Top 15 South Carolina Attractions You Just Can't Miss

Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Nikki Jain

Sometimes, the busy hustle and bustle of the big city start to take a toll on you, and you begin to imagine what it would be like to spend a few days relaxing and unwinding while you leave your worries behind. Going on a sweet little vacation will surely do you wonders, and one of the best places to visit is the charming, idyllic, and laid-back State of South Carolina.

South Carolina is one of the gems of the southern United States. It’s a state filled with history, fun, entertainment, and scenic nature. Millions of visitors come to South Carolina every year to experience the state, extending from the coastal to its major cities.

From historic Charleston to fun-filled water parks in Myrtle Beach, there is no shortage of incredible places to visit in South Carolina. Learn about some of the must-see tourist attractions in South Carolina to plan your next trip to the ‘Palmetto State.’

Things To Do in South Carolina

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1: Charleston's Historic District

Charleston's Historic District
Shutterstock/f11photo

Charleston’s Historic District was the earliest districts established in Charleston, but ironically, remains a bustling part of town. The entire community is a National Historic Landmark because of the iconic architecture – it’s characterized by beautiful antebellum architecture and “single houses” preserved from the 18th- and 19th centuries.

Charleston’s Historic District is a popular tourist hub with several walking streets to some of the area’s historic sites and landmarks. Tourists can visit local attractions such as the Charleston County Courthouse, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the oldest church in Charleston, and the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul.

Many of the former residential houses in the district are repurposed for commercial venues. Broad Street, King Street, and Meeting Street are a few of the most well-known avenues within the district for finding a variety of shops and restaurants. The Charleston City Market is also a must-visit venue to find the best local dishes.

Charleston’s Historic District is a favorite destination to stay because of its proximity to many of the top things to do in Charleston. The district includes several hotels, making it convenient to experience the best parts of Charleston.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Charleston

Address: 40 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Charleston, SC

2: Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach

With 60 miles of wide, powdery sand beaches, you and your family will spend hours of baking under the sun, building sandcastles by the sea shore, or swimming in its azure blue waters.

Myrtle Beach is lined with some of the best resorts and hotels in the state offering you comfort, elegance and functionality. Take part in some of their thrilling water sports, go golfing with your buddies or even go fishing.

There are way too many things to do here at Myrtle Beach which is why a visit to South Carolina would not be complete without it in your itinerary.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Myrtle Beach

Address: Myrtle Beach, SC

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Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

3: Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island
Flickr/Dan J

There’s no shortage of activities at Hilton Head Island. Hilton Head, located in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina, has everything you need for a perfect island retreat.

You’ll have your choice between world-class golf, shopping, kayaking, biking, fishing and horseback riding opportunities on a trip to Hilton Head. The island is also home to 12 miles of pristine sandy beaches.

Hilton Head has everything you need for a remote getaway whether you’re seeking a vacation rental or an upscale resort. Come for the fun, stay for the beauty.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Hilton Head Island

Address: Hilton Head Island, SC

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4: Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens
Flickr/Rain0975

The award-winning Brookgreen Gardens is the first sculpture garden in the US, established to showcase pieces by American Artists. The garden opened in 1932 with a primary purpose of showcasing sculptures by famed Anna Hyatt Huntington. It expanded to include works from other family members, and eventually, other national artists.

Today, Brookgreen Gardens features the largest outdoor collection of sculptures by American artists. The extensive garden includes over 1,400 sculptures to decorate the garden landscape beautifully. Visitors can walk the paths set up throughout the gardens to see smaller themed gardens, ponds, and other sights to enjoy the decorative scenery and outdoor landscape.

In addition to touring the sculptures, the garden grounds also include the Lowcountry Zoo and nature exhibition center. Brookgreen Gardens serves as a wildlife and nature preserve, showcasing a variety of plants and animals native to South Carolina.

Trails lead throughout the preserve, letting visitors experience different ecosystems.

Brookgreen Gardens hosts the annual Nights of a Thousand Candles, a popular event to attend for locals and tourists. The staff decorates the entire garden with lights and candles for the holiday season.

Address: 1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

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5: Middleton Place

Middleton Place

Home to the oldest landscaped gardens in the country, Middleton Place has become a hugely popular historic landmark over the years. Spread over sixty five acres, this is a wonderful place to come if you want to explore unique and eye-catching natural beauty.

In addition to the stunning gardens, you can also look forward to exploring the House Museum, where you will be able to take in some great displays of furniture, porcelain, rarities, and artwork.

You can then move on to pay a visit to the Plantation Stableyards, where you can step back in time and enjoy a living history experience as well as see a range of animals.

Address: 4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414

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6: Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
Flickr/Charles Barilleaux

Bask in your child's awestruck and delighted expressions as they visit each of the exotic animals that are housed here in one of America's best zoos, the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden.

Your kids will enjoy feeding the farm animals at the petting zoo and they will love watching all the fun animal shows.

