The Palmetto State is filled with amazing things to do, so it was quite the task to narrow it down to just the best of the best — but we think we’ve done it! Looking for family-friendly activities, outdoor adventures, amazing cities, beach vacations, or historical sites? We’ve got them. Here are 23+ of the best things to do in South Carolina for an amazing time.
MAIN ATTRACTIONS WORTH THE HYPE
VISIT THE HISTORIC DISTRICT IN CHARLESTON
With charming cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, antebellum homes and Lowcountry eats — you could spend weeks in Charleston and you would still only scratch the surface of all the amazing things to do here.
Visit Battery Park and Rainbow Row, shop at the Historic Charleston City Market, see the magnificent Angel Oak, or take the ferry to Fort Sumter — the Civil War sea fort (more on that below). Take a carriage ride through the historic streets, visit Magnolia Plantation (one of America’s Most Beautiful Gardens, according to Travel and Leisure), or watch the sunrise on Folly Beach.
Make sure to take one of the many guided tours offered here. You’ll find everything from a History of Charleston Walking Tour to Pirate Tours the kids would love.
Hungry? There are so many great restaurants in Charleston! Husk Restaurant, Poogan’s Porch, FIG, Lewis Barbeque, Leon’s Oyster Shop, the Glass Onion, and Brown Dog Deli are just some of the amazing restaurants you’ll find here.
Charleston is one of the most visited cities in South Carolina, and one stop here makes it easy to see why.
Stroll through seemingly endless live oak trees with hanging moss and explore the sculpture gardens with more than 2,000 works of art by 430 artists. Brookgreen Gardens contains the largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in the country — and it’s a sight to behold.
You’ll also find the Lowcountry Zoo on the property. All of the native animals in the Lowcountry Zoo were either bred and raised in captivity, or have sustained a major disability due to injury. In either case, these animals could not survive in the wild.
These gardens are beautiful, amazing, and huge — this is a place you could spend an entire day, and it’s a definite can’t miss.
Located in Charleston, this National Historic Landmark gets its own spot on our list because it’s just that amazing.
Middleton Place is one of the most beautiful attractions in South Carolina. It’s home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States. Go back in time with a visit to the House Museum that was built in 1755, take in the beauty of the amazing gardens, visit the animals and get a glimpse of 18th and 19th century working plantation life in the Stableyards, spend the night at The Inn at Middleton Place, or grab a bite to eat at the Middleton Place Restaurant.
A visit here will not only help you to learn about the family who lived here many years ago, but you will also learn about the enslaved people who made life here possible.
BROADWAY AT THE BEACH
Pavilion Park on Broadway at the Beach, is one of the top amusement parks in South Carolina. Parking is free, and you can spend all day here with a wristband. Ride the coaster, the Ferris Wheel, and all the rides! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
While you’re at Broadway at the Beach, hit the Grand Prix Family Race Park! This place has seven Go-Kart tracks, for all age and skill levels. In addition to Go-Karts, they’ve also got an amazing rock wall, two mini-golf courses, bumper cars, an arcade, and a Kids Zone offer hours of fun! DISCOUNT TICKETS!
Visit the Play Park with the kids, take on the WonderWorks zipline, visit the Ripley’s Aquarium, have a blast at South Carolina’s largest waterpark – Myrtle Waves, see animatronic dinosaurs at the Dino Park, take a helicopter tour, and so much more. You will seriously never run out of things to do here.
FORT SUMTER NATIONAL MONUMENT
Fort Sumter National Monument is a Civil War sea fort, and visitors can take a ferry to the fort at Liberty Square or Patriots Point in Charleston. Fort Moultrie is also part of this historic park. Both of these forts make up some of the best historic sites you’ll find in the state.
Both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie stand at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Patriots inside Fort Moultrie defeated the Royal Navy in 1776.
The Civil War was started with the Confederacy fried on the US garrison of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 — which redefined American freedom.
Tour the forts, learn more about their histories, and visit the Fort Sumter Education Center while you’re there.
CITY VISITS IN SOUTH CAROLINA BEYOND CHARLESTON
Beaufort, SC is one of South Carolina’s most beautiful towns, rich with history, draped with Spanish moss and framed by gorgeous coastal views. Adventure on the water or along the rails-to-trails path…relax at the beach or breathe easy on a large swing overlooking the river. Dive deep into the history of the Gullah Geechee people or the city’s Union occupation.
