10 Best Beach Towns in South Carolina, According to Locals

These are the best beach towns in South Carolina — from Charleston favorites to lesser-known ocean-front communities.

<p>Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images</p>

Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images

South Carolina is divided into four distinct regions: the Lowcountry, the Pee Dee, the Midlands, and the Upstate. While the latter two are beautiful in their own right, the first two can claim the state’s coastal areas — including its famous laid-back beach towns. From Myrtle Beach down to Hilton Head Island, wide stretches of sand, palmetto trees, bike paths, quaint boardwalks, and fresh seafood abound.

I’ve spent much of my life frequenting the Palmetto State’s beach towns — visiting Kiawah Island every year and even living in Charleston for a period. So using my own experience, as well as the expertise of a few locals, we narrowed down the list of the best beach towns in South Carolina to 10. See if your favorite made the cut below.

Folly Beach

<p>Chris Marinaccio/Travel + Leisure</p>

Chris Marinaccio/Travel + Leisure

"As someone who lives 10 minutes from Folly Beach, I certainly feel like I am on vacation where I live,” Katie Hirsch, the director and chief curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, tells Travel + Leisure. It’s one of the closest beach towns to Charleston, so it’s a great option for a day trip if you’re visiting the Holy City; just be sure to arrive on the earlier side if you want to beat the crowds and have an easier time parking. Plus, “if you're an early riser,” says Hirsch, you might want to “try finding shark teeth during a morning beach walk.” She also recommends grabbing some food at local favorite Jack of Cups Saloon for “unexpected bites inspired by Asian cuisine.”

Related: This South Carolina Beach Town Is a Local Favorite — and It's Just Outside Charleston

Hilton Head Island

<p>Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images</p>

Dan Reynolds Photography/Getty Images

"Hilton Head Island is one of the best places to escape to if you want to be near a beach town but want a different environment from Charleston,” explains Hirsch. “It has modern touches but still keeps its Southern charm, appealing to both tourists and locals alike.” Hilton Head is known for its golf courses and bike trails, but there’s something for everyone on the 12-mile-long, five-mile-wide island. Gullah heritage tours, boat rides, paddleboarding, and birding are all itinerary contenders, and Hirsch also says the destination has “some of the best thrift stores.” If that’s up your alley, save an afternoon for exploring the goods at The Bargain Box, My Sister’s Closet, and The Church Mouse.

Related: 16 Best Things to Do on Hilton Head Island — From Golfing to History Tours

Isle of Palms

<p>abalconis/Getty Images</p>

abalconis/Getty Images

I’ve spent countless days on Isle of Palms, a small barrier island just under 30 minutes from downtown Charleston. It’s one of the more family-friendly beaches in the area, with many visitors opting to stay at Wild Dunes Resort or rent a roomy oceanfront home. No matter where you are on the island, though, its leisurely pace, wide beach, and classic small-town features will entice visitors of all ages. One of my favorite things to do on “IOP,” as the locals call it, is to grab dinner at Islander 71 and watch the boats come in and out of the marina. I’d also recommend checking out the live music schedule at The Windjammer — or picking up a to-go frosé from The Co-Op.

Sullivan’s Island

<p>benkrut/Getty Images</p>

benkrut/Getty Images

Named one of the best beach towns on the East Coast, Sullivan’s Island continues to be a favorite — especially for Charlestonians. “The beach is very relaxed, and the marsh views are second to none,” says Betsy Fuller, owner of A Maker’s Post. “If you’re visiting, I’d recommend taking a long beach walk ending at Station 22.5, so you can head into ‘town,’ aka Middle Street, to do a little shopping.” This part of Sullivan’s Island is popular for its various eateries; there’s everything from Mexican and barbecue to burgers and seafood. Fuller recommends getting a table at High Thyme or The Obstinate Daughter — then grabbing a nightcap at Dunleavy’s.

