Looking to explore beyond Charleston’s old-world allure? Experience America’s Southern charms and enhance your Holy City itinerary with the best day trips from Charleston, South Carolina.
With national parks, historic homes, and sun-kissed beaches, there’s plenty to see & do near this South Carolinian tourist hotspot. Stroll through Brookgreen Gardens to soak in the sights of sculptures, explore the beaches of Kiawah Island, take on water activities in Myrtle Beach, or visit Mount Pleasant to learn more about the area’s illustrious military history.
Ready to see all that South Carolina has to offer beyond Charleston? Start planning your adventures with this complete guide to the top-rated Charleston side trips.
Top-rated Charleston side trips
Ready to experience island life at its best? Located 21 miles south of Charleston, Kiawah Island is one of South Carolina’s favorite islands. The barrier island’s pale beaches with gentle waves and lush foliage attract visitors and locals alike.
Get your golf clubs ready: Kiawah Island is home to some of the best championship golf courses on the East Coast. The Ocean Course is iconic, with unpredictable Atlantic breezes challenging even the best golfers. From hole to hole, the wind seems to change direction, making each round different. The entire course looks like it could have been plucked from a postcard. Turquoise waters shimmer in almost every direction.
Nature lovers will appreciate the natural beauty of Kiawah Island. Miles of sun-soaked beaches are hugged by coastal forests, known for their local flora and fauna.
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Don’t forget your camera: You might even spot a local bobcat. The island is home to a small population of the elusive cats. And while numbers are dwindling, the area is the site of a major conservation effort.
On your Kiawah Island visit, don’t forget your hiking boots. You’ll discover thirty miles of idyllic hiking trails. Expect each trail to lead to one scenic view after another on this illustrious day trip destination island.
Looking for a sugar-sand beach escape? Myrtle Beach is a few hours up the coast from Charleston. Home to some of the best beaches in South Carolina, this coastal city features more than 60 miles of sandy shores.
The beach itself draws millions of visitors to Myrtle Beach every year. It’s wide, sandy, and safe. You can find bustling areas full of activity or your own quiet corner of sand, depending on your vacation goals.
Lay down your towel and relax or go partake in a game of volleyball on the beautiful beach. Shelling is popular around Myrtle Beach, too. The best picks often appear at low tide.
If you love adventure, take to the water. Parasailing, jet skiing, and kayaking are some of the must-do activities in Myrtle Beach. Grab a surfboard and take to the waves if they’re calling your name. The best part: Most of the beach areas are manned by lifeguards.
Along the pier, you can find a spot to fish or watch the local dolphin populations play. To get closer, embark on one of the many dolphin cruises.
Families with children will also love the amusement parks near the pier. Between the sand and the city, Myrtle Beach is one of the best Charleston day trips for families with young children.
Dive head first into the past with a visit to Beaufort. The idyllic historic town of Beaufort lies in Port Royal Sound, less than two hours away from Charleston. When it comes to side trips from Charleston, Beaufort is one of the best for history lovers.
Grab comfy shoes and get ready to walk through the past in Beaufort’s historic downtown. Thanks to its long history, the entire area is protected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Make sure you have your camera ready. Historic landmarks are plentiful in Beaufort, each showcasing the rich history of the area. A welcoming town, Beaufort is full of locals who are often happy to help travelers. Whether you’re on a self-guided tour or an official one, you’ll be in for quite the adventure.
The history of slavery is immortalized in the historic city. Beaufort History Museum has exhibits about South Carolina’s slave-trading past and the colonial history of the illustrious Port Royal Island.
Many of the museum’s exhibits remind visitors of the atrocities of the past, but some focus on freedom. Robert Small’s incredible escape from slavery is of particular importance. Small was famous for sailing a Confederate ship to freedom. His story is one of many remarkable tales you’ll take in on your visit.
Ready for some old-world charm and Southern hospitality? Mount Pleasant makes for one of the best Charleston side trips. If you have an interest in history and natural beauty, Mount Pleasant is the perfect spot.
To learn about Gullah history, visit Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens. A working plantation, Boone Hall Plantation has plenty of stories to tell, especially about those who were enslaved. Many of the exhibits adorn the Slave Street cabins. Don’t forget to wander through the botanical garden, peppered with beautiful antique roses.
