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7 Coolest Cities in South Carolina for a Summer Vacation in 2024

South Carolina is a state known for its hidden gem destinations, those picturesque smaller towns that offer exactly the kind of unique experiences and attractions that summer vacationers are looking for. From the historic avenues of Beaufort to the stylish atmosphere of Bluffton, these cities encompass the diverse appeal of the ‘Palmetto State’ (so named after the official palm tree).

Together, these seven coolest cities in South Carolina are perfect for a summer vacation in 2024. Read on for ideas and inspiration.

Pendleton

Pendleton Historic District (Pendleton, South Carolina).  On Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendleton_Historic_District_(Pendleton,_South_Carolina) By KudzuVine - Own work, public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7433043
Pendleton Historic District (Pendleton, South Carolina). On Wikipedia. By KudzuVine – Own work, public domain, Wikipedia

Pendleton is a great small town for vacationers looking for a dose of Southern charm, history and hospitality. Founded in 1790, Pendleton is clearly visible everywhere and its downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Picturesque Village Green is a must visit and serves as a fun focal point where family members can enjoy their favorite indulgence, whether it’s antique shopping, hanging out in bars and cafes, or exploring buildings that have been around for more than two centuries.

Among Pendleton’s most visited landmarks are Ashtabula Historic House, a former plantation built in 1825, and the 1830 Woodburn Historic House. Both are now museums that offer guided tours. Interested in art? The historic Clemson Little Theater was built in the 1930s and features local talent in a charming setting.

Summerville

A city park in Summerville, South Carolina.
A city park in Summerville, South Carolina.

Summerville is affectionately known to regular summer vacationers as the ‘Flowertown in the Pines’ for its colorful displays of azaleas, wisteria and camellias. Located just a short drive from Charleston, much of the flower power action takes place at Azalea Park, a beautifully landscaped 30-acre green space in the heart of the city. It is also popular for its winding paths, sculpted shrubs and of course the many varieties of azaleas.

Also popular is the Summerville-Dorchester Museum, with its insights into local history and culture, plus exhibits on the area’s indigenous peoples, colonial settlers, and Summerville’s development as a popular place for Charleston residents to escape the summer heat. Do you like walking and cycling? The Sawmill Branch Trail offers a scenic, multi-use path that winds through the city, ideal for walking, biking, and jogging.

Aiken

Aiken, South Carolina, USA  Editorial credit: Linda Hendrickson / Shutterstock.com
Aiken, South Carolina, USA Editorial credit: Linda Hendrickson / Shutterstock.com

A major equestrian town, Aiken started as a winter destination for the wealthy elite of the northeastern US and has grown into a year-round destination for horse enthusiasts. The Aiken Training Track is a big draw, as visitors can enjoy watching racehorses being put through their paces in preparation for major races such as the Kentucky Derby and the Aiken Steeplechase.

Summer guests will also want to include Hopelands Gardens in their Aiken itinerary. This beautiful 14-hectare public garden offers numerous walking paths, a labyrinth and a variety of classical and modern sculptures. It is also home to the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame & Museum, which honors the city’s famous horses and jockeys.

Georgetown

Riverwalk in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Riverwalk in Georgetown, South Carolina.

Those looking for a beautiful coastal town to spend the summer can’t do much better than Georgetown. It was founded in 1729 and is the third oldest city in the state. It is a particularly attractive destination for those wanting to explore the quieter side of the state’s coastal region. This rich history is evident in Georgetown’s well-preserved downtown, especially along Front Street. A popular attraction here is the Harborwalk, lined with boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants serving freshly caught local seafood.

One of the most interesting buildings from the colonial period is the Rice Museum, which highlights the history of rice cultivation in the region, which once made it the largest rice producer in the United States. Another must-visit is the Kaminski House Museum, a preserved antebellum home that offers tours of period furnishings and decor, giving a glimpse into the lifestyle of South Carolina’s wealthy plantation owners.

Beaufort

Scenic view of Woods Memorial Bridge with a Welcome to Beaufort, South Carolina sign.
Scenic view of Woods Memorial Bridge with a Welcome to Beaufort, South Carolina sign.

Its location halfway between Savannah and Charleston makes Beaufort an ideal summer vacation spot, with both cities making fun day trips from your vacation home or resort. Not that there are no more fun things to do in this picturesque coastal town. Beaufort’s historic district, located on Port Royal Island, is a pleasure to wander around. The beautiful streets lined with majestic oak trees draped in Spanish moss make for great holiday snaps. Fun guided walking tours and carriage rides are must-dos.

Those who want to delve a little deeper into the city’s history will want to explore the Beaufort Historical Museum. Located in the Historic Armory downtown, it details local history, from the original Native American inhabitants to the colonial era and the impact of the Civil War. Time for the beach? Go to Hunting Island State Park. Just a short drive away you will find a publicly accessible lighthouse with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, miles of hiking trails and of course beautiful beaches.

Bluffton

The historic Church of the Cross was built in 1854 in Bluffton, South Carolina.
The historic Church of the Cross was built in 1854 in Bluffton, South Carolina.

One of the fastest growing cities in South Carolina, Bluffton is a beautiful ‘Lowcountry’ town that is ideal for a summer vacation. Old Town Bluffton is fun to explore and encompasses a half-mile area filled with antique shops, boutiques, local art galleries, and one of the South’s best restaurants: The Bluffton Room. Local cuisine can also be enjoyed from a number of vendors at the Bluffton Artisan Market, along with unique arts and crafts from local artisans.

The Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center is another must-do, offering tours that provide insight into the town’s Civil War history. The Bluffton Oyster Company, one of the last oyster shucking facilities in the state, is also a must-see. Visitors can learn about traditional oyster harvesting methods and enjoy fresh seafood straight from the May River. Another plus is the fact that Hilton Head Island’s beautiful 10-mile beach is no more than a few minutes’ drive away.

Travelers rest

The remote Poinsett Bridge in Traveler's Rest, South Carolina.
The remote Poinsett Bridge in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina.

Travelers Rest is certainly aptly named for those looking for an authentic South Carolina summer vacation. Known as ‘TR’ to locals, Travelers Rest is a mix of small-town charm and outdoor adventure thanks to its location at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those interested in history should visit the History Museum of Travelers Rest, which has exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of the city’s development, including the days when it was a ‘rest stop’ for weary travelers along the Great Wagon Road.

Active types come here to follow the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a 22-mile multi-use network that connects the city to nearby Greenville and is ideal for biking, jogging, and walking. It also offers scenic views of the surrounding mountains and passes through local parks and businesses, including cafes and shops where travelers can stop and refresh.

As we can see, there’s no denying that South Carolina’s smaller towns are bursting with great reasons for vacationers to spend their summer vacation there. From the coastal charm of Beaufort to the historic and artsy allure of Bluffton, these beautiful communities offer a slice of authentic Southern living. Whatever they want to do, vacationers will love these seven coolest cities in South Carolina that are perfect for a summer vacation in 2024.