Winter in South Carolina: 10 Incredible Destinations in the Palmetto State

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South Carolina is a land of Southern hospitality, historic buildings, and an incredible food scene. And best of all, while the northern part of the United States faces freezing weather in the wintertime, South Carolina enjoys pleasantly warm temperatures. So if you’re looking to escape the cold weather blues—and maybe have some delicious food along the way, here’s 10 incredible places to visit during winter in South Carolina.

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Couple standing in front of Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina
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1. Charleston

Charleston is one of the best places to spend winter in South Carolina. While temperatures can drop low once you head inland, this coastal town enjoys highs in the low 60s and lows in the mid-50s. 

Woman walking into the Pineapple Fountain in Charleston, South Carolina

In fact, there’s plenty of sunny days to enjoy the town’s plethora of beaches, all without the crowds of the more popular summer season. While the ocean may be too cold to swim, the beaches can still be enjoyable for a midday walk or picnic. You can actually even observe hardy surfers braving the cold water to ride the waves—or, if you’re really hardcore, take on the waves yourself at a surfing lesson

The city is also renowned for its historic architecture, some of which date all the way back to the 1700s. Consider taking a walking tour to learn more about the cobblestone streets’ storied history, ranging from its colorful Georgian mansions to a dungeon that once held prisoners of the Revolutionary War.

Charleston is also rumored to be one of the most haunted cities in the country—there’s plenty of ghost tours, like this one that’s a combination bar crawl slash ghost tour, or this more family-friendly one, where you’ll hear spooky stories arising out of the city’s turbulent history, including epidemics, war, and the trade of enslaved people.

Colorful buildings in Charleston, South Carolina

If you want something a bit more on the cheerful side, Charleston also boasts the Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island, a teeny island beach town right outside of the city. The festival is a beloved local tradition and is regularly named one of the best holiday light shows in the US! The show runs from mid-November through the end of December.

  • How to get to Charleston: Charleston conveniently has its own international airport. If you’re planning on exploring outside of Charleston’s downtown area, we’d suggest getting a rental car so that you can more efficiently explore on your own.
  • Where to stay in Charleston: Opened in 1924, the Francis Marion Hotel has become something of a Charleston landmark and is located in the heart of the city’s downtown on the historic King Street. Plus, if you happen to be visiting during December, you’ll be right across the street from the city’s weekend Holiday Market!

Recommended by Michele of Adventures Abound

2. Columbia

Although it doesn’t always get as much attention as the state’s more popular destinations, the capital city of Columbia is still among the best places to visit in South Carolina in winter.

Given its status as the state capital, Columbia has several impressive museums and historic sites that are worth exploring, including the South Carolina State Museum and the South Carolina State House, which dates all the way back to 1855. 

Bridge by the riverfront in Columbia, South Carolina

Additionally, Columbia—which is often referred to as Cola or “Soda City” by locals—hosts the Soda City Market, a sprawling market of local produce, food trucks, and handmade crafts that takes over several blocks of the city’s downtown every Saturday. After chowing down at the market, burn off some of the calories at the Riverfront Park, which offers miles of trails that follow along the Columbia Canal.

If you’re visiting close to the holidays, the area around the State House, known by locals as the Vista, is festooned with a jaw-dropping array of Christmas lights from the end of December through the beginning of January and also hosts a New Year’s Eve fireworks display. 

Fireworks over the State House in Columbia, South Carolina

If you really want to lean into the holiday cheer, Holiday Lights on the River, in Saluda Shoals Park, features MILLIONS of lights along its three mile(!!) long route, with plenty of family-friendly activities to enjoy, like a winter tube slide, hayrides, and even visits with Santa.

  • How to get to Columbia: The closest major airport is Charlotte, less than two hours north of Columbia. From here, your best bet will be to rent a car to get to and around Columbia. 
  • Where to stay in Columbia: The recently opened Hotel Trundle is one of the best boutique hotels in Columbia, with charming and funky decor and complimentary drinks upon check-in. Plus, it’s within walking distance to many of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants.

Recommended by Adam of South Carolina Explorer

3. Congaree National Park

Located less than half an hour southeast of Columbia, Congaree National Park is often rated as one of the worst national parks in the United States—but we staunchly disagree.

This hidden gem is the largest old-growth bottomlands (which is basically a swamp that isn’t constantly flooded) hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. And with many of its trees stretching 140 feet tall, it’s earned the nickname of the “Redwoods of the East”—and actually is one of the tallest deciduous forests on the planet! 

