South Carolina’s Lowcountry & Coast

Swimmers and vacationers at Myrtle Beach

South Carolina’s lowcountry is rich in culture and history. Its historic cities and sights, and areas of natural beauty from forests to salt marsh to barrier island beaches, attract millions of tourists each year.

Charleston is an excellent base from which to visit the region, either as a daytrip out of the city or as a stop on a tour of the coast.

Two of the south-east’s most popular vacation destinations, Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, are within a couple of hours or so of Charleston, and the historic cities of Georgetown and Beaufort are nearer still. Golf is a major activity in South Carolina’s vacation destinations, with hundreds of courses along the coast.

See also:
Things to do near Charleston
Myrtle Beach festival calendar
Boat and kayak tours to Capers Island, SC
Music festivals in Charleston and the lowcountry

Myrtle Beach & The Grand Strand

Myrtle Beach, around 2 hours north of Charleston (see on map), is one of the southeast’s most popular vacation destinations. It is situated on the Grand Strand, a more than 60-mile-long stretch of beach extending all the way from the border with North Carolina at its northernmost point to Winyah Bay and the historic city of Georgetown at its southern end.

The several cities and towns along this section of beach are a major tourist attraction, particularly in spring and summer, but Myrtle Beach is the biggest draw. Smaller communities such as Pawley’s Island offer a quieter alternative to the heavily-developed Myrtle Beach.

Myrtle Beach enjoys a reputation as one of the southeast’s major golf destinations. Other attractions include an aquarium, amusement parks and one of the largest shopping areas in the south-eastern states. Its boardwalk is reckoned to be one of the best in the country. The city also hosts numerous major festivals each year.

How to get to Myrtle Beach from Charleston

Georgetown & Vicinity

The small, historic port town of Georgetown is located on Winyah Bay around 60 miles (70-90 minutes drive) northeast of Charleston (see on map). Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina, its original city plan (now preserved as the Historic District) dating from 1729.

Some of the original homes and many historic buildings still survive, preserved in Georgetown’s Historic District. In the surrounding area are several other historic attractions, includings the Hampton, Hopsewee and Hobcaw plantations. Georgetown’s Rice Museum explores the history of what was once one of the foremost rice-growing regions in the United States.

Boat tours out of Georgetown offer views of the city’s riverside residences, or out to North Island and its historic lighthouse, the barrier island’s beaches also a popular place to beachcomb for shells.

Other local attractions about 20-30 minutes drive out of Georgetown include the sculptures and grounds at Brookgreen Gardens and the beautiful Huntington Beach State Park, an excellent wildlife- and bird-spotting area with an undeveloped beach, swamp boardwalk and the historic Atalaya House.

Beaufort & Vicinity

Beaufort is another small, historic city, around 90 minutes drive south from Charleston. (see on map) Known as one of the best small cities in the United States, Beaufort is famed for its well preserved historic district and antebellum architecture, and it has a surprising number and variety of things to do for a city of its size.

Attractions include the Beaufort History Museum, located inside of the city’s 18th-century Arsenal building and the 1804 John Mark Verdier House Museum, a Federal-style mansion in downtown Beaufort. Visitors can also take one of many guided tours of Beaufort, for a more in-depth introduction to the city’s culture and past.

Beaufort is conveniently situated for sidetrips out into the lowcountry or to barrier islands, such as to the lighthouse and trails of the nearby Hunting Island State Park. Kayak and boat tours of the rivers around Beaufort are also available.

Hilton Head Island & Vicinity

Hilton Head Island (see on map), roughly two hours drive southeast of Charleston, is a popular South Carolina vacation spot. It is particularly famed for its golf courses. Much of the island is occupied by private gated resorts – known as “plantations” – for which an entrance fee is charged for non-resident vactioners. Hilton Head’s 12 miles of beaches, however, are accessible to all, via several public beach access points.

Hilton Head has a number of historic attractions exploring its heritage and Civil War history. The island’s Coastal Discovery Museum offers an introduction to Hilton Head’s nature and history. Mitchelville Freedom Park is the site of a 19th-century settlement of people who had fled from enslavement and later of freed people; nearby are remnants of the earthwork Fort Howell, built in 1864 by an African-American Union regiment to protect the settlement.

The island also has a lot to offer to lovers of nature, with the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge nearby and opportunities to explore the surrounding lowcountry by boat or kayak.