South Carolina at a Glance
From the granite bluffs of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the mossy live oaks of the coast, South Carolina is a state steeped in tradition and natural beauty. Many are familiar with the state’s most obvious treasures — the storied estates and gardens of Charleston, the legendary golf courses, and the beaches of the Grand Strand. But South Carolina is more than what you can see from the SkyWheel in Myrtle Beach.
In the mountainous upstate, you’ll find a cosmopolitan scene and endless trails to explore around Greenville. In the South Carolina Midlands, the piedmont yields to the alluring Sandhills, highlighting the state capital of Columbia — a destination for commerce and culture on the Broad River. Along the Atlantic, state and national parks offer a respite from the crowds of coastal life and a ponderous immersion in nature. Wherever you may tread, you’ll find excellent food, from Lowcountry boils and classic Carolina barbeque to far-flung international flavors.
5,282,634 now call the Palmetto State home, a gain of roughly 650,000 people in the last twelve years. This dramatic uptick can be attributed to the appealing climate, the promising labor market, and the gorgeous surroundings. Some new residents have also just moved to be closer to family — the isolation of the pandemic left many questioning the sustainability of living far away.
Whether you’re moving to Palmetto State in search of coastal living or want to start your own company in one of the city centers, there’s a lot to look forward to about living in South Carolina.
Living in South Carolina
Flourishing Job Market
South Carolinians have benefitted from a sustained period of business growth, contributing to a low unemployment rate, which held steady at 3.1% from March-July 2023. South Carolina now has more than 2.3 million people in its civilian labor force, and virtually all non-farm industry sectors have seen some growth over the past year.
The biggest gains were seen in Information, one of the smallest sectors overall, and education and health services, already a powerhouse in the state, which employs more than 280,000 people. Trade, transportation and utilities is the state’s largest supersector, accounting for more than 440,000 jobs, and professional and business services, the government, and leisure and hospitality contribute nearly a million jobs combined.
As a coastal state, South Carolina is a major player in Distribution & Logistics, but it’s also a leader in advanced manufacturing and materials, as well as aerospace and automotive manufacturing, including electric vehicles. For those moving here for a new career, high-profile, global companies like BMW, Mercedes, Michelin, Milliken & Co., Hubbell and GE make for a competitive and exciting job market.
Low Cost of Living
South Carolina may have a low average household income ($58,234) compared to the rest of the nation ($69,021), but its overall cost of living is also lower than the national average. Housing and transportation costs are where residents save the most. According to the U.S. census, the median home value in the state is just $181,800 and rent averages $970 per month. The housing market across the U.S. has been unusually intense since the pandemic, and homes in South Carolina have been selling for an average of $410,101 in 2023 according to South Carolina Realtors — still far lower than coastal states on either side of the country.
South Carolinians save additional dollars on taxes. The state offers many special exemptions and credits on property and income taxes, and it levies no taxes on Social Security benefits or estates.
Please note: We are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.
Weather in the Palmetto State
The moderate climate of South Carolina is one of the state’s most alluring aspects. You’ll have four seasons to look forward to, but unlike the Northeast, the Southeast’s most intense season is usually the summer, when temperatures can hit the 90s F and even 100-degree mark and humidity levels soar. Because of South Carolina’s varied terrain, the weather can vary greatly from the mountainous western region to the central corridor and the coast.
The average temperature in the state ranges from the mid-50s F to 60s F, with the coolest areas located in the upstate region in the northwest, and the mildest along the ocean. No area of the state is frost-free, but it will feel more like winter in the mountains and the Midlands. The average temperature in these areas will usually be in the 30s and 40s, but you’ll almost certainly experience lows in the 20s F, teens and even single digits at some point during the coldest months. Along the coast, expect low temperatures in the 40s F and 50s F. If you live in the Greenville-Spartanburg region, you will almost certainly see a little snow each year, but it’s usually not enough to break out the shovels or a plow. 6.5 inches fell during the 2021-22 winter, but that was an outlier in the past ten years.
In the coastal areas and the Midlands, flooding is a threat from heavy rainfall during hurricanes and tropical storms, which can cause rivers to overflow their banks and dramatic storm surge along the coast. The names Matthew and Florence dredge up painful memories from 2016 and 2018 events, when some areas saw more than two feet of rainfall in 72 hours. In the upstate region, drought is more of a threat, and it has wreaked occasional havoc on the forestry and agricultural industries.