Woman walking along the Boardwalk Loop Trail in Congaree National Park in South Carolina

The most iconic trail in the park is the Boardwalk Loop Trail, which passes by endless groves of loblolly pines, cypress trees, and palmetto plants. It’s along a wooden boardwalk and, so long as it isn’t flooded (which does happen, from time to time!), it’s wheelchair accessible. Congaree has a number of other trails, like the Weston Lake Loop, that allow you to take in the views of the otherworldly bottomlands. 

For a different kind of vibe, consider kayaking or canoeing along Cedar Creek, a gently moving stream of water that passes under a canopy of cypress trees. Paddling down Cedar Creek in our inflatable Intex K2 Explorer kayak with literally no one else around was so peaceful—and definitely our favorite experience in the park!

Woman kayaking along Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Winter is an awesome time to visit Congaree—while the park is famously buggy most of the year, the mosquitoes stay mostly at bay during the cooler seasons. Plus, the moderate temperatures are perfect for hiking and outdoor adventures. 

  • How to get to Congaree National Park: Congaree is located about two hours and 15 minutes south of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. 
  • Where to stay in Congaree National Park: Cambria Hotel in Columbia is close to all of the action in the city’s downtown; nice perks, like free bike rentals and an onsite bar; and a convenient location, less than half an hour from the national park. 

4. Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island

While Charleston gets most of the attention in South Carolina, the small beach towns east of its harbor, including Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, are perfect for a winter weekend getaway. Come wintertime, these towns enjoy mild temperatures and minimal crowds—plus, the correspondingly low prices on accommodations. 

Sunset over the pier in Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Of the two towns, Isle of Palms has a more laid back vibe and offers tons of things to do, from looking for shells on some of the best beaches near Charleston to joining a ghost tour (yup, the whole Charleston area is mega haunted, y’all!). Alternatively, Islander 71 is a popular place to grab cocktails on its killer patio with even better views.

If you want even more to explore, just head over to the connector bridge to Sullivan’s Island, which offers a dramatic coastal forest and is steeped in history. For example, visit Fort Moultrie, which was the site of many important battles during both the Civil War and the American Revolution, or tour the Edgar Allan Poe Library, which was used as a bunker in the World Wars and where Poe himself actually served! To soak up the coastal vibes, head to Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, which has helped guide mariners into Charleston’s harbor since 1962.

Trail leading to Sullivan's Island Lighthouse in Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
  • How to get to Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island: Fly into the Charleston International Airport and take the Isle of Palm Connector to reach Isle of Palm or the Ben Sawyer Bridge to Sullivan’s Island.
  • Where to stay at Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island: Isle of Palms is home to the beloved Wild Dunes Resort, with stunning views of the beach, a beautifully manicured property, and both upscale and laid back dining options.

Recommended by Victoria of Southern Trippers

5. Greenville

Greenville, located in upstate South Carolina, offers a buzzy downtown, easy access to beautiful nature, and one of the best arts scenes in the South. Plus, with its subtropical climate, you can enjoy the wintertime without bundling up with tons of heavy layers.

Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, South Carolina

When visiting Greenville, downtown should be one of your first stops. Besides its plentiful shopping and restaurants options, it’s home to Falls Park on the Reedy, with a 20-foot waterfall cascading down a rocky cliff (see, we told you that Greenville had an incredible outdoor scene!). There’s several walking trails around it and even a 300-foot bridge suspended above the falls. 

Alternatively, if you’re traveling with kiddos, check out Linky Stone Park, a children’s garden within walking distance of downtown. Or, for an adults-only kind of activity, consider trying out some of Greenville’s breweries (fun fact—Greenville ranks in the top ten U.S. cities for most craft breweries per capita!) or its thriving cocktail scene, like on this craft cocktail tour.

Wooden path in Greenville, South Carolina

There’s also plenty of opportunities to celebrate the holidays in Greenville, like the annual Poinsettia Christmas Parade at the beginning of December, which has kicked off the holiday season here for more than 70 years! There’s also Ice on Main, an outdoor ice skating rink, right in the heart of downtown.

  • How to get to Greenville: The city has its own Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. If you’re on the hunt for cheaper airfare, though, we’d suggest considering flying into either Atlanta (two and a half hours away) or Charlotte (an hour and 45 minutes away)—and using our favorite site to snag cheap airfare, Skyscanner
  • Where to Stay? The Grand Bohemian Lodge feels appropriately named, with a bougie onsite spa, huge stone fireplace to cozy up to at the end of the day, and jaw-dropping views of the waterfall in Falls Park.

