Charleston, South Carolina is frequently mentioned as one of the top travel destinations in the United States but it also serves as an ideal base for exploring the rest of coastal South Carolina. Travelers can reach the northern and southern borders within two hours down the 180 miles of coastline. The communities up and down the coast have plenty to offer, perhaps even as much as the Holy City. Traverse the backroads on US-17 or get there faster on I-95, which run parallel from one another.
This post contains affiliate links. All photos are ours unless otherwise credited.
A note on destinations: We’ve decided not to include a few places that are difficult or unavailable to visit, like Baruch-North Island Reserve, Tom Yawkey Wildlife Preserve, and Cane Island.
Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand
Myrtle Beach has been a popular tourist destination since the turn of the century for its long stretch of beaches. In recent years, it was the site of spring breaks and bike weeks but has also welcomed families. The greater area includes a number of Grand Strand communities. The original inhabitants of this land were Native American tribes including the Waccamaw.
What to Do
The most popular thing to do in Myrtle Beach is obviously the beach itself. Myrtle Beach State Park has incredible stretches of sand, as does Surfside Beach. You can take surf Lessons in Myrtle Beach, which is perfect for beginners. Visit the historic Boardwalk and its accompanying attractions like the SkyWheel and the Fun Plaza arcade. Catch one of the dinner shows like those at The Carolina Opry. Visit quirky museums and attractions like WonderWorks or soak up culture at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum of Myrtle Beach.
Where to Eat
The area around Myrtle Beach has excellent seafood, which you can enjoy at Wicked Tuna at the 2nd Avenue Pier. They have sushi and other seafood options. Flying Fish Public Market and Grill is another option in North Myrtle Beach. Enjoy breakfast at Croissants Bistro & Bakery, known for its pastries and breakfast dishes. Peaches Corner is a longtime location in Myrtle Beach with hot dogs, burgers, and milkshakes. Or dine in The Chemist, a science-themed restaurant with molecular gastronomy cocktails and dishes.
Where to Stay
Myrtle Beach has so many accommodation options to choose from that it’s almost overwhelming. Anderson Ocean Club is a luxury beachfront hotel with condos and an onsite spa. Located in Kingston Plantation, Royale Palms by Hilton has oceanfront condos with private balconies, WiFi, and full kitchens. FlipKey has a number of rental houses and condos on the beach for large groups and families. Myrtle Beach KOA Resort is one of the many campgrounds for tents and RVs as well as cabins.
For more suggestions, see our Weekend Guide to Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand.
Just up the river from Myrtle Beach proper, the often overlooked community of Conway was settled in 1732 as “Kingston.” The City Hall was designed by Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument. The Waccamaw River cuts through town and is an important part of the region.
What to Do
The Horry County Museum is a regional museum talks about what life was like in the area before European settlement and what has changed over the years. Visit the natural surroundings at the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, which you can see on a guided Myrtle Beach Kayak Tour. Stroll down the Riverwalk for stunning views.
This hotel is also conveniently located near the Palace Theatre (home of Broadway at the Beach shopping center) and Coastal Carolina University. Additional area attractions include the Myrtle Beach Speedway, Tanger Outlets and plenty of golf courses, including Wild Wing Plantation and the Myrtle Beach National.
Where to Eat
Conway has a number of downtown restaurants, including those with river views. The Trestle is a popular local restaurant with a casual bakery and upstairs dining room. Rivertown Bistro is known for its creative Southern food, including sushi, salads, sandwiches, and blue plate specials. Crooked Oak Tavern calls itself a farm to table restaurant with steaks, ribs, and seafood dishes like shrimp and grits.
Where to Stay
There are a few budget hotels in Conway including Sleep Inn Conway, which has free daily breakfast, WiFi, and a seasonal outdoor pool. Carolina Pines has cottages with resort amenities. They also have an RV resort and campground.
The Hammock Coast
The area known as the Hammock Coast includes Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Garden City, and Andrews. Pawleys Island was explored in the 1500s and later named for European settler Percival Pawley, who established plantations here. The island is known as the home of the Pawleys Island Hammock and the originator of pimento cheese. Murrells Inlet became known as the “seafood capital of South Carolina.”
