8 Best Beaches Near Athens, GA for Short Trips (2023)

Students at UGA

Home to the University of Georgia and the Bulldawg Nation, Athens is one of the most iconic cities in the Peach State. And there’s so much to do in this college town! But when you want to visit an ocean beach, you’ll need to pack up for a road trip. Thankfully, there are some great beaches within a 4 to 5-hour drive.

Here are the 8 best beaches near Athens, GA that average a 4.5-hour drive. I’ll take a look below at each of the closest beaches to Athens, Georgia starting with those in the Peach State.

Georgia Beaches Closest to Athens, GA

The two closest Georgia beaches to Athens are Tybee Island and St. Simons Island, which average a 4.5-hour drive from The Classic City.

1. Tybee Island, GA

Lighthouse on North Tybee Island
Lighthouse on North Tybee Island

Tybee Island is the closest Georgia beach to Athens, GA at 236 miles away, which is a 4-hour and 20-minute drive.

About: Tybee Island is a barrier island with 3 miles of white, sandy beaches along the Atlantic coast. Also known as “Savannah’s Beach,” Tybee is only a 20-minute drive to historic downtown Savannah

Beaches: Tybee Island has five main beach areas:

  • North Beach
  • Mid Beach
  • South Beach
  • Back River Beach
  • Little Tybee Beach

Reasons to Visit: Tybee has a great downtown area on South beach with places to dine and shop. Also, if you want to explore what Savannah has to offer before or after the beach, it’s only a 20-minute drive.

Visitors’ Website for Tybee Island

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 20 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 236 miles

Visitors’ Website for Tybee Island

2. St. Simons Island & The Golden Isles

Details on St. Simons Island Beaches Graph

St. Simons Island is 282 miles from Athens, GA which is a 4-hour and 50-minute drive.

About: St. Simons Island is the largest of four barrier islands situated between Savannah, GA and Jacksonville, FL. Known as the Golden Isles, these four barrier islands consist of St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Jekyll Island.

Beaches: There are four main beaches on St. Simons: Gould’s Inlet, East Beach, Massengale Park, and Coast Guard Station Beach. Each has a distinctive feel – Gould’s Inlet is amazing for bird watching, whereas East Beach has better spots to bike or run.

If you want to learn more about the four beach areas, here’s a more detailed guide on the 4 most popular beaches at St. Simons Island.

Visitors’ Website for St. Simons & The Golden Isles

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 50 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 282 miles

South Carolina Beaches Closest to Athens, GA

There are 4 popular beach destinations in South Carolina that average a 4-hour and 35-minute drive from Athens, GA.

3. Hilton Head Island, SC

Hilton Head
Harbour Town Lighthouse on Hilton Head

The closest ocean beach to Athens, GA overall is Hilton Head Island, SC at 230 miles, which is a 4-hour and 18-minute drive.

About: In addition to the pristine beaches, Hilton Head has something for the whole family. It’s known for its great shopping and golf courses. And something a little different, you could take a camper to one of Hilton Head’s best RV parks.

Hilton Head is also a 45-minute drive from historic Savannah’s downtown, where you can find plenty to do for the whole family:

Beach Access: You’ll find 8 public beach access points on Hilton Head Island. From the more secluded Alder Lane to Coligny Beach Park’s shops and restaurants, Hilton Head offers a lot of variety and plenty of ocean access for the public.

For the Trip: Don’t forget to bring plenty of sunscreen and a sturdy beach umbrella like this one that’s wind-resistant up to 34 miles per hour. (Yes, I’ve had cheap umbrellas get carried away by strong gusts of wind while at SC beaches).

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 18 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 230 miles

Visitors’ Website for Hilton Head

4. Edisto Beach, SC

Line of Oak Trees in Wooded Area
Live Oaks on Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach is the second closest SC beach to Athens, GA at a 4-hour and 40-minute drive (244 miles away).

About: Edisto Beach is perfect when you want a quieter beach and vacation experience. This SC island is not as developed as many of the other South Carolina beaches, which makes it an excellent choice for that.

The Town of Edisto Beach provides 37 public access points to the beach along Palmetto Boulevard.