Recommended by Rebecca of Fab 5 Family Travel

6. Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is an awesome destination if you are looking to enjoy a mild winter in South Carolina. Located just over the beautiful Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from Charleston. Mount Pleasant is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Charleston, while still enjoying the moderate temperatures of the lowcountry. For example, the average wintertime temperature in Mount Pleasant is still in the mid-50s!

Square with palm trees and a bridge in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Some of the best things to do in Mount Pleasant include the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, where you can see two different retired ships: the USS Yorktown and the USS Laffey along with many historic aircraft. You can actually even go on a tour of the USS Yorktown at night—when it’s otherwise closed to the public—to learn about the history and superstitions, including ghost stories, about the ship.

Boone Hall Plantation is quite famous for its iconic tunnel of oak trees and for being the filming location of many popular movies, including The Notebook (and where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds got married!). Most importantly, unlike some other plantations in the South, Boone Hall does not simply gloss over the plantation’s abuse of enslaved people, with several informative exhibits in the slave quarters and a presentation about Gullah culture, a unique Creole Black culture based in the lowcountry of South Carolina. 

There’s also plenty of outdoor spaces to enjoy the mild South Carolina weather. For example, Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park, located at the base of the Ravenel Bridge, is a fantastic place to stretch your legs and enjoy the views of the waterfront. While you’re here, walk out on the Mount Pleasant Pier, which stretches 1,250 feet out into the Charleston Harbor.  

Historic naval ship in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Alternatively, Shem Creek Park is a fantastic place to watch sunrise or sunset over Charleston Harbor. Walk along the boardwalk and take in the views of the surrounding marsh—you may even see a dolphin swimming through the water!

  • How to Get to Mount Pleasant: The easiest way to reach Mount Pleasant is to fly into Charleston International Airport, which is only about a 20 minute drive away. From Charleston, you can either take Interstate 526, the Ravenel Bridge, or, if you really want to lean into that Charleston life, even a water taxi!
  • Where to Stay at Mount Pleasant SC: The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina is conveniently located near many of the locations above and, true to its name, offers views of Charleston Harbor. Plus, there’s lots of awesome perks with staying here, like free bike rentals and a local shuttle.

Recommended by Sarah of Love to Explore More

7. McClellanville

McClellanville is an excellent winter travel destination in South Carolina, thanks to its pleasant winter weather and year round natural beauty. Located halfway between Charleston and Myrtle Beach along Highway 17, this quaint village is filled with historic homes and coastal charm. 

Wander along the old docks on Jeremy Creek, then pick up some local handmade crafts at the McClellanville Arts Council shop. Stop by T.W. Graham’s for a plate for some good ol’ fashioned Southern food and a slice of delicious Pawleys Island pie. 

Old fishing boat in MclClellanville, South Carolina

If you want to get your heartrate up, you can reach the trailhead for the Awendaw Passage of the Palmetto Trail in the nearby Francis Marion National Forest. The Palmetto Trail is one of the best hikes near Charleston and actually stretches 500 miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Intracoastal Waterway, making it the longest trail in the state and one of the longest trails in the country! If you’re looking for something a bit more relaxed, consider going on a canoeing adventure down Wambaw Creek.

  • How to get to McClellanville: The closest airport to McClellanville is either the Myrtle Beach International Airport, about an hour and 15 minutes away or Charleston International Airport, just under an hour away. 
  • Where to stay in McClellanville: Stay at Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn, a historic inn that’s kind of a quirky take on a traditional B&B. In fact, Baxter’s “B&B” stands for bed and brew! The owner of Baxter’s is a home brewer and craft beer enthusiast, so, instead of getting served a lackluster breakfast here, you’ll have 24/7 access to its beer parlor (plus a grab n’ go breakfast to boot!). 

Recommended by Natalie of Camping Kiddos

8. Hilton Head Island 

If you are looking for a little island getaway during winter in South Carolina, consider escaping to Hilton Head!

Pier at sunset in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

While Hilton Head can be oppressively hot and humid in the summertime, the temperatures in winter are generally in the 60s during the day, making the island a wonderful change from the cold weather that most of the United States endures. Plus, given that the winter is considered an off-season here, you will also find lower prices on its swanky resorts and golf courses.

Take advantage of the nice winter weather in South Carolina to explore the area—for example, wander around Harbour Town, a popular district around Hilton Head’s marina with endless shopping and dining options, or climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse, which dates back to 1970. And while the ocean is probably too cold for swimming, you can still get out on the water, like on a kayaking tour through its salt marshes and tidal rivers, or on a dolphin-watching cruise.  

