Aquarium Wharf, Charleston
DISTANCE: About 3 1/2 hours (210 miles).
APPEAL: Super-convenient base for all-ages family outing.
GOTTA SEE: East end of Calhoun Street has well-designed and well-stocked S.C. Aquarium. Start at the top floor (mountain stream critters/fish) and follow route down to main-floor tanks/displays of sea creatures. Show stopper is 385,000-gallon Great Ocean Tank ($17; $16 for seniors; $10 for kids; www.scaquarium.org).
Wharf is also where you board Fort Sumter Tours boat for 30-minute ride out to Fort Sumter, where you can spend an hour where the Civil War began in 1861. Free admission to fort; boat ride/tour is $15; $13.50 for seniors; $9 for kids. Departures at 9:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 30; buy ticket 30 minutes before departure. (www.fortsumtertours.com).
TOTALLY FREE: Government-owned Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at wharf has displays, artifacts to provide historical background; rangers answer questions (www.nps.gov/fosu).
DETAILS: 800-774-0006; www.charlestoncvb.com.
Patriot's Point/Mount Pleasant
DISTANCE: About 3 1/2 hours (210 miles).
APPEAL: Visit historic warships, historic suburb.
GOTTA SEE: Board the enormous World War II aircraft carrier at USS Yorktown Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum: Walk-through history for you; fun for the kids. Ship also holds the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum. Two other ships and a sub can be toured, too. ($16; $13 for seniors/active military; $8 for kids; www.patriotspoint.org). Hungry? Walk to Shem Creek, famed for Charleston's top fish eateries. Or stroll over to Mount Pleasant's Old Village area; at Pitt Street Pharmacy, get a sundae at the old-fashioned soda fountain.
TOTALLY FREE: Mount Pleasant was originally a summer-cottage suburb for affluent Charlestonians. Get a map at the visitor center (291 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.) and stroll the Old Village.
DETAILS: 843-849-6154; www.townofmountpleasant.com (click “Visitors Center”).
DISTANCE: About 3 1/2 hours (220 miles).
APPEAL: Charleston's small but beachy-keen slice of Myrtle Beach.
GOTTA SEE: Six-mile by half-mile barrier island just south of Charleston is where that city goes to kick back. Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier goes 1,045 feet into the surf; great to walk, fun to fish. At shore end is Locklear's Beach City Grill (famous for fish). Relax on beach in front of mini-downtown, or stroll to either end of island. Breakfast? Fun and funky Lost Dog Café. Lunch? Taco Boy (www.tacoboy.net) on Center Street: unassuming front masks great food/vibe. Picnic? En route to Folly, make a pit stop on Ashley Road at Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ (www.hometeambbq.com).
TOTALLY FREE: A half-hour walk from the pier is Folly Beach County Park at the southwest end – a spit cornered by the sea and the Folly River and pointing toward Kiawah. The sand/sea vista is of unbridled nature. At northeast end of isle, drive as far as you can, then walk quarter-mile through preserve to see Morris Island lighthouse offshore.
DETAILS: 800-774-0006; www.cityoffollybeach.com or www.follysurfcam.com/follybeach/tourism.html.
DISTANCE: About 3 3/4 hours (230 miles).
APPEAL: Your chance to play Robinson Crusoe.
GOTTA SEE: Island, former hunting preserve, now an oceanfront part of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Open daylight hours only; most get there via Garris Landing ferry: arrive 30 minutes before 9 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. departure; return at noon or 4 p.m. ($30/roundtrip, cash/check only; $15 for kids; 843-881-4582). Only wildlife lives on Bull – egret, heron, ibis, pelican, deer, gators, etc. Well-maintained trails wind through the thickets and marshes; dress for bug encounters. Hike Old Fort Trail to Boneyard Beach – wildly beautiful shore where bleached tree stumps look like dinosaur bones.
TOTALLY FREE: On mainland, 4 miles north of U.S. 17 turnoff to ferry, tour Cape Romain NWR's Seewee Visitor Center. Check exhibits; see pen with live red wolves. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (843-928-3368).
DETAILS: www.fws.gov/caperomain or www.fws.gov/seweecenter.
DISTANCE: Close to four hours (235 miles).
APPEAL: Compact waterfront towns provide great getaway for twosomes.
GOTTA SEE: Picturesque, gentrified downtown Beaufort (BEW-furt) fronts broad Beaufort River estuary; stroll Waterfront Park and nose around the shops and cafes on and near Bay Street (www.downtownbeaufort.com). B&Bs abound. Take a carriage or walking tour of Beaufort: Second-oldest S.C. town is well-preserved and turns up in many movies (including “The Big Chill”). Port Royal, between Beaufort and the open sea, is more relaxed. Chow down at 11th Street Dockside (www.11thstreetdockside.com) or Moondoggies; check out the boats at the marina (www.portroyallandingmarina.com). Take a fishing/sightseeing or eco-tour charter with Captain Tim (843-321-1768; www.beaufortcastawaycharter.com; $150-$300 for half day).
TOTALLY FREE: Nearby, Parris Island, the famed Marine Corps base, has a large museum loaded with Corps exhibits plus items from area's fascinating past (including the Spaniards' Santa Elena settlement). Open daily (843-228-2951).
DETAILS: 800-638-3525; www.beaufortsc.org.
DISTANCE: About 4 1/4 hours (260 miles).
APPEAL: Where money talks – and articulately yells, “Fore!”
GOTTA SEE: Into high-end relaxing/golfing, you know where to stay and play. Just passing through? Most iconic photo op: the Harbour Town lighthouse in Sea Pines. Closest thing to a downtown may be 60-storefront Coligny Plaza (www.colignyplaza.com) with more than a dozen places to eat and/or drink; several offer outdoor dining. Hilton Head Plaza has well-regarded brewpub – Hilton Head Brewing – and several nightspots. Park Plaza, just outside the entrance to Sea Pines, has five restaurants/bars, a wine shop, cheese shop, tobaccanist and The Sanctuary day spa (www.sanctuaryeurospa.com). Got money? Try Studio: An Artistic Dining, on Pope Street (www.studiodining.com).
TOTALLY FREE: Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, open daylight hours, is a marshy expanse where flat terrain makes for easy hiking (912-652-4415; www.fws.gov/pinckneyisland). Eight trails wind to or through six maritime habitats.
DETAILS: 800-523-3373; www.hiltonheadisland.org.