South Carolina offers some of the most unique coastal experiences along the entire East Coast. In comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach, you will find two of the more popular tourist destinations. Yet, despite some of the coastal similarities, these two towns are very different.
Whether you are more drawn toward history and culture or boardwalks and roller coasters, we will help you choose which city you should visit next.
Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach: South Carolina’s Most Popular Destinations
Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. The cobblestone streets, old houses along the battery, and the local forts all tell the story of South Carolina’s history. In contrast, Myrtle Beach is very different. Myrtle Beach rose to prominence as a tourist town and is known for its boardwalk, SkyWheel, and endless vacation attractions.
Location and Geography: How Close Are Charleston and Myrtle Beach
Charleson sits about midway along the South Carolina coast and is easily accessible via Interstate 26. The historical city is also the largest city in South Carolina. Popular beach communities accessible from Charleston include Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, and Kiawah Island.
Myrtle Beach is about two hours north of Charleston, just south of the North Carolina state line. If there is one downside to Myrtle Beach’s location, it’s that a major interstate doesn’t service the area. State highways will have to do.
Charleston, South Carolina
The Charleston Harbor plays a significant role in shaping the city’s most prominent features. The Cooper and Ashley rivers frame this picturesque city, meeting at the tip of the peninsula to flow into the Harbor, which in turn feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, oceanfront parks surround the city’s core.
Charleston is susceptible to hurricanes and flooding, but the city has proven resilient over the years to recover. Plus, the Port of Charleston provides stability to the region’s economy, which helps it weather economic storms that often follow physical storms.
The Port of Charleston is one of the largest ports in the country. Its strategic location near major shipping lanes makes it a crucial hub for supply chains worldwide. Charleston is majorly important to the entire region, even the state of South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach (MYR), South Carolina
Myrtle Beach is the largest city located along the 60-mile stretch of South Carolina, which is known as the “Grand Strand.” The Grand Strand is one of the most popular beach destinations in the United States. Endless hotels, golf resorts, and other beach-themed attractions fill the stretch.
In fact, around 20 million people vacation along the Grand Strand each year. Myrtle Beach sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, which makes it a great place to visit if you like water sports, boating, or even fishing.
The Grand Stand is located just south of the North Carolina state line, making it a popular destination for all of the Carolinas.
The Difference Between Charleston and Myrtle Beach?
Charleston is a booming city that sits next to the Charleston Harbor and is flanked on either side by the Ashley River and Cooper River. These rivers, local islands, and inlets define much of the Charleston experience. In contrast, Myrtle Beach is the more typical beach town located along miles and miles of continuous beach.
The Beaches! Comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach Oceanfront
The beach is easily accessible from Charleston, but there aren’t any beaches that define Charleston as a destination. In contrast, Myrtle Beach is the typical beach destination. In comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach, this is a major distinction.
An Overview of Beaches Near Charleston
While Charleston doesn’t have beaches in the city core, there are plenty of beautiful beaches within a short drive. Folly Beach is one of the most popular nearby beach towns. It is known as the ‘Edge of America‘ and is the rare beach town that has remained mostly unchanged over the last few decades.
When my family travels down to the Charleston area, we usually go to Folly Beach. The main street has old-school shops and local seafood restaurants, and the town’s quintessential fishing pier stretches more than 1000 feet into the ocean.
Just a little further south sits Kiawah Island, which is known for its upscale beachside living. Kiawah Island boasts 10 miles of exclusive beachfront, creating the perfect atmosphere for a relaxing walk on the beach. Just how exclusive?
Well, Kiawah Island features only one public access beach. The rest of the island is split into two areas, referred to as East Beach and West Beach, and most of the private beachfront are protected by gates.
Lastly, Sullivan’s Island is a popular beach destination near Charleston. Sullivan’s Island features a unique blend of history and seaside charm. You will find the likes of Fort Moultrie and the Edgar Allan Poe Library. You will also find iconic seafood and a family-friendly atmosphere. No alcohol is allowed on the streets, boardwalks, or beaches.
So, while Charleston doesn’t feature direct access to beaches from its cobblestone streets, there are plenty of great beaches within a short drive.
Folly Beach Pier
An Overview of Myrtle Beach Beaches
Keep in mind that Myrtle Beach sits on a 60-mile stretch of beaches commonly referred to as the Grand Strand. So there are literally beautiful beaches as far as the eye can see. The most visited beaches are those within walking distance of the boardwalk activities, but there are several other spots worth checking out.
One of the most popular places for visitors to reach the beach is Myrtle Beach State Park. It’s a one-mile stretch of beach that offers a boardwalk, outdoor showers, bathrooms, and changing facilities. Here is a fun fact about Myrtle Beach State Park: Loggerhead Sea Turtles still use the state park for nesting.
