Lapped by the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina is known for its shoreline of beautiful sub-tropical beaches and marshy sea islands. Tucked between the sandy beaches of the coast and mountainous foothills upstate, South Carolina is packed with things to see and do.
The coastal city of Charleston exudes Southern charm with elegant buildings and churches, military forts, and interesting museums, while Myrtle Beach is a playground of golf courses, water parks, and 60 miles of pristine beaches.
Add to that, vast Southern plantations with grand antebellum mansions, superb state parks, and reserves, and diverse landscapes of mountains, lakes, low-lying country, and coastal plains that offer a wealth of recreational activities, and the Palmetto State promises an unforgettable experience.
Here are the best things to do when visiting South Carolina.
1. Wander Around Charleston’s Historic District
The Charleston Historic District is a charming, historic part of the city that is home to magnificent 18th and 19th-century antebellum architecture and is designated as a National Historic Landmark District. There are over 1,400 historic homes, churches, and other buildings with elegant antebellum design, including many distinctive Charleston “single houses” in soft pastel hues.
Explore the Historic District in true Charleston style on a horse-and-carriage ride or on a guided walking tour that includes a peek into some of the beautiful homes. You can also tour several historic homes, such as 1808 Nathaniel Russell House and the Aiken-Rhett House, which have priceless collections of fine and decorative arts.
Address: Charleston, SC
Suggested Tour: Charleston: Historic Downtown Tour by Horse-drawn Carriage
2. Soak Up Some Sun on Myrtle Beach
Myrtle Beach is South Carolina’s go-to spot for summer getaways and vacations. Miles of white sandy beaches lapped by azure blue seas and balmy weather make this a fantastic spot to spend a day or two soaking up some sun and swimming the Atlantic Ocean.
There are numerous traditional seaside pleasures along the coast to enjoy from taking in amazing views on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel to musical shows at the Carolina Opry. Broadway at the Beach offers a wealth of entertainment and shopping and is home to Ripley’s Aquarium, a pedestrian-only area around Lake Broadway, water parks, swimming pools, and mini-golf. Myrtle Beach is also renowned for its celebrity-designed golf courses.
Suggested Tour: WonderWorks Myrtle Beach All Access Ticket
3. Huntington Beach
Huntington Beach State Park is a pristine stretch of coastline that includes Murrells Inlet that is considered by many to be the best birding location in South Carolina. The park features a diverse range of landscapes from beaches and wetlands to a freshwater lake that is home to sea turtles, alligators, and over 300 bird species.
You can explore the park on several trails such as the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail and the Kerrigan Nature Trail, both of which have observation decks over the water. The park is also home to an immense 1930s Moorish-style castle that was once the home of the owners of the land, the Huntington family.
Address: 16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
Opening Hours: 6 am – 6 pm, daily
Suggested Tour: Huntington Beach State Park Salt Marsh Tour
4. Explore Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston
Fort Sumter is a federal sea fort built on an artificial island in Charleston Harbor to protect Charleston from naval invasion. It is believed to have been constructed during the War of 1812 when the British invaded Washington by sea.
Today, Fort Sumter is open to the public as part of the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park and you can explore the fort on guided tours led by National Park Rangers who bring the events of the American Civil War to life. You can also enjoy a 90-minute sightseeing boat tour along the Cooper River to Fort Sumter National Monument.
Address: South Carolina, 29412
Suggested Tour: Fort Sumter: National Monument Entry Ticket & Ferry
5. Explore South Carolina’s Plantations
South Carolina is home to over 2,000 plantations, many of which are breathtakingly beautiful with grand historic homes surrounded by spectacular gardens and grounds. Scattered around the state, the plantations are a symbol of the state’s deep-rooted cotton and tobacco industry and the story of slavery.
Significant plantations include Boone Hall Plantation near Mt. Pleasant, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place which is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The best way to see and experience these grand old dames is on a plantation tour around the state.
Suggested Tour: Beaufort: Spirit of Old Beaufort Heritage Tour
6. Have a Picnic on Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is a quiet spot in the Lowcountry region that has some lovely white sandy beaches and top-notch golf courses. There is plenty to do on the island – visit the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum and the Coastal Discovery Museum to learn more about the island and its heritage buildings; or bird and wildlife watching at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge which is nestled between the island and mainland. Rent a bike and explore the island on two wheels.
Suggested Tour: Guided Tours to Hilton Head Island
7. Check Out the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia
Located along the banks of the Congaree River in downtown Columbia, the South Carolina State Museum is dedicated to displaying the art, culture, natural history, science, and technology of South Carolina. Exhibits are spread over four floors and encourage visitors to be hands-on, and interactive.