Thunderstorms happen frequently in South Carolina, particularly during summer afternoons, and some carry with them unpleasant hailstones and others spawn tornadoes.
To be sure, the weather in the Palmetto State can be dramatic, so it’s good to be prepared for anything. One of the best times to move to the state is in the fall, when the threat of storms is low, and the humidity levels have dropped.
Best Cities to Live in South Carolina
South Carolina may be a relatively small state, but it’s one with great geographic diversity, encompassing mountainous, forested terrain, the coastal Lowcountry and the vast Midlands in between. Each of these regions has its own unique flavor — from urbane city centers to unspoiled, salt-aired vistas, where pelicans outnumber people. Learn about some of the best places to live in South Carolina below.
South Carolina’s Mountains
The mountain wonder of the northwest corner, Greenville is the capital of South Carolina’s upstate region. This modestly sized city of 72,310 has grown significantly over the past decade, gaining roughly 14,000 people since 2010. This growth means that housing can be expensive in the city — only 41.3% of residents own their own home, and the median home value is $349,300 — $100,000 higher than the U.S. average and nearly twice the value of the state’s. Rent, however, is more in line with the state average, costing $1,078 per month. The average household income in Greenville is $60,388, roughly $2,000 above the state average.
Nearly equidistant from Athens, Georgia, and Ashville, North Carolina, Greenville is considered part of the Atlanta-Charlotte business corridor, and the city is, truly, the buzzing economic engine of the state. Over 500 international companies are in upstate South Carolina. Manufacturers like Michelin, Hubbell Electric, Lockheed Martin and GE Power complement the city’s financial, engineering and telecommunications companies, like TD Bank, Fluor and Verizon. The single largest industry in the city is healthcare, and Prisma Health is the dominant player, employing more than 10,000 residents. Greenville County Schools also employ more than 10,000 residents, and the city and state government employ over 2,500 a piece.
When you’re not at work, there are a lot of fun things to do in Greenville — the Greenville Zoo, the Sigal Music Museum and the Roper Mountain Science Center are all popular and enriching spots for family fun. For more than five decades, the city has invested mightily in making downtown Greenville a vibrant destination for residents and tourists, widening sidewalks, removing unsightly offramps to make way for urban parks and adding deliberate anchor points like Riverplace and Fluor Field — where the Greenville Drive minor league baseball team plays — to create a central business artery. Thanks to this vision for urban planning, the city has been named one of the country’s best downtowns, and it even made a New York Times bucket list for places to see in 2023.
But let’s not forget the great outdoors. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in your backyard, you can hike and bike your heart out on the weekends — or even on a long lunch hour. (We won’t tell your boss.) The waterfalls and soaring views at Chimney Rock State Park never disappoint, and you can also see the 535-million-year-old park namesake. If you’re with the kids (or anyone who does not love sweating uphill), an elevator can get you within 44 steps of the top — and no one in your Insta feed will ever be the wiser.
Greenville’s food scene alone could put it on the map. There are homegrown and international delights bursting from every street corner in this upstate mountain town. At Keipi, you can soak in the pleasures of Georgian cuisine, which combines Eastern European decadence with bright, Mediterranean inflections. Meaty khinkali (savory dumplings) are balanced by the tartness of a beet salad, and the heady aroma of Keipi’s khachapuri (translation: highly addictive cheese breads), are the ultimate partner to the früh kolsch.
Speaking of beers, Fireforge is one of Greenville’s best craft establishments. With its 9.5% ABV, Fireforge’s double IPA “Amarillo by Morning” is one you should absolutely not drink if you have to drive 1,260 miles by the next day, but the malty lager of their “Airplane Mode” will assure you a turbulence-free flight into the weekend.
The South Carolina Midlands
The capital of South Carolina — Columbia — lies on the Broad River in the middle of this small Southern state, nearly equidistant from Charleston, Augusta (GA) and Charlotte (NC). With a population of 139,698, the city has a substantial downtown business district but an approachable, small-town vibe. Cultural assets like the South Carolina State Museum connect visitors with the diverse stories of the Palmetto state, from its ancient, natural history to the cultural testimony told through the works of the state’s contemporary artists. Venues like the Owens Field Skate Park and EdVenture — a children’s museum with a 40-foot-tall 10-year-old — just make the city a whole lotta fun. On the statehouse grounds, be sure to see the African American History Monument, which movingly depicts the painful struggle from enslavement to freedom.