What to Do
Brookgreen Gardens is the area’s most popular attraction, a private garden with sculpture and a wildlife section and seasonal events. Located in Huntington Beach State Park, Atalaya is a Moorish-style former summer home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Guided tours are available. The surrounding park is also a place to spot native species of wildlife. The area can also be explored by kayak from outfitters like Black River Outdoors. There’s also crabbing, fishing, and shelling.
Where to Eat
Litchfield Restaurant in Litchfield Beach is a beloved greasy spoon that serves breakfast all day as well as lunch. The menu includes meat-and-threes, fried chicken, and burgers in addition to daily specials. Quigley’s Pint & Plate on Pawleys Island has house-brewed beer and elevated bar food. Also on Pawleys, Hog Heaven is as casual as it gets, with pulled pork and all the fixings. They also have seafood and country cooking, such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens and fried chicken. Pawleys Island Bakery has breakfast, pastries, sandwiches, and cakes. Murrells Inlet is full of seafood restaurants and markets so you can’t go wrong. Hot Fish Club is a longtime local spot for shrimp and grits, oysters, and locally caught cobia.
Where to Stay
There aren’t many accommodations on Pawleys Island because of a local ordinance, but there are a few to choose from. Pelican Inn was built in 1858 as a private home and has eight guest rooms. Sea View Inn was built in 1937 and is the home of Palmetto Cheese. Cell phones are encouraged and meals are included. Litchfield Inn offers rooms and villas with complimentary breakfast and parking as well as a pool, restaurant, and bike rentals. Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort has both furnished condos and rental houses for groups. The resort has a golf course, beach rentals, pools, bike rentals, and multiple restaurants. In Murrells Inlet, Inlet Sports Lodge is popular with outdoors enthusiasts for the luxury accommodations, breakfast, onsite restaurant, and access to local attractions.
There aren’t many rentals to choose from, especially on the small Pawleys Island where high rise condominiums are not allowed. Some come with beachfront access, creek docks, and amenities like full kitchens. They can be found on OnlyPawleys.com or FlipKey. If you’re camping, there’s the campground at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, which has tent and RV sites.
The town of Georgetown, South Carolina is steeped in history, settled by the Native Americans and Spanish before the British. After establishing a trading post, Georgetown was established in 1729. The historic district is listed under the National Register of Historic Places for its significance to the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Sr. and Thomas Lynch Jr., were from Georgetown. During the Antebellum period, Georgetown was responsible for nearly half of the rice produced in the United States. Today, Georgetown is the second largest seaport in the state and employs locals at the paper and steel mills.
What to Do
Hobcaw Barony is a historic home and nature preserve purchased by philanthropist Bernard M. Baruch in 1905. It served as his family retreat for generations, eventually passing to his daughter Belle. Here she entertained people like Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. There is a small interpretive center that focuses on the barony’s wildlife. Hopsewee Plantation is one of the remaining rice plantations, built in 1740. It was the birthplace of Declaration of Independence signer Thomas Lynch Jr. and offers guided tours of the home, Gullah tours, and sweetgrass basket making classes. The Gullah Museum tells of the African people who came to the Lowcountry and developed their own language and culture. Located in the Old Market building, the Rice Museum focuses on the area’s most important product. The Kaminski House Museum is one of the few Georgian homes in the area and was the residence of a wealthy merchant before the Revolutionary War. Visitors can also see Georgetown and the surrounding area by boat with Rover Tours.
Where to Eat
Georgetown has a surprisingly underrated food scene. Root is a restaurant downtown using the best local produce and seafood. Enjoy local shrimp and grits, heritage pork chops, and craft cocktails. Big Bill’s Lowcountry Bar-B-Que is a casual buffet with pulled pork barbecue, fried chicken, and Southern vegetables. Start your day at Coffee Break Cafe, known for its coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries.
Where to Stay
Georgetown has a handful of inns and accommodations. Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn is unique in that they brew their own beer and also have free WiFi and breakfast. Mansfield Plantation was one of the original rice plantations, now a bed and breakfast with suites spread across three guesthouses. Johnson’s Marina and Campground has 20 full hookup sites for RVs and tents. There are also rental homes on FlipKey
McClellanville and Awendaw
McClellanville and Awendaw are two small rural communities on the coast between Georgetown and Charleston. McClellanville was established in the 1860s when the namesake plantation owner sold lots to planters. Industry found a home here, especially rice, cotton, seafood, and timber. It was officially incorporated in 1926 and today includes a large historic district. Awendaw was named for the Sewee tribe, who lived here before European settlement and built oyster mounds.
