Natural beauty abounds on the South Carolina coastline which boasts salt marshes, boardwalk entertainment, and southern hospitality. You can find excellent beach destinations in South Carolina for a romantic getaway, family-centered fun, a solo beach trip, or a vacation with friends.
The Palmetto State has so much to offer including warm temperatures and waters, history, and beautiful scenery.
Ready for your next memorable beach trip? Check out 15 of the best beaches in South Carolina.
Why South Carolina?
South Carolina offers unique charm and plenty of opportunities for beachgoers. Let’s explore them!
Climate & Ocean Temperatures
For beachgoers like to spend time in the water, you’ll appreciate the welcoming warmth of Atlantic beaches. Due to the clockwise rotation of ocean currents, South Carolina beach waters arrive after traveling up from the warm south.
Beach water temperatures in South Carolina stay warm through mid-October, making autumn a great time to visit to avoid blazing summer heat on land and summer crowds. The median water temperatures at South Carolina beaches rise to the 70s from May through October, with averages above 80 degrees July, August, and September.
For those who enjoy cooler waters, April and November’s ocean temps still rest in the 60s – plus, you can avoid some of the busiest summer crowds.
The Eastern Seaboard is rife with architecture, monuments, and scenery reminiscent of the days of early America. The Carolinas’ plantation era within the Cotton Belt left developed land and a mix of vibrant cultures in its wake.
The Atlantic Ocean was a major transportation route for cargo such as tea, coffee, and spices, contributing to the richness of colonial maritime lore.
Beachfront visitors who want a break from the water will appreciate the many historical treasures South Carolina holds. Charleston and Savannah, in particular, offer significant interest to the Civil War buff.
Vacations can pack a financial punch, especially in high-traffic destinations. But, aside from popular meccas like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina also offers lesser-known beaches that are kinder to your wallet.
When opting for a frugal trip, avoid private and semi-private beaches. There are plenty of state parks and public areas that cost little to nothing to visit in South Carolina along with camping opportunities for affordable accommodation.
If you do decide to splurge, check out the Airbnb and VRBO options for renting a private residence. This allows you to experience certain communities from a locals-eye view, which comes in handy to access private beaches like Seabrook (at Hilton Head – detailed below).
Where to Visit
Since location preferences and vacation priorities vary for different beach visitors, we grouped the beaches by geographical areas.
Northern SC Area/Myrtle Beach
Many people know the name Myrtle Beach, SC and understandably so. Each year, Myrtle Beach, which is located on the northern end of the state, attracts millions of visitors to its boardwalk and coast, known for entertaining visitors of all ages.
There’s no shortage of activities at Myrtle Beach. Dry-land entertainment is partly what makes this area so attractive. The boardwalk boasts dozens of restaurants, bars, shops, and cafes.
Also famous as a golf haven, this stretch boasts over 75 public, semi-private, and private golf courses where you can swing a club.
This biggest and most famous beach destination in the Palmetto State is 14 separate but interlinked communities – together referred to as “The Grand Strand.” Below, we’ll dip our toes in the waters that make up the Myrtle multiplex.
1. Cherry Grove, North Myrtle Beach
Four cities make up North Myrtle Beach: Crescent Beach, Ocean Drive Beach, Windy Hill Beach, and Cherry Grove (incorporated together in 1968). Together they cover 9 miles of sand and surf where you can enjoy stunning views of the Atlantic.
The furthest north of the four, Cherry Grove Beach is a great place to hang out during the day or at night. In the evening, visitors like to enjoy a bite to eat while listening to live music. Fishing enthusiasts also appreciate angler opportunities from the pier.
2. Litchfield Beach, Litchfield
North of Pawleys Island and south of Murrells Inlet is the tranquil Litchfield Beach. A quiet stepping stone between the historical culture of Georgetown and the fun of Myrtle Beach beaches, Litchfield is one of the best beaches in South Carolina if you’re looking to relax.
Like much of the Myrtle Beach area, Litchfield is a popular sports attraction, offering ample opportunities for golf and tennis entertainment.
Be aware that Litchfield is nestled behind a swath of private property and gated communities. Visitors should peruse a beach access map when planning their day on the sand. However, there is a multitude of condos and other beachfront-access living available for rental.
3. Murrells Inlet
The cozy Murrells Inlet, located close to many other popular beaches, is the perfect destination for a beachgoer in search of pirate lore. Legend has it that Blackbeard chose this fishing village as his hideaway!
If you’re looking for delicious seafood on your beach vacation, Murrells Inlet is the spot! There’s a reason the area is called the “seafood capital of South Carolina.”