The only replica Vietnam Naval Support Base Camp can be found at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. There are lots of National Historic Landmark ships to tour here, including the USS Yorkton. For even more insight into this rich history, pop into the Medal of Honor Museum.
When you’re ready to eat, head down to Shem Creek. This charming area is a favorite with locals and travelers. Restaurants and bars overlook the waterfront district, offering beautiful views of Charleston Harbor.
Looking for a glimpse into America’s prestigious military history? Fort Sumter was once a Confederate stronghold. The fort is one of the best places to learn about the Civil War near Charleston.
This impressive sea fort can be found on an artificial island. While it was partially destroyed during the Civil War, many foundations are still present. You can walk through ruins, see the weaponry of the period, and trace the first shots of the Civil War.
Jump on a boat and get ready to go. You have to cross the water to reach Fort Sumter. If you’re planning on visiting Mount Pleasant, you’ll be happy to hear that many excursions to Fort Sumter leave from Patriots Point.
Many boat tours include Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. This layered fort has stood through centuries and several wars. Some parts have been restored to help visitors to understand the rich history of its military architecture and strategic importance.
For a journey that’s a stone’s throw south of Charleston, check out Wadmalaw Island. Drawing in travelers looking for a quiet getaway and Southern hospitality, the island is truly beautiful. It offers plenty of surprises waiting for those willing to explore.
Wadmalaw Island is home to some of the most laid-back things to see & do in Charleston. Charleston Tea Plantation, American’s only tea garden, is a favorite stop. Jump on a trolley to learn about how tea is grown and prepared. On the tour, you’ll pass by more than a hundred acres of tea plants.
For something a little stronger, head down to Deep Water Vineyard. At the only winery and vineyard in South Carolina, you can expect to sample some of the finest Southern wine. Don’t forget to try their muscadine wine, famous for its deep, sweet notes. Tastings and tours are available for wine connoisseurs and those curious to learn more.
History lovers should pay attention to the rich history of the barrier island. Wadmalaw Island has a lot of stories to tell, including ones of settlers surviving with the generosity and assistance of its local Native American population.
Hilton Head Island
Got more than 24 hours in Charleston, SC? Hilton Head Island lies just a few hours south of Charleston. Miles of beaches and turquoise waters mingle alongside world-class golf courses. Enthusiasts should make time for a few holes of golf.
While taking in the top attractions in Hilton Head Island, wander through Harbour Town to take in all that this historic area has to offer. Antique stores sit aside incredible restaurants and bars, where cocktails are best enjoyed looking out over the water. Or climb to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Museum to enjoy some of the finest views of Hilton Head Island.
If you’re ready for an adventure, take to the water. Excursions leave from Harbour Town. You can embark on dolphin watching tours, go on a charter fishing experience, or grab a kayak and take to the water yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for the various historical landmarks along the coast.
Make sure that you have your camera close. Harbour Town is easily one of the most scenic areas on the coast of South Carolina.
Looking for an idyllic coastal town? Edisto Island is a charming community full of beaches a short journey south of Charleston. The entire area is perfect for those looking to relax and welcomes those looking to explore nature.
If you’re interested in learning about South Carolina’s story, the Edisto Island Museum will help you. As part of the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society, they aim to preserve the rich history of Edisto Island.
A great example of this can be found inside the museum itself. One of Edisto Island’s slave cabins has been moved there. The other lives at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There are many featured historic properties on Edisto Island, including several plantations and churches.
Fond of the great outdoors? Edisto Beach State Park is one of South Carolina’s oceanfront gems. Bike rentals can help you soak in as much beauty as possible. The Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Area is perfect for hikers. This working plantation is covered in live oak trees and full of secluded trails.
If you venture a little further inland, you can find the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. A true haven for local flora and fauna, bird spotters should keep their eyes peeled for wood storks by the Edisto River.
Traveling with the family? Brookgreen Gardens stands as one of the most amazing day trips from Charleston. From an idyllic botanical garden to a zoo full of native species, there’s something for everyone here.
Go for a stroll through Brookgreen Gardens to see the beauty that’s transformed the area. Live Oak Allée is noteworthy, full of live oak trees that have stood for centuries. The butterfly garden is peppered with evergreens and seasonal blooms. Waterlilies settled on top of the water are nothing short of inspirational.
