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10 Great South Carolina Tourist Attractions + 10 More

Updated on December 13, 2016
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Scott Bateman is a professional journalist and online publisher. He writes often about travel, health and personal finance.

Myrtle Beach attracts 13 million people every year.
Myrtle Beach attracts 13 million people every year. | Source

Ten major tourist attractions in South Carolina draw record crowds with beaches, wildlife, and famous events in U.S. history.

These major attractions and things to do in order of popularity are:

  1. Myrtle Beach
  2. Charleston
  3. Hilton Head
  4. Hunting Island State Park
  5. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
  6. Huntington Beach State Park
  7. Fort Sumter National Monument
  8. Greenville Zoo
  9. Brookgreen Gardens
  10. Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum

Many of the most popular attractions are concentrated in four regions around the state: Myrtle Beach on the northern coast, Charleston on the southern coast, Columbia in the center of the state and Greenville in the western part of the state.

1. Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach proper is a small city, but it is the most popular South Carolina tourist attraction and one of the hottest attractions on the east coast of the U.S. More than 13 million visit this major beach destination every year.

The shoreline is about 10 miles long and has many rows of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues to keep visitors busy.

Visitors pack the 1.2-mile-long boardwalk, which is home to plenty of things to see and do. Don't be surprised to see an Elvis impersonator serenading outdoor diners.

Myrtle Beach also has more than 100 golf courses, the second most popular state park, and access to several other attractions in the region for day trippers.

It is the top place to go for families that want an active beach vacation in South Carolina.

The Myrtle Beach boardwalk offers miles of hotels, shops and restaurants. Copyright Scott Bateman
The Myrtle Beach boardwalk offers miles of hotels, shops and restaurants. Copyright Scott Bateman

2. Charleston

The historic city of Charleston lies two hours south of Myrtle Beach and two hours north of number three on this list.

It is not an easy day trip from either location, but that’s OK. It’s a better choice as a multi-night visit. Some people combine a trip to both Charleston and one of the major beaches.

Nearly 5 million people visit the city every year, according to the Charleston Office of Tourism. Middleton Place. They flock to the City Market, Waterfront Park, Middleton Place, South Carolina Aquarium, and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.

Nearby day trips include Francis Marion National Forest for nature lovers, Kiawah Island for beach lovers, and Fort Sumter (number seven on the list) for history lovers.

Charleston has more appeal to older couples or families with older children than Myrtle Beach.

3. Hilton Head

Hilton Head island occupies third place as one of the hottest tourist attractions in South Carolina.

The Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce says more than 2.5 million people visit the island every year.

Visitors have good reasons to go there: 14 miles of beach, a dozen golf courses, 55 miles of paved trails, and a pretty planned community.

It does not have access to as many major nearby destinations as Charleston. It simply has plenty of smaller things to do besides the beach.

They include Harbour Town, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, and an easy day trip to historic Savannah, GA. The city is only 30 minutes away.

Hilton Head is a good choice for a quiet and casual vacation. Like Charleson, it has appeal for older couples or families with older children.

The pretty village of Harbour Town is a popular place for eating, shopping and photography. Copyright Scott Bateman
The pretty village of Harbour Town is a popular place for eating, shopping and photography. Copyright Scott Bateman

4. Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island in coastal Beaufort County, which lies between Hilton Head Island to the south and Kiawah Island to the north, is the most visited state park .

The park draws more than 1.3 million people every year. The island is popular for beaches, boats, camping, fishing, a nature center, and the only lighthouse in the entire state that allows the public to climb to the top.

Vacationers in Hilton Head should consider combining a visit to the park on the same trip as a visit to the historic town of Beaufort. It is the second oldest city in the state.

The nearby Parris Island Recruit Depot, which is 11 miles from the city, attracts more than 120,000 visitors every year.

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5. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

The Atlantic coast of South Carolina doesn’t have all of the most popular attractions.

Tourists will find the state’s largest gated tourist attraction in Columbia in the western half of the state.

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is the largest zoo in the south and southeastern U.S., according to zoo officials.

It brings more than 1.3 million visitors each year to see 2,000 animals and a 70-acre botanical garden with more than 4,200 plant species.

Visitors to Columbia also can see the South Carolina State Museum with science exhibits, an observatory, planetarium, and 4D interactive theater.

6. Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park competes hard as the third most popular state park in South Carolina.

It has three miles of beach for swimming and fishing, plus 300 species of birds on 2,500 acres. The park appeals to campers with more than 100 standard campsites.

It also sits right across the road from Brookgreen Gardens, which is number eight on the list.

