20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in South Carolina
There's much more to America's southern state of South Carolina than gothic manors and fashionable country clubs. An explosion of seaside towns and southern culture, South Carolina also has the best state parks in the country, and award-winning wineries, golf courses, and waterways.
The state capital is also one of the most scenic destinations in the US, the city of Charleston itself being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The destination where the United States of America truly begins, Charleston is a blend of American, British, and southern American influences, boasting over 200 museums, historical landmarks, and beautiful colonial architecture. Plan your trip with our recommendations on the best attractions in South Carolina.
The three-pronged gun emplacement and lighthouse near Fort Sumter was built in the 1850s, one of a group of forts and batteries constructed to protect the southern approaches to the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. More than 1,000 sailors and marines from the Confederate States Navy made their final stand at Fort Sumter from April to April 1862, when a series of seige and counter-seige left the fort a burned-out ruin. A visit to this quiet historical site is a must for anyone interested in the American Civil War. Fort Sumter is a major Civil War landmark and tour operator sells tickets to the fort from $6.95, including admission to the fort and gardens. The fort and the adjacent aquarium stand close together, making this a great combo. The fort also makes an excellent base camp for visiting the Patriots Point military history museum, which is one of the largest historical exhibits in the United States, and includes Fort Sumter's berth and the earthwork and cannons from the Fort's original construction in the 1850s.
Charleston, South Carolina, is a famous American city with an art deco charm and a fascinating history. On its south side stands the imposing black granite Charleston City Hall (which is the oldest building in the city), while around the corner and east of Broad Street is Fort Sumter, which was the first shot fired in the Civil War. The Carter Center, where Jimmy Carter was born, sits on the city's west side. Things to do in Charleston include a tour of many of its fine white-columned 18th and 19th-century homes, such as the Archdale House, built in 1785 by one of the city's most affluent families, and the nearby Robert Morris House, which is the oldest existing house in the city and was built in 1733. You can also visit St. Michael's Church, the oldest church in the state, established in 1772, and St. Philip's Church, founded in 1784.
With long, white sandy beaches, Kiawah Island, South Carolina is one of the best destinations in the region. Since colonial times, this stretch of shore has attracted settlers, residents and travelers who find its natural beauty and captivating salt water estuaries equally alluring. Kiawah Island also attracts many people for its world-class golf courses, shopping centers and live-music venues, the latter of which include the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the Landmark Theater. If you'd rather spend your vacation enjoying nature, the island is home to a vast lagoon system, with more than 19,000 acres of wetlands and a 25-mile network of tidal waterways, including the island's namesake, the Kiawah River.
The Grand Strand
The popular Grand Strand is America's leading destination for sun and beach lovers. Apart from Myrtle Beach, this region is largely known for its Atlantic beaches and sleepy resort towns. However, for anyone who is used to the bustle of bigger cities, there are plenty of activities and things to see. You can explore Blackbeard's castle, paddle the Myrtle Beach Bay, gaze at the nighttime stars above the ocean, or visit the beaches. One of the great attractions is Myrtle Beach International Airport. You can connect to more than 100 cities in the USA, Europe, and the Middle East. There are plenty of things to do in Myrtle Beach, some with an old-fashioned charm such as the amusement park or the cute miniature villages. Visitors can also ride a zany rollercoaster like The Storm or the beautiful 400-year-old Pavilion Playhouse. Two good places to stay in the Grand Strand include the Beach Village Hotel and the Driftwood Inn. Many high-class hotels offer shuttles to local attractions.
Situated at the southern tip of the U.S. state of South Carolina, Beaufort has been influenced by the area's history of Colonial and Revolutionary America. Many of its buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though many of them have been restored or converted into small hotels and shops. While the city offers a number of sights, the most noteworthy is Beaufort Historic District, a 400-acre cultural heritage district containing over 60 restored or renovated buildings from various eras. The area is also home to the Historic Federal Courthouse, the original district school, the Federal Post Office building, a historic hospital and a cemetery that dates back to the mid-17th century. A pleasant walk through the historic district, which is located on the western side of the city, takes in many of the buildings, but is most noted for its variety of restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and unique shops. The school closed in 1965, and the Federal Post Office building and cemetery closed in 1999, though the Historic Federal Courthouse continues in service. Beaufort residents are frequently voted the best South Carolina college grads, and the downtown area is also considered one of the best-kept secrets in the state.