What to Do
These towns have a number of historic structures like the St. James Santee Episcopal Chapel of Ease in McClellanville. The Village Museum has exhibits on the Sewee Indians, the arrival of French Huguenots, and the age of the rice plantation. Hampton Plantation State Historic Site was built in 1735 and is a rare example of Georgian architecture. Francis Marion National Forest is named for Francis Marion and stretches over 200,000 acres. The Palmetto Trail is one of the popular hikes within it but there is also horseback riding, ATV riding, and mountain biking.
The Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw runs tours of their facility and offers flight demonstrations and wildlife programming. Catch a barn jam at Awendaw Green, a laid-back local venue. The Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center is also a jumping off point for the barrier islands, specifically Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and Bull Island within it. The island is known for its lighthouses, wildlife, and driftwood-strewn beaches. Both are accessible by private boat or on a tour with Coastal Expeditions.
Where to Eat
Restaurants are limited in this area and there are none to speak of in Awendaw, but See Wee Restaurant is one of the few. Open for over two decades, the restaurant has live music and dishes like she-crab soup and oysters.
McClellanville’s T.W. Graham & Company Seafood Restaurant is a casual restaurant serving seafood baskets, burgers, and sandwiches. The Bent Rod is a roadside restaurant with daily specials, happy hour, and fresh seafood. McClellanville Diner is known for its shrimp and grits and po boys.
Where to Stay
Coastal Expeditions runs limited tours to Dominick House on Bulls Island, a 1920s manor house on the uninhabited island. Francis Marion National Forest has four campgrounds and primitive sites. Airbnb has a few properties in McClellanville and so does FlipKey. MCVL Realty has listings as well.
The colony was founded as Charles Towne in 1670 in honor of King Charles II of England. As a port city, it became home to settlers from Bermuda as well as infamous pirates like Blackbeard. It served as an entry point for the Middle Passage from Africa, bringing slaves to the nearby plantations. It was also the site of a few Revolutionary War battles before “the shot heard round the world” at Fort Sumter, signaling the start of the Civil War. It was also the setting for Gershwin’s classic opera, Porgy and Bess.
What to Do
Rainbow Row is the iconic multicolored homes that are some of the oldest in the city, pictured in just about every photo of the city. The Charleston City Market has been selling everything from produce to gifts to locals since the 1800s. Today you’ll find foods, gifts, and Sweetgrass baskets. Learn about the city’s history at The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the country with Egyptian artifacts, the whale skeleton, and antebellum clothing. The Gibbes Museum of Art opened in the 1900s. Exhibitions usually have some connection with Charleston or the South and the permanent collection features colonial portraiture and more contemporary pieces. The South Carolina Aquarium focuses on education with the state’s native species of fish and other creatures. Historic homes are open for tours, including some of the plantations. But don’t forget about the stories of the Africans brought into the city to work there. The Lost Stories of Black Charleston Walking Tour tells their important history. The Chef’s Kitchen Tour of Charleston is a fun way to explore the city’s eateries.
Where to Eat
Charleston is known for its culinary scene, from award-winning fine dining restaurants to casual eateries. Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit often has a line for its biscuits with fried chicken, pimento cheese, or other toppings. They also have a second location at the City Market if the King Street location is too busy. 82 Queen is frequently named one of the city’s best restaurants, known for their brunch menu as well as the she-crab soup, a local specialty that is creamy and decadent. Leon’s has some of the best seafood downtown oysters, fried shrimp, fried chicken, sandwiches, and small plates. Try the oysters at The Ordinary, another seafood restaurant.
Where to Stay
There are many options in terms of where to stay in Charleston. The NotSo Hostel is a budget-friendly option has both dorms and private rooms along with bike rentals and breakfast. Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina is in Mount Pleasant with rooms, suites, and family rooms between The Beach Club and Harborside. There are multiple restaurants, pools, and spa onsite. The Spectator Hotel is inspired by Art Deco and comes with butler service, daily breakfast in bed, Nespresso machines, bikes to borrow, and a swanky cocktail bar. Charleston Place is an AAA award winner with artwork covered rooms and suites as well as multiple restaurants and shops. For those who are bringing their RV or just want a different type of experience, there’s a KOA Campgrounds in Mount Pleasant that allow you to rent out old rail cars and there are plenty more in the county and state parks nearby. Airbnb does operate in the city, but not downtown because of affordable housing laws.
