industry thriving today.

The Village Museum is open most weekends and features exhibits on the town’s history. T.W. Graham & Co. is the only restaurant in town. Opened in 1894 as a mercantile store, the restaurant serves seafood platters, burgers, and sandwiches. Everyone must try Gert’s Famous Crab Balls and the Fried Catfish Tails with homemade Jamaican Mayonnaise.

Hampton Plantation State Historic Site is twenty minutes from McClellanville. The site preserves the plantation home built in 1735 by Noe Serré and expanded by Revolutionary War Patriot Daniel Horry. Take the one-hour guided tour of the house to hear stories of Harriott Pinckney Horry’s exploits and George Washington’s visit.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Kayaking on Shems Creek is a popular activity.
Kayaking on Shems Creek is a popular activity.

No. 11

Mount Pleasant, SC

Mount Pleasant is a growing, thriving, seam-busting city across the Cooper River from Charleston. It’s a busy place with a six-lane highway carrying thousands of cars daily. But if you know where to look, Mount Pleasant can be a peaceful coastal getaway.

Old Village is the closest the city has to a downtown. A one-block stretch of Pitt Street features a couple of retail shops and Pitt Street Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy that opened in 1937 and features a working soda fountain. Continue to the end of the street to the Pitt Street Bridge Park. Built in 1898, it was the first bridge to Sullivan’s Island and carried a trolley car. When it was abandoned in 1945, the city bought the property and turned it into a public park with the best view of the Charleston skyline.


Mount Pleasant doesn’t have a downtown, but it does have Shem Creek. The half-mile Shem Creek Boardwalk extends across the salt marsh to a covered fishing pier with spectacular views. Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular on the creek – but not so popular as the dining.

Water’s Edge and Vickery’s Bar & Grill offer seafood with great views on the east side of the creek. On the other side, Tavern & Table is a casual upscale restaurant using local ingredients in its savory foods. Saltwater Cowboys is the latest addition, serving seafood and barbecue with a great view.

But Red’s Ice House features the best view of Shem Creek. Opened in 2003, the restaurant serves seafood and burgers and features a second-story deck with outdoor seating.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, a WWII-era aircraft carrier. Exploring all the self-guided tours on the towering naval vessel takes more than a day. Head inland to Boone Hall Plantation for guided wagon tours or visit the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site to learn about the “forgotten founder” who wrote a draft of the United States Constitution.


No. 12

Isle of Palms, SC

When the Wild Dunes Beach and Racquet Club purchased the northern 1,000 acres of Isle of Palms in 1972, the island’s fate as a resort destination was sealed. The charming island is a great base for visiting Charleston – head into the city for history and food, but return to the island for relaxation.

Isle of Palms County Park is the only public beach access for people not staying on the island. Stretching about two blocks from the park along Ocean Boulevard is the town’s quasi-downtown with a few restaurants and bars.

READ MORE: Leave the Cobblestone Streets Behind for One of These Beaches Near Charleston

The Windjammer is a rustic restaurant with hardwood floors and low ceilings, but it’s a happening place with outdoor live concerts with the ocean as the backdrop. Coda del Pesce is a contemporary Italian restaurant with oceanfront seating – a perfect place to enjoy their fine cuisine. Luke ‘n Ollie’s Pizzeria and The Dinghy are low-key places to grab food, especially if you’ve just come off the beach. The Boathouse has been serving local catch seafood since 1997 with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway, but they’re only open for dinner, and reservations are recommended.

Surf fishing on the beach is a popular way to spend your time. (Top)
Fort Sumter is seen in the distance from Fort Moultrie, two forts that played pivotal roles at the beginning of the Civil War. (Bottom)
Surf fishing on the beach is a popular way to spend your time. (Top)
Fort Sumter is seen in the distance from Fort Moultrie, two forts that played pivotal roles at the beginning of the Civil War. (Bottom)

No. 13

Sullivan’s Island, SC

Sullivan’s Island is a charming beach community etched into South Carolina’s history. In 1775, Colonel William Moultrie defended Charleston from British invasion at the start of the Revolutionary War. The hastily built fort was incomplete, but the palmetto logs provided surprising protection. The canons either bounced off the spongy logs or sank into them. From that moment, South Carolina was known as the Palmetto State.


Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park preserves the site of the original fort, although nothing remains of it today. The structure today started in 1798, one of twenty new fortifications in the First System of Forts. The fort played a role in the first shots fired in the Civil War when the state militia took control of the federal-controlled Fort Sumter.

Three streets are named to honor the island’s most famous resident – Edgar Allan Poe. Unable to support himself as a young man, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was stationed at Fort Moultrie for a short period in 1827. Poe’s Tavern pays homage to the famous poet. The gastropub has several locations in the Carolinas and Florida, including Sullivan’s Island.

Aaron Siegel opened Home Team BBQ in a former gas station in 2006 and now has several locations throughout Charleston. The restaurant is known for its savory pulled pork and homemade sauces. Get the BBQ Nachos – pulled pork, three house-made salsas, sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and jalapenos.

The Obstinate Daughter serves wood-fired pizzas and southern comfort food on a seasonal menu. Sullivan’s Fish Camp is the oldest restaurant on the island – opening in 1988, they serve fresh local seafood straight from the boats at Shem Creek.

Rainbow Row is one of the most recognizable icons of Charleston. (Top)
Baby blue herons patiently wait for food to arrive at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. (Bottom)

No. 14

Charleston, SC

Since its founding in 1670, Charleston has been one of the most prominent southern cities. At the start of the American Revolution, it was the fourth most prosperous city in the colonies after New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Although that prosperity faded, particularly after the collapse of the rice industry at the end of the Civil War, the city found new life as one of the highest-rated tourism destinations in the world.


Visit Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site to see where the colony was initially located before moving to the peninsula. Then, continue up Ashley River Road into the Plantation District. Drayton Hall preserves the finest example of Palladian architecture in the country. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is the oldest botanical garden in the country, with miles of meandering scenic trails. Middle Place preserves the landscaped gardens and the South Flanker, the only building on the property to survive the Revolutionary War.

Charleston is divided into several charming neighborhoods with gorgeous architecture, friendly competition for the prettiest garden, and history with every step. Visit Rainbow Row for the iconic Colonial Caribbean color scheme on the row houses. Walk along The Battery to White Point Gardens and enjoy the harbor view.

READ MORE: How to Visit (and the History of) the Iconic Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC

The Charleston Museum is the oldest in the country – in fact, it’s two years older than the United States. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts and a chronological history of the city, taking you from the colonial period to modern times and world history.

She-crab soup was invented in Charleston, and it’s a common side dish on most restaurant menus. Head to Upper King Street – the portion north of Marion Square – and you’ll find plenty of restaurants for an evening meal.


No. 15

North Charleston, SC

North Charleston developed as a military base for the U.S. Navy from WWII until the 1980s. When the base was closed, a town distinct from Charleston grew in its place. Park Circle is the defacto “downtown,” where people gather for food and fun. Head to Common Aleworks for craft beer, Southern Roots Smokehouse for savory barbecue, or DIG in the Park for the best burger in town.

The setting was so perfect that Jim Irvin and Scott Newitt moved their Firefly Distillery from nearby Wadmalaw Island to a new facility in North Charleston. In 2005, the distillery created its most popular drink – Firefly Vodka, a sweet tea-flavored vodka. Take a guided distillery tour and enjoy two cocktails in the tasting room.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 16

Summerville, SC

Summerville is another of those towns frequently skipped over because people are too excited to get to Charleston. If you drive past the menagerie of big box stores at the interstate exit and keep going for about ten minutes, you’ll discover the town’s quiet and charming downtown square.

In 2010, Chick-fil-A earned the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Sweet Tea with 912 gallons. Five years later, Summerville took the title with a 1,452-gallon pitcher of sweet tea. The locals claim to be the “home of sweet tea” based on supplies ordered for a Civil War reunion in the late 1800s. After the title was stolen by Lipton, Summerville rebounded and produced an incredible 2,524-gallon of sweet tea in a giant vessel named Mason. Visitors can see the giant container behind the city hall.

Benny Mazzetto’s is a chain of locally owned pizzerias known for their 28″ pizza – but it’s okay, you can order just one 14-inch slice at a time. Montreux Bar & Grill has a hearty menu served in a rustic building with creaky wooden floors.


