20 + Closest Beaches to Knoxville TN That Are Perfect For a Family Vacation

While we all love exploring our home state, we have to admit there’s one thing missing: the beach.

With miles of sandy shoreline and a blissfully slower pace, it’s hard to beat the beauty and wonder of a family beach vacation. Thankfully, you can reach the closest beach to Knoxville TN is less than a day’s drive.

All of these beaches near Knoxville offer a great mix of relaxation and family-fun attractions to please your entire crew. From historic lighthouses to large-scale oceanside aquariums, you’re sure to find the vacation retreat of your dreams!

20 Closest Beaches to Knoxville TN

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What is the Closest Beach to Knoxville TN?

The closest beach to Knoxville TN is Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina. At just under six hours away, this beach location offers an easy drive and tons of rest and relaxation. This is Charleston’s quietest beach town. For more adventure, check out the other nearby options below.

Atlantic Ocean Beaches Near Knoxville

The beaches along the southern Atlantic coast provide warm waters and plenty of sunshine. Known for both family friendliness and southern charm, any one of these stunning coastal locations is sure to delight!

Charleston, SC

Charleston is one of the most popular areas for Atlantic Ocean beach vacations in the South. Here you’ll find world-famous historic architecture, quaint shops, and scrumptious restaurants all along the downtown peninsula. There is also a variety of attractions for kids including an aquarium and a children’s museum.

Although Charleston is located on Charleston Harbor, there are many nearby islands located along the coast. The most popular beaches, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, and Kiawah Island, are all within a 30-50 minutes drive of Charleston and offer their own family-friendly restaurants, attractions, and amenities.

1. Folly Beach

  • Distance from Knoxville: 6 hours, 8 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 9 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 5 hours, 35 minutes
  • Distance from Charleston: 27 minutes
Folly Beach South Carolina is the closest beach to Knoxville TN

Attractions

At Folly you can meander through quaint shops, indulge in scrumptious southern cuisine, and enjoy all the water sports the coast has to offer, including fishing, boating, swimming, and more!

Kids will love the free entertainment at Pirate’s Cove Playground and Skate Park. There is also a second playground right across from the ocean. As an added bonus, Folly also offers a dog park for Fido.

Delicious Food

The Crab Shack offers a wide variety of fresh seafood including shrimp, crab cakes, oysters, and more. It also has several different sandwich options, like fried fish and cheeseburgers.

Accommodations

Have an entire beach house all to yourself with just a 4 minute walk to the ocean.

2. Kiawah Island

  • Distance from Knoxville: 6 hours, 13 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 29 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 5 hours, 55 minutes
  • Distance from Charleston: 50 minutes

Attractions

Kiawah is primarily marshland and is the perfect beach destination for the outdoor adventurer. The island places special emphasis on native wildlife watching and offers several different locations for viewing, including Marsh Island Park and Canvasback Duck Pond.

Kiawah also boasts 2 scenic observation towers that provide stunning 360-degree views of both land and sea! They also have a variety of nature paths for walking and biking.

Night Heron Park boasts a nature center, kids playground, hiking trails, and a swimming pool with separate kids area.

Delicious Food

Jasmine Porch is an upscale vacation treat that is perfect for a splurge. The Jasmine serves up delicious lowcountry favorites including she-crab bisque, shrimp and grits, po’boys, fresh seafood, burgers, and more.

Accommodations

Enjoy stunning ocean views from your private 2nd story deck.

3. Isle of Palms

  • Distance from Knoxville: 5 hours, 57 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 13 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 5 hours, 40 minutes
  • Distance from Charleston: 50 minutes
Isle of Palms South Carolina is one of best beaches near Knoxville

Attractions

Stunningly gorgeous and beautifully uncrowded, this beach is the perfect spot for rest and relaxation. In addition to traditional coastal fun, they also have a beachfront park with a picnic area and a playground for kids.

Delicious Food

For delicious breakfast and lunch, check out the affordable Sea Biscuit Cafe. They serve all your favorite breakfast items along with some quirky Lowcountry options, like shrimp and gravy and seafood omelets. They also have a variety of tasty sandwiches for lunch.

Accommodations

Check out this beautifully decorated single-family cottage just steps from the beach.

4. Hilton Head, SC

  • Distance from Knoxville: 6 hours, 26 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 32 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 5 hours, 59 minutes
Beaches Near Knoxville: Hilton Head Island, SC

Attractions

This coastal paradise offers more than just golf. With a variety of recreation options, water sports, miles of bike trails, and renowned shopping and dining options, there is really something for everyone!

Delicious Food

A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant is a local favorite that has even been featured on the Travel Channel. The menu includes casual fare like sandwiches, salads, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, and more.

Accommodations

This beautiful resort rental boasts an indoor and outdoor pool, tiki bar, and more.

5. Myrtle Beach, SC

  • Distance from Knoxville: 6 hours, 38 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 45 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 6 hours, 12 minutes
Myrtle beach South Carolina is one the best beaches near Tennessee

Attractions

This beach needs almost no introduction. Essentially the Pigeon Forge of the east coast, this one-stop family destination has something for everyone.

With over 60 miles of expansive beachfront, Myrtle Beach offers a huge variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment options for all ages. Entertainment includes shows, museums, an aquarium, mini-golf, go-karts, and much more!

The amazing amenities make this a vacation hot spot, which unfortunately means that it can be quite crowded at times. But if your family loves to keep busy, this is the vacation spot for you.

Delicious Food

The Carolina Roadhouse is a casual family restaurant known for its delicious food and friendly staff. The roadhouse offers a variety of seafood, burgers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, ribs, and more!

Accommodations

At this oceanfront 1st floor condo, you can walk to the beach in under a minute.

6. Oak Island, NC

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 8 minutes
Oak Island Beach, NC

Attractions

In addition to stunningly scenic beaches and water sports, Oak Island is filled with rich historical adventures around every turn. Here, you can visit Fort Caswell, which was in use for much of the 1800s and 1900s.

Though not as old as the fort, the island lighthouse is another popular beachside attraction.

Nature lovers will enjoy Oak Island Nature Center. From hiking trails and animal exhibits to fossils and kayaking, this outdoor oasis has everything you need for a full day of family-friendly fun.

Delicious Food

Swain’s Seafood Shack offers a scrumptious variety of fresh and fried seafood as well as pasta, chicken, and steak for land lovers.

Accommodations

This expansive single-family home has incredible views of the marsh.

Wilmington, NC

Wilmington is home to some of the best beaches near Knoxville TN. The city offers tons of amenities with historic charm. Its famed River Walk boasts a variety of waterfront shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.

The city also has a variety of kid-friendly museums including the Wilmington Railroad Museum, which features real trains you can climb inside!

The surrounding area offers 3 nearby beaches, Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure, all of which offer their own unique brand of fun. Best of all it only takes 30 minutes to drive the length of all 3 beaches, so you don’t have to miss anything!

7. Wrightsville Beach

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 23 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 6 hours, 13 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 6 minutes
  • Distance from Wilmington: 14 minutes
Wrightsville Beach, NC

Attractions

Wrightsville is known for crystal waters and excellent surfing. Attractions include shopping, dining, the Wrightville History Museum, catamaran cruises, seasonal festivals, and free outdoor concerts throughout the prime tourist season. 

This coastal getaway also features a variety of fun-filled kids’ activities including an accessible beach-front playground, pirate-led treasure hunts, and educational programs at the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center.

Delicious Food

The Bluewater Waterfront Grille offers stunning views and tasty food. Although they specialize in fresh seafood platters and sandwiches, they also have cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks for the picky eaters in your life.

Accommodations

This rustic oceanfront condo is just steps from the beach.

8. Kure Beach

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 31 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 6 hours, 30 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 11 minutes
  • Distance from Wilmington: 27 minutes
Kure Beach near Wilmington North Carolina is one of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

Attractions

Aside from the beach, the most popular attraction in this area is the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which features touch tanks, an adventure reef, a nature play area, and more!

Additional attractions include shopping, dining, the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Civil War Museum, beach cruises, a beachfront playground, a dog park and more!

Delicious Food

Jack Mackerel’s Grill is a casual family eatery with a varied menu, including pasta, seafood, sandwiches, and burgers.

Accommodations

This adorable tiki cottage is sure to put a smile on your face and is just steps from the beach.

9. Carolina Beach, NC

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 27 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 6 hours, 27 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 8 minutes
  • Distance from Wilmington: 23 minutes

Attractions

The Carolina Beach boardwalk was named one of the top 10 boardwalks in the nation by USAToday.

In addition to world-class shopping, restaurants, and entertainment, the boardwalk also boasts weekly fireworks and free live music throughout the tourist season. Additional attractions include the Federal Point History Center, sunset cruises, skate park, and Carolina Beach State Park.

Delicious Food

At Havana’s Restaurant, you can enjoy shrimp and grits, burgers, seafood, salads, and more in a fun tiki bar atmosphere.