While there, we cannot recommend The Beaufort Inn more highly, with kids or without. This historical, award-winning inn offers unique and distinct guest rooms, suites, cottages and extended stay options. We stayed in 808 Bay, a large 3-bedroom suite that showcased Bay Street on one side and the River from the patio on the other side.
Daufuskie Island is one of the South Carolina Sea Islands, just a mile across the Sound from Hilton Head Island. It’s one of the most unique and underdeveloped islands on the east coast with great food, alluring artists, and a rich history.
There are plenty of places to stay here, but the cream of the crop is a stay on Haig Point. Haig Point is the islands’s only private community. Here you’ll find a world of special amenities, but also a “feeling” … a lifestyle…that is not available anywhere else in the world.
In Aiken, everything is an easy walk or within a five minute drive of downtown. Chef driven restaurants, live music, historic hotels, interesting museums, gardens, hiking trails and lots, and lots of horses.
Take in a polo match, visit the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, explore the trails in Hitchcock Woods, see the Hopelands Gardens, grab a drink at Whiskey Alley, shop on Main Street, visit Aiken State Park, or hit the links at the Aiken Golf Club.
Greenville, SC is a charming, fun, beautiful family getaway on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that we’re confident will leave you awestruck.
Visit the beautiful Falls Park on the Reedy, bike the Swamp Rabbit Trail, zipline at Treetop Quest, hike at Paris Mountain State Park, visit the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, find the Mice on Main, take the kids to the Children’s Museum of the Upstate, and grab some popcorn at Poppington’s. You’ll love it!
The capital city of South Carolina — and Lake Murray Country in general — has so much to offer! Take the kids to the EdVenture Children’s Museum, boat on Lake Murray, visit the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden (mentioned below), hike at Congaree National Park (see below), and enjoy yummy eats at The Grand, the Flight Deck Restaurant, or Liberty on the Lake.
The beachfront town is full of fun in the sun and family-friendly adventures. Take a spin on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, hit the Myrtle Waves Water Park, get up close with alligators at Alligator Adventure, visit the Family Kingdom Amusement Park, take a boat tour, enjoy mini-golf, walk the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, visit Brookgreen Gardens (listed above), shop at the Market Common, or see more than 130 endangered animals at T.I.G.E.R.S. Myrtle Beach Safari.
EXPLORING THE OUTDOORS
CONAGREE NATIONAL PARK
Just outside of Columbia, SC, you’ll find Congaree National Park, home to HUGE, ginormous, behemoth trees…known in the parks’ circle as Champion Trees. In fact, it’s the the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. The nutrients and sediments that come from the watershed here are power-packed and growing trees like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Hike the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail, explore the many hiking trails, or go kayaking or canoeing on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, which winds approximately 15 miles through the Congaree Wilderness. You can also camp here – there is car camping, backpack camping with a short hike, or full-on backcountry camping.
PINCKNEY ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
With a wide variety of land types — salt marshes, forestland, brushland, fallow fields, and freshwater ponds — this refuge supports a diversity of bird and plant life.
It’s common to see waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, white-tailed deer, American alligators, and herons and egrets.
With more than 250 species of birds found here — Pinckney Island is a birder’s paradise. Keep an eye out for the painted bunting in the summer! Male painted buntings are the most spectacularly colored of all North American songbirds, with their bold combination of red, blue, green, and yellow feathers. They are also a species at risk, with populations declining significantly over the past few decades.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PARKS
Mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, forests, and beaches dot the state of South Carolina — and the best way to explore these amazing outdoor spots is to visit one of the South Carolina state parks.
With more than 90,000 acres of protected lands stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the sand dunes of the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina state parks protect some of the most inviting natural, cultural and recreational destinations in the country.
You can’t go wrong with any of the state parks in SC, but here are a few of our very favorites.
Huntington Beach State Park (Murrells Inlet) – Located right next to Brookgreen Gardens, you’ll find a sweeping Grand Strand beach, camping, fishing, bird-watching, and you can visit the National Historic Landmark — Atalaya.