This is the perfect beach for all water-sports enthusiasts, including people who like snorkeling and scuba diving. This was also the home of a summer home for Nelson Rockefeller for many years and an inspiration for the Robert Redford movie, 'Jeremiah Johnson'. With all the extreme sports equipment available and a great group of people to surf with, Edisto Beach offers everything an active sportsman or woman might want. With the change of the tides, the best time to visit this place is between May and October, when it has warm ocean water. South Carolina has the highest tides in the United States, reaching over 20 meters. The highest, so they say, is actually in Edisto.
Columbia Museum of Art
Columbia Museum of Art (or CoMoA) is South Carolina's premier art museum. It houses more than 16,000 objects including antiquities, European paintings, African tribal art, a superb collection of Egyptian mummies and other treasures. The museum's main building, a stunning neo-gothic confection designed by Berkeley architect William Augustus Edwards in 1906, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992. The original pieces from the museum's permanent collection are installed in the building's galleries, but new works are added continually, featuring the work of contemporary artists. The museum hosts a series of excellent temporary exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art and artists from around the globe. See the calendar for details.
Tybee Island (located just 13 miles from Savannah, Georgia) is a beautiful, small barrier island and attracts visitors from around the world. Known as "the gateway to the southern tip of Georgia and the Atlantic Ocean," it offers visitors a mix of quiet residential areas and vast areas of sand dunes that are often used for vacation rentals. Tybee is also home to an urban center with popular stores and attractions, including the well-known St. Simon's Island Marina. For history buffs, there's a museum dedicated to the natural and cultural history of the island, and the Pemberton-Smith Botanical Gardens offers a wonderful collection of 300 species of plants and plants in cultivation. Along the water, there's a community lighthouse and a family-owned oyster farm. For visitors in search of adventure, the beach at Tybee Island offers surfing, fishing, hiking and more. Many families come to enjoy the Tybee Island barrier island beaches and the history. There are numerous shopping centers, such as the Tybee Island Square Mall, and an array of beachside restaurants.
Granville Island is a spectacular restored site in downtown Vancouver, where the mountains meet the water. It includes a cinema, antique shops, galleries, restaurants and public parks, including the Japanese-style public botanic gardens, and an ice skating rink in winter. You can also enjoy an evening concert at the center of the garden. By car, drive to Vancouver's Downtown area, about 20 minutes from downtown. The Granville Island ferry leaves from the Granville Street terminal from 7:30 am to 9 pm daily. Allow time for parking or simply walk along Granville St.
Little River, situated in the Appalachians in South Carolina, is the site of an ancient archaeological site that's fascinating for its size and sheer number of finds. It was first excavated in the 1930s, but more than 1,500 other sites have been uncovered in the area and found to contain the remains of nearly 40,000 artifacts, including 6,000 objects that have been identified as Native American. This is one of the largest concentrations of artifacts recovered from one single site in the Western Hemisphere, and is one of the most important sites in North America for understanding the origins of the modern Native American population. Access to Little River is by road from either Greenville or Columbia, or by train from either place. Highlights of a visit include the Leatherman Museum, containing a large collection of tools and weapons; the new modern Hominy River Valley Cultural Center, which has exhibits on the ancient people and a museum shop; the Friedmans' Cannonball Museum, where a replica cannonball is shot off daily; the Red House, an old trading post and general store that's fascinating to explore; and the Little River Pioneer Settlement, which offers interactive educational programs, a bookstore and a gift shop.
