The Most Beautiful Towns and Cities in South Carolina

The oldest town in South Carolina, Charleston offers lots of scenic historical sights
The oldest town in South Carolina, Charleston offers lots of scenic historical sights | © Pat Canova / Alamy Stock Photo
Lani Seelinger

South Carolina has so much to offer, so narrowing down the most beautiful towns and cities is tough. If you’re into waterside adventures, you could opt for the shrimping village of McClellanville or journey to Hilton Head Island in the Atlantic Ocean. Or if historic cities are more your thing, perhaps try Beaufort or Charleston. Want to know more? Here are the prettiest places in South Carolina.

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Beaufort

As the second-oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort is unsurprisingly rife with historical sites and fittingly beautiful buildings. It was founded in 1711 by British colonists, preceded in the area only by Charleston. The myriad attractions in Beaufort include a beautiful waterfront, a buzzing cultural scene that includes numerous festivals throughout the year, and plenty of activities for those interested in using the water for sport. When you visit Beaufort, make sure you have enough time to take advantage of everything this lovely city has to offer.

McClellanville

Settled in the direct aftermath of the Civil War in the late 1860s, McClellanville has a surprising number of historical buildings considering how small it is. Best known now as a fishing and shrimping village, it was once the site of several plantations, and you can still visit these today. They and several other buildings are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Given the industry that brings in the bulk of revenue to McClellanville, you can be sure the fish and shrimp you’ll eat here are fresh.

Edisto Island

Edisto Island is the perfect place to experience the quiet, slow beauty of the South Carolina coast. It was inhabited for several centuries by Native American tribes, some of whom still reside in the area, and then European colonists. Before slavery was abolished, a community of enslaved people from Africa also lived here and developed their particular creole Gullah language, the traditions and history of which will be of interest to anyone who wants to see a lesser-known part of the American story.

Charleston

Founded in 1670, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina, and was one of the biggest in the country until the mid-19th century. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the historical sites here are one of the major draws for tourists, but there is so much more. The city also has a gorgeous waterfront, plenty of excellent restaurants, great nightlife and some of the best hospitality in America to boot. If you’re a culture lover, come in the late spring to witness the Spoleto Festival USA, one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the world. Don’t miss the local Low Country cuisine, which has influences ranging from English and French dishes to those of the enslaved people who were once brought here.

Greenville

Greenville has one of the fastest-growing economies and populations in the state, but a charming downtown and numerous natural and cultural attractions make it beautiful too. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the area is forested and hilly, and Falls Park on the Reedy is an ideal place to enjoy the landscape. For architecture lovers, Greenville is home to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last creations, and the revamped downtown area is a great place to explore. The West End historic district, which used to be a complex of abandoned warehouses, is now a great example of how the city has flourished in recent years.

Hilton Head Island

One of the prime tourist spots in South Carolina, Hilton Head has everything from gorgeous beaches to excellent restaurants and exciting cultural offerings. The coastal ecosystem also features a broad array of wildlife, some of which you might be lucky enough to see – or if you want to make sure you do, check out the Cultural Discovery Museum. Their annual events run the gamut from golf tournaments to chili-eating contests, not forgetting their Dove Street Festival of Lights around the holiday season. It’s perfect in the summer, of course, but really you will fall in love with Hilton Head whenever you choose to go.

Georgetown

Another one of the oldest cities in South Carolina, Georgetown is now one of the most important ports in the state. Although now disputed, some historians claim this was actually the site of the first attempt at colonization in North America – a Spanish colony that failed after its founding in 1526. It has another historical connection to Spain, as a group of Spanish Sephardic Jews made their way here after the Inquisition. The best places to enjoy the beauty of Georgetown are the streets of downtown, the area around the waterfront, or any one of the streets where the thriving live oaks create peaceful, shady walkways.

Mount Pleasant

Another waterfront town, Mount Pleasant is surrounded by the green marshes typical of the area. Mount Pleasant will be particularly interesting to people keen on military or naval history, as it is the resting site of several US Navy vessels. There are numerous parks where you can enjoy the natural beauty – just make sure you bring your sunscreen and bug spray. As it was also settled by Europeans well before 1700, there are plenty of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places for those who want to take a journey back through American history.

Aiken

Aiken was founded in the 19th century and quickly became a popular place for wealthy people from the North to spend their winters. One of the legacies of this appeal is the equestrian industry, which is a major part of the character of Aiken, and there are many barns, races and polo tournaments in the area. Even if you’re not coming to take part in or witness a steeplechase race, you’ll enjoy the attractive downtown and the surrounding rolling hills. Located near the middle of the South Carolina border with Georgia, Aiken is one of the real hidden gems in the state, and you won’t want to miss it.

Clemson

Clemson is primarily known for the university that shares the city’s name, but that’s not the only draw. The campus and a small off-campus downtown area are chock full of fascinating local businesses and pretty buildings, giving you plenty of opportunities to stop for refreshments on a walk around the area. Nearby natural sites add to the appeal, including the South Carolina Botanical Garden, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Lake Hartwell, a giant reservoir that offers beaches and numerous boating activities. Clemson University is well known for athletic success – see if you can get a ticket to a football, basketball or baseball game when you’re in the area.

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