Devil’s Fork State Park (Salem) – This state park is all about the beautiful, mountain spring-fed Lake Jocassee. Here you’ll find amazing views, hiking, camping, trout fishing, and waterfalls you can only see by boat.
Caesars Head State Park (Cleveland) – Recognizable thanks to the granitic gneiss outcropping atop the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment that gives Caesars Head State Park its name, this state park is great for waterfall lovers. The Raven Cliffs Falls trail (4-miles roundtrip) leads to an overlook where you can see the 420-foot falls. It’s a must-do!
Table Rock State Park (Pickens) – Just 20 minutes away from Caesars Head, you’ll find another popular SC state park — Table Rock State Park. Hike the Table Rock Trail to the top of Table Rock and enjoy the views — you’ve earned it!
Hunting Island State Park (Hunting Island) – Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park, attracting more than a million visitors a year! Five miles of pristine South Carolina beaches are the main draw here, but you’ll also find thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon and an ocean inlet. Make sure to check out the views from the top of the lighthouse.
In Columbia, you’ll find Lake Murray. It’s about 50,000 acres (that’s about 1.5 times bigger than Lake Lanier!) with 500 miles of shoreline. It’s fed by the Saluda River, which flows from upstate South Carolina.
Of course, you can bring your own boat to explore the lake. You can launch at Lake Murray Marina, where you’ll also find a ship store, gas dock, and a robust dockside community. Plus, this is where to find the BEST sunset.
If you don’t have a boat, don’t let that stop you from exploring — check out Better Boating! You can rent pontoons, sport boats…even paddleboards and kayaks. Pick a half-day or or full-day, select the type of boat you want, and they take care of the rest!
ZOOS, MUSEUMS, AND MORE
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE MUSEUM
Explore four floors of permanent and changing exhibits, a digital dome planetarium, 4D interactive theater and more at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.
The museum is the state’s largest and most comprehensive museum, and is located along the banks of the beautiful Congaree River. The museum’s collection contains more than 70,000 artifacts!
The museum houses all things South Carolina — the art, the natural history, science and technology, and cultural history too.
Want to know more about South Carolina? This is a great place to start.
RIVERBANKS ZOO AND GARDEN
Also in Columbia, you’ll find Riverbanks Zoo and Garden! This is a place both adults and kids will love.
The zoo is home to more than 2,000 magnificent animals and one of the nation’s most beautiful and inspiring botanical gardens. The lush 170-acre site features dynamic natural habitat exhibits, scenic river views, spectacular valley overlooks and significant historic landmarks.
You’ll find more than 350 species from around the world represented at the zoo — like tigers, elephants, and giraffes. You’ll also find a 20,000-square foot Aquarium Reptile Complex too — so you can check out sharks, eels, amphibians, and more.
In the botanical gardens, you’ll find Waterfall Junction — an awesome play area for kids that includes a dino dig, giant tree houses, and a splash pad. The gardens have been hailed by Horticulture magazine as one of 10 gardens that inspire and by HGTV as one of 20 great public gardens across America.
Although the Greenville Zoo is modest in size, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a quick daytime adventure.
You can see lions, ocelot, lemurs, apes, exotic birds, amphibians and reptiles, all in about 90 minutes. The zoo also offers covered picnic areas and allows guests to bring in outside food and drink, making this a pretty ideal lunch safari adventure. It is part of the 120+ acre Cleveland Park, also worth exploring.
SOUTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM
Located in on the Charleston Harbor in Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium is home to more than 5,000 animals!
Learn everything you can about the sea life in and around South Carolina at this aquarium which houses North American river otters, Loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, great blue herons, owls, lined seahorses, jellyfish, pufferfish, green moray eels, horseshoe crabs, sea stars, pythons, and sharks. The aquarium is also home to South Carolina’s only sea turtle rehab facility.
With plenty of exhibits, and family-friendly events throughout the year, this aquarium is well worth a visit.
SOUTH CAROLINA MILITARY MUSEUM
The South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia dedicated to preserving South Carolina’s rich military history.
Tour the galleries for an up-close look at history through firearms, uniforms, vehicles, and more! Housed in the museum’s two galleries is a collection of artifacts and stories that create a timeline from the founding of the colony to current operations around the world.