We also recommend that you check out Surfside Beach, which is a town just south of Myrtle Beach and also part of the Grand Strand. Surfside Beach has been named “The Family Beach,” and it is a near-perfect location to make beach memories to think back on for years to come.
Here is my insider tip for visiting the local beaches: Go for a run along the boardwalk at sunrise. There are few around, and the cool morning beach breeze will propel you along the lights of the boardwalk. I love a good sunrise run, and the Myrtle Beach boardwalk is one of my favorite places for a morning run.
Activities: Does Charleston or Myrtle Beach Offer More To Do?
In comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach, you will find plenty to do in both cities, but the types of activities are very different. Understanding the local vibe and entertainment options will help you decide which city makes sense for you to visit.
What Activities Are Available Near Charleston?
Charleston, South Carolina, often attracts tourists who enjoy history and art. The city’s cobblestone streets speak the past while underpinning Charleston’s present-day cityscapes. In addition to the beautifully preserved homes, there are multiple forts nearby that add further depth to the region’s complicated story.
In April of 1861, the Union forces surrendered to Confederate troops at Fort Sumter, which is in Charleston Harbor. This battle marked the beginning of the civil war. Today, you can still visit multiple nearby forts, as well as beautiful plantation homes. It’s a tangled history, but one that makes Charleston even more intriguing to visit.
Charleston is also celebrated for its arts and culture scene. The city boasts multiple art galleries featuring both local and international artists. In fact, many inspiring artists attend the College of Charleston School of Arts.
Beyond arts, there are also several museums in the area. The Charleston Museum is heralded as America’s first museum. You will also find the South Carolina Historical Society, Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum, and much more.
Needless to say, visit Charleston for a weekend full of history, art, and culture. And when you are ready for something a little lighter, the beaches are a short drive away. Charleston is also well known for shopping and dining options, so there is plenty to do.
What Activities Are Available at Myrtle Beach?
The South Carolina coast is blessed with miles and miles of beautiful beaches, but Myrtle Beach is much different than most of the other beach communities. Why? Well, Myrtle Beach has positioned itself as a premier vacation destination and offers a plethora of activities beyond beachgoing.
The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade run for more than a mile along the oceanfront in downtown Myrtle Beach. It’s here that you will find popular attractions such as the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel and the Sling Shot Thrill Ride. The SkyWheel rotates 200 feet above sea level, offering endless views of the ocean and surrounding area.
The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade is a popular destination for festivals and a great place to do some souvenir shopping. I am always a sucker for saltwater taffy, and you will find plenty of it here. Still, the boardwalk is far from the only name in the game.
Myrtle Beach also boasts options such as miniature golf, go-karts, Ripley’s Aquarium, and Family Kingdom Amusement Park, to name a few additional options. Family Kingdom offers 35 exciting rides, including a steel roller coaster, as well as an adjoining water park.
Needless to say, Myrtle Beach is just different. You won’t find this selection of beachside attractions anywhere else along the beautiful Carolina beaches.
Places To Stay: Where Will You Stay?
Myrtle Beach is the prototypical beach destination, with hotels lined up along the coastline and overlooking the beaches. In comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach, you will find Charleston offers more traditional hotel options, as well as boutique hotels and inns near the historical districts.
Where Should You Stay Near Charleston?
When you are choosing a place to stay in Charleston, the city’s neighborhoods offer a variety of distinct experiences. For the classic Charleston experience, consider staying in the historic downtown district. There, you will find famous cobblestone streets and pastel-colored houses.
You will also be nearby famous landmarks and have plenty of dining and shopping options. The downtown is so well preserved that you might think you’ve stepped into the history books. Staying in downtown is an excellent choice for anyone interested in culture and history.
Consider the Upper King Street district if you are searching for a lively nightlife scene. This area is the center of Charleston’s entertainment scene and is packed with bars, live music venues, and a range of food options. You will also find boutique hotels nearby.
I usually seek out a more tranquil and family-friend environment, so Folly Beach is more my speed. This laid-back beach community offers countless vacation rentals, great restaurants, and a walkable main street core near the boardwalk. Folly Beach is only about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston.
Which Part of Myrtle Beach Is The Best to Stay in?
While the Grand Stand is one long stretch of beautiful beaches, hotels, and vacation homes, there are some distinct areas where you might consider staying the next time you visit. Some of the most popular areas to stay in Myrtle Beach include:
- Downtown Myrtle Beach: This area is located near the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and is a great option for families looking for a central location with easy access to the beach, restaurants, and attractions. There are plenty of family-friendly activities in this area, including the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel. Plus, you can go for that sunrise run along the boardwalk.
- North Myrtle Beach: Downtown Myrtle Beach has more going on, but that might actually be too much for some families. North Myrtle Beach (which is the name of a town and not just a direction) is much calmer and family-friendly. Even so, you can still easily reach all of the fun activities near the boardwalk without much trouble.