This former cotton-mill town is situated on the confluence of the Yancey and Saluda Rivers, along the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Greenville's many colleges (including Furman University, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian church, and the University of South Carolina, as well as the Christian Brothers University) and impressive antebellum architecture make it a popular college town. Greenville's character is changing rapidly, however, as the town embraces tourism as a means of revitalizing its economy. Thousands of new condominiums are planned for a town with a population of only 100,000, and there is a plan to convert many of the historic buildings to more modern uses. Among these new projects is the downtown multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Rock City, a 13-acre, 15-story rock formation on the corner of Main and William Streets. Rock City, which opened in the fall of 1997, attracts over a million visitors a year to its collection of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Stroll through Greenville's charming shopping districts and you'll experience its best attributes: down-to-earth, home-style Southern hospitality. Greenville's top attractions include the Art and Soul Museum, the magnificent Clark House, the Ramada Plaza Hotel, the Greenville Museum of Art, the Art Factory, and the Hancock Shaker Village.
Summerville is a pretty lakeside town on the banks of Lake Murray just south of the University of South Carolina. With little more than a few motels, Summerville has been experiencing an economic revival since the early 2000s and is also a popular starting point for summer vacationers looking to spend some time in the nearby coastal towns of Beaufort and Hilton Head. There are few sights in Summerville proper, but visitors are invited to visit several public parks, including the nearby Lowcountry Living Museum, a small tourist attraction with living exhibits of wildlife from the region, and the lovely Ocean Boulevard Park, with its own secluded beach and recreation center, where you can swim, fish and boat on the lake.
The narrow island of South Carolina is one of the southern states least known to most Americans, but if it's the West Coast that's on your mind when you think of "the American South," this is the place to be. Don't miss the stunningly beautiful coastlines and the Lowcountry's mix of grand southern homes and plantation estates on its barrier islands, the Carolina Coast. It's a particularly idyllic place for families and those in search of serenity, too. The most famous location here is an idyllic stretch of beachfront where Michael and his four brothers, Ben, Chad, Luke, and Chris, all sons of Walt Disney, moved to live and work together. The brothers and cousins, all born in 1938, moved to Hollywood in 1966. There, they built the small Midwestern town of Orlando, Florida into one of the most famous film sets in the world. Among the most iconic were "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" and "Bedknobs and Broomsticks." From here, head to the plantation-filled riverside town of Yemassee for shopping at quaint boutiques or experiencing Charleston's uniquely Southern cuisine at some of the finest eateries in the country. Take a tour on a trolley on the 17-mile-long Rivers of American Heritage Trail, see historic architecture, and visit churches, museums, and plantations where life was a bit different from the rest of the nation.
Lovers of plantation homes and Southern charm can enjoy this 18th-century town which at one time was the center of trade between the Southern states. The vast amount of architecture includes Queen Anne, Georgian, Greek Revival, Tudor, French Provincial, Arts and Crafts, and Mediterranean Revival to name a few. Georgetown was settled in 1766 and originally the site of a fishing village, but around 1785 changed its name to Georgetown, a reference to the local gentry. Guests can explore the historic streets, many of which are named after wealthy merchants and colonial plantation owners. Georgetown's Old Post Office contains a museum of local history and architecture and a community library. There is also a fascinating film depicting the effects of the Civil War on the town, and a video outlining the history of Georgetown's large number of historic homes. Georgetown's recreational attractions include the Golden Leaf Art Guild Gallery, Little Theatre, Ferndale Park, Northwind Park, and the Rhett P. Butler Art Center, which includes the Jack Davis Gallery, as well as music concerts, film screenings, and workshops.
Charleston County Courthouse
Built between 1773 and 1785, Charleston County Courthouse was the first courthouse to be built in the country. Its south-facing roof blends into a hillside terraced garden that is more than two centuries old, and its large arch over the door is one of the most graceful elements of the city. The interior, restored after a devastating fire in 1886, is an elegant symphony of wood, marble, plaster, and etched glass, plus more than a dozen splendid paintings depicting scenes of colonial life. The beautiful town of Charleston, which stands on and overlooking a sea-flooded harbor, is the main attraction, but tours are available of the historic district. The Carolina Theater, founded in 1891 and reopening after a lengthy restoration project in 2011, is one of the oldest theatrical venues in the nation. Another must-see is Washington's Headquarters State Historic Site, where President George Washington slept the night before the Battle of Charleston.
