No summertime trip to Charleston is complete without a trip to one of the area’s beautiful beaches. Soak up the laid-back vibe of Folly Beach, the family friendly feel of Isle of Palms or the unspoiled ocean views at Sullivan’s Island. Each beach has its own character and appeal along with a selection of amenities and restaurants.
To help you spend the best day playing in the sand and surf, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to a perfect beach day. This is everything you need to know from convenient places to parks, where to grab lunch or drinks and even the ideal spot for a selfie with an ocean backdrop.
This barrier island beach has a laid-back atmosphere and is often frequented by locals and surfers. With plenty of restaurants, surf shops, hotels and beach rentals, Folly Beach is a great place to spend some time. Plus, Folly is a short drive from the heart of downtown Charleston with all its attractions and activities. Note, summertime traffic can be extra heavy. If you’re not staying on the beach, plan to arrive by 10 a.m. Also, a beach preservation project is underway; check cityoffollybeach.com for additional information on how this might impact your visit.
Where to park: Limited parking is available at Folly Beach County Park (1100 W. Ashley Ave.), so plan to arrive early to secure a spot. Parking fees vary by season. The most you’ll pay is $10 per vehicle Monday to Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday. You can easily access the beach via the park, where you’ll be close to restrooms, outdoor showers, a snack bar and lifeguards.
Lunch break: Lost Dog Café, open daily at 106 W. Huron Ave. Order up Southern style BLT with fried green tomatoes, bacon and pimento cheese. Or start your day with coffee and pancakes topped with fresh strawberries and bananas.
Souvenir shopping: Open since 1951 at 20 Center St., Mr. John’s Beach Store is the perfect place to pick up a fun Folly souvenir or a new pair of shades.
Beach beers: BLU Restaurant and Bar, 1 Center St. inside The Tides Hotel. Take in the ocean views while enjoying a cocktail or beer. Or try Pier 101 Restaurant & Bar, 101 E Arctic Ave., for oceanfront dining.
Dinner by the ocean: Rita’s Seaside Grill, open daily at 2 Center St. Dine on fish and shrimp tacos or a crab cake sandwich while enjoying live music in a casual atmosphere.
Best selfie spot: Walk out to the northeast end of the island to see the Morris Island Lighthouse, located about 300 yards off shore.
Rules to know: Alcohol is not allowed on Folly Beach. Dogs are not allowed on the beach from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sept. 30. At other times, dogs much be leashed; pick up after your pet. Surfing without a leash is prohibited. Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 15 to Sept. 15, surfing is not allow from 2nd Street East to 3rd Street West (known as the swimming zone). More info and complete beach rules: cityoffollybeach.com
Folly Beach fun fact: One of Folly’s famous visitors was composer and pianist George Gershwin. While staying at Folly, he composed the classic opera “Porgy and Bess.”
Isle of Palms
Located a just a few minutes from Mount Pleasant, the Isle of Palms has plenty of amenities and is a great family friendly beach option. This stretch of public beach has a selection of shops, restaurants and amenities plus public restrooms. The area of Ocean Boulevard from 10th Avenue to 14th Avenue is set aside for beachgoers and is known as “Front Beach.” If you’re not staying on Isle of Palms, plan to arrive early. The Isle of Palms Connector backs up quickly with beach traffic.
Where to park: Parking is regulated along the public rights-of-way from May 15 through Sept. 15 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. In the on-street Beach Parking Zones, parking is free of charge. Adjacent residential areas would become “resident parking only.” Paid parking is available in the Municipal Parking Lots on Pavilion Drive, at Isle of Palms County Park and on Ocean Boulevard between 10th and 14th avenues.
For access to picnic tables, showers, restrooms, seasonal lifeguards and a playground, you might want to park at the Isle of Palms County Park. Parking fees vary by season. The most you’ll pay is $10 per vehicle Monday to Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday.
Lunch break: Coconut Joe’s, 1120 Ocean Blvd., is a festive, laid-back spot great for families or groups of friends. Order up tacos, sandwiches or a fried platter of coconut shrimp and a cold glass of iced tea to top off a morning on the beach. If you don’t want to leave your spot on the beach, pick up hot dogs or burgers at the neighboring Island Joe’s (also a great spot for afternoon ice cream cones) and picnic on the sand.