Register ahead of time for their exciting adventure tours that will let you encounter animals up close as well as explore many behind the scenes zoo operations.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Columbia

Address: 500 Wildlife Pkwy, Columbia, SC 29210

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Also Read: 30 Best Zoos in the USA

7: Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Flickr/Jason Raia

For a glimpse into the US War History, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum gives you an up-close look at decommissioned naval ships. The museum highlights maritime history in the US.

Charleston Harbor hosts three ships – USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore – former warships now showcasing exhibitions as part of the museum. USS Yorktown is an aircraft carrier ship which has onboard exhibits such as the Medal of Honor museum and displays of naval aircraft. The USS Clamagore is a submarine that will be used as an artificial reef soon.

Visitors can board the ships and explore the massive vessels, having a chance to walk through history.

The museum also includes onshore exhibitions highlighting details and objects from WWII and the Vietnam War. Many of the displays are interactive. Visitors have the option of guided or self-guided tours.

The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is a popular stop for boat tours riding along the Cooper River. One of the main attractions to the museum is seeing military reenactments and weapons demonstrations - the museum also features a variety of events throughout the year.

Address: 40 Patriots Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

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8: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Flickr/liz west

Historic, romantic, stunningly beautiful. Those are just a few words used to describe Magnolia Plantation and Gardens located in Charleston County, South Carolina.

Magnolia is the oldest plantation site on the Ashley River and was established by the Drayton family in the 1670s. It’s also the oldest public gardens in America, having first opened its doors to guests in 1870.

Many of the gardens beautiful flowers and plants predate Civil War and give a fascinating look into the flora of the time. Magnolia is revered for its gorgeous grounds as much as it is its history.

The romantic-style garden features sprawling collections of flowers that are in bloom year-round. Magnolia is worthy of a trip no matter the time of year. You can visit in the spring to see startling azaleas or the winter to see the famed camellias.

Address: 3550 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414

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9: Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park
Flickr/fran.trudeau

A beautiful coastal preserve, Huntington Beach State Park offers a stunning beach area as well as a host of activities and sights for the whole family to enjoy. Atalaya Castle, which was the home of the Huntingtons, is located here and when you visit you can enjoy a tour of this fascinating home as well as explore a range of exhibitions at the Atalaya Visitor Center.

You can also enjoy getting to one with nature, as there are various bird species for those who are interested in wildlife. A favorite amongst kids is the onsite Nature Center, which provides an exciting educational experience with both historic displays and live animals.

Address: 16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

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Also Read: 25 Best State Parks in the US

10: Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter National Monument
NPS Site

History buffs know all about Fort Sumter. But it’s one thing to see this historic national monument, and quite another to experience it. You can talk a walk through the exact location where the first shots were fired in the Civil War on a tour of Fort Sumter National Monument.

You can also learn about the events leading up to that fateful morning in 1861 by taking a walking tour of the grounds. Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor and is only accessible via boat. It might require some traveling, but a trip is well worth the trek. Fort Sumter has daily tours and a museum that houses many historic artifacts.

Address: 1214 Middle St, Charleston, SC 29482

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Also Read: Top 10 American Civil War Sites To Visit

11: South Carolina State Museum

South Carolina State Museum
South Carolina State Museum

South Carolina State Museum is the largest museum in South Carolina. It opened in 1988 in Columbia, featuring four floors of exhibitions dedicated to South Carolina history and modern lifestyle. The exhibitions fit within one of the museum categories: art, cultural history, natural history, or science and technology.

The permanent exhibitions in the South Carolina State Museum cover four floors - visitors can see excavated artifacts, life-size replicas, and art from local artists. Part of the museum is in the former Columbia Mills Buildings, the world’s first electric textile mill. Many of the mill’s original features remain, making it an artifact in itself and part of the museum.

South Carolina State Museum also features temporary exhibitions throughout the year, ranging from pop culture to exhibits related to the state. Many of the exhibits showcased in the museum are interactive or contain multimedia displays, making it a fun destination for everyone, from adults to kids.

The museum facilities also include a 4D interactive theater, an observatory, and a digital dome planetarium. Visitors can see various films screened at the museum. It also includes a gift shop and a bookstore.

Address: 301 Gervais St, Columbia, SC 29201

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12: Caesars Head State Park

Caesars Head State Park
Flickr/Doug Anderson

One of the most scenic destinations in South Carolina is at Caesars Head State Park, located on the border of North Carolina. The park features a beautiful mountainous landscape covered with lush greenery. It’s a place for outdoor recreation and sightseeing.

Caesars Head State Park derives its name from the highest point in the Caesar Head Mountains. It reaches an elevation of over 3,200-feet. The park has an abundance of wildlife – some of the most common wildlife include falcons, hawks, and black bears.

Many tourists visit the park to enjoy recreational activities in the vast landscape. Some of the top activities in the park include hiking, having a picnic, or camping.

Caesars Head State Park features over a dozen hiking trails. Trails lead to some of the top points of interest – Caesars Head overlook for panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Raven Cliff Falls to see the highest waterfall in South Carolina. The waterfall is only accessible via a suspension bridge.