When you’re not in the water, check out the natural beauty of Brookgreen Gardens (leave your dog at home for this adventure), or charter a deep-sea fishing or diving expedition.
Bonus: Huntington Beach State Park lies just across the street from the gardens and offers beach access, hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and more.
4. Pawleys Island Beach
The town of Pawleys Island was settled by rice planters in the 18th century and has held both economic and historical riches ever since. Hippie vacationers love this area where locals tend to go barefoot and will strike up a casual conversation with anyone. It’s also a great spot if you want a laid-back beach experience!
Pawleys is one of the best beaches in South Carolina for shelling enthusiasts who won’t be bothered by large crowds of tourists. This relaxing and friendly beach is only accessible by two causeways, offering relative isolation as a haven of peace.
Other beaches are a short drive away. In fact, Litchfield Beach, Murrells Inlet, and Pawleys Island all make up a swath of shoreline nicknamed the “Hammock Coast.” Famous for its leisure options as well as destination wedding venues, there’s no shortage of entertainment here for any traveler.
5. Surfside Beach
Just south of downtown Myrtle Beach is the community of Surfside Beach, also known as “The Family Beach.” Known for being clean and quiet, Surfside Beach is a pleasant alternative to the bigger areas of the Grand Strand.
In fact, Surfside Beach is one-of-a-kind in a special way. It’s the first-ever Autism-Friendly Travel Destination. The small community of 3,800 locals shows their Southern hospitality by understanding differences and welcoming all. This is seen in their kind personalities and thrill in sharing local knowledge and event with out-of-towners.
Surfside Beach is a great place to relax, fish, and swim. There are amenities including lifegaurds, restrooms, outdoor showers, and snacks.
Beaches Near Charleston, SC
Charleston is the quintessential blend of small-town charm and big-city experiences. A true Southern bedrock, it anchors the middle of the South Carolina coastline, with several beaches only a 15-30 minutes drive away.
To access any of these Charleston, South Carolina beaches, you’ll most likely travel through downtown Charleston, so consider planning for time to stop and explore the lively area filled with attractions. Be sure to take a stroll down the charming cobblestone streets laden with U.S. history and enjoy true Southern charm.
6. Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Island
This sparsely-populated area is great for a day trip. Its calm, quiet environment and 1,200 acres of hike and bike trails make Edisto Beach State Park a welcome reprieve from the city life.
Cultural enthusiasts can enjoy the Native American history in the area and educate themselves on coastal ecology at the Environmental Learning Center. For the ultimate relaxing afternoon, head to the beach for shell-gathering, shark teeth hunting, and swimming.
7. Folly Beach
If a carefree, fun beach vibe is what you’re looking for, Folly Beach is the place for you. Just minutes from Charleston, Folly Beach boasts fun for outdoor enthusiasts at and away from the beach. Try surfing, boating, fishing, paddle boarding, or kayaking on 6 miles of beach or the adjacent Folly River.
There’s also a 1,045-foot pier that extends out into the surf for thrilling sunset views. The Morris Island Lighthouse is a picturesque scene for the perfect Instagram shot.
For more fun, Folly Beach’s downtown area offers a relaxed, surfer vibe where you can shop, visit quaint cafes, and dine. You can also explore other bustling areas just a short drive away.
8. Isle of Palms
Right up the coast from Folly Beach, Isle of Palms is a more family-friendly option. Vacationers can enjoy tennis, golf, deep-sea diving, and collecting shells on 7 miles of beach.
Isle of Palms is known for its impeccable, white-sand beaches. For the traveler seeking a beach sanctuary with beautiful views, Isle of Palms is an excellent choice. If you’re more interested in sports activity, there’s also a plethora of recreation available such as biking, tennis, skating, and shuffleboard.
9. Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island is a golfer’s paradise, welcoming players of skill levels ranging from amateur to PGA pros. The focus on sports makes Kiawah Island one of the quieter beaches in South Carolina.
Aside from golf, visitors enjoy other experiences on Kiawah Island like playing tennis, boating, fishing, and kayaking. The more laid-back visitor can enjoy stunning views, fine dining, and sunbathing.
If you appreciate wildlife, you’ll enjoy hiking one of the nature trails on Kiawah Island. Keep an eye out for deer, turtles, butterflies, and multiple species of seabirds.
10. Seabrook Island Beaches
Seabrook Island is made up of two adjacent beaches, North Beach and Pelican Beach, and offers 4 miles of pristine coastline. This serene area isn’t easy to access because it’s the only private, gated beach community in the Charleston area. To enjoy Seabrook Island, make friends with a local or rent a beachfront property.
