Are you planning a trip to South Carolina? Well, your trip won't be complete without visiting some of the best islands in the state. These South Carolina islands are known for their stunning beaches, where you can swim, relax, and enjoy water sports with your family. Imagine feeling the breeze in your hair as your toes sink into the sand or sipping on a refreshing margarita while watching the waves. If this sounds like paradise, South Carolina is the place to be.
On top of the natural beauty, these islands also include fun outdoor activities like tennis, biking, golf, and hiking. The best thing is that these islands offer historic downtown areas, fancy resorts, luxurious amenities, and a vibrant nightlife, making a trip to the coast of South Carolina even more appealing.
Here's a list of the 14 islands off the coast of South Carolina. No matter which island you choose, South Carolina will offer plenty of fantastic beaches, recreational activities, and that wonderful Southern charm.
Let's delve right in!
Saint Helena Island
Saint Helena Island, one of the islands in the Beaufort Sea, is just a short distance from Beaufort City. It's home to a diverse population with over 8,500 residents, a large percentage of the African-American Gullah people.
This island is renowned for its rustic, old-fashioned Low Country lifestyle with numerous farms and fishing camps. Yet, there are also enjoyable things to do, like visiting an equestrian center, exploring the Fort Fremont Preserve and History Center, going on fishing excursions, and exploring Downtown Frogmore.
Nestled in the unspoiled ACE Basin, Edisto Island is a small coastal island located 42 miles south of historic Charleston. You can get there by taking a beautiful 14-mile drive down the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway, lined with ancient live oaks covered with Spanish moss. Edisto Island is home to a small, tight-knit community of just over 700 residents. The island's lush maritime forests and tidal creeks create a picturesque backdrop for outdoor activities like kayaking, birdwatching, and fishing.
The Edisto Island Serpentarium offers a fascinating peek into the local reptiles and amphibians. You can also explore the island's wildlife at the Botany Bay Heritage Preserve, which features historic plantation ruins, pristine beaches, and salt marshes. Driftwood Beach, known for its unique fallen trees, is another spot to enjoy the island's natural beauty.
Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is a popular tourist destination in South Carolina, attracting over two million tourists each year. With beautiful white-sand beaches, gorgeous tidal creeks, meandering trails, and majestic live oak trees, it's a popular barrier island in Beaufort County. The island boasts 12 miles of scenic coastline with beautiful beaches like Coligny Beach Park, Burkes Beach, and South Beach. But it's not just about the beach – Hilton Head Island offers numerous attractions, including art galleries, restaurants, tennis courts, golf courses, and local events.
This island's popularity is due to its diverse selection of activities. You can go whale watching, bike or hike trails, kayak in crystal-clear waters, or play golf on world-class courses. Other top attractions on the island are the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal Discovery Museum, and the picturesque Harbor Town Lighthouse.
Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre barrier island located between Fripp Island and Harbor Island. The ACE Basin Estuarine Reserve manages it, and it is located between the Atlantic Ocean and Harbor River. Hunting Island was designated as a state park in 1935 and has since become one of South Carolina's most popular state parks. The island also has a lovely beach, walking trails, and playgrounds for kids.
One of the island's iconic features is the historic lighthouse, which dates back to the 1800s. If you'd like to stay on the island, camping in the state park is the best option.
Lady's Island, located just north of Beaufort, South Carolina, is a charming community with a rich history. Once filled with indigo plantations, it has transformed into an expanding beach community, making it an ideal weekend retreat or day trip destination. Some parts of the island are formally incorporated into the city of Beaufort, but most are not.
The island is situated just north of Port Royal, and you can reach it through the McTeer Bridge. While Lady's Island is mostly residential, there are a few famous locations to visit, including the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club, Whitehall Park, and the Secession Golf Club. The island also has miles of beautiful coastline and boat ramps, making it a great spot to spend a day on the water.
Location: Center St. Folly Beach, SC 29439
Folly Island, located just south of Charleston, is an excellent family-friendly destination. It's recognized as one of the best surf spots on the East Coast, and it's ideal for watersports like paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, and fishing. You can take budget-friendly boat tours along Folly Beach to get a closer look at the island's natural beach. Great tourist sites surround Folly Island, such as the Morris Island Lighthouse and the Edwin Taylor Fishing Pier.
Folly Beach County Park is a must-visit with its picnic areas, beach access, beach amenities, and bike rentals. Besides its magnificent beach, Folly Island's main street is studded with stores, bars, and delightful local eateries such as Sand Dollar Social Club, Taco Boy, and Snapper Jacks.
Isle of Palms
If you're looking for a high-end vacation destination, look no further than Isle of Palms, SC. Isle of Palms is a charming little barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, located 12 miles from Charleston. This island is a haven of marshes and sandy beaches. Front Beach is a popular place on the island for family activities such as swimming, sandcastle building, and sunbathing.
The hamlet of Isle of Palms, located along the beach, is home to exquisite houses, premium resorts, and wonderful dining spots. When summer arrives, the beach buzzes with volleyball games and turtles. Head to Isle of Palms County Park for some beach fun, picnicking, and a playground. The island holds festivals and events throughout the year, including winter holiday street celebrations, July 4th fireworks, and music festivals.
