The Best Things to Do in South Carolina, According to a Local

Silhouette of two bikers on the beach in Hilton Head

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sunny Lowcountry shores, South Carolina truly has something for every type of traveler. Growing up in the Palmetto State, I spent summers building sandcastles on Hilton Head Island, boating around Lake Murrary and Lake Hartwell, and hiking through national and state parks. With mountains, midlands, and picturesque beaches, the state abounds with natural beauty, but there's more to South Carolina than beautiful sights (even though they are pretty spectacular). There are countless things to do, people to meet, and delicious food to eat, too.

Here are some of the best things to do in South Carolina, according to a local.

Find Your Perfect Beach

The beach by the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort

From Hilton Head Island at the state's southern tip to Myrtle Beach near the North Carolina border, South Carolina's coastline offers some of the East Coast's best beaches, so any list of the state's top things to do would be incomplete without a mention of our perfectly sandy shores. South Carolina's family-friendly beaches have powdery-soft sand, perfect for sandcastle building or barefoot strolling, and the gentle surf is ideal for swimming, splashing, and watersports.

Hilton Head Island

Nothing says family friendly like a sun-soaked beach vacation on Hilton Head Island. With mild temperatures year-round, this sunny locale has something for everyone: From incredible golf courses to warm, calm waters and sandy beaches, even Fido can enjoy some relaxation in this pet-friendly destination.

Visit the State’s Only National Park 

Boardwalk Through Forest of Congaree National Park

Located in central South Carolina, Congaree National Park offers opportunities to hike, canoe, and kayak in a peaceful forest setting. The park is also home to an incredible natural phenomenon — synchronous fireflies, best spotted during the Fireflies Festival.

Hit the Links on a World-class Course

Tyrrell Hatton of England walks on the 18th hole during the final round of the RBC Heritage on June 21, 2020 at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Golfing is a favorite pastime among South Carolina residents and visitors alike, and with dozens of fantastic courses (Hilton Head Island alone has 24 world-class courses), the state is the perfect destination for avid players. Plus, temperate winter weather means you can golf all year round.

Eat Incredible Southern Food

South Carolina, Mt. Pleasant, Shem Creek, R.B.'s Seafood Restaurant, plate of shrimp, fish filet, hush puppies and coleslaw.

Grits, hushpuppies, and pimento cheese might sound totally foreign if you're not from the south, but the food alone is worth the trip to South Carolina. Sample mouthwatering pulled pork (and take a side on the mustard vs. vinegar barbecue sauce debate), eat your weight in perfectly fried seafood, and sip sweet tea at breakfast, lunch, and dinner — from casual eateries to upscale restaurants, you're sure to have some memorable meals here.

Get Out on the Lake

Sunset at Lake Murray in Lexington, South Carolina

Murray, Hartwell, Jocassee — these are just a few of the lakes you'll find dotting the state of South Carolina. Wherever you are in the state, you're probably not too far from a lake, so rent a boat and spend a day out on the water.

Stroll Through Downtown Greenville

Falls Park and Liberty Bridge Aerial in Downtown Greenville South Carolina SC

Downtown Greenville is packed with local restaurants and shops, but its prize attraction is the beautiful Falls Park, located just steps from Main Street. Walk the pedestrian bridge stretching across the park's namesake waterfalls, picnic on the lawn, or go for a stroll — this is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours in one of South Carolina's best (and most underrated) destinations.

Learn About Gullah Geechee History and Culture

Gullah Museum, Low Country heritage guide talking about exhibit

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor runs along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, with several notable places in the SC Lowcountry. Learn about the Gullah Geechee community — the descendants of African people who were enslaved and brought to the United States — and their art, language, food, and culture with museum visits and tours.

Hike Table Rock State Park

Table Rock State Park South Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains Landscape

South Carolina isn't just beach and lake country — the Upstate has plenty of scenic spots to visit in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Go for a hike in Table Rock State Park (especially beautiful in the fall) to see the state from a new point of view.

Relax at a Five-star Resort 

Balcony at Montage Palmetto Bluff

There's a range of accommodation options throughout the state, but visitors looking for luxury have a number of standout properties to choose from. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, and The Inn & Club at Harbour Town are among the best.

Pedal or Paddle Around

Silhouette of two bikers on the beach in Hilton Head

See South Carolina's scenery by land or water with a bike ride or kayak excursion — pedal or paddle your way around coastal destinations like Hilton Head Island (which is known for its picturesque bike trails).

Check Out Riverbanks Zoo and Garden 

A bald eagle that received care at the Carolina Raptor Center after an injury was released with assistance from Riverbanks Zoo

One of the main attractions in Columbia — South Carolina's capital city — is Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. See animals, learn about conservation, and stroll through the gardens for a great day out in the Midlands.

Explore Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State park at sunset

If you're visiting South Carolina's Grand Strand and want to explore beyond Myrtle Beach, take a short drive to this state park. Three miles of beachy shoreline isn't the only reason to visit — it's also home to Atalaya, a National Historic Landmark that was the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, built in the 1930s.

Spot Dolphins in the Wild

Dolphin in Cooper River, South Carolina

Wildlife abounds in South Carolina, and the Lowcountry is a must-visit area for birdwatchers, fishing enthusiasts, and people hoping to see dolphins frolicking in the waves.

Learn About History Where It Happened

Cannons used in the Civil War are on display at Fort Sumter site in Charleston, South Carolina

Visit Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter to learn about South Carolina's role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. (Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor, so it's only accessible by ferry — you can enjoy great views of Charleston and Mount Pleasant from the water.)

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