The South Carolina State Museum has a 4D interactive theater, a digital dome planetarium, and an observatory that presents engaging shows for all ages.
Address: 301 Gervais Street, Columbia
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm / Sunday 12 – 5 pm
Suggested Tour: Group Tours
8. Travel to Africa at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia
Set along the banks of the Saluda River in Columbia, the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a 170-acre zoo, botanical garden, an aquarium that is home to more than 2,000 other animals, representing more than 350 species.
A two-acre African Plains exhibit takes visitors into the heart of Africa where they can see lions, giraffes, ostriches, baboons, and zebras in their natural habitats. An African forest exhibit called the Ndoki Forest area is a home for elephants, gorillas, and cute little meerkats, and Siberian tigers and Komodo dragons can be viewed in the exotic animal section. You can zipline through the botanical gardens for a thrilling experience.
Address: 500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, South Carolina
Opening Hours: 9 – 5 pm, daily
9. Hike in Caesars Head State Park
The best place to experience the raw beauty of the Blue Ridge Escarpment is from Caesars Head State Park in Cleveland. Named for the granitic gneiss outcropping on top of the escarpment, the park is crisscrossed with hiking trails that lead to cascading waterfalls and offer breathtaking views year-round.
The Hawk Watch program is an annual highlight in the park when visitors can see hundreds of soaring, swirling migrating raptors such as kites, falcons, hawks, and eagles from a perch at 3,208 feet above sea level. The park is spectacular during the fall when the hardwoods are ablaze with color and wilderness trailside camping, picnicking, and fishing in the scenic Middle Saluda River are popular activities.
Address: 8155 Geer Hwy, Cleveland, South Carolina
Opening Hours: 9 am – 9 pm, daily
10. Explore the Night Sky at the DuPont Planetarium in Aiken
Located in the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center on the campus of USC-Aiken, the DuPont Planetarium presents shows that focus on astronomy and the beauty of the night sky. The planetarium has a 45-seat theater with a 30-foot diameter tilted dome that uses a Digistar II graphics projector system that displays more than 9,000 stars. Hour-long shows are presented on the 1st and 3rd Friday and Saturday of every month.
Address: 471 University Pkwy, Aiken, South Carolina
Opening Hours: Public shows on Saturdays – September – April: 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm; May-August: 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm
11. Wander Around the McLeod Plantation Historic Site
The McLeod Plantation Historic Site in Charleston is a 37-acre site on James Island and an important piece of American and Gullah history. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the former forced-labor plantation features the original plantation home, clapboard slave cabins, machinery used for processing cotton, and an outdoor riverside pavilion. Take a guided tour of the plantation for a fascinating insight into the dark history of the South.
Address: 325 Country Club Dr, Charleston, SC 29412
Opening Hours: 9 am – 4 pm, daily
12. Take a Boat Trip at the Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet
Built on the site of four former rice plantations in Murrells Inlet, Brookgreen Gardens is a beautiful 9,100-acre sculpture garden and wildlife preserve that features botanical gardens, a Lowcountry Center, and a wildlife sanctuary.
You can explore the gardens on several walkways that wind their way through the sculpture garden and marvel at over 1,450 pieces of American figurative sculpture or you can take a pleasant boat trip around the park.
1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm, daily
13. Get Your Naval Fix at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mt Pleasant
The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to three museum ships: the USS Clamagore (submarine), the USS Laffey, and USS Yorktown, which has been the centerpiece of the museum since 1975. The vessel houses 25 aircraft, as well as a Medal of Honor museum.
The museum has several exhibits on-shore, including a cannon dating back to the Civil War, two helicopters, and a three-acre Vietnam Experience that takes visitors on a journey through the Vietnam War.
Address: 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 9 am – 5 pm / Saturday and Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm
Suggested Tour: The USS Yorktown Ghost Tour
14. Have Some Fun at Broadway at the Beach
Built around Lake Broadway in the heart of Myrtle Beach, Broadway at the Beach is a large shopping and entertainment center with several themed areas, including the Charleston Boardwalk, the New England Fishing Village, and Celebrity Square.
There is a wealth of things to do here from three movie theaters, an aquarium, a wax museum, a zip-line, and a dinosaur exhibit. The complex is home to a myriad of shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, and presents a lively event calendar with fireworks twice a week during the summer.
Address: 1325 Celebrity Cir, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday, Sunday: 11 am – 7 pm / Friday & Saturday: 11 am – 9 pm
15. Catch a Show at the Peace Center in Greenville
Located in the heart of downtown Greenville, the Peace Center is the cultural hub of the region and features a 2,100-seat concert hall, a 400-seat theater, an amphitheater, and a variety of rehearsal and event spaces. The center presents a wide variety of performances throughout the year from Broadway shows and ballet to jazz concerts and comedy shows. There is an elegant theater lounge where you enjoy a meal and cocktails before or after shows.
