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You’ve already been charmed by Charleston, maybe even made the trip to some of South Carolina’s best small towns like Bluffton, Georgetown⁠ and Mount Pleasant. But there’s a lot more awesomeness waiting to be discovered in the Palmetto State…or, shall we say, just off the coast. South Carolina has some really incredible islands that are perfect for vacation, whether you’re intrigued by pirate lore, love exploring salt marshes, fancy a birdwatching holiday or just need a stress-free escape where wild horses run free.

RELATED: THE 12 MOST CHARMING SMALL TOWNS IN SOUTH CAROLINA

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1. HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

One of South Carolina’s most popular tourist destinations for a plethora of reasons, Hilton Head Island offers an incredible mix of natural wonder, upscale delights and outdoor activities. You can book whale watching and dolphin spotting boat charters, hit the links, go cycling, hiking and kayaking, play tennis and polo, do some shopping, snap pics in front of the red-and-white-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse and, of course, catch some rays on the beach.

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2. DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

No doubt you’ve heard of Hilton Head Island and Savannah in the neighboring state of Georgia. Sitting just off the coast between these well-known vacation destinations is a tiny hidden gem called Daufuskie Island with a population of just 500 residents. There aren’t hotels or big-name attractions. Instead, it's a place of peace, quiet and magical natural wonders—bottlenose dolphins bob in the waters and loggerhead turtles nest on the shore.

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3. KIAWAH ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

In terms of true vacation destinations, Kiawah Island is a hole-in-one. It has a huge gated luxury beach and golf resort with loads of swish accommodation and amenities like world-class fairways. You don’t need to be a guest to explore the island, which is open to the public. Daytrippers from Charleston often drive over to enjoy the sandy beaches, hiking and biking trails, tours at Heron Park Nature Center and Marsh Island Park.

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4. CAPERS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

A pretty, undeveloped barrier island oasis, Capers Island is the perfect spot for a family vacation. Beaches, maritime uplands and salt marshes provide the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventure. It’s excellent for birdwatching and wildlife peeping. Be sure to bring your camera to the eye-catching “boneyard beach” where old tree stumps dot the sandy expanse. Bonus: accessibility from Charleston means no long travel days with the kiddos.

best south carolina islands DEVEAUX BANK
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5. DEVEAUX BANK, SOUTH CAROLINA

By now you’ve likely gathered that birding is a big deal in South Carolina. Deveaux Bank, a horseshoe-shaped spit of sand at the mouth of the North Edisto River estuary, takes it to the next level as the island actually encompasses a 215-acre sanctuary that’s a protected nesting habitat for many sea and shorebirds. If you’re keen to see eastern brown pelicans and black skimmers, hightail it over to Deveaux Bank.

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6. SEABROOK ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Seabrook Island is a downright dreamy place to live or visit. A lot of people choose to reside in this private, oceanfront community. That’s because it’s pretty as a picture with natural beauty galore, nationally recognized birdwatching, two award-winning golf courses, near-empty beaches, a racquet club, an equestrian center and stunning houses we’d happily call home. And the fact that it’s just a few miles from downtown Charleston yet retains a sense of seclusion definitely helps, too.

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7. BEAR ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

A nature lover’s dream, Bear Island feels rugged and remote despite sitting just an hour outside Charleston. This undeveloped and pristinely beautiful 12,021-acre Sea Island is part of the ACE Basin estuarine reserve area and managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. That translates to ample opportunities for bird watching (it’s among the top-ranked spots for twitchers in the entire state) and wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking and biking.

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8. EDISTO ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Where to Stay: “No Saints” Beach House (sleeps 4), Two-Bedroom Unit at Wyndham Ocean Ridge Resort (sleeps 6), Vacation Home Near Beach (sleeps 14)

For a fantastic family-friendly holiday, consider Edisto Island. A laid-back Lowcountry Sea Island not far from Charleston (some people even call it home and commute into the Holy City, just to give you a sense of proximity) that’s approximately 68 square miles and has loads of low-key appeal in the form of sandy beaches and outdoor activities for all ages, including hiking and camping in Edisto Beach State Park.

9. FRIPP ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Fripp Island doesn’t scream "Shiver me timbers" in that really obvious sort of way. But its treasure hunting past is really interesting and the legends live on. Though, these days, the most seaward of the barrier islands feels a lot less pirate and more residential vacation resort with sandy beaches, tennis courts and golf courses. It’s also a designated wildlife sanctuary. Visitors and residents frequently see great blue herons, wood storks and dolphins.

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10. PORT ROYAL ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Where to Stay: Anchorage 1770 Inn, Best Western Sea Island Inn, The Beaufort Inn

If you’ve spent some time in South Carolina or are generally familiar with the Palmetto State, Beaufort probably rings a bell. Port Royal Island is the island where the aforementioned seaside city resides. There are beautiful beaches, scenic walking trails, boat tours and tons of opportunities for birdwatching. It's also a popular pick for foodies, specifically seafood lovers who come from far and wide to sample fresh-caught Lowcountry fare.

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11. CALLAWASSIE ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Callawassie Island may be one of the hundreds of barrier and sea islands, but this 880-acre private slice of paradise just 17 miles from Beaufort sets itself apart from the rest with its coastline, tidal creeks, lagoons, salt marshes and moss-draped trees. There’s also a butterfly garden and a golf course. Callawassie Island is accessible via the half-mile-long causeway that connects it to the mainland as well as by boat.

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12. JOHNS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Where to stay: Renovated Cottage (sleeps 6), Bed and Breakfast Porch Rockin’ (sleeps 13), North Beach Pet-Friendly Cottage (sleeps 10)

Sure, bigger isn’t always better. But, then again, sometimes size ups the appeals of a place. Sprawling 738 acres, Johns Island, the largest island in South Carolina and famously a filming location for The Notebook is enchantingly beautiful with miles of wooded trails, farms and lakes. Back to the whole size thing…its most famous feature, the massive ancient Angel Oak stands a whopping 65-feet tall and shades an area of 17,000 square feet.

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