Best Barrier Islands For Your South Carolina Family Vacation

Two kids on bikes race down a boardwalk while exploring Kiawah Island.
Photo Courtesy: Anna Massion

If you are visiting Charleston or looking for a unique family vacation in South Carolina, add these beautiful barrier islands to your itinerary! Offering sunshine, coastline, and family fun, most of the state’s best destinations are within a short distance of each other. Each offers something different for your getaway, from quiet retreats to bustling, active vacations. Enjoy delicious seafood, gorgeous beaches, and water sports such as kayaking or fishing. We guarantee kids will never be bored at these amazing islands in South Carolina for families! Ultimately, the hardest part will be deciding which one is best for your family. Luckily, we’ve made the decision a bit easier by breaking it down into a super-helpful list. From Kiawah Island to Sullivan’s Island, there are plenty of interesting options to choose from. Keep reading for our list of the Best Barrier Islands For Your South Carolina Family Vacation!

Kiawah Island

A young child bikes along the beach through sand and water on Kiawah Island.
Photo Courtesy: Gunjan Prakash

Kiawah Island has been called “one of America’s most beautiful islands”, and with good reason. Located 25 miles southwest of Charleston, this kid-friendly barrier island has 10 miles of pristine coastline and some of the best golf courses in the country. Kiawah Island is a wonderful family destination for a beach getaway, with little traffic and even fewer crowds. There are only 2 resorts, but many home rentals. Kids will love riding bikes around the island without worry. Families can also spend time together on the beach. Make sure to take advantage of some of the island activities like fishing, nature tours, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Kids will adore seeing all of the wildlife and marine birds. Families can also enjoy the golf courses or challenge each other to a round of tennis. Finally, don’t miss the sunset after a long day on this beautiful South Carolina island!   

Find Top 50 Kiawah Island bungalow rentals on VRBO now.

Folly Island

Three adults sit in beach chairs along the shores of Folly Island with the elevated boardwalk in the distance.
Photo Courtesy: Tim Parkinson

Head to Folly Island for your next family vacation! Another barrier island in South Carolina, it’s known for its bustling city Folly Beach. Though it’s a bit more popular than the other islands, it maintains a laid-back, funky vibe. Plus, there are plenty of options for places to stay with kids! You won’t find chain restaurants or big-name stores. Instead, you’ll discover unique boutique shops, family-friendly restaurants, and a large pier jutting out over the water. Take kids to drop a line and hope to snag the best catch of the day. Of course, don’t forget about the beach. If you have a surf lover or want to learn to surf, Folly Beach’s waves are perfect. Surf lessons at Isla Surf School will have kids learning to hang ten in no time! Folly Beach is only 20 minutes from downtown Charleston, giving families a great opportunity to visit the city.

Looking for a local experience for your family vacation in Folly Beach? Book a home rental using VRBO today.

Edisto Island 

Two people and two dogs walk along Edisto Island, one of the best islands in South Carolina for families, near Charleston, South Carolina.
Photo Courtesy: Alison Netzer

Edisto Island is where time stood still. On this quiet, family-oriented island, the main form of transportation is either a bike or a golf cart. You won’t find any hotels or high rises here. But it’s the perfect getaway to rent a home, spend a peaceful day on the beach, and gather the group for a Lowcountry boil at sundown. Kids will love going from the rougher ocean surf to the calmer waters of sound on the other side of the horn in Edisto Island. Very few restaurants and shops populate the island. There is only one grocery store in town, but a wonderful farmers market and seafood shop. Prepare to spend a lot of family time together, eating, riding bikes, and fishing. Pets are also allowed on the beach, so bring the pups for the family adventure!

Finally, while Edisto Island doesn’t have lifeguards on duty, it is still one of the best beaches in South Carolina. 

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Isle of Palms

Left Image: A mom and daughter with sand toys walk along Isle of Palm Beach. Right Image: A young girl plays in the water at Isle of Palm Beach.
Photo Courtesy: Joselyn Cruz Oestreich

The Isle of Palms is a great South Carolina beach near Charleston. Only 12 miles from downtown, it has plenty of resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals. Families will love the seven miles of beach, perfect for spreading out, soaking up the sun, and watching kids run through the water. Bring your golf clubs too, as Isle of Palms offers world-class golf courses where you can tee off with the kids! Parents can also rent SUP boards or wave-runners and take the kids for a whirl. Then, check out the Windjammer for beach volleyball and live music during the high season. Rumor has it that there’s even buried pirate treasure on the island! As the sun sets, give your kids metal detectors and explore Isle of Palms. You never know what treasure you will dig up on one of the best islands in South Carolina for families!

Isle of Palms and Wild Dunes by Wyndham Vacation Rentals

Seabrook Island

A pristine beach with calm waters on a sunny day.
Photo Courtesy: chucka_nc

Add Seabrook Island to your South Carolina itinerary! If your family loves nature, this family-friendly South Carolina island is just 20 miles south of Charleston. Seabrook Island is a private, residential community featuring award-winning golf courses and tournament-grade tennis courts. Seabrook has also been recognized as an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community. Bird lovers will enjoy spotting over 80 species of birds here. Kids will also love seeing dolphins swim close to shore to capture fish. Seabrook Island even houses the Seabrook Island Equestrian Center, where families can book horse riding tours. Get kids outdoors and into nature by trekking one of the many trails around the island! It’ll be a great bonding experience, plus exercise. Who knows, you may even have some wildlife encounters along the way! No wonder this is one of the best barrier islands in South Carolina for a family vacation. 