Address: 101 W Broad St, Greenville, SC 29601
16. Have a Picnic in White Point Garden in Charleston
White Point Garden is a beautiful public garden in the heart of Charleston that boasts fantastic views of Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor. Established in 1837 and located right on the tip of peninsular Charleston, the gardens are set on the site of an area that was once used as a fortification for the city during the Civil War.
Today, the 5.7-acre park features exquisitely manicured gardens and grounds, grassy lawns shaded by old oak trees, meandering pathways with benches dotted throughout the park, and several interesting military relics from the past. A gazebo at the center of the park is perfect for picnics.
Address: 2 Murray Blvd, Charleston, SC 29401
Opening Hours: 9 am – sunset, daily
17. Observe Some Magnificent Raptors at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw
The Avian Conservation Center & Center for Birds of Prey is a sanctuary in Awendaw that cares for injured and rehabilitated raptors, such as hawks, falcons, and owls. The center is home to nearly 50 species of birds and offers visitors the unique opportunity to observe birds of prey in their natural habitat.
You can stroll around the center on several pathways that are lined with interpretive signs and see a variety of owl species from around the world in a separate two-acre area of the park. Hour-long guided tours and flight demonstrations are offered twice a day and are well worth it!
Address: 4719 Highway 17N, Awendaw, SC 29429
Opening Hours: Thursday and Saturday 10 am – 1 pm
18. Soak up Amazing Views from the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel
The Myrtle Beach SkyWheel is a 187-foot-tall Ferris wheel that offers spectacular panoramic views of the Myrtle Beach coastline. The wheel has 42 glass-enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas that seat between two and six people.
Specially designed VIP gondolas have leather seating and glass floors and can seat four people and each ride typically lasts between 8 and 10 minutes.
Address: 1110 N Ocean Blvd, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577
Opening Hours: 11 am – 11 pm
19. Enjoy Traditional Southern Cuisine on a Charleston Culinary Tour
A guided foodie tour with Charleston Culinary Tours is a great way to experience Charleston’s acclaimed culinary scene and sample some of the best southern food in the state. These walking tours highlight the best of the city’s food and drink, stopping at several restaurants and bars, as well as the city’s acclaimed Farmer’s Market.
You’ll not only sample some incredible food and drink, but also meet the chefs, restaurateurs, and mixologists that create the delights. You can also take specialized tours themed around cocktail mixology, chef’s kitchen experiences, and farm-to-table restaurants.
Address: 46B State St Unit B, Charleston, SC 29401, United States
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 9 am – 5 pm
Suggested Tour: Charleston Culinary Tours
20. Visit the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mt Pleasant
Charles Pinckney was the 37th Governor of South Carolina and is honored at the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mt Pleasant, which was created to preserve the remainder of his country’s home and plantation.
Explore the life story of Charles Pinckney and the realities of 18th-century plantation life in the museum at the site and check out the quaint coastal cottage that dates back to 1828. The grounds surrounding the museum are beautiful and perfect for a picnic and a stroll along the nature trail.
Address: 1254 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 9 am – 5 pm
21. Feed Alligators at Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach
Located in North Myrtle Beach, Alligator Adventure is a large reptile zoo and home to alligators, snakes, frogs, lizards, and turtles. Visitors can get up close and personal with the alligators, touch them and watch them being fed in the summer months. Professional handlers present live shows and give interesting talks about the reptiles, sharing fascinating facts about these fascinating creatures.
Address: 4604 US-17, North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
Opening Hours: Friday – Sunday: 10 am – 4 pm
22. Go on a Trail Ride at Wampee Stables in Little River
Wampee Stables is a family-owned and operated farm and stables that offer a variety of fun horseback riding adventures for the whole family. The farm offers scenic trail rides through the countryside led by experienced guides, summer horse camps, and riding lessons for all abilities. The stables have 35 horses to suit every level of rider and trail rides last 90 minutes.
Address: 1518 State Hwy 57 S, Little River, SC 29566
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 08:30 am – 08:30 pm / Saturday: 08:30 am – 6: 30 pm
23. Take a Tea Tour at the Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island
Located on the historic Wadmalaw Island in the heart of the Lowcountry, the Charleston Tea Garden is the only tea plantation in North America. Operated by the family-owned Bigelow Tea Company, the Charleston Tea Garden produces nine Charleston Tea Garden teas and is the only brand of tea in the world that is made exclusively with 100% tea grown in America.
Visitors can explore the beautiful 127-acre tea plantation on guided trolley tours and enjoy free tours of the tea factory and see the entire process of making tea from leaf to bag. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a cup of tea with Waddy the Frog, a metal amphibian who was custom made for the garden by a local sculptor from Johns Island.
