Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, SC at sunset.
South Carolina has almost everything you could ever want if you are looking for one of the best places to live in America. With a population of about 5.4 million people, there is room to spread out or you can head for one of our bigger cities. We cater to almost any lifestyle you could imagine.
The Top 5 Reasons to Live in South Carolina
Here are our favorite reasons to live here in South Carolina.
1. Mild Winters and Lots of Sun
Winters are usually mild, yet we still have all four seasons. You won’t find that in Florida or lower parts of Texas. If you live in the upstate, you may see snow a few times in the winter. In the Midlands, snow happens every few years. And in the low country, if you see snow, it is rare and usually only flurries.
Summers are warm — but thankfully, we have air conditioning! And we tend to have a lot more sunny days than cloudy or rainy ones.
2. Lower Cost of Living
South Carolina also generally has a low cost of living. We have lower gas taxes, lower property taxes, and lower housing costs overall compared to many other states.
3. Mountains, Lakes, Rivers, and Beaches
We have a wide variety of landscapes to choose from ranging from the mountains with hiking and waterfalls, to the Midlands with gorgeous lakes and rivers, to the beach from the very popular Myrtle Beach down to the more private and exclusive Hilton Head Island.
4. Beautiful Communities
There are beautiful luxury communities throughout the state, especially near lakes, the coast, and in certain areas near the larger cities.
We have many great school districts, friendly people, good restaurants, outdoor sports, and lots to do.
We’ll break down our recommendations into the best cities and small towns.
Perhaps we may be a bit biased since we do live here. But stick around and find out why we believe that South Carolina is the best place to live in the USA. You may just decide that you feel the same way, too.
Sunrise over the South Carolina coast.
What Are the Best Places to Live in South Carolina?
Everyone has their own definition of the best place to live. Some want a big city. Others want the solitude of many acres in the woods. And people prefer different things at different stages of life.
So we want to hit a few of the biggest categories that people look for so you can see if living in South Carolina is a good fit for you and your lifestyle.
In this post as we think of how to determine the best place to live — we think of places with good job and economic opportunities, strong school districts, fun things to do nearby, easy day trips to interesting places, beautiful local scenery, luxury housing options, and thriving communities.
The 4 Best Cities in South Carolina
Some of the most popular cities for people to live in South Carolina are the following cities and their surrounding suburbs…
Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC with a horse-drawn carriage.
Charleston is a large Southern city of about 137,000 that boasts hundreds of years of history. It is one of the oldest cities in America. And it has often been ranked as the number one city in America to live in.
The salt life
First of all, the location. Charleston is right on the Atlantic coast where sea breezes play with your hair and that Carolina sun kisses your face.
If water is your thing, we have sandy beaches, beautiful harbors, large rivers, a lot of lakes, and bountiful marshlands full of wildlife. There is every kind of boating, fishing, surfing, jet skiing, jet boating, swimming, and paddle boarding available.
You’ll see many yachts in the marinas and waterways around the city. Some are available for tours. Or you can check out the private Charleston Yacht Club.
A must for history buffs
If you love historic architecture and places to visit, you’ve got to see Rainbow Row and the Battery overlooking the harbor. There are national historic landmarks, gardens, and museums to tour. Take a horse-drawn carriage tour of the various areas downtown.
Into ghost tours? We have plenty of those after dark. And don’t forget the tour of the dungeon where pirates were kept at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon not far from the Battery.
In Charleston, enjoy some of the best restaurants and seafood anywhere on the east coast. Be sure to try the shrimp and grits!
If you love to shop till you drop, Charleston is your scene. We have boutiques, antiques, high-end shopping, and the open-air Charleston City Market downtown featuring many local vendors and crafts.
Lots of fun things to do
Enjoy adventure? Try “adventure sightseeing,” biking, dolphin cruises, or barrier island eco-tours. Want something more high-adrenaline? Try ropes courses, ziplining, skydiving, or parasailing.
The best areas to live in and near Charleston:
Rainbow Row and downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant, James Island, Johns Island, and Sullivan’s Island.
Aerial view of downtown Columbia, SC and the State House.
The city of Columbia is in the center of the state of South Carolina and it is packed with exciting things to do. It has a growing population of about 135,000.
The State House is here, as well as one of the best zoos in the country, Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. We have Soda City, an open-air “producer-only” market with food stands and shopping (150 vendors) on Saturday mornings on Main St downtown.
Columbia has a thriving restaurant/nightlife district in the Vista downtown, as well as in Five Points near UofSC.