Fort Sumter is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Carolina.
Fort Sumter is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Carolina. | Source

7. Fort Sumter National Monument

The island of Fort Sumter attracts more than 840,000 people each year to see the place where the Civil War began, according to the National Park Service.

Visitors can take a half hour ferry ride from Charleston to reach the island. Rangers offer talks on both the ferries and during tours of the island.

Visitors can combine a ferry ride from the east side of Charleston Harbor with a visit to Fort Moultrie, which dates back to the late 18th century. It provided coastal defense from 1776 to 1847.

8. Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens is well worth the 40 minute drive south from Myrtle Beach to see America’s first public sculpture garden.

More than 310,000 visitors come to the park each year to see 1,400 works of art adorn 35 acres. It is possibly the most beautiful South Carolina attraction.

The public sculpture garden is part of 9,000 total acres that also include a small zoo. Photographs will find plenty of opportunities to use their cameras on this impression venue.

Brookgreen is right across the road from Huntington Beach State Park. So combining visits to both attractions will save time and create a full day.

Brookgreen Garden has more than 1,400 sculptures and works of art on 35 acres. Copyright Scott Bateman
Brookgreen Garden has more than 1,400 sculptures and works of art on 35 acres. Copyright Scott Bateman

9. Greenville Zoo

Greenville Zoo is not as large as Riverbanks Zoo, but it still manages to draw 300,000 visitors every year.

The zoo has primates, alligators, farm animals, bird exhibits, and geographic exhibits for Asia, Africa, and South America.

It also has a play area, picnic area, education center, and conservation station. Visitors can watch orangutan training and alligator feeding events.

10. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

Nearly 300,000 people every year visit the home of the USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor.

It also has the Patriots Point Museum, a fleet of National Historic Landmark ships, the Cold War Memorial, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, and a Medal of Honor Museum.

About 40,000 school children visit every year for the educational programs at the museum.

The Flight Academy has Lockheed Martin F-35 simulators that visitors can use to protect the USS Yorktown from simulated attacks.

Magnolia Plantation is a popular place to visit in Charleston.
Magnolia Plantation is a popular place to visit in Charleston. | Source

10 More Things to Do in South Carolina

Charleston Region

1 - Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation house in the United States that is still open to the public. Built in 1738, it includes one of the oldest known African American cemeteries in the nation.

2 - The South Carolina Aquarium, 100 Aquarium Wharf, sits on historic Charleston Harbor. It offers a wide range of exhibits with living sea creatures.

3 - Magnolia Plantation calls itself “Charleston’s most visited Plantation”. It also calls itself the oldest public garden in America.

4 - Middleton Place is another historic Charleston plantation. This National Historic Landmark on 65 acres says it has the oldest landscaped garden in the nation. The 1755 House Museum was the home of one of the original signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

5 - History lovers will find plenty of it at Charles Towne Landing Historic Site in Charleston. A group of settlers landed at this marshy point by the Ashley River in 1670 and set up the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas. The historic site includes exhibits, gardens and a replica sailing ship..

Columbia Region

6 - Congaree National Park, southeast of Columbia, is the largest old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the southeastern United States. Things to do include hiking, fishing, camping and canoeing. It has 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of boardwalk.

7 - Columbia Museum of Art has more than 25 galleries covering 5,000 years of human history along with classes, tours, lectures and touring exhibits. It attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year.

8 - The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia is a four-floor building with exhibits on South Carolina art, science, technology, human history and natural history. It also has an observatory, 4D theater and planetarium. It draws 140,000 people each year, according to the museum.

Greenville Region

9 - Falls Park in the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville's Historic West End, is a multi-use facility with gardens, hiking and waterfalls.

10 - Greenville visitors who like the outdoors may want to visit Paris Mountain State Park. Like Congaree, it offers hiking, biking and camping as well as swimming and cabins for rent. Admission is $5 for adults.

© 2016 Scott Bateman

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    • promisem profile image
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      Scott Bateman 5 months ago

      Hi, Jo. I think a vacation is like going to a movie. Everyone has a different opinion about it, even though they are seeing the exact same thing. I suspect Hunting Island is more popular with SC residents than outsiders. Thanks for the comment.

    • jo miller profile image

      jo miller 5 months ago from Tennessee

      I have very fond memories of Hunting Island State Park from years past, but I'm a little surprised it's as popular as it is. I was there a couple of years ago with my sisters and they were not nearly as fond of it as I was. But then they liked Beaufort a lot and I didn't care for it. Too touristy.

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