Wooden boardwalk leading between palm trees in Hilton Head, South Carolina

Plus, December is a festive time to be on the island—there’s always extravagant light displays throughout Harbour Island and Shelter Cove. 

  • How to get to Hilton Head: The nearest airport is the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is located about 30 miles southwest of the island.
  • Where to stay at Hilton Head: Hilton Head has a luxurious feel to it and a stay at The Inn & Club at Harbour Town will take your getaway to the next level. It’s the only Forbes Four-Star hotel in town and offers everything you’d need for a relaxing stay—upscale dining options, world-class golf course, and a hot tub to relax in at the end of the day.

Recommended by Cate with Intentional Traveling

9. Myrtle Beach

Visitors during the winter in South Carolina will not be disappointed by a getaway to Myrtle Beach. 

During summer, the area is packed with vacationing families, creating bumper-to-bumper traffic, long wait times at restaurants, and, well, not the most relaxing atmosphere. Come winter, though, Myrtle Beach is way less crowded, but still very much open for business, unlike some of South Carolina’s other beaches

Sunset over Myrtle Beach in South Carolina

Despite the season, the temperate weather provides many sunny days—and if you get an unseasonably warm day, you might even luck out with some beach weather! Even if you don’t quite get bikini weather, you can still enjoy the area’s many golf courses. In fact, with a whopping 90(!!) golf courses within its footprint, Myrtle Beach has earned the nickname The Golf Capital of the Word!

However, if you’re not so lucky with the weather, there’s still an abundance of things to do in Myrtle Beach. For example, dive a bit deeper into the town’s fascinating history on a trolley tour, where you’ll stop at Charlie’s Place Historical Site, which was listed on the famed Green Book during segregation and hosted important musicians, like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. Or lean into the kitschiness of Myrtle Beach and hit up some of its nightly shows, like a magic show or a hypnosis show

Hotels along the Myrtle Beach in South Carolina

To explore a different side of Myrtle Beach, consider scheduling your visit during Restaurant Week in mid-January, where some of the area’s best restaurants debut new menu items and multi-course meals.

  • How To Get To Myrtle Beach: The town actually has its own Myrtle Beach International Airport or, alternatively, it’s located about two hours and 15 minutes north of Charleston International Airport. 
  • Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach: Ocean Enclave by Hilton is one of the best hotels in Myrtle Beach. Each room offers a homey feel with a private kitchen and you can enjoy the resort-like amenities, like an indoor pool, beach access, and an oceanfront restaurant.

Recommended by Kara of Trying to Unwind

10. Kiawah Island

One of the most beautiful and underrated places to visit during the winter in South Carolina is Kiawah Island, outside of Charleston. This renowned resort city has ten miles of white sand beaches and sprawling marshlands that will transport you straight into a Nicholas Sparks film. In fact, it’s so picturesque, several celebrities, like George Clooney and Reese Witherspoon, are believed to have owned vacation homes here!

Luckily, you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy some of the awesome things to do on Kiawah Island.

Infinity pool overlooking the marshland in Kiawah Island in South Carolina

For example, consider scheduling a tee time at The Ocean Course, which hosted the 103rd PGA Championship in 2021. For something a bit more relaxing, head to the Kiawah Island Beach Club to enjoy some hand-crafted cocktails with a view or enjoy the sunset at Beachwalker Park.  

Golf course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina

Perhaps the best part of Kiawah Island is its charming downtown, Freshfields Village, which is filled with great restaurants and shopping. Some of the best places to eat here are Java Java for great coffee, Café Eugenia for healthy lunch options, and Hege’s Restaurant for an upscale dinner experience. There’s even some activities that you can enjoy here, like making your very own scented candle at Palmetto Scent Studio.

  • How to Get to Kiawah Island: Fly into Charleston International Airport, rent a car, and drive 45 minutes to Kiawah Island. 
  • Where to Stay in Kiawah Island: The Andell Inn is a luxurious property with the right amount of Southern charm, with tons of handy amenities, like a shuttle directly to the beach, a killer onsite cocktail bar, and a wrap-around patio, with lakeside views, where you can enjoy your complimentary breakfast each morning.

Recommended by Taylor of Brown-Eyed Flower Child

I hope you have a better idea of where to spend a weekend (or three!) during winter in South Carolina. Do you have any questions on any of these incredible destinations? Let us know in the comments below! 

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