UofSC and Fort Jackson
We are home to the University of South Carolina where 35,000 students are living, learning, and enjoying Gamecock Football at Williams-Brice Stadium (which holds 80,000 fans), along with the community. And we host 45,000 recruits at Fort Jackson here each year for basic training in the Army.
Prestigious school districts
Some of the finest public schools in the state are here in Columbia. The Lexington 1 District, Chapin High School, Dreher High School, and more.
Sports are huge
Check out a Columbia Fireflies baseball game at Segra Park in the historic Bull Street district that is undergoing a massive renovation, bringing luxury apartments, townhomes, and more shopping to the area.
Some of the biggest sporting events here are the UofSC Gamecocks’ football, basketball, and baseball games. Almost the whole community comes out to support the Garnet and Black!
The arts and museums
Columbia welcomes Off-Broadway musicals, plays, ballets, and concerts at the Koger Center for the Arts downtown. We also have some local theater groups in Chapin and Lexington that are a lot of fun to see.
For rainy day fun, we have the South Carolina State Museum (with an IMAX theater and planetarium), Edventure Children’s Museum, and the Columbia Museum of Art.
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens
Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens ranks in the top 10 zoos nationally and has state-of-the-art animal exhibits, as well as an expansive botanical garden. It’s easily an all-day visit, ideal for anyone who loves animals, nature, and fun.
For the younger kids, there are train rides, a carousel with endangered animals to ride, and a splash park. For the older kids, they’ll love the ropes course, rock climbing, and zip lining. And everyone will want to feed the giraffes and the lorikeets.
The garden area has a glorious site for weddings and events. And there are wine tasting events, 5Ks, and all kinds of special holiday events, too.
Love the water? In Columbia, we have three major rivers with river sports and beautiful River Walks in Cayce, West Columbia, and the River Front Park near downtown Columbia. These are places where many professional photographers love to take pictures for prom, graduations, engagements, and weddings. You can find some amazing river views as well as views of downtown, some beautiful bridges, and historic train trestles.
The Cayce and West Columbia River Walks and River Front Park are also some of the most popular places in the area to walk, bike, and jog in Columbia. The views are spectacular of the river, the canal, and downtown.
A drone view of luxury homes on Lake Murray.
If rivers aren’t your vibe, Columbia is close to Lake Murray, a large man-made lake, where you can sail, boat, fish, jet ski, scuba dive, and more. (You can even build a luxury house on the water here.)
There is a huge dam with a walking path where you can see a wide water view of Lake Murray on one side and a stunning view of downtown Columbia several miles away on the other. Be sure to take a tour boat to see the purple martins on Bomb Island from June through August.
Easy day trips to the mountains or the beach
Columbia is right in the middle between the mountains and the beach. It’s an easy day trip to either place so you can enjoy all of the beauty of each of those places without the downsides.
In the Midlands around the Greater Columbia area, you don’t have to deal with as much snow as they have in the mountains. In Columbia, snow is a pretty rare thing that only happens every few years, usually. (If you miss it, you can just drive an hour or so to find it in the winter.)
Another big plus about Columbia? You don’t have to worry about owning beachfront property during hurricane season. We are about 100 miles inland. So you can get to Charleston in 90 minutes. Or Myrtle Beach in about 3 hours to soak up the sun and enjoy the waves without the headaches.
We also have the Congaree National Park a few miles south of Columbia where you can see the exquisite beauty of a swamp and all the cypress trees with one of the tallest tree canopies in America.
Go on an owl prowl, see the fireflies light up at night. And enjoy a walk in nature on a boardwalk where you can see turtles, lizards, interesting caterpillars, and all kinds of wildlife unique to this area.
Check out more national parks and state parks near Columbia.
Lower Cost of Living than Charleston or Greenville
Generally, the cost of living in Columbia is less than in either Charleston or Greenville, which can make it a very attractive place for young professionals, families, and retirees. Charleston and Greenville make great day trips from here.
The best areas to live in and around Columbia:
Downtown Columbia, Lexington, Chapin, Lake Carolina, Lake Murray, Forest Acres, and Pine Ridge.
View of Falls Park and the Reedy River from a pedestrian bridge in downtown Greenville, SC.
Greenville is a vibrant city of about 70,000 that is growing like crazy. Once you see downtown, watch out! You may fall in love at first sight.
Greenville has the most beautiful park, Falls Park (pictured above), right downtown centered around the Reedy River. You can find luxurious apartments and upscale restaurants and shops along each side of the river there.
