Beginner’s Guide to the South Carolina Islands

You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to live the “Island Life”— it’s all right here on the the South Carolina islands. Our string of 34 palmetto-studded sea islands range from untamed and secluded to five-star and bustling.

While we can’t possibly cover all 34 islands in one blog post, we’ve chosen a representative sample of the South Carolina islands we know and love—making our way from north to south along the chain. Read on to determine which of these South Carolina Islands is the best option for you and your fellow vacationers.

Side note: If you’re staying at one of our Kiawah Island Getaways properties, most of these islands are within day-trip driving distance—with the exception of Daufuskie Island, which is remote and requires a ferry ride to reach it.

Folly Island South Carolina islands

Folly Island

Located just 20 minutes (about 10 miles) from downtown Charleston and less than an hour from Kiawah, Folly Island and Folly Beach welcome a diverse crowd of College of Charleston students, families, and anyone who loves fresh seafood, quirky shopping, and taking in panoramic views from the end of a fishing pier (Folly has the second longest pier on the East Coast!).

This SC island is great for:

  • Surfers. (And kiteboarders and stand-up paddleboarders and…) Folly has a laid-back, colorful and carefree vibe—where the days are long and the ocean offers endless fun. The island’s motto could be “have a good time, and don’t take yourself too seriously.”
  • Nightlife. Live music, cold drinks and rooftop bars make Folly Beach a hit with those who like to stay out late and sleep in.

Wadmalaw Island, an island in South Carolina

Wadmalaw Island

Distilleries, vineyards and farms, oh my! Wadmalaw Island is also just a short drive from Charleston and Kiawah (about 35 minutes from each) and presents the opportunity to sample locally made libations in a rustic setting. On your way, stop by the famed Angel Oak on nearby Johns Island—this 400-500-year-old (estimated) Southern live oak is a gnarly, twisted, dramatic and beautiful sight to behold.

This SC Island is great for:

  • Sweet tea sipping. Seriously. If this cold southern treat pleases your palate, you’ll love Wadmalaw, home to both the Charleston Tea Plantation, which offers trolley tours of the process, and the Firefly Distillery, where you can taste (and purchase) a selection of their famous tea-infused vodkas, plus whiskey, moonshine, and other spirits.
  • Wine tasting. Once you finish your spirits-sampling at Firefly, make your way to Deep Water Vineyard, which is located on the same farm, to give their offerings a try.

Kiawah Island in South Carolina

Kiawah Island

And now we’ve arrived at our favorite of the South Carolina islands… Kiawah Island, of course! Kiawah had my heart from the moment I saw its idyllic, wide sandy beach and hasn’t let go of it since. Like many South Carolina islands, Kiawah isn’t as sleepy as it once was, but it’s still the sort of place where life slows down, clearing your head to focus on what matters.

Have a look around our Kiawah Island blog for more of our favorite tips for enjoying Kiawah’s bike paths, restaurants, beaches and more.

This SC island is great for:

  • Everyone! We truly feel that Kiawah is a one-size-fits-all-island—from toddlers just finding their sea legs to retirees seeking the good life…even teenagers are known to put down their phones and have fun on Kiawah.
  • Kiawah is often named as one of the best beaches on the East Coast. And no wonder—its wide, welcoming beaches are so flat and hard-packed you can even ride bicycles on them! And because a pass is required to come onto the island (shown at the guard house), the beaches are rarely crowded.
  • Golfers. We’d be remiss not to mention Kiawah’s PGA Tour pedigree (with a repeat PGA coming our way in 2021) and the world-renowned, Jack Nicklaus-designed Ocean Course at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. But, of course, you don’t have to love golf to love Kiawah.
  • Honeymooners. Kiawah sets an idyllic stage for romantic getaways. Think hand-in-hand strolls along an empty beach, a bottle of wine at sunset (and sunrise coffees on your oceanfront balcony!), a couple’s massage, a bicycle ride under the shade of live oaks… we could go on. Hint: Kiawah Island also makes a great spot to “pop the question” to that special someone.

Edisto Island in South Carolina

Edisto Island

Edisto will lure you with its lovely beaches and keep you there with its friendly, residential beach-town vibe (there are just 3,000 full-time residents and a refreshing lack of chain businesses). Edisto is wonderful for active outdoor pursuits like kayaking, hiking, biking and fishing.

This SC island is great for:

  • Families. With quiet beaches but plenty to do, Edisto maintains just the right amount of beach town charm. Great swimming on Edisto, too!
  • Nature enthusiasts. The island’s wild side will impress your group’s birders, botanists, and hobby marine biologists. Head to the Edisto Island Serpentarium to observe and learn about alligators, turtles, snakes and other reptiles.
  • Budget-concious vacationers. Edisto has its own lovely State Park campground, offering an affordable place to lay your head at night—be it in a tent or an RV. For sites with water and electricity hookups, you’ll pay $21 – $55 a night, depending on location and season. For walk-in, tent-only sites, the rate is $15-$20 per night.

Daufuskie Island in South Carolina

Daufuskie Island

Daufuskie is the southernmost of the South Carolina sea islands—one mile off the coast of Hilton Head—and is accessible only by boat or a passenger ferry departing from Hilton Head or Bluffton. With only a few paved roads and a rich Gullah culture, Daufuskie is a step back in time… at least for now. Some development has taken hold in Daufuksie, with a few exclusive residential communities and a private golf course (there’s a public golf course, as well, but true golf buffs will want to try Kiawah or Hilton Head instead).

This SC island is great for:

  • Bicyclists. Pedal your way down quiet streets shaded by live oaks, where cars are rare — but golf carts are common.
  • History and culture buffs. Visit the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation to learn about the Gullah culture of the slave-descended residents of Daufuskie, as well as its oyster fishing era (which ended in the 1950s, just before electricity came to the island).
  • Day trips. Hop on the ferry for sleepy Daufuskie, rent a golf cart, grab lunch at Lucy Bell’s Cafe, explore on foot, then catch the ferry back to Hilton Head.