The city has seen moderate growth over the past decade, gaining a little over 10,000 new residents. While housing in the capital city is modestly priced — the median home value is $193,100 and rent averages just over $1,000 per month — home ownership rates in Columbia are low at only 46.1%. Income levels in the city are also far below the national average: the average household income in the capital is only $48,791, and the poverty rate is a shocking 24.3%. Educational rates are high, though — more than 90% of residents have graduated from high school and nearly 45% have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The city’s economy is somewhat evenly divided amongst its biggest industries, but — no surprise — the state government represents one of the biggest slices of the capital city pie. The State of South Carolina employs more than 32,000 people in the Columbia metro area, followed by healthcare companies like Prisma and BlueCross BlueShield, who employ more than 30,000 residents. The University of South Carolina employs over 6,000 people, and it also enrolls over 35,000 students, making it a stabilizing force in the city, attracting a steady workforce for state industries.
Though the state has many natural wonders, Congaree National Park—just outside Columbia—is one of the most exquisite. You can paddle your way down on the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail or just take the short drive south on 48E to see this woodland treasure of the Midlands, which contains one of the nation’s most precious stores of old growth hardwoods. The shady trails of Congaree, lined with fragrant pine needles and cypress knees, make for magical hikes. Crowds flock to the park in May in hopes of seeing the rare synchronous fireflies, Photuris frontalis, which twinkle their body lights in unison.
Sports fans also line up to see Columbia’s other Fireflies — the city’s minor league baseball team. The Fireflies were formerly known as the Savannah Sand Gnats, and the percentage of the South Carolina population regretful of this name change stands at exactly zero.
When it comes to dining, Columbia makes a bold claim — to be one of the originators of pimento cheese, the classic Southern spread made with grated cheddar, mayonnaise and pimentos. While we can neither confirm nor deny this assertion, there is no doubt that the citizens of this capital city know what they’re doing when they make it. Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits makes a mean fried green tomato sandwich topped with their house-made blend, but you’ll also find pimento cheese at every picnic and potluck you attend in the city. Pro-tip: do not let it sit out in the sun.
Great barbeque abounds in Columbia, but herbivores don’t have to go hungry in the capital, thanks to A Peace of Soul. This vegan establishment will tempt you with its fried oyster mushroom po boy, its curry potatoes and its locally grown collards.
Coastal Life in South Carolina
North Carolina may have the Outer Banks, but South Carolina has 2,876 miles of tempting tidal coastline. There are tourist-packed beaches in Hilton Head and the Grand Strand, where you can get your fill of saltwater taffy and fresh pralines, and then there are the secluded wilds of Huntington Beach State Park, where the only things that will tweet at you are the sandpipers.
Charleston is the historic heart of South Carolina, known for its Georgian architecture and irrepressible Southernness. Named for King Charles II, the city is the state’s oldest and largest, and its cobblestone streets lined with palms and crepe myrtles still maintain a distinctive, royal air. Of course, the history of this port city isn’t always so picturesque, and the manicured grounds of the city’s plantations belie the conditions that brought them into being. Sites like Middleton Place and Drayton Hall will give you a glimpse at the past and tell the stories of the people that built and maintained them. History buffs will not want to miss a trip to Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Park, the site that marked both a decisive battle in the Revolutionary War and the start of the Civil War.
Not all of Charleston’s attractions are from the days of yore, though. This city has an exciting contemporary art and craft scene, which you can get a taste of at the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. Locals and tourists love the Charleston City Market, where you can see and sample the best of everything from the Lowcountry — from stone ground grits and hot biscuits to hand-smocked dresses and sweetgrass baskets, a Gullah tradition that South Carolina artist Mary Jackson, a 2008 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, brought to the world stage with her astonishing creations.
Charleston is definitely a place to splurge on food — this is a city that has mastered the art of fine dining. There’s the legendary Circa 1886, which will positively spoil you with dishes like Foie Gras Flan and Truffle Risotto. And then there’s Anson, which reinvents Southern classics with contemporary flair. The Whole Crispy Flounder is almost too beautiful to consume, but it’s impossible to resist with its apricot shallot sauce. The Pan-Roasted Grouper — a southeast Atlantic staple — is brilliantly accented with cashew curry.