For more suggestions, see our Weekend Guide to Charleston.
Charleston’s Northern Barrier Islands
To the north of the Charleston peninsula are Mount Pleasant and its beaches, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. Isle of Palms was called a few names before it was purchased by J.S. Lawrence in 1899. It became a tourist destination in 1912 with its beach pavilion, amusement park, and hotel as well as a trolley line to downtown. J.C. Long later built the island and built housing for World War II veterans.
Breach Inlet is the body of water between Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, which was originally named O’Sullivan’s for an Irish immigrant. The island was the point of entry for African slaves brought into America where quarantine stations were established before they were sold at the slave market downtown. An attack on Fort Moultrie was thwarted in 1776 thanks to the palmetto logs it was built with. Edgar Allan Poe was stationed on the island and it was the inspiration for his story “The Gold Bug.”
What to Do
Both islands have access to both the Atlantic Ocean and Intercoastal Waterway and plenty of beach access. Isle of Palms County Park has beach access and playgrounds. Visitors can leave from Isle of Palms to get to smaller barrier islands like on the Dewees Island ferry, but you must pre-register as a guest.
On Sullivan’s Island, Fort Moultrie is open to tours for those interested in learning about its Revolutionary War history. The visitor’s center has a small museum about the conflicts and importance of the fort. Sullivan’s Island is also important to the African American community as it’s where many slaves entered the country. The historic markers at the African American Cemetery and memorial bench honor these people.
Where to Eat
Acme Lowcountry Kitchen is one of the more casual restaurants on IOP with Tex-Mex fare while Luke ‘n Ollie’s Pizzeria has reasonably priced pizza. The Boathouse at Breach Inlet is more on the fine dining end, as is Morgan Creek Grill. Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is close enough with cheaper seafood options.
Poe’s Tavern is named for Edgar Allen Poe and is a neighborhood watering hole that serves up burgers and tacos, as well as craft beer. High Thyme has been open since 2003, serving upscale American cuisine in the casual beach town. They’re open for dinner and Sunday brunch. The Obstinate Daughter has a raw bar, pizza, and pasta and is a certified “green” restaurant.
Where to Stay
Wild Dunes Resort was established on Isle of Palms in 1975 by the Sea Pines Company who previously developed Hilton Head Island. They own a number of properties on the island, including Boardwalk Inn and the main resort. Seaside Inn is a budget-friendly beachfront hotel. The Palms Oceanfront Hotel is mid-range with stylish furnishings. FlipKey is a good place to find Isle of Palms rentals. Sullivan’s Island doesn’t have any hotels but Sullivan’s Island rentals are the best way to stay on the island.
Charleston’s Southern Barrier Islands
Most of the barrier islands to the south of Charleston are more untamed and less popular with tourists but retain much of the look they’ve had for hundreds of years. James Island is a suburb of Charleston and a gateway to the beaches, especially Folly Beach. It was the site of a 1782 Revolutionary War battle. Folly Beach is nicknamed the “Edge of America” and is known for its surfing. Johns Island is the state’s largest and has abundant wildlife, despite development. It was originally inhabited by Native Americans and was the site of a slave rebellion and a Civil War battle. The first colonists arrived on Wadmalaw Island in 1670 and benefited from the assistance of Native American tribes. Named for the Kiawah Indians, Kiawah Island was later bought around 1700 and used for farming. The Vanderhorst family sold some for logging in 1950 and the establishment of summer homes followed. A golf resort was established in 1976. Seabrook Island was colonized in 1684 through an agreement with the Stono Indians. In later years, it was used for hunting, fishing, and as a summer camp before becoming a private community in 1970. Edisto Island has long been home to Native American groups. Plantations were established in 1700 to grow Sea Island cotton. The enslaved people became the Gullah community.
What to Do
James Island is mostly residential but has a few areas to explore. The James Island County Park has its own waterpark as well as hiking paths, bike rentals, and boat rentals. McLeod Plantation Historic Site was built in 1851 and interprets the stories of the plantation owners, the enslaved people, and later, the freedmen.