Additionally, there is a 1,255-acre state park that borders the town and provides both camping and hiking trails. There are amazing views of the marsh and Southern Lowcountry here to check out (like the live oaks pictured above)!

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 40 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 244 miles

Visitors’ Website for Edisto Beach

5. Folly Beach, SC

Tacos at Chico-Feo
Tacos at Chico-Feo in Folly Beach

Folly Beach, SC is 257 miles from Athens, GA, which is a 4-hour and 40-minute drive.

About: Folly Beach is located in the Charleston, SC area. Folly is generally a laid-back beach that has some of the most popular surf spots on the east coast.

Additionally, there are plenty of fun shops in downtown Folly to explore, as well as some amazing local restaurants to eat at! After a long day at the beach, you could walk over to Chico Feo for some fusion tacos and a cold drink, while enjoying live music on the patio.

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Folly River, visitors can enjoy an array of beach activities from surfing, kayaking, and boating.

For those kayaking adventures, if you want to bring your own, here are some top picks from Amazon worth checking out too.

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 40 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 257 miles

Visitors’ Website for Folly Beach

6. Isle of Palms, SC

The Isle of Palms is in the Charleston area and is a 4-hour and 45-minute drive from Athens, GA (260 miles).

About: The Isle of Palms offers 50 beach access paths to visitors and is 18 miles from downtown Charleston. On the island, the Wild Dunes Resort has a golf course that can be played by the public and a beautiful pier that is fun to walk and relax at.

You can find additional shopping, entertainment, and dining in nearby Mt. Pleasant and the downtown Charleston area as well!

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 4 hours and 45 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 260 miles

Florida Beaches Closest to Athens, GA

The two Florida beaches that are closest to Athens, GA are Amelia Island and Panama City Beach. The Florida beaches will be a further drive than SC or GA beaches. The closest Florida beach is a 5.5-hour drive.

7. Amelia Island, FL

Blue Bird on Pier

Amelia Island is the closest Florida beach to Athens, GA at 327 miles away, which is a 5.5-hour drive. This is also a popular destination during the UGA v. UF football game.

With 13 miles of white sand and coastline along Amelia Island, there are 40+ public beach access points to explore!

  • List of public beach access points with directions here

With a warm climate, Amelia Island’s waters average a warm 82o Fahrenheit during summertime. There are fun activities for the whole family, such as:

  • A Skate park
  • Surfing
  • Oceanfront mini golf
  • Exploring the historic downtown

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 5 hours and 30 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 327 miles

Visitors’ Website for Amelia Island, FL

Vacation Rentals at Amelia Island

8. Panama City Beach, FL

Woman Parasailing on Ocean

Panama City Beach is 358 miles from Athens, GA, which takes 6.5 hours to drive. Although it is the closest Gulf Beach to Athens, it is also the furthest travel on this list.

About Panama City Beach, FL: This is one of the most popular beach resorts in the United States. Every year, about 4.5 million people visit the white, sandy beaches of Panama City Beach.

  • Beach Access: PCB has some of the best public beach access in Florida. There are 27 miles of sandy beaches with over 100 public access points!
  • You can find a map of the beach access points here.

In addition to relaxing on the beach, you’ll find plenty of fun activities like:

  • A Dog Beach
  • Jet ski rentals
  • Paddleboarding
  • Nearby state parks
  • Luxury Spas

Drive Time from Athens, GA: 6 hours and 30 minutes

Distance from Athens, GA: 358 miles

Vacation Rentals at Panama City Beach, FL

What about other states?

What is the closest Alabama beach to Athens GA?

Gulf Shores is the closest Alabama beach to Athens, GA at 420 miles away, which is approximately a 7-hour drive.

What is the closest North Carolina beach to Athens GA?

Oak Island is the closest North Carolina beach to Athens, GA at 374 miles away, which is a 6-hour drive.


My Favorite Tools for Planning a Trip


Booking.com. They have great deals and free cancellation usually.

Vacation Rentals

VRBO. I have been both a guest and renter for VRBO. 20+ experiences over the years. All great.


Viator. I’m newer to this, but it’s a great spot to get ideas or discounted tickets.

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