The white palmetto tree in the center of South Carolina’s flag loudly hints at the state’s greatest attraction: its beaches. The onset of summer always bodes well for the Palmetto State, which lays claim to more than 280 miles of palm-shaded beaches and resorts. Perhaps the most popular among these is Myrtle Beach, where the endless list of things to do includes a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. Here, guests dive headfirst into an aquatic experience in which they can pet stingrays, hold horseshoe crabs, and stroll through an underwater tunnel even as sharks swim through the waters above.

Not far south of Myrtle Beach lies Charleston, though the city’s old-world charm can make it feel worlds away. The historic district, in particular, seems frozen in time with its rows of elegant antebellum estates. Chief among these is the Aiken-Rhett House, a buttercup-yellow mansion built in 1820 and largely unchanged in the nearly two centuries since. Not all of Charleston’s history lies in its homes, however. Fort Sumter National Monument marks the first exchange of hostilities of the Civil War, which officially commenced when Confederate soldiers fired on the federal structure. War historians should also visit the H.L. Hunley Confederate submarine, a 19th-century vessel once lost at sea but recovered in 2000. Tours of the submarine are available on weekends.

Further down the coast from Charleston and near the southern tip of South Carolina is Hilton Head Island, where beachside breezes carry across golf courses and bike trails that feature stunning views of the ocean. Bikers have found the Pinckney Island trail an especially fruitful source of sightseeing—previous adventurers have spotted birds, alligators, and dolphins along its 3.5-mile stretch. The island’s calm waterways are well suited to kayak- and canoe-based exploration, though one can also simply relax among the picturesque dunes and tufts of grass.

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