- Murrells Inlet: Lastly, Murrell’s Inlet is a popular vacation spot for families that visit over and over again. It is located just south of Myrtle Beach and offers more of a small-town beach vibe from out of a movie. If you are looking for local seafood, boating activities, and a more low-key experience, consider Murrells Inlet.
Families may prefer the quieter atmosphere of North Myrtle Beach, while those looking for nightlife may prefer staying near the Boardwalk. Nearby areas such as Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island should also be considered for those looking for a more secluded vacation experience.
Dining and Nightlife: Where Are The Best Places to Eat and Drink
Charleston and Myrtle Beach both offer nearly endless options when it comes to dining and nightlife. The major difference, in my mind, is that Myrtle Beach has a much more distinct tourist vibe. For instance, you will find spots like Señor Frog’s that are also located along the Las Vegas strip.
While downtown Charleston offers a unique historical vibe, there are other Charleston dining destinations that might feel similar to those available in your local city. Even so, parts of Charleston are very refined.
Where Should You Eat and Hang Out In Charleston?
While we discussed this above, it is worth reiterating that downtown Charleston offers the classic experience with plenty of restaurants and small shops. If you want something low-key, I recommend checking out Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit. You will be glad you did. For other options, look at the cluster of places between E Bay St and Concord St.
For a more lively experience, venture to Upper King Street, where you will find destinations like Bourbon ‘N Bubbles, High Wire Distilling, Prohibition, and the Charleston Distilling Company. Upper King Street is just a short walk from the Battery, which is great when you need to step out for some fresh air.
Beyond the buzz for these neighborhoods, I also recommend that you check out Avondale, which is a trendy district located just west of the Ashley River. Locally it is known as a culinary hotspot.
Where Should You Eat and Hang Out at Myrtle Beach?
When you think about things to do and places to eat on Myrtle Beach, the conversation really revolves around the Boardwalk. It is the most dense and walkable area in Myrtle Beach, which means you have options. Grab dinner, and then ice cream or drink afterward.
When you venture beyond the Boardwalk, there are still plenty of options, but you will likely have to hop in your car to get there and hop in your car to go anywhere else. The Pier House Restaurant at 2nd Ave. is one of the most iconic restaurants in the area, if for nothing else, because it overlooks the ocean.
Still, boardwalk options range from seafood to Italian and more traditional American fare. You will also find live music and other entertainment options to enjoy before, during, and after your meal.
Market Common and Broadway at the Beach are also popular places to grab some eats and drinks. Market Common is an entertainment center with food, shopping, movies, and bowling. You will find Ripley’s Aquarium and WonderWorks at Broadway at the Beach, in addition to excellent restaurants and bars.
Whether you are looking for a casual dinner with live music in the background or fine dining to celebrate a milestone, Myrtle Beach has plenty of options to choose from.
Is Charleston or Myrtle Beach Better?
When you visit Charleston, the city’s rich history is evident all around you. At the same time, as the largest city in South Carolina, Charleston plays an irreplaceable role in the state’s future. It’s a bustling city where you can build a career and set down roots. Even so, it’s a prominent tourist destination for architecture, art, and history enthusiasts.
On the other hand, Myrtle Beach is commonly associated with family vacations and the traditional beachside tourist experience. You will find a boardwalk, salt water taffy, roller coasters, mini-golf, many restaurants and dining experiences, and much more.
Still not convinced? Others might compare Charleston vs. Hilton Head since they are in the same region. Similarly, some compare Myrtle Beach vs. the Outer Banks since they offer contrasting options between North and South Carolina. Still, Charleston or Myrtle Beach should offer what most people are looking to find.
In comparing Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach to decide which is better, it all comes down to your personal preference. In this way, it should be a fairly easy decision. Charleston is a modern city, with nods to its rich history and access to nearby beach communities, while Myrtle Beach is the quintessential beach town built for tourists.
The Verdict: Charleston vs. Myrtle Beach
In many ways, Charleston is more like Savannah than Myrtle Beach or some of the South Carolina coastal cities. Still, the contrast between Charleston and Myrtle Beach should allow for a fairly easy decision.
I recommend visiting Myrtle Beach if you want to vibe out on the beach but are still interested in attractions like they SkyWheel or local roller coasters. The strip features countless dining and nightlife options, and for many, Myrtle Beach is the type of place you might go back to time and time again.
On the other hand, I recommend Charleston if you are drawn to a more refined experience. In Charleston itself, you will find art galleries, history museums, cobblestone streets, and unique dining options. Plus, the nearby beaches are family-friendly destinations that are more exclusive and more laid-back than Myrtle Beach.
Regardless of whether you choose Charleston or Myrtle Beach, I am confident you will enjoy your coastal getaway!