Pelican Beach is more family-friendly where children can play in the gentle Atlantic waters while parents enjoy the sun and surf. It’s also well known by local photographers for its unmatched beauty.
If you’re an active nature lover, then North Beach is perfect for you! Spend time walking, biking, and watching wildlife. You can also bring your pet to run off-leash or go horseback riding on the beach.
No matter where you go on Seabrook Island, there’s plenty of beauty and activities to enjoy!
11. Sullivan’s Island
The Charleston suburb of Sullivan’s Island offers experiences for all kinds of beachgoers. Enjoy endless delicious food and beach activities at Sullivan’s Island.
Sullivan’s Island Beach is gorgeous and features water sports like kayaking, sailing, and paddleboarding. You’re also just as welcomed to take a stroll or sit on the sand while enjoying the scenery. At only 3 miles long, it’s one of the smaller beaches in the area and activity moves at a slower pace.
Middle Street boasts trendy, upscale restaurants to suit any culinary interest as well as cozy hangouts. There are also bars and live music for an exciting night out.
Southern SC Area/Hilton Head
Scattered along Hilton Head Island are a handful of quieter beach options for those wanting a more tranquil vacation. These South Carolina beaches are situated between Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA.
While not beach destinations per se, coastal towns such as Beaufort offer a charming small-town atmosphere for the vacationer who may not necessarily crave swimming but prefers a beachy-vibe experience.
12. Hilton Head Island Beach, Hilton Head Island
About as iconic as Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island is a popular wedding destination as well as a retirement mecca. You can find a laid-back feel, a little bit of a party atmosphere, and lots of golf.
Less of a true island vibe, Hilton Head is more like a suburban community boasting beautiful palm trees. Businesses are found separate from beaches which are connected by long walkways through trees and shrubbery. Streets don’t line the beach, so make sure to research parking before you pack your beach accessories for the day.
At Hilton Head Island Beach, you can enjoy fishing and boating. There are also swimming waters and lifegaurds in designated areas.
For a fun daytime activity, take a bike tour around the island. Since there’s traffic in the area, this isn’t recommended for newbie bikers. However, the Breeze Trolley provides alternative transportation for guests to explore the area, operating every 30 minutes between April and September and it’s free of charge.
13. Burkes Beach, Hilton Head Island
Burkes Beach is a quiet, charming area of Hilton Head. Though it’s foot-friendly, of course, Burkes features paved trails best explored via bike.
Once you’re on the beach, it’s the perfect spot to take a peaceful nap or read a good book. There are also basketball and tennis courts and an off-leash area for your pet.
14. Driessen Beach Park
Take the kids to this one! A woodsy path winds past a playground before arriving at a wide-open beach area. Not too crowded but offering fun for everyone, Driessen Island Beach is a local’s favorite.
While out-of-towners are typically drawn to larger destinations, Driessen is ideal if you’re looking for a calm experience without tourists attractions.
15. Hunting Island State Park, Beaufort
Hunting Island State Park is one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks and with good reason. It features thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest along with a saltwater lagoon and beach inlet. Also, the Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina.
This state park offers camping opportunities, beach activities, and wildlife sightings. Keep an eye out for Carolina critters such as loggerhead turtles, deer, and alligators.
Bonus Beach: Mitchellville
Mitchelville Beach Park is one of the most secluded South Carolina beaches, ideal for visitors who want more nature and fewer people. Tie in this one with your stop at Driessen for a low-key beach afternoon.
Have more questions about the best beaches in South Carolina? We’ve got the answers!
What’s so special about South Carolina beaches?
The variety! Whether honeymooning, taking a golf vacation, entertaining the whole family, or going a solo trip, there’s something for everyone. Looking for water sports or a vibrant beach town for a friends trip? There’s that, too!
Are there sharks in South Carolina waters?
South Carolina is rated number 4 in the nation for shark attacks recorded since the 1830s. With that said, it’s still extremely rare if you play by the rules. Pay attention to local ordinances and follow swimming guidelines for the particular beach you’re visiting.
Should I be worried about hurricanes?
Like shark attacks, incidents of hurricanes that carry real danger are infrequent. Tropical storms are serious enough that you’ll be aware of them in plenty of time to change your beach plans. If you want to play it safe, avoid planning beach travel during hurricane season between August and October.
Pack Your Bags!
Beaches in South Carolina offer stunning views and a variety of exciting activities. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful getaway or an adventurous vacation, we hope you’ve found your next beach destination in South Carolina!