16 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 endless waters drifting into a pastel sunset, it’s hard to beat the beauty and wonder of a family beach vacation.

Below you’ll discover the closest beach to Knoxville TN. All of these beaches near Tennessee are less than a day’s drive from Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Johnson City, and the entire eastern half of the state. With a mix of low-key and action-packed choices, you’re sure to find the vacation retreat of your dreams!

16 Southern United States Beaches near Knoxville to add to your travel bucket list.

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Closest Beach to Knoxville TN on the Atlantic Coast

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

Enjoy Charleston’s world-famous historic architecture as you stroll through the many quaint shops and restaurants along the downtown peninsula. There are also several attractions for kids including an aquarium and children’s museum.

Although Charleston is located on Charleston Harbor, there are many nearby islands located along the Atlantic 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: 5 hours, 53 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 one of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

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!

For kids, they also have Pirate’s Cove Playground and Skate Park and the beachfront Wave Watch Playground, which are both free to the public. This is also the only island to offer a dog park for Fido.

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

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 Ganvasback 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.

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 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

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.

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

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!

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 of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

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.

Wilmington, NC

Wilmington offers city 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 any of the fun!

6. 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 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 lead treasure hunts, and educational programs at the Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center.

7. 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.

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, 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!

8. Carolina Beach

  • 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

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.

9. 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.

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, featuring a variety of snakes, alligators, turtles, and lizards.

10. 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

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.

11. 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.

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.

12. Jekyll Island, GA

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 43 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 7 hours
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 7 hours, 28 minutes

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.

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!

13. Destin, FL

  • Distance from Knoxville: 7 hours, 57 minutes
  • Distance from Johnson City: 9 hours, 27 minutes
  • Distance from Gatlinburg: 8 hours, 47 minutes
Destin Florida is one of 16 Southern US beaches to add to your travel bucket list.

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.

14. Pensacola, FL

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

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!

15. 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

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.

16. 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

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.

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

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