Related: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina


<p>Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The second-oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort is often compared to Charleston; it’s historic, beautiful, and filled with oak trees and amazing architecture. Its proximity to the water is also a perk. Similarly to Charleston, you’ll have to drive a bit out of the main hub to get to the beach. If you don’t mind parking your beach chair by Battery Creek, rather than the Atlantic Ocean, make your way to the Sands Beach on the southern end of Port Royal. The beach is free to the public, and there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained, including shark tooth hunting, a boardwalk, and an observation tower. For true oceanfront beaches, you’ll need to drive to Hunting Island State Park, where five miles of beautiful beaches live alongside marshes, a saltwater lagoon, and maritime forests.

Related: This Small Coastal Town in South Carolina Has Charleston-like Charm Without the Crowds

Pawleys Island

<p>makasana/Getty Images</p>

makasana/Getty Images

Relaxation is paramount when you’re visiting Pawleys Island, a barrier island beach town located between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. This is the type of place where time automatically slows, where you’re encouraged to log off, and where you can see the unparalleled natural splendor of South Carolina’s coast. Spend your days crabbing, surfing (if the waves permit), fishing, golfing, or dining on classic Lowcountry staples; just don’t forget to save time for the art of doing absolutely nothing. For a particularly rejuvenating getaway, book a room at The Pelican Inn, an eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast with a number of reading nooks and places to take a nap.

Murrells Inlet

<p>LCBallard/Getty Images</p>

LCBallard/Getty Images

Murrells Inlet, or the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina,” makes this list for a few reasons. For starters, the historic fishing village has a feature known as MarshWalk. The wooden boardwalk spans a half-mile along a natural saltwater estuary and several restaurants, including Bovine’s, Wahoo’s Fish House, and The Claw House. In between trips to the far-from-crowded Huntington Beach State Park, visitors should make a point to stop by Brookgreen Gardens, a zoo and 9,100-acre sculpture garden. Murrells Inlet was also previously the location of Goat Island, which Hirsch calls a “spectacle to see,” but as of 2023, the resident goats have been replaced with metal goat replicas as high tides posed too much of a threat to the animals.

Edisto Beach

<p>Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images</p>

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Edisto Beach isn’t your typical, buzzy beach town — and that’s the beauty of it. There are no stoplights, high rises, or chain restaurants on the entirety of Edisto Island, and the beach town itself wholeheartedly embraces the magic of slow living. For entertainment, visitors can (respectfully) explore the 4.5 miles of coastline, take a dip in the ocean, and search for shells, shark teeth, and other fossils that may wash up on shore. Biking, kayaking, and dolphin tours are also favorite vacation additions. But if there’s absolutely one thing you can’t miss while visiting Edisto Beach? The glorious sunsets. Bring a blanket to Edisto Beach State Park, sit back, and enjoy the show.

Related: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Edisto Island, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach

<p>DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images</p>

DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Myrtle Beach may technically be a city, but it has all of the trappings of your classic beach town. There’s a bustling boardwalk, golf courses, go-karts, souvenir shopping, and, of course, a number of public beaches. “I’ve always been drawn to the nostalgia that you can find on Myrtle Beach,” says Fuller. “One of my favorite movies, “Shag,” is set there, and whenever I watch it, I daydream about going back to visit the beach town in the 1950s.” And while it might be synonymous with spring break crowds and families on summer vacation, this is a destination that delivers — whether you’re hoping to spend the day by the water or keeping your schedule full, from sun-up to sundown.

Related: 25 Best Things to Do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Kiawah Island

<p>KathyKafka/Getty Images</p>

KathyKafka/Getty Images

“Beach town” has different associations for different people. To me, a beach town is somewhere that’s easily navigable by bike; it’s a place with only a few shops that all, for the most part, sell some form of sun hat or location-specific t-shirt. In South Carolina, a beach town also evokes a nostalgic mix of humidity, salt water, and the smell of pluff mud. Kiawah Island meets all of these criteria — and then some. A majority of the island functions as a gated private community, accessible only to residents, their guests, and those with reservations, though there are a couple of areas open to the public, namely Kiawah Beachwalker Park and Freshfields Village. At the latter, you can load up on all your vacation essentials — groceries, beach reads, bathing suits, and more.

Related: This Small South Carolina Island Has 10 Miles of Pristine Beaches and One of the Best Resorts in the State

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