Keep your eyes peeled for the sculptures in Brookgreen Gardens. This wonderful attraction is home to the largest collection of American figurative sculptures in the country. There are thousands of them, from the larger sculptures outdoors to smaller sculptures in indoor exhibits.
Children, in particular, will love Lowcountry Zoo. One of a handful of institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this place is special. Expect to see bald eagles, owls, red foxes, and river otters. Alternatively, follow the trails at the Lowcountry History and Wildlife Preserve or learn more about the Gullah Geechee people with one of the programs.
Hunting Island State Park
Searching for a little slice of nature near Charleston, SC? Hunting Island State Park is one of the most popular state parks in South Carolina. And it’s easy to see why from the moment you take in its gorgeous beaches and nature trails.
Grab your beach towel and get ready to relax. The beaches at Hunting Island State Park are pristine. Surrounded by emerald-hued waters, they’re the perfect place to settle down and watch the world go by. Listed among the top-rated Charleston beaches, they’re much quieter than those closer to the city center.
For a better view, climb the iron stairs at Hunting Island Lighthouse. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Atlantic coast and the surrounding maritime forest.
When you want a closer look, explore the nature trails. The Marsh Boardwalk Trail will take you straight over the surrounding marshes and through the forest. Keep your camera ready: You might meet some raccoons or deer along the way.
Huntington Beach State Park
Get your hiking boots ready. Huntington Beach State Park is full of beautiful beaches and iconic hiking trails. You can go from sunbathing on a pristine beach to bird spotting over a marsh within minutes here.
The wetlands themselves are home to a huge number of species. You can see sea turtles, alligators, and both local and migratory birds. While the Nature Center at Huntington Beach State Park is small, it can teach you a lot about the rich birdlife surrounding you.
To get a little closer to nature, head down the Boardwalk Trail or Kerrigan Trail. One takes you out over a marsh; the other offers the best lookout over Mullet Pond. Alternatively, Brookgreen Gardens is a short walk away.
Many visitors who venture to Huntington Beach State Park find themselves drawn to Atalaya. A unique Moorish-style castle, Atalaya is a rare treat. Embark on a self-guided walking tour to learn more about this beautiful property.
Enjoy fishing? Get your rod and reel ready. While the park’s beaches are perfect for relaxing on, many fishermen take to the water for surf fishing. You’ll see them happily standing among the waves and pulling in their catch.
Looking for more historical city vibes? Charleston’s sister city, Savannah is a few hours away in the state of Georgia. History buffs and foodies will love spending a day in Savannah, GA, searching for antebellum homes and soul food.
The charming city of Savannah is abuzz with life. Go for a walk through Forsyth Park to experience it to the fullest. Enjoy a picnic on the lawn and chat up the incredibly friendly local Georgians. After a long day of exploring the top Savannah attractions, Forsyth Park can be the best place to unwind.
To see Savannah’s blissful Southern charms and historic houses, head to the Historic District. Each site comes with a robust and rich history, from the establishment of Savannah to the impact of the transatlantic slave trade—and even a siege during the Revolutionary War.
If you’ve got time after your Historic District visit, venture outside of the city to the Wormsloe Historic Site. One of the most popular Savannah day trips, the historic site sits as one of Georgia’s oldest plantations.
To enjoy the sun on your Savannah visit, head towards Tybee Island. A stone’s throw away from the center of Savannah, this barrier island is the perfect place to enjoy a scenic waterway. Play volleyball, sunbathe on the beach or cast your line off the pier.
Stepping away from Charleston to find a quiet beach? Folly Beach is found just south of Charleston. This iconic barrier island is also known as “The Edge of America.”
For generations, Folly Beach has inspired artists, writers, and creative minds. Wander around this lovely beach town to find your own inspiration. The town’s pristine beach runs along the Atlantic shoreline. Find your own space, settle down and watch the world go by at your own pace.
Wildlife lovers should pay attention to their surroundings. It’s normal to see loggerhead turtles nesting on the beach or bald eagles flying overhead. Get closer to dolphins playing in the water by kayaking or go shelling by the water’s edge as the tide goes out.
Folly Beach Pier stands as a perfect playground for anglers. Get ready to cast your line off of the edge and see what you pull in. Alternatively, boat excursions can take you further into the waters for deep-sea fishing experiences.