Enjoy a music festival. Have a picnic on the grass. Or just walk along the sidewalks or the fancy pedestrian bridge and take in the stunning views of waterfalls, rocks, the river, and all the ducks.
Big-time arts culture
Greenville has plenty of entertainment. Enjoy concerts, Off-Broadway shows, and more at the Peace Center Concert Hall — and nearby nightlife. This city boasts one of the largest convention centers in the Southeast at the Greenville Convention Center.
Close to the mountains
One of the best things about living in Greenville is that you are very close to all kinds of state parks in the upstate of South Carolina and in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. You can actually see the mountains from some places in Greenville. If you love the Appalachian Mountains, hiking to see waterfalls, and whitewater rafting, this may be a great fit.
The Swamp Rabbit Trail
Outdoor fitness and nature buffs also love to walk, run, or bike the famous Swamp Rabbit Trail that cuts right through Greenville. It’s a 22-mile greenway that connects Greenville to Traveler’s Rest using an old railway track for the path.
Great job opportunities and schools
This city attracts major engineering firms and corporations from all over the world, bringing a steady stream of high-paying jobs and fueling partnerships with top-notch public school systems and engineering and stem-related charter schools.
Near Clemson University
It’s close to Clemson University, a well-known engineering and agricultural school, which has a student body of over 21,000 and generally ranks as the top university in the state.
The best areas to live in near Greenville:
Downtown Greenville, Greer, Five Forks, Mauldin, or Simpsonville.
The gleaming skyline of Charlotte, NC on a sunny day, very close to Rock Hill, SC.
The Rock Hill Area (a suburb of Charlotte, NC)
This town is close to the large city of Charlotte, NC — home to almost 900,000 people. So there are a lot of job opportunities, plenty of fun things to do, and even a White Water Rafting Center.
Shopping and more shopping
Discover many amazing shopping opportunities and malls in Rock Hill and all around the Charlotte area. Concord Mills Mall is a great rainy day option near Charlotte, as is the nearby Rock Hill Galeria.
Carowinds - a roller coaster paradise
Are you an adrenaline junkie? Carowinds, a major roller coaster lovers park, will quickly become a favorite for you and your crew.
The Charlotte Motor Speedway is nearby so you can catch a big race and experience all the excitement in person. And you can explore the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The Charlotte theater scene
Charlotte is big on theater and the arts with Off-Broadway shows, magicians, concerts, ballet, Disney on Ice, and many exciting offerings each month.
Chimney Rock and Lake Lure
Rock Hill is not far from some beautiful national and state parks. About an hour away, explore Chimney Rock and go hiking on an elevated rock outcropping with a spectacular view of the Appalachian mountains and Lake Lure. Then rent a boat on Lake Lure for some fun on the water at one of the most popular vacation spots for water recreation in the area.
Top-rated public high schools
In Rock Hill and the surrounding areas, you can find beautiful lake neighborhoods and upscale amenities. This area has some of the top-notch public high schools in the state, as well.
The best areas to live in near Rock Hill:
Rock Hill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie, and Fort Mill
Table Rock state park near Pickens, SC
The Best Small Towns in South Carolina
If you are looking for something a little more rural and quiet, there are many small towns all over the state of South Carolina.
Thinking about living in the mountains?
Check out Pickens (a quiet little mountain town) and Clemson a little town beside Clemson University with plenty of green space and nature all around).
Want something historic and beautiful?
Try Aiken (close to Augusta, GA — the home of the Masters) or Camden (the home of the Carolina Cup horse race and a Revolutionary War battle site).
Looking for something with small-town charm near Columbia?
Consider Newberry (home of the Newberry Opera House) or Clinton (with historic homes and home to Presbyterian College).
Dreaming of the beach life?
And there are even more rural towns near the beach around Charleston, like Kiawah Island, Awendaw, or Isle of Palms where you can spread out with plenty of privacy and enjoy the salt life.
A palmetto tree beside the ocean at Surfside Beach, SC.
Wherever you decide to live in South Carolina, we believe you’ll love calling South Carolina “home.”
Ready to build a luxury home in the Columbia, SC area?
We’re here to help build your dream home if you’re thinking about a new custom home in the $700k plus range, let’s see if we might be a good fit.
Check out our work on our portfolio page.
Please contact us for more information.
We build in areas around Columbia like Lake Carolina, Lexington, downtown Columbia, Forest Acres, West Columbia, Pine Ridge, Chapin, and Lake Murray.
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