Traveling with extended family? Book your home rental in Seabook Island using VRBO today.

Bulls Island

Several pieces of large drift wood dot the shores of Bulls Island.
Photo Courtesy: Stacy Shelton, USFWS

Consider Bulls Island your getaway from your vacation. Accessible via ferry from Garrison, 25 minutes from Charleston, this uninhabited barrier island is a nature lover and bird enthusiasts’ dream! The ferry leaves four times a week, twice a day, and kids can even look for dolphins during the ride. Stepping onto the 6-mile Bulls Island is like stepping back in time. There are no modern amenities, no buildings, no homes – just a natural island. One main beach is perfect for letting kids run around and search for shells. Another is littered with the skeletons of live oak trees poking out of the sand. No one knows how they got there, but it’s beautiful and eerie at the same time. It’s also a great location to take unique and fun photos.

Pro Tip: If you’re walking around during low tide, look out for alligators and marine birds hiding in the tall grasses. With so many opportunities for wildlife sightings, it’s no wonder parents consider this one of the best islands in South Carolina for families!

Capers Island

A twisted tree and root system comes out of the sand on the beach of Capers Island, one of the best South Carolina islands for families.
Photo Courtesy: Amaury Laporte

Capers Island is another undeveloped barrier island in South Carolina. Located 20 miles north of Charleston, this island is only accessible by boat, canoe, or kayak. Families can take a charter boat from Sullivan’s Island to reach here. Or, if your family is a bit adventurous and loves to kayak, then grab some kayaks (and a guide) to visit Capers Island. Either way, the exercise will be worth it. The beaches are narrower than Bulls Island and are littered with pieces of dead live oaks. In addition, the coastline is lined with live and dead palmettos trees, many of which were damaged by Hurricane Hugo. This gives it a ghostly, desolate feeling. Capers Island is also a great place to observe nature and birds. It may not be a must-visit for everyone, but it’s still one of the best barrier islands in South Carolina for a family vacation. 

Morris Island

Across a grassy beach hill, the Morris Island light house is seen on an overcast day.
Photo Courtesy: Ted Kerwin

Morris Island is an undeveloped island located in Charleston Harbor. Accessible by boat, it was an important location during the Civil War. Here, the Union Army tried to seize Charleston and the Confederate Army held them off as long as possible. Now, the island is a great place for families on a day trip from Charleston. Companies like Adventure Harbor Tours offer this excursion for various budgets. You can also charter a boat from Folly Island from Flipper Finders. It’s a wild island. Visitors should stay off the dunes since they’re full of brambles and cactus. However, a stroll on the beach will let the kids search for shells, sea creatures, and admire the scenery. Don’t forget to watch out for the red and white striped Morris Island Lighthouse, built after the Civil War! Morris Island is a gorgeous place to enjoy quality time together. 

Book Charleston’s Tidal Creeks Eco Boat Cruise with Stop at Morris Island Lighthouse using Viator.

Sullivan’s Island

A young girl with a bright red sand pail plays off the shore from Sullivan Island, one of the best islands in South Carolina for families.
Photo Courtesy: Natalia Karpov Palmer

Take the whole family on a super fun trip to Sullivan’s Island, one of the best islands in South Carolina for families! With its convenient location off the Charleston Harbor, it’s one of the quickest and easiest excursions you can take to a barrier island. Families can take advantage of Sullivan’s Island Beach, its water sports, and learn more about the island’s history. For example, kids can discover our nation’s Revolutionary War past at Fort Moultrie and the burial site of Seminole Indian Chief Osceola on the island. If your little ones are active, take them to splash around on the beautiful beach. If you have older kids, let them try a day of kiteboarding with Sea-Land Adventure Sports.

Pro Tip: Since it’s so close to Charleston, you can visit Sullivan’s Island for a day, a weekend, or even the whole week. If you plan to stay longer than a day, however, your family will need to rent a vacation home.  

Find home rentals in Sullivan’s Island, SC Vacation Rentals using VRBO.

Happy Travels!

Brother and sister stand togehter with Kiawah Island extending behind them, one of the best islands in South Carolina for families.
Photo Courtesy: Anna Massion

We hope you liked this list of the Best Barrier Islands For Your South Carolina Family Vacation! Whether you’re visiting for a day, a weekend, or an extended trip, we guarantee you’ll love visiting the best islands in South Carolina for families. Happy travels on your visit to the best barrier islands in South Carolina for a family vacation!

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the things featured on this list may be temporarily closed or experiencing reduced services. Confirm availability online before visiting. 

*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.

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Alison Netzer

Hi, I'm Alison Netzer, mom to three amazing kids, wife, and dog mom to two highly-spirited chocolate labs. I currently reside in Baltimore, MD USA where I work as a travel planner specializing in Disney vacations and other locations. I'm a travel blogger and avid traveler. When not planning someone else adventure, you can find me planning our next worldly, family adventure.