When you think of South Carolina, you likely picture pastel-colored homes in Charleston or the Grand Strand’s golden sandy beaches. But what if we told you there’s more to the state beyond its big cities?
I spent the first 22 years of my life in the Palmetto State, and while I love revisiting Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia, South Carolina’s small towns and secluded islands are well worth a stop, whether on a day trip or as your main destination. And don’t worry — you’ll find sweet tea, Southern hospitality, and a wide range of stunning landscapes all over the state. After all, our old license tags used to read: “Smiling faces, beautiful places.”
We rounded up small towns in South Carolina with around 15,000 residents or less, excluding some of the slightly larger favorites like Hilton Head Island and Bluffton (which worth visiting, too). So, whether you’re looking for a mountain getaway or a beach vacation destination without the crowds, here are eight of the best small towns in South Carolina.
Just a short drive from downtown Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is one of the best beach towns in South Carolina. The 2.5-mile long island is known for historic Fort Moultrie (with ties to the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars), a charming main drag, and pristine beaches unsullied by high-rise hotels or tourist traps. Appropriately named Middle Street — located in the center of the small island — is home to favorite restaurants like Poe’s Tavern (an Edgar Allen Poe-themed eatery with incredible burgers), Home Team BBQ, and The Obstinate Daughter.
The Upstate South Carolina region is dotted with lakes and rolling green hills in the shadow of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Travelers Rest (or simply “TR”) offers a dose of small-town living and outdoor adventure just a short distance from the charming city of Greenville. Before you go hiking, kayaking, or mountain biking, fuel up at Tandem Creperie and Coffeehouse, and end your day with a pint at Swamp Rabbit Brewery. Hotel Domestique, less than 20 minutes outside of town, offers a taste of the Tuscan countryside with beautiful grounds and accommodations overlooking the mountains.
South Carolina has plenty of lovely coastal small towns, including Georgetown, located between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. It’s the third-oldest town in the state, so there’s plenty of history to explore, plus local shops and restaurants on Front Street. Go for a stroll along the Harborwalk to admire views of the sparkling water.
The small town of Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is great for a laid-back beach vacation. The Sea Island is situated between Hilton Head and Charleston, and it’s home to beautiful beaches, including picturesque Driftwood Beach. You won’t find many large hotels in the area, so opt for a rental and enjoy the serene atmosphere.
Another barrier island on the South Carolina coast, Kiawah offers seafront serenity with an upscale twist. The primarily privately owned island is home to Kiawah Island Golf Resort, known for its championship golf courses and The Sanctuary, a beachfront luxury hotel. Nearby Freshfields Village offers shopping (with lots of resort wear to choose from) and a range of restaurants.
Located in the state’s Midlands region, between Greenville and South Carolina’s capital city, Columbia, Newberry has a quintessential small-town feel. The well-preserved downtown area features an opera house, antique shops, locally owned restaurants, and more. Plus, the area hosts festivals throughout the year, including the yearly Oktoberfest, Christmas, and Pork in the Park events.
Down in the Lowcountry on Port Royal Island, Beaufort is another historic coastal town. It dates back hundreds of years, so you can experience South Carolina’s history firsthand by learning about Gullah culture at historic sites or on a tour, visiting ruins and old homes, and more.
Daufuskie Island, tucked between Savannah and Hilton Head on the coast, is the ultimate escape when you really want to get away from it all. The island has a small-town atmosphere — it’s only accessible by boat, and there are a handful of cafes and restaurants, the Daufuskie Island Distillery (offering a range of tasty spirits such as a delightful Kona coffee rum), and shops for local artisans. Keep an eye out for local wildlife, including dolphins and turtles, on the sandy shoreline.