Address: 6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm / Sunday: 12 – 4 pm
Suggested Tour: Charleston Tea Plantation Trolley Tour
24. Visit the Fort Moultrie National Monument
Located on Sullivan’s Island, Fort Moultrie National Monument is a series of fortifications that were built to protect the city of Charleston. The forts protected the city for more than 170 years from the Revolutionary War and through to World War II.
The first fort that was built on the site was known as Fort Sullivan and was constructed from palmetto logs, which inspired the flag and nickname of South Carolina, as “The Palmetto State.” You can explore the national monument on guided tours twice daily or on self-guided tours using interpretive signs posted throughout the fort.
Address: 1214 Middle St, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482
Opening Hours: 9 am – 5 pm, daily
25. Marvel at the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville
Nestled in the small town of Bishopville, Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden is a hidden gem that attracts visitors from all over the world who come to admire the magnificent topiary creations. Established in 1981, Pearl Fryar began creating his fantastical garden with whimsical topiaries, which is now one of the state’s top tourist attractions.
Wander around the three-acre property and marvel at the surreal wonderland that is filled with over 300 topiaries, including arches, spheres, cones, and fish skeletons.
Address: 145 Broad Acres Road, Bishopville, South Carolina, 29010
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 4 pm
26. Delve into the Depths of the Old Charleston City Jail
Take a tour of Charleston’s historic city jail that once held everyone from pirates to Civil War POWs. The old city jail’s long and haunting history began in 1802 and served as the city jail from 1803 to 1939.
Convicts ranging from murderers to petty criminals were housed in the jail with each floor keeping a different type of inmate with the ground floor accommodating the jailers and the “gentleman” prisoners. Union POWs were incarcerated inside the jail during the Civil War.
Visitors can explore the jail on guided tours that provide interesting historical information about the jail and its use, while at the same chatting about the rumors of haunting and ghost stories that are associated with the prison.
Address: 21 Magazine St, Charleston, SC 29401
Opening Hours: By appointment/tour only.
Suggested Tour: Haunted Jail Tour
27. Canoe in the Woods Bay State Park in Olanta
Woods Bay State Park in Olanta is a natural wonderland that is home to a mysterious geological formation of unknown origin. The park was established to protect one of the best examples of a large Carolina bay, which is an egg-shaped depression in the earth filled with shallow freshwater.
Thousands of these mysterious elliptical geological oddities are scattered across the coastal plains of the Mid-Atlantic and are home to a wonderfully diverse range of wildlife, including rare and endangered plants and animals.
The best way to explore the park is by canoe where you can paddle around the shallow waters of the Carolina bay. You can also explore the park on boardwalks that wind their way through the swamps and wetlands.
Address: 11020 Woods Bay Rd, Olanta, SC 29114
Opening Hours: 9 am – 6 pm, daily
28. Take in the Beautiful Architecture of Drayton Hall
Drayton Hall is the oldest unrestored plantation house in the country and one of the beautiful examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in North America. Built in the mid-1700s for John Drayton, the building is still in its original condition and is the only plantation house in the region to have survived both the American Revolution and the Civil War.
You can explore the National Historic Landmark on professionally guided tours of the residence and take self-guided tours of the surrounding gardens, which are also ideal for spending the day relaxing with a picnic.
Address: 3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina, 29414
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: 9 am – 3:30 pm
Suggested Tour: Private Drayton Hall Tour
29. Stand Beneath the Angel Oak on Johns Island
The giant Angel Oak on Johns Island stands 65 feet tall, is 28 feet in circumference, and is believed to be one of the Southeast’s oldest living oak trees. The huge tree covers 17,000 square feet with its branches, the longest of which is 187 feet!
Estimated to be 400-500 years old, this fairytale-esque Southern live oak is named after the Angel Estate and legend has it that the ghosts of former slaves appear as angels around the tree. The Angel Oak is featured in the novel The Heart of a Child by Emily Nelson and several artistic and social events are hosted around the tree in the spring and summer seasons.
Address: 3688 Angel Oak Road, Johns Island, South Carolina, 29455
30. Explore the Old Slave Mart in Charleston
The Old Slave Mart in Charleston once housed an antebellum slave auction gallery and is now a museum devoted to its own tragic history. Built in 1859, the market was used as a private auction house to auction off slaves, as well as livestock and farmland.
When the Union took over Charleston during the Civil War, the cruel and inhumane industry ended, and all the auction houses were dismantled, except for the Old Slave Mart. Today, the market houses a museum devoted to showcasing the history of slavery in Charleston.
Address: 6 Chalmers St, Charleston, SC 29401
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm