Study: Best Cities to Live in South Carolina

Rich in tradition and loaded with southern charm, South Carolina is one of the highlights of the Deep South. A leader in agriculture and manufacturing, the Palmetto State also enjoys a booming tourist trade with Charleston and Myrtle Beach, attracting millions of visitors each year. The mild climate offers the best of both worlds, allowing residents to soak up the sun on the coast in summer and head upstate to enjoy the cooler mountain air in the fall.

If you're a newcomer to South Carolina, figuring out where you should move to can be challenging. Residents who are looking for a change have a slight advantage since they're likely to be familiar with different locations around the state. In an effort to make your decision easier, the CreditDonkey team has put together a list of cities that we feel reflect the best of what South Carolina has to offer.

Study Methodology

We compiled our rankings based on five specific factors:

  1. Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Residents Who Attended Some College
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

Finding a safe neighborhood is a top priority, particularly if you have children. Tracking down data on crime rates can be a hassle, so we've done the work for you. For each city on our list, we looked at the odds of becoming the victim of a violent crime.

Getting tied up in traffic is a major time-killer. Knowing what kind of commute you can expect could be the tipping point when choosing where to live. Each of the cities included in our rankings has an average commute of under 30 minutes.

If you're in search of a new job, it pays to know what kind of wages you can expect to earn. We looked at average incomes for each city on our list as well as what percentage of residents attended some college.

Lastly, we considered the number of restaurants and bars per capita for each city. All of the cities we selected feature a variety of dining choices designed to satisfy every palate.

10 Best Cities to Live in South Carolina

10. Charleston

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 418
  • Commute Time: 21 minutes
  • Income: $50,873
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 19%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 333 inhabitants

In 2013, Charleston took top honors as Travel + Leisure magazine's number one travel destination in the U.S. and Canada. Historic charm paired with sandy beaches makes Charleston a hot vacation spot, but it's also a great place to call home. Jobs are plentiful here, and when the workday is over you can unwind at one of the nearly 400 restaurants and bars Chuck Town has to offer. Popular attractions include the Charleston City Market and the USS Yorktown, the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the U.S. Navy.

Did You Know: The first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861 at nearby Fort Sumter.

9. Cayce

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 125
  • Commute Time: 25.8 minutes
  • Income: $42,538
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 17.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 362 inhabitants

Just minutes away from downtown Columbia, the town of Cayce offers the convenience of city living without all the hassle. Columbia is home to several major employers, including SCANA and Palmetto Health, and the drive to work won't take up too much of your time. During football season, you can head over to Williams-Brice Stadium to watch the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play. Families will enjoy seeing the animals at Riverbanks Zoo and checking out the artifacts at the South Carolina state museum.

Did You Know: Hootie and the Blowfish members Mark Bryan, Darius Rucker, Dean Felber, and Jim "Soni" Sonefeld began their musical career on the USC campus in 1994.

8. Orangeburg

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 238
  • Commute Time: 15.9 minutes
  • Income: $30,897
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 18.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 185 inhabitants

Known as the "Garden City," Orangeburg is nestled squarely between Charleston and Columbia. Despite its smaller size, residents and visitors alike will appreciate its small-town feel and historic charm. Nearby colleges include South Carolina State University and Claflin College, the oldest historically black college in the state. Orangeburg's economy is largely driven by agriculture, and major crops include cotton, soybeans, corn and wheat.

Did You Know: Orangeburg is home to the Edisto Memorial Gardens, where you can view displays of past and current award-winning roses from the All-American Rose Selections.

7. Myrtle Beach

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 60
  • Commute Time: 17.1 minutes
  • Income: $35,779
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 22.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 75 inhabitants

If you've never been to Myrtle Beach before, the first time you experience it can make your head swim. The city is busiest in summer when tourists arrive ready to hit the beaches, play a round of golf, and enjoy a seafood dinner at one of the nearly 400 restaurants in the area. Once Labor Day hits, things slow down a little but there's still plenty to see and do. The typical commute takes less than 20 minutes and the job market is expected to expand by 2.5% in 2014.

Did You Know: The Shag, South Carolina's State Dance, originated in Myrtle Beach in the 1940s.

6. Forest Acres

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 143
  • Commute Time: 17.1 minutes
  • Income: $53,601
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.4%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 403 inhabitants

The smallest city on our list, Forest Acres sits just on the outskirts of Columbia. Its close proximity to the metro area makes it a popular choice for young professionals and families, but there's also a solid retiree community. Incomes tend to be higher here, averaging $53,601, and more than 20% of the residents attended some college.

Did You Know: Many of the streets in Forest Acres are named after friends and relatives of businessman James Henry Hammond, who, along with John Hughes Cooper, succeeded in incorporating the town in 1935.

5. Summerville

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 545
  • Commute Time: 27.1 minutes
  • Income: $54,677
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 25.7%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 430 inhabitants

If you're looking for a safe place to call home, Summerville is our top choice. Commute times here are a little longer but you're still less than thirty minutes from Charleston. Just over a quarter of the residents attended some college, which is reflected by higher average incomes. Downtown Summerville is packed with shopping and dining options, but if you're tired of walking, you can always hop on a trolley tour to see the sights.

Did You Know: Summerville, heralded as the birthplace of sweet tea, is one of the most popular spots on the Sweet Tea Trail.

4. Mauldin

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 492
  • Commute Time: 18.6 minutes
  • Income: $54,032
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 458 inhabitants

If coastal living isn't your thing, head upstate and check out the little town of Mauldin. Part of the Greenville metropolitan area, Mauldin ranks second on our list in terms of safety and third for income. The cost of living here is fairly low, making it an excellent choice if you're looking to save money without sacrificing the convenience of city life.

Did You Know: NBA star Kevin Garnett, notable for being the first player to be drafted straight out of high school since 1975, hails from Greenville.

3. Aiken

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 267
  • Commute Time: 20.9 minutes
  • Income: $53,825
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.6%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 328 inhabitants

If you're looking for a centrally located city with a progressive business community and a strong arts scene, Aiken is worth a closer look. Just north of Augusta, Georgia, Aiken is a major draw for science and engineering professionals, and the University of South Carolina's satellite campus attracts thousands of students each year. Both crime rates and commute times are at the lower end of the scale, while incomes are higher. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, as well as numerous local attractions including the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Redcliffe Plantation.

Did You Know: The Savannah River nuclear facility was established here in 1951 in response to the Soviet Union's detonation of a nuclear weapon two years earlier.

2. Port Royal

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 303
  • Commute Time: 14 minutes
  • Income: $43,626
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 24.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 626 inhabitants

Tucked away in the heart of the Low Country, Port Royal is a nature lover's dream. The city is uniquely situated in an estuary, allowing visitors and residents alike to observe a wide range of wildlife including shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, and herons. Port Royal also scores our top vote for the best commute time at just 14 minutes.

Did You Know: Around 17,000 Marine recruits receive their initial training in Port Royal at the Parris Island military installation each year.

1. Lexington

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 322
  • Commute Time: 22.3 minutes
  • Income: $58,820
  • Residents Who Attended Some College, No Degree: 21.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 281 inhabitants

Lexington gets top honors as the best city in South Carolina, largely based on its low crime rate and short commute time. Restaurants here are plentiful, but if you can't find something to your taste, it's just a 20 minute drive to Columbia. Major employers include businesses from the medical, agricultural, tech and manufacturing sectors, and wages here are the highest of any city on our list.

Did You Know: One of Lexington's most popular recreation spots is Lake Murray, a 50,000-acre man-made lake that boasts a longer shoreline than the entire coast of South Carolina.

When a change of scenery is in the cards, it helps to know as much as possible about your potential destination. The cities on our list are a diverse mix and each location has something unique to offers its residents. Reviewing our rankings carefully can aid you in your search to find a new hometown.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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Comments about Study: Best Cities to Live in South Carolina
  • Peggy from Michigan
    on August 2014 said:

    It is so exciting to see how the small town I grew up in has become the Best City to Live in in SC! I t was very emotional to know that I am going back to a vibrant growing city after living in several large cities ( NY, Sacramento, Dallas, Augusta, Detroit/Toledo, FL, I am so looking forward to being back in the South... need for my babies to move south too!

  • Peggy from Michigan
    on September 2014 said:

    Born and raised in W. Columbia, SC - but moved to many cities all over the US due to spouses job in the nuclear industry, I'm ready to head back to SC to be close to family. Lexington was my #1 choice because I went to school there, family is 15 minutes any direction, wow has this little town grown over the last 30 years! It's only 20 minutes from Columbia, the Riverbanks Zoo, Lake Murray is practically your back yard, great schools, plenty of shopping, restaurants and very friendly people... not just Lexington but all of SC. Love Love Love SC!

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