This area is known for its beaches and access to the water. Folly Beach has public beach access for the entire stretch of the island. On the northern end of Folly, you can see the Morris Island Lighthouse, the area’s oldest, which is not accessible anymore. Charleston Outdoor Adventures leads boat tours to the surrounding area from James Island.
Johns Island boasts Angel Oak, the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi. The majestic oak tree is estimated to be over 400 years old and is free to visit. You can also enjoy a pint at Low Tide Brewing nearby.
Wadmalaw Island is home to the Charleston Tea Plantation, which started in the 1700s when a French botanist planted tea leaves at Henry Middleton’s plantation as a means of not relying on the overseas brands. The modern-day tea plantation was established in 1987, where they created the American Classic blend of tea. The plantation hosts tours and special events. It also has the Firefly Distillery, creator of the original sweet tea vodka. You can try all types of their vodka at the distillery, including those not usually sold to the public. There’s also an onsite winery.
Kiawah Beachwalker County Park has a boardwalk and public beach access. On Edisto Island, Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area contains some of the most beautiful trees and remains of plantations begging to be photographed.
Where to Eat
James Island has plenty of restaurants, including well-known chains. Melvin’s is a barbecue restaurant serving South Carolina style with mustard-based sauce. Bowen’s Island Restaurant is one of the most beloved seafood joints in town, feeding generations of locals after two devastating fires. It’s cash only and best for fried shrimp and fresh oysters.
There are plenty of places to eat on Folly Beach like Taco Boy, a casual taco spot with great margaritas. Rita’s Seaside Grille has burgers and coastal fare across from the beach. Drop-In Deli has sandwiches perfect for a quick bite and also delivers to the beach. Lost Dog Cafe is a favorite for breakfast.
Johns Island has developed its own culinary scene, especially thanks to the success of The Fat Hen, a restaurant that combines French and Lowcountry flavors. Neighboring Wild Olive takes its inspiration from Italy. Angel Oak Restaurant is a rustic eatery known for its country fried steak and other Southern specialties. The Royal Tern is a neighborhood restaurant with the freshest local seafood and a raw bar.
Wadmalaw Island is mostly residential and doesn’t have restaurants, but Edisto and Kiawah do. On Edisto Island, the Old Post Office Restaurant is named for its location and serves shrimp and grits and other coastal favorites. Within Kiawah’s resort is the prestigious restaurants The Ocean Room and Jasmine Porch. Freshfields Village has more affordable options like La Tela Pizzeria, which uses a wood-fired oven for their pizzas.
Where to Stay
The majority of the area’s accommodations are resorts and rental houses. On James Island, look for Airbnb properties. The Campground at James Island County Park has both traditional campsites and cabins.
On Folly Beach, Tides Folly Beach is centrally located on the island with sleek rooms with balconies, an onsite restaurant, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool. The adults-only Water’s Edge Inn offers complimentary breakfast, bike rentals, and a great location. Folly Beach rentals range in size and price, but are the most affordable option, especially for groups.
Wyndham Ocean Ridge Resort on Edisto Island has suites with balconies and free WiFi. Guests enjoy the onsite restaurant and bike rentals to explore the island. Edisto Island rentals provide a residential feel with the amenities of home. Edisto Island State Park even has camping for both tents and RVs.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort includes multiple accommodations including The Sanctuary Hotel and their villas, which have access to the golf courses, tennis courts, spa, and restaurants. Andell Inn is a stylish property run by Residence Inn by Marriott, which has a full-service bar, complimentary breakfast, and free WiFi. Kiawah Island rentals include those within the resort and independent homes.
Beaufort was founded in 1711 on Port Royal Island but had been explored by the Spanish in the 1500s. The city was the site of a Civil War battle and later a Union occupation that brought escaped slaves to reside there. A Freedmen’s Bureau was established to assist with Reconstruction. Beaufort has been featured in a number of films and contains a number of historic register buildings. Parris Island was the site of European settlement but became a military outpost in 1891, which it has remained, now the home of the Marines. A number of islands, including Fripp, Harbor, and Lady’s, are gated residential communities.
What to Do
The Beaufort History Museum in the historic arsenal educates on the area’s history from Native American settlement to Reconstruction to the present. At Beaufort National Cemetery, visitors can pay their respects to the all-black Massachusetts 55th Volunteer Infantry, the Civil War regiment featured in the film Glory. Learn about Beaufort’s years as the Spanish capital at the Santa Elena History Center.