No. 17

Folly Beach, SC

Folly Beach is “the” beach for Charlestonians. It’s just an 11-mile drive to the beach town, but that drive can take between twenty minutes and two hours. Folly Beach is the quintessential beach town. Towering palm trees and curbside gardens line Center Street. Pastel colors brighten the buildings.

Pier 101 Restaurant & Bar offers some of the best views with food, although the rooftop bar at Snapper Jacks can’t be beaten. Rita’s Seaside Grille, The Crab Shack, and Woody’s Pizza are other restaurants you might want to try. Although a block from the beach, Loggerhead Beach Grill features the largest outdoor seating area.

READ MORE: Leave the Cobblestone Streets Behind for One of These Beaches Near Charleston

Drive to the island’s north end and take a short walk through the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. The 0.4-mile paved road – closed to traffic – leads to a secluded beach with a view of the nearby Morris Island Lighthouse. Built in 1876, erosion has left the lighthouse surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

While in the area, drive out to the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island. Considered one of the oldest trees east of the Mississippi River, the Angel Oak stands 65 feet tall, covers 17,000 square feet, and is believed to be about 500 years old. A free county park preserves the historic site and allows visitors to walk among the giant drooping branches that snake along the ground.

Botany Bay is one of the most gorgeous sites along the South Carolina coast, especially at sunrise.
Botany Bay is one of the most gorgeous sites along the South Carolina coast, especially at sunrise.

No. 18

Edisto Beach, SC

Edisto Beach is about an hour south of Charleston and roughly half the distance to Beaufort. The island’s north end is an oceanfront campground in Edisto Beach State Park. The Plantation Course at Edisto spreads across the island’s south end – a recently renovated golf course with membership and public tee times.

Most of the island is covered in rental homes ranging from one-bedroom bungalows to seven-bedroom oceanfront mansions. The wide, clean beaches are perfect for family getaways.

If Whaley’s Restaurant and Bar looks like a gas station, that’s because it used to be. The gas pumps still sit outside. The dive is nothing special, but the seafood is out of this world. On the other end of the island, The Seacow Eatery is the best breakfast on the island. But you’ll have to arrive early because the line sometimes snakes out the door.

Botany Bay is on the mainland, about five minutes from the island. The wildlife management area is one of the best places to visit on South Carolina’s coast. Drive along an oak-lined dirt road to a parking lot and walk a mile across a salt marsh to the most secluded beach in the state. Take a camera because you’ll want pictures of the gorgeous deadwood trees and flocks of brown pelicans flying overhead.


No. 19

Beaufort, SC

Beaufort is the second-oldest city in South Carolina. Just before the American Revolution, the residents unsuccessfully tried to entice the royal governor to move the colony’s capital out of Charleston. Two British soldiers killed in battle are buried at the Parish Church of St. Helena, the oldest church in the region.

Bay Street is the main drive-through downtown. The street has fantastic local eateries like Hearth Wood Fired Pizza, Q on Bay, and Plums. Walk a short distance from the street and find the Old Bull Tavern with British grub on the menu. Blackstone’s Café continues a tradition of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at 8 a.m. sharp to pay homage to the town’s history with nearby Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Walk off the food coma with a stroll through Waterfront Park to watch the sunset. Even better, go for a half-hour drive along the Sea Island Parkway to Hunting Island State Park. The park covers an island with large beaches, an oceanfront campground, and the state’s only lighthouse open to the public.

Learn about the town at the Beaufort History Museum inside a castle structure that served as the home of the militia. At Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, you can learn what happened to the southern town after the Civil War.


No. 20

Hilton Head Island, SC

Hilton Head Island is a fitting bookend for South Carolina coastal towns. It’s nearly as popular as Myrtle Beach and just as peaceful as North Myrtle Beach. The town balanced urban development with nature, keeping as many trees as possible as barriers between the highway and shopping centers. Driving along the William Hilton Parkway feels more like a state park than a resort town.

And Hilton Head Island is a resort town. From Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort to the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, there are over 30 resorts on the island for a pamper oceanfront vacation. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be affordable – there are plenty of hotels, including one of the best Red Roof Inns.

Coligny Beach Park is the best public beach access on the island. The access is surrounded by local restaurants and breweries. Harbortown, on the island’s sound side, has more restaurants offering views of the circular marina.

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