Accommodations

This pink beauty has to be the cutest cottage ever and is just a few minutes walk to the beach.

10. Edisto Island, SC

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 24 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 26 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 5 hours, 57 minutes
Edisto Island Beach South Carolina is one of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

Attractions

Edisto is a low-key gem offering opportunities for rest and relaxation, including short hiking and biking trails. There are also several restaurants and shops on the island.

It is probably most famed for its stunning driftwood beach along Botany Bay (pictured above). The beach is lined with gorgeous sun-bleached driftwood that forms large natural art sculptures along the shoreline.

For kids, the island does have a small playground and a fun Serpentarium, which features a variety of snakes, alligators, turtles, and lizards.

Delicious Food

The Seacow Eatery is a funky restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu includes tasty items like sandwiches, seafood, Lowcountry boils, po’boys, and more.

Accommodations

Bring your extended family to this 5 bedroom stunner just minutes from the beach.

11. St. Simon’s Island, GA

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 42 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 7 hours
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 28 minutes
St. Simons Island, GA

Attractions

Although not incredibly close to any larger city amenities, this relaxing beach oasis boasts several shops and restaurants, water sports, and a few family attractions like the Neptune Park Fun Zone.

Delicious Food

Porch is a quirky restaurant specializing in fried chicken, fried catfish, and shrimp. Although they do have a small menu, there are salads available for the health-conscious crowd.

Accommodations

This gorgeous single-family beach rental is right near the lighthouse and has its own private swimming pool.

12. Tybee Island, GA

  • Distance from Knoxville: 6 hours, 55 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 5 hours, 58 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 6 hours, 26 mintues
Tybee Island Georgia is one of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

Attractions

This is one of the most popular beaches near Tennessee. For families who thrive on peace and quiet, Tybee is your ticket. About 1/2 hour outside of Savannah, this low-key island is perfect for a relaxing vacation.

If you do want to go out, there are several quaint shops and restaurants to enjoy on the island. You can also head into Savanah to enjoy a wider variety of amenities including upscale shops and restaurants, historic architecture, museums, ghost tours, and a variety of family-friendly attractions.

Delicious Food

Bubba Gumbo’s is a waterfront gem serving shrimp, crab cakes, burgers, jambalaya, fried fish, and of course, their signature seafood gumbo.

Accommodations

In this beautiful rental, you’ll enjoy stunning views with a 1 minute walk to the beach.

13. Jekyll Island, GA

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 43 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 7 hours
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 28 minutes
Ocean Beaches Near Knoxville, TN: Jekyll Island. GA

Attractions

Neighboring St. Simon’s Island, Jekyll Island’s claim to fame is its un-commercialized scenic beauty and gorgeous driftwood beach. There are also several shops and restaurants, as well as a water park and a sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility located on the island.

Delicious Food

The Driftwood Bistro is famous for their scrumptious shrimp and grits, but they also have burgers, sandwiches, catfish, crab cakes, pasta, and more!

Accommodations

This gorgeous oceanfront resort with a pool is sure to wow your entire family.

14. Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 57 minutes
Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, FL

Attractions

Amelia Island is known for its wide variety of historic architecture. History lovers will enjoy the fun trolley tour that takes you to all of the different historical districts around town.

After exploring the town, you can visit a gorgeous lighthouse, a history museum, or Fort Clinch. For more traditional beach activities, there is kayaking, shelling, paddle boarding, and mini-golf.

Delicious Food

The Salty Pelican Bar and Grille offers seafood tacos, burgers, sandwiches, seafood platters, fresh shrimp, oysters, salads, and much more. The restaurant also has a gorgeous waterfront view to complete the experience.

Accommodations

You will love the sweeping views of the ocean from your private balcony.

15. St. Augustine, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 8 hours, 9 minutes
St. Augustine Beach, FL

Attractions

St. Augustine, known as the oldest city in America, offers tons of historical adventures like old forts and the original fountain of youth. Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there.

They also have a great selection of family-fun activities, including dolphin tours, a pirate ship cruise, medieval torture museum, mini-golf, a variety of Ripley’s attractions, and more!

Delicious Food

Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille has an eclectic southern menu with fried green tomatoes, gumbo, she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, fried chicken, burgers, and much, much more. They really have something for everyone.

Accommodations

This cozy rental is only a 2-minute walk from the beach.

16. Jacksonville Beach

  • Distance from Knoxville: 8 hours, 42 minutes
Jacksonville Beach, FL

Attractions

While Jacksonville Beach may not be the absolute closest beach to Knoxville, it has a ton to offer. Here, you can enjoy a mix of scenic beach beauty and big-city amenities.

Popular attractions include over 10 different museums, such as a large hands-on science center and an interactive children’s museum. There are also theatre shows, a lighthouse, arcades, a ninja warrior course, trampoline parks, escape games, mini-golf, and much more!

Delicious Food

TacoLu has a gorgeous outdoor eating area with funky street art. As the name suggests, they specialize in street tacos of all kinds including traditional meats, a wide variety of fish tacos, and much more. The restaurant also has a great menu of specialty tequila drinks.

Accommodations

You won’t forget the time spent in this spacious condo overlooking the ocean.

Beaches Near Knoxville Tennessee on the Gulf of Mexico

With an average water temperature of 72 degrees, these gulf beaches provide a tropical getaway that’s close to home!

17. Destin, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 57 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 9 hours, 27 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 8 hours, 47 minutes
Gulf Beaches Near Knoxville TN

Attractions

Destin is the closest beach to Knoxville TN on the gulf of Mexico. In addition to gorgeous sand and surf, Destin is known for its world-class fishing, wonderful golf offerings, and Destin Harbor Boardwalk. Plenty of shopping, dining, and family-fun options, like go-karts, a water park, and mini-golf are also available.

Delicious Food

The Back Porch has been offering gorgeous oceanfront dining for 40 years. Though they specialize in gulf seafood, they also offer sandwiches, burgers, tacos, steaks, and more.

Accommodations

This oceanfront beauty was featured on HGTV.

18. Pensacola, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 35 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 9 hours, 23 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 8 hours, 44 minutes

Attractions

In 2016 this stunning beach was ranked one of the top 10 in the US. With over 18 miles of white sandy beaches and clear waters, the ranking is no surprise. Pensacola visitors will find a wide variety of shopping and dining options, water sports, and even a fabulous dog beach for Fido!

Delicious Food

The Fish House is a waterfront stunner offering tons of different fish, oysters, shrimp, salads, burgers, fried chicken, po’boys, and so much more.

Accommodations

This stunning beach rental has sophisticated decor and sweeping ocean views.

19. Panama City Beach, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 8 hours, 6 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 9 hours, 16 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 8 hours, 49 minutes

Photo Credit: John Tuggle

Attractions

Panama City packs a mean punch for families looking for adventure. With a wealth of kid-friendly attractions including water parks, go-karts, beach-side amusement parks, and much more, there is truly something to please everyone.

Of course, there is also a wide variety of shopping, dining, and nightlife options.

Delicious Food

Pineapple Willy’s has a varied menu with fresh and fried seafood, pulled pork, chicken, and more. They also have scrumptious frozen daiquiris and a stunning ocean view.

Accommodations

This stunning 2 bedroom condo has a pool and gorgeous ocean views.

20. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 8 hours, 9 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 9 hours, 37 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 9 hours

Attractions

After soaking up the sun on these gorgeous Alabama beaches, you can enjoy a variety of family fun including museums, a historic fort, an awesome zoo, and much more! The shopping and dining options are also amazing.

Delicious Food

The Gulf is a waterfront joint for casual food that has been built out of fun shipping containers. This restaurant has stunning ocean views, a great selection of surf and turf menu items, and a full bar.

Accommodations

You can’t miss the stunning views with the classy wrap around windows in this modern beach rental.

21. Gulfport Beach, MS

  • Distance from Knoxville: 8 hours, 16 minutes
Gulfport Beach, MS

Attractions

For families who like to keep busy, Gulfport Beach is jam-packed with a wide variety of family fun, including mini-golf, arcades, quirky beach rentals, Gulf Islands Water Park, and the Ocean Animals Marine Park.

The water park boasts a variety of slides, a lazy river, and multiple kids’ zone for extra fun!

The marine park, which also helps with local conservation efforts, offers a variety of hands-on encounters with dolphins, stingrays, and sea lions. Of course, there are also lots of traditional aquarium displays.

Delicious Food

Murky Waters specializes in delectable southern BBQ, but the menu also boasts po’boys, fried catfish, homemade sides, and more. The rustic atmosphere is amazing, especially when there is live music.

Accommodations

Walk straight to the beach from the backyard of your private beach home.

More East TN Family Fun

Map of Beaches Near Knoxville TN

If you’ve visited any of these beaches near Knoxville, be sure to leave your review in the comments to help other families plan their vacations.

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