Pat Conroy’s Beaufort Tour by Bus visits places related to the local author who based many of his books in the Lowcountry. See the locations from your favorite movies on the Beaufort History and Film Location Tour by Van. The Old Sheldon Church Ruins near Yemassee are ruins of a Greek Revival church built in the 1700s but burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. In 1826 it was rebuilt, but was soon gutted to rebuild homes destroyed by Sherman’s troops following the Civil War.
On St. Helena Island, the Penn Center was originally an African-American school established for the Gullah peoples of the Sea Islands. It is surrounded by historic structures that make up the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park. Fort Fremont Historical Preserve was one of six coastal fortifications built for the Spanish American War. Now it’s the site of an interpretive center.
Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve on Port Royal has a tabby structure from the British period. Tours are available through South Carolina DNR. The Hunting Island Light at Hunting Island State Park dates back to 1875, even though it is no longer functional. The state park was established in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservations Corps and contains five miles of pristine beaches. The Parris Island Museum tells the story of the Marines and their history on the island with artifacts and the recruit depot.
Where to Eat
Beaufort has a number of local restaurants to choose from. Lowcountry Produce Market and Cafe has three local locations that are equal parts store and restaurant with home decor, gifts, and dishes like French toast, burgers, and shrimp and grits. Wren Bistro and Bar is a neighborhood restaurant serving dishes like shrimp and grits and fried flounder. For something casual, head to Duke’s Barbecue for barbecue chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.
Port Royal has Madison’s, a family-run restaurant serving the best local produce in their fried green tomatoes, burgers, and shrimp and grits. Fishcamp on 11th has a dockside location and a menu with local crab cakes and Lowcountry boil. The Smokehouse has pulled pork and smoked chicken, po boys, and seafood with Southern sides.
On Lady’s Island, chow down at Lady’s Island Dockside, a waterfront restaurant with she-crab soup as well as seafood dishes and steaks. Momma Lou’s Gullah Cuisine has authentic fare traditional of the sea islands.
Island Fish Market on St. Helena Island has a roadside stand selling fresh-made seafood and barbecue. Parris Island has restaurants, but only for those with base access. Fripp Island also has restaurants inside the resort if you are renting a property.
Where to Stay
In Beaufort, the AAA four-diamond rated Rhett House Inn was featured in The Big Chill, Forrest Gump, and Prince of Tides. Guests can enjoy complimentary champagne, breakfast, and homemade desserts. Anchorage 1770 has modern rooms with free breakfast, free WiFi, and king and queen rooms in the historic property. The Beaufort Inn is another historic inn where guests enjoy coffee makers, breakfast, and rooms furnished with antiques.
Most of the places to stay on Port Royal are rental homes. Port Royal rentals can be found on FlipKey. Beaulieu House at Cat Island is the next island over and is a bed and breakfast with free WiFi, private verandas, and spa baths.
There are a few chain hotels near Parris Island for those visiting Marines. But Parris Island rentals are another option for longer stays. Fripp Island Golf Resort is a private resort community that offers vacation rentals. Hunting Island State Park has campsites for RVs and tents as well as one rental cabin.
Hilton Head Island
Native American settlement on modern-day Hilton Head Island dates back thousands of years. The Spanish explored the area in the 1500s and in 1663, Captain William Hilton named the land for himself. English colonists arrived soon after and established plantations to grow Sea Island cotton. It was the site of a base of operations during the Civil War because of its strategic location. It was used for lumber milling in the 1950s but development began in 1956 to create the Sea Pines Resort. It became a golf resort, hosting big-name tournaments, and continues to be today.
What to Do
Hilton Head has much for visitors, including biking the trails and playing miniature golf. The Harbour Town Lighthouse has a museum that educates visitors on the importance of the structure. The Coastal Discovery Museum is a favorite for visitors, where you’ll learn about the culture and ecosystems of the Lowcountry. The facility has gardens, boardwalks, and historic buildings to explore. The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where you can go on nature walks. Mitchelville was a town of freed slaves that was created after the Civil War. The site has guided tours and exhibits from its history. Fort Howell is the remains of a Civil War fort built by the Union’s 32nd Colored Infantry that now operates as a nature preserve. Hilton Head Island Kayaking Tour allows visitors to see local wildlife, but the Hilton Head Island Creek Skiff Tour is a good alternative if you don’t want to paddle.