Harbor Island, a beautiful Carolina Sea Island, is connected to Hunting Island by Johnson Creek. The Sea Island Parkway allows you to travel between these islands. In addition, the Harbor River Drawbridge connects Harbor Island to St. Helena Island. While most of the island is covered with marshlands, a small section features a 2.1-mile pristine beach, gorgeous landscapes, and luxurious amenities.
Harbor Island is the gateway to the Beaufort Barrier Islands Important Bird Area (IBA). Throughout the year, you can see over 200 different bird species. For more fun, head to the Harbor Island Beach and Racquet Club. The club features a fitness facility, a playground, swimming pools, and several courts for sports, including basketball, pickleball, tennis, and volleyball.
Spring Island, a 3,000-acre Sea Island in South Carolina, is located directly east of Callawassie Island. Spring Island, like its sister, is a private residential community. The island is graced with beautiful waterfront homes and magnificent live oak trees. It also has two natural preserves.
When exploring this incredible area, you will discover superb eating options, breathtaking coastal views, around 300 hiking paths, deep-water docks, multiple golf courses, clubhouses, pristine playgrounds, a sports complex, an equestrian center, and a wide variety of plant species to admire. It's a true natural wonder. There are no hotels in the area, so renting a vacation rental is the only way to explore this Low Country gem.
Location: Seabrook Island Road, Seabrook Island, SC 29455.
Seabrook Island, formerly known as Simmons Island, is a secluded and gated coastline community that offers a serene environment with the amenities and exciting events of a top-notch resort. This gated barrier island is known for its beautiful beaches, tranquil marshes, and lush forests. Seabrook Island is well-known among birdwatchers and has been designated as an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community.
Visitors and residents can enjoy a range of attractions, including a tournament-level Racquet Club, two championship golf courses, a fitness center, an Equestrian Center, an aquatics center, oceanfront pools, and exceptional dining options. Beyond the gates, there's a charming shopping village and a deep-water marina. You can start your day with a tee time and then relax on the sandy beach, enjoying the sun and the warmth until sunset. It's a dreamy escape.
Kiawah Island, located 25 miles southwest of Charleston, is a popular vacation spot for travelers, families, and couples. It is primarily a premium beach and a luxurious golf resort with endless amenities. Visit the Marsh Island Lookout Tower in Marsh Island Park for spectacular river views, marshes, and magnificent sunsets. Families can unwind and enjoy the sun at Kiawah Beachwalker Pier.
To learn more about the island's wildlife, visit The Heron Park Nature Center, which offers guided tours and observation walks. Beachwalker Park offers a boardwalk for admiring local plant life. If you want to visit the island's private area, book a luxury golf holiday to enjoy world-class golf courses and luxurious lodgings.
The island got its name from an earlier resident herd of goats. The Holloway family moved to Goat Island in the 1930s to escape the city's hustle and bustle. They lived on the island for many years without proper shelter, surviving on its resources. Today, there are still a few inhabitants on Goat Island, but their homes are contemporary and well-equipped. However, the island has retained its secluded and serene atmosphere, making it an ideal location for those who love fishing and boating.
One of the most popular tourist activities is observing the goats from the Drunken Jack's or Marsh Walk. You may also encounter ducks, pelicans, and peacocks roaming the island. If you crave a taste of the “real world,” a short boat journey will take you to the shops and restaurants on the Isle of Palms and Wild Dunes.
Capers Island is located about 15 miles north of Charleston along the Atlantic Ocean. This natural haven is located between Bulls Island and Dewees Island, and it's separated by the Intracoastal Waterway. This remote island is only accessible by boat; there is no road access. One of the island's attractions is the beautiful Boneyard Beach, known for its sun-bleached old tree stump. The island is part of a 60-mile stretch of protected land, including the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center, and the Santee Coastal Reserve.
During your visit to this island, you'll have fantastic opportunities to observe wildlife like raccoons, loggerhead turtles, deer, and various bird species.
Daufuskie Island is South Carolina's southernmost populated Sea Island. It is located between Hilton Head and Savannah Island. This historic island can only be reached by ferry or boat. The island has few paved roads, and most residents belong to the Gullah community. There are historical landmarks and wildlife areas to visit on the island. Camping, kayaking, hiking, biking, and swimming are popular activities. You may also see sea turtles, numerous bird species, alligators, and whales offshore. Strolling on the island's shaded gravel pathways beneath ancient oak trees gives a peaceful, nostalgic feeling.
If you want more amenities and civilization, go to the Haig Point Club, a private residential club on the island's north side. If you're near Savannah or Hilton Head, consider a weekend getaway or a day trip to Daufuskie Island.
From luxurious getaways to remote adventures, these South Carolina islands offer a diverse range of experiences. Whether it's a family vacation, a romantic getaway, or a solo escape, these 14 South Carolina islands offer the perfect escape to unwind and rejuvenate in a coastal paradise like no other.
I hope this list of the 14 best South Carolina islands has inspired you to plan your trip to the Palmetto State. I would love to hear about your South Carolina Islands vacation. Share your experiences in the comments below!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.