St. Helena Island
At the beginning of the 15th century, the explorer John Cabot was directed to the west coast of North America. Sailing south along the coast, the fleet came to a bay, called the Great Harbour, that was sheltered by three beautiful islets. Here the navigators landed, naming them after their royal sponsors, England and France. English ships anchored on St. Helena Island, while French ships anchored on a nearby islet called the Isle of Roses. Today the location of Cabot's landing is known as St. Helena. About a dozen or so historic buildings and the old lighthouse remain, but the most notable attraction is the prison where former U.S. President Andrew Jackson spent 12 years as a prisoner after he was impeached. The prison itself is an architectural gem with over 400-year-old buildings, restored in 2012, and is now a museum.
With a maximum elevation of 1,312 feet, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina's "mountain," is not much of a mountain by any standards. Nonetheless, it offers fine hiking and biking trails, a resort area and the site of a zoo. Mount Pleasant is about 60 miles northwest of Columbia. To reach the mountain by car, take US 1 (Broadway Avenue) north from Interstate 77 about 25 miles. To get to the mountain by bike, bike trails and parking lots are available at the south entrance of the mountain. To find the parking lot, take US 17 about 3 miles south from Interstate 77, turning right on US 1-501 (also called Cooper Road). Turn right on Adger Farm Road, and then turn left on Bridge Street (US 1-501) to the parking lot at the southern entrance of the mountain. From the lot, US 17 follows the same route to Columbia. The U.S. National Forest Service maintains trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Access information is available on the Web. Touring operators such as 4 Wheel Tours rent bikes and guide treks into the forest, and the Mount Pleasant Nature Center has maps and information. A visitor's center, gift shops and a zoo are available at the mountain.
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
Located 40 miles south of Charleston, this non-extinct refuge is the largest coral reef complex in the Southeastern United States. It is home to a variety of marine life, including green sea turtles, loggerheads, olive ridley turtles, giant clams, and jellyfish. You'll also be likely to spot blue crabs, terrapins, and numerous fish species, such as anemones and angelfish. Visitors can take a tour from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources that includes a variety of tours, including two-hour snorkel and underwater naturalist-led walks. Or, during low tide, observe the mudflats where anemones, corals, and small fish cling to the seabed. The refuge is open daily from 7am to 6pm, except Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument is the former Confederate stronghold for the 17th-19th centuries. As one of the best preserved forts on the American South coast, it was named a National Monument by President Wilson in 1915. Located on Pulaski's Point, one of the highest points on the South Carolina coast, this important fort was built as a key defense against British attack. Its massive cannons were specifically designed to bombard the town of Charleston, 35 kilometers away. The massive sandstone wall with its many cannon emplacements make the fort a dramatic sight, as does the fort's large underground magazine, a key site in the siege of Charleston that took place in 1861. A visit to the fort also includes an opportunity to walk through one of its restored buildings, many of which provide a window into everyday life during the Civil War.
The Old Town
"The oldest and largest European town in South Carolina." U.S. National Park Service In Charleston's Historic District you will find many of the city's best-known and most visited sites. Wandering the streets, its historic structures, sights and stores you will find yourself transported back in time to the grand Southern plantation and colonial era. At the southern end of York Street, you will find Castle Pinckney, once the winter retreat of British soldiers during the war of 1812 and later the home of Charleston's first two mayors, John Laurens and Joseph Manigault. Colonial gables and doors, fieldstone walls and cast iron railings are all that remain of nearby Linville plantation, which was built by Charleston's first mayor, Joseph Manigault in 1764, and occupied until the Civil War. In the same area lies the campus of the College of Charleston, which is in turn connected to the city by the campus shopping strip and other historic districts. Also of interest in the neighborhood are the large and lovely Charles Pinckney (later Pinckney) House, the National Cemetery and the Old City Market. This is where you can find those aforementioned delicious tastes of the region's history.