In nearby Bluffton, visitors can tour the historic homes and structures. The Heyward House Historic Center is a good place to start and has tours of the home built by slaves. The Rose Hill Mansion Tour in Bluffton SC brings visitors to the home of a cotton magnate.
Where to Eat
Enjoy the coastal cuisines found in Hilton Head. Lucky Rooster Kitchen & Bar has items like foie gras and veal sweetbreads as well as Southern favorites like their decadent shrimp and grits. Hudson’s Seafood House On The Docks is a local institution for the dockside location, which is the best place on the island to see the sunset and enjoy fried seafood and oysters. The Salty Dog Cafe in Sea Pines has waterfront dining and delicious seafood like she-crab soup and fish tacos. Skull Creek Boathouse has a sushi bar and an outdoor raw bar with fresh oysters, ceviche, and other seafood dishes.
Bluffton also has local restaurants. Old Town Dispensary has live music, a raw bar, Sunday brunch, and happy hour. Favorites include the Palmetto burger and fried green tomatoes. The Bluffton Room combines fine dining with local favorites. There are also restaurants inside Palmetto Bluff.
Where to Stay
Hilton Head Island is full of resorts from nearly every hotel brand, so you have options. Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort has the comfort of a hotel room with the amenities of a condo. They also have direct beach access, bikes for rent, a giant chess board and a fire pit. The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa is the most luxurious hotel on the island with nine tennis courts and golf courses, a spa, and fitness center. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is modeled after a hunting lodge and has a heated pool with a slide, kids activities, and golf lessons. Sonesta Resort has beachfront access, kids activities, and multiple restaurants. Rooms have views of the ocean or the resort. Beach House is a Holiday Inn resort with coastal decor, a pool, restaurant, and a tiki bar. Inn and Club at Harbour Town at Sea Pines has easy access to the links and is a Forbes four-star hotel. Golf is the main draw but there are also multiple restaurants, tennis, shopping, a marina, and a spa. There are a number of private campgrounds including Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort and Marina as well as condo and home rentals on FlipKey.
Over in Bluffton, the Montage Inn at Palmetto Bluff is set on the ruins of an antebellum mansion. The resort has sprawling grounds to explore, multiple dining options, and wellness activities. Old Town Bluffton Inn has a la carte breakfast, free parking, and stylish rooms. If you’re looking for something with more space, look into Bluffton rentals.
For more suggestions, see our Weekend Guide to Hilton Head Island.
Daufuskie Island is the southernmost of the barrier islands in South Carolina. It’s only accessible by ferry and private boat from Hilton Head. Native Americans lived on the island before the Spanish arrived in 1523. They introduced Iberian horses that can still be found on the island, called Carolina Marsh Tacky. There was a clash with the Yamassee, causing a part of the island to be named Bloody Point. Europeans arrived on Daufuskie to escape persecution and produced the prized sea island cotton. The island’s remoteness led to the creation of the Gullah culture by former slaves. In the 1980s, private developments were created on the island, including the Haig Point community.
What to Do
Daufuskie Island has a number of historic landmarks, including the First Union African Baptist Church, the island’s oldest building that continues as a house of worship. Tour Daufuskie runs guided and self-guided excursions, including kayaking tours, eco-tours, and tours led by native Gullah peoples. Daufuskie Island Rum Company crafts artisan rum and runs tours of their facility. The Bloody Point Lighthouse and Museum offers tours of the unusual light and interprets its history dating back to the 1800s. The Daufuskie Island Community Farm is a living history farm that kids will enjoy.
Where to Eat
Despite its remote location, Daufuskie Island does have restaurants, although you still might want to bring groceries with you. Old Daufuskie Crab Company serves dishes like deviled crab and moonshine cocktails. Lucy Bell’s is a family-run spot with outdoor dining. There are also restaurants inside private clubs.
Where to Stay
There were previously two resorts on the island, but Melrose closed after going into foreclosure. Bloody Point is offering limited services after recent hurricanes. The most popular option to stay on Daufuskie Island is to rent a house or cottage from a site like FlipKey. Some rentals even come with golf carts to get around the island.