In addition to hiking, the park includes multiple designated campsites for overnight stays. The park’s visitor center contains various museum displays and a ranger’s store for souvenirs.

Address: 8155 Geer Hwy, Cleveland, SC 29635

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13: Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park
Flickr/Ken Lund

Congaree National Park earned its national park designation in 2003, recognized for being the country’s largest tract of old-growth forest. The trees in the park are some of the tallest trees east of the Mississippi River – it has the highest canopy of deciduous trees. The entire region is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The landscape of the Congaree National Park consists of floodplains formed from the Congaree River flow. A large section of the park is a wilderness area.

Congaree National Park is very popular for visitors, receiving over 100,000 tourists every year. The park allows visitors to see the untouched nature, filled with lots of species of plants and animals.

Favorite activities in the park include hiking, walking tours, boating, and birdwatching. The park features boardwalks set up throughout the park for an improved visitor experience when traveling along the paths. The most popular trail is the Boardwalk Loop, although some trails lead away from the marked regions.

Visitors can also experience backcountry camping in the wilderness area of the park.

Congaree National Park includes a visitor center that provides up-to-date information about the trail conditions and an educational video about the park.

Address: 100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061

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Also Read: What to Pack When Going to a National Park and The Best East Coast National Parks

14: DuPont Planetarium

DuPont Planetarium

Lovers of the Universe will highly enjoy the experience at the DuPont Planetarium. The planetarium, located in Aiken, South Carolina, is on the campus of the University of South Carolina. It’s a fun, educational attraction, open to the public for all ages.

DuPont Planetarium consists of a theater room on the ground floor, and an observatory on the roof. The entire experience allows visitors to explore both of them.

The theater features space-related shows, events, lectures, and presentations. Experts and volunteers provide detailed information about the history of Earth, the Universe, and the significance of the planetarium to space education.

It offers themed shows depending on the season – one of the most popular shows is the “Seven Wonders of the Earth.”

The theater showcases a night sky rendering, where presenters can point out specific details about the current night sky projected onto the ceiling.

After the presentation, visitors can head up to the rooftop observatory to peer through the telescope. The public telescope gives a rare chance to see heavenly bodies – star formations, planets, and other space phenomena. Visibility is weather permitting.

Although a small planetarium, visitors will have a lot of insight into the universe after their visit.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Aiken

Address: 427 Scholar Loop, Aiken, SC 29801

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15: Alligator Adventure

Alligator Adventure
Flickr/Rain0975

North Myrtle Beach is a destination for discovering everything there is to know about alligators. Alligator Adventure is a large park, home to tons of alligators for visitors to enjoy a variety of experiences.

One of the highlights of Alligator Adventure is live feeding times. Alligators are fed daily in front of huge crowds gathering to see the feast. Another unique experience is petting an alligator. Adults and children are welcome to pet baby alligators and hold snakes.

The park hosts live alligator shows; different shows showcase alligators and provide an educational experience for visitors. Shows occur daily and have specific times when they occur.

Alligator Adventure features different sections of the park, a primary zone housing the reptile house. The reptile house includes a variety of species of reptiles – alligators, snakes, lizards, turtles, and frogs. It’s even home to a rare albino alligator.

Other sections of the park feature other animals, such as hyenas and tropical birds.

Boardwalk paths circle throughout the park to make it easily accessible for kids and the disabled. It’s a fun destination for everyone to have interactive experiences with the reptiles.

Address: 4604 Hwy 17 S, North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582

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FAQs

Q: What is the number 1 attraction in South Carolina?

Charleston’s Historic District is the number 1 attraction in South Carolina. It features over 1400 historic homes, churches, and many other buildings. Take a carriage ride to fully immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere, or take a guided tour of one of the historic homes.

Q: What is South Carolina best known for?

South Carolina is famous for its beaches – there are hundreds of lovely sandy spots along the nearly 3,000 miles of coastline. Another major section of the state’s tourism is world-class golf courses. There are over 350 courses throughout South Carolina, and some of them have been built by the best golf course architects.

Q: What is the best time to visit South Carolina?

To fully enjoy the lush green environment of the state, plan your visit from March to May. If you want to experience the wonderful beaches, the best time to visit would be in September when the beaches are the least crowded, but it's still quite warm.

Q: What are the unique South Carolina attractions?

  • Neverbust Chain – a titanic steel chain linking two buildings in downtown Columbia
  • The Angel Oak – a 500-year-old tree located on Johns Island
  • God’s Acre Healing Springs – people from all parts of the state believe that this water is blessed
  • Reedy Riber Falls – a magnificent park with waterfalls located right in the middle of Greenville

Q: What is the prettiest place in South Carolina?

Magnolia Plantation is one of the prettiest places in South Carolina and the oldest public garden in the United States. Over 600 acres of land lie beneath a canopy of centuries-old trees located in a dense woodland along the wonderful Ashley River. By the way, America’s largest romantic garden also features a maze and a petting zoo.

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