This city of 153,672 people has grown by 30,000 since 2010, and Charleston is one of the most expensive places to live in the state. The median home value is $369,500 and rent averages an eye-popping $1,400 per month. And hotel prices in this tourist haven will scare off all the relatives you weren’t that keen on visiting you. But income levels are also far higher in Charleston than they are in the rest of the state and even top the U.S. national average. The average household in the city brings home nearly $77,000 per year, and at 56%, home ownership rates are actually higher here than they are in the capital.
Tourism is certainly a powerful industry in Charleston, but residents find careers in numerous other industries here. The aerospace, automotive, technology, life sciences, defense and logistics sectors are all prominent in the port city, and Boeing, Mercedes-Benz Vans, CodeLynx and Alcami are just some of the major companies based here.
Because the city is nestled between the Ashley and the Cooper River and set back from the sea, Charleston is shielded from some the harshest ocean conditions by its barrier islands, which are all popular beach destinations. One of the nearest to the city is Sullivan’s Island — the setting of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug.” Poe may be one of Sullivan’s favorite sons (he was stationed in Charleston in the Army), but the Island’s other favorite child is celebrated in one of its best restaurants, The Obstinate Daughter. Named after a revolutionary war cartoon, the only battles you’ll face at this establishment will be fought with fork and spoon over the last slice of their Brown Butter Ricotta Cake, which is accompanied by orange-pineapple curd and coconut gelato.
South of Charleston you’ll find Kiawah Island, one of the area’s most exclusive oceanfront enclaves with exceptional golf courses and exclusive shops and restaurants. Beaches northeast of the city — like Pawley’s Island and Surfside — are part of what’s known as the Grand Strand, a wildly popular area anchored by Myrtle Beach, that families return to year after year.
Although there are plenty of remote getaways on the southeastern seaboard, Myrtle Beach is not one of them. There may be fewer than 40,000 permanent residents in this seaside escape that lies just 30 miles southwest of the North Carolina border, but more than 19 million visitors descend on the city each year to play golf, soak up the sun and clock all the hours of “me time” they can before returning to reality. In the last ten years, though, more people have decided to make their trip to the city permanent, and the population has grown by nearly 40%, gaining more than 11,000 people since 2010.
With thousands of restaurants, 90 golf courses, 50 mini-golf courses and all the water sports your family can handle, there is never any excuse to be bored in Myrtle Beach. During the rare moments that the sun isn’t shining, you can treat yourself to some indoor adventures at Ripley’s Odditorium, where you can take a haunted adventure, try to escape the mirror maze or play Crazy Golf to see which member of your family is the most deranged. When you need a retreat from the carnivalesque culture, head to Brookgreen Gardens — 9,000 acres of botanical wonderment. The live oak allée is enchanting walk through time (the trees are more than 300 years old), and the sculpture garden has an impressive collection of figurative works. The Lowcountry Zoo on site is an easy enticement to get the little ones in your family excited about visiting.
Myrtle Beach is known for its Calabash-style seafood, like you’ll find at The Original Benjamin’s giant buffet, and aromatic steampots with clams, sausage and corn like you’ll find at Bimini’s Oyster Bar. There’s no reason to eat any catch in Myrtle Beach that isn’t local — the sea is your doorstep, and there is no finer fare than what is pulled directly out of these coastal waters. So, skip the lobster and the snow crab and go for the wild-caught shrimp, grouper and oysters. If you want to catch your own, deep-sea fishing is a fun excursion for those who can handle the sometimes-turbulent waters (pack some Dramamine and ginger gum, just in case!). Or, you can go crabbing or clamming just offshore — a terrifically messy adventure that will leave you satisfyingly muddy and intimately connected to the untamed beauty of the salt marshes.
Housing is more affordable in Myrtle Beach than it is in Charleston, with a median home value of $246,300 and a median gross rent of $1,000 per month. But income levels in the city are low — the median household income in Myrtle Beach is only $45,701, and the poverty level is nearly 20%. In addition to Tourism, the Aerospace, Manufacturing, Technology, Healthcare, and Marine industries dominate the economy of Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located. The top companies in the area include Kyocera (AVX), Apollo Valves/Conbraco, Metglas, Canfor Southern Pine and Wolverine Brass.
Moving to South Carolina Soon? Let Mayflower Get You There
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