At the museum you’ll see weapons that date back to the 1600s, explore vehicles both inside and outside the museum, and see equipment used by military forces — from boots to canteens to radios and flashlights.
The museum also houses the largest collection of cannons in the Midlands. This is a great stop for the military buff in your family.
COOL & UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN SOUTH CAROLINA
THE ANGEL OAK
You’ve probably never seen an oak tree as magnificent as this one! The Angel Oak is located in Johns Island, just outside of Charleston in the Angel Oak at Angel Oak Park.
This amazing tree is one of the oldest oak trees in the Southeast. It is estimated to be between 400-500 years old! And the twisting, huge branches on this tree are majorly impressive. From tip to tip, its longest branch distance is 187 feet.
This awesome tunnel is located right over the Georgia border in Walhalla, SC. My kids absolutely love visiting here — it’s really, really cool (literally and figuratively)!
Located within Stumphouse Park in Oconee County, SC, the Stumphouse Tunnel began being worked on in the 1850s, as part of a railroad project in the hopes of connecting Charleston to cities in the Midwest. Then the Civil War happened, and this tunnel project got abandoned. The tunnel was never finished.
Now you and your crew can explore the 1/4-mile tunnel (bring flashlights!) and walk through the 50 degree tunnel and explore all the creatures that call this place home. It’s slightly spooky and really neat.
The Stumphouse Tunnel is located at the same park as Issaqueena Falls — so make sure to walk over and take a look at the amazing falls. There’s also plenty of picnic tables here.
Poinsett Bridge was built in 1820, and was part of the road that connected Charleston and Columbia with North Carolina and Tennessee. This bridge is a 14-foot Gothic arch stone structure that stretches over a creek.
Some historians believe that the bridge was designed by Robert Mills — the same architect who designed the Washington Monument. Poinsett Bridge can be found at the Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve.
RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! ODDITORIUM
In Myrtle Beach on Ocean Drive you’ll find one of the weirdest museums around — the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium.
Explore the mysterious and bizarre at this wild and wacky museum, where you’ll find everything from shrunken heads, to an authentic vampire-killing kit. This 2-story museum truly has it all.
While you’re there, you can also check out the other Ripley’s attractions — like the Aquarium, the Mirror Maze, the Moving Theater, or the Haunted Adventure.
WHERE TO STAY IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Hotels in South Carolina
Best in Charleston: Overlooking Charleston City Market on Market Street, this historic French Quarter Inn welcomes guests with champagne at check-in and serves a free daily gourmet continental breakfast. Waterfront Park is 1,500 feet away.
Best in Myrtle Beach: The oceanfront Hampton Inn and Suites in Myrtle Beach is within 10 minutes’ drive of Myrtle Beach’s Broadway at the Beach and the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel. Guests can take a refreshing plunge in one of the 3 seasonal outdoor pools, or relax and unwind in one of the 2 hot tubs. A lazy river is also offered.
Best in Columbia: Just steps from University of South Carolina’s scenic grounds, Graduate Columbia mixes classic style and campus spirit. Feel right at home in their Southern retreat, located amidst all the hustle and bustle of downtown Columbia. This is one Instagram-friendly hotel.
Campgrounds in South Carolina
Best in North Myrtle Beach: Barefoot RV Resort is a family-operated and gated resort in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They are committed to providing you with relaxation and worry-free camping. Choose from RV sites, RV rentals, and tiny homes. Sites include picnic tables, fire pits, and free Wi-Fi.
Best in Greenville: Springwood RV Park in Greenville provides a clean, safe and secure park whether you are there for one night or several months. With extra large and nature-facing RV premium sites, this RV park also offers free WiFi connectivity throughout.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR TRIP TO SOUTH CAROLINA:
- SOUTH CAROLINA LAKES: Deciphering The Best Lakes In South Carolina For Your Visit
- SOUTH CAROLINA BEACHES: 17 Alluring South Carolina Beaches Begging You To Visit
- THE BEAUFORT INN: Your Best Family Option When Exploring Beaufort, SC [Video]
- DAUFUSKIE ISLAND: A Complete Daufuskie Island, SC Visitor’s Guide
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