Souvenir shopping: Stroll Ocean Boulevard for a selection of gift shops where you can buy an IOP T-shirt or buckets and shovels for building an epic sand castle.
Beach beers: Cold brews, ocean views and live music from a variety of bands make The Windjammer, IOP’s best party spot.
Dinner by the ocean: Seafood sourced from the East Coast is tough to beat at Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, which combines upscale, yet casual elements of traditional coastal cuisine with classic fare. Located at 31 J.C. Long Blvd.
Best selfie spot: Head to the top deck of The Windjammer to snap a photo with the vast ocean behind you.
Rules to know: Alcohol is not allowed on the beach. Dogs are allowed off leash on the beach from 5-9 a.m. April 1 to Sept. 14 and from 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. Sept. 15 to March 31. At all other times, dogs must be on a leash – even in the water. More info and complete beach rules: iop.net
IOP fun fact: Loggerhead sea turtles often lay their eggs at the Isle of Palms from May to mid-August. From July until October, the loggerhead hatchlings emerge from their nest at night and make their way to the ocean. Do not disturb any nests or any hatchlings and be sure to fill any holes you dig on the beach. If you’re staying on the beach, be sure to turn off your porch/outside lights at night.
The Town of Sullivan’s Island, a barrier island north of the Charleston harbor, has only about 2,000 residents. With its unspoiled views and terrific dining options, Sullivan’s is a favorite among Charleston area locals. The beach has few short-term rentals and no hotels so plan a day trip to this beach, also located just a few minutes from the Isle of Palms.
Where to park: Parking can be a problem if you arrive after 10 a.m. There are no public parking lots, and street parking is allowed on one side of the street only. Be sure to obey posted signs and don’t park in any private yards or driveways.
Lunch break: Poe’s Tavern, 2210 Middle St., is named for Edgar Allan Poe, who, at the age of 18, enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Moultrie. A favorite among locals and visitors, Poe’s menu is filled with gourmet burgers (try the Black Cat with grilled onions, chili, bacon and pimento cheese) and fish tacos (order the citrus-marinated mahi-mahi).
Souvenir shopping: Take home a true beach treasure from Sandpiper Gallery, 2201 Middle St., including works of fine art, pottery, jewelry and sculpture – many of which are made by South Carolina artists.
Beach beers: Dunleavy’s Pub, 2213 Middle St., is a family owned Irish pub with a long history on Sullivan’s Island. Unwind with a cold beer after a long, hot day on the beach.
Dinner by the ocean: The Obstinate Daughter, 2063 Middle St., is a southern restaurant with Spanish, Italian and French influences. The menu is packed with small plates, pasta and gourmet pizzas. Try the Lowcountry shrimp roll or butterbean ravioli topped off with a glass of wine.
Rules to know: Sullivan’s Island has no public restrooms or showers and there are no lifeguards on duty. Alcohol is not permitted on the beach. All dogs visiting the island must have a dog permit and should wear the town-issued collar while on Sullivan’s Island. Permits and collars are available at Town Hall, 2050-B Middle St.; 843-883-3198. Dogs are not allowed on the beach during certain times in the summer season. More info and complete beach rules: sullivansisland-sc.com
Sullivan’s Island fun fact: This Island has a long military history of protecting the Charleston harbor from invaders. Visit Fort Moultrie – originally built with palmetto logs in 1776 – to how it has been restored to reflect the story of American seacoast defense up through World War II.
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Another of Charleston’s beautiful beaches is Kiawah Island. Much of the island and its beaches are private, but you can access a portion of public beachfront via Kiawah Beachwalker Park on the west end of the island. It has restrooms, picnic areas with grills and boardwalks. Parking fees vary by season. The most you’ll pay is $10 per vehicle Monday to Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday. Lifeguards are on duty seasonally, and, at the park, dogs must be leashed at all times.
Also on Kiawah Island is Freshfields Village, a blend of shopping and dining options in a lovely outdoor setting. This town center also hosts a number of special events during the summer, including live music, outdoor movies and a farmers market; see the full calendar of events at freshfieldsvillage.com.
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