- Bonus Beach: Kiawah Island
- Life is better at the beach
Charleston, South Carolina has topped the list for years. The historic city has always had a ton to offer, attracting tourists for its southern charm, world-class culinary offerings, pre-war architecture, and bustling arts and entertainment scene. Its beaches further add to Charleston’s appeal.
A few miles from downtown Charleston is a series of small, easily accessible barrier islands where visitors can enjoy an afternoon at the beach or vice versa. With such close proximity to town, visitors may choose to base themselves on the beach instead. Each of Charleston’s beaches has its own vibe and attributes. Here’s a preview to help you find the perfect fit!
This popular Charleston beach manages to strike a balance between upscale and classy, as well as hip but family-friendly. The island is independent with many lodging options, an extensive retail district, a diverse range of restaurants, and a full-service grocery store. The beach is patrolled by lifeguards, and there are changing rooms, restrooms, and snack bars centrally located in the seaside county park.
Points of interest
There are about six miles of beach with over 50 access points, so hitting the sand on the Isle of Palms is super convenient. The island’s two golf courses, The Links Course and Harbor Course, were both designed by a world-renowned golf architect. A visit to the Windjammer is a must. A longtime island staple (over 50 years in business), the Windjammer is a beachfront sandbar that frequently hosts concerts, beach volleyball tournaments, and more. Oh, and dogs are welcome at the Windjammer too!
This picturesque 3.3 square mile island can be summed up in three S’s: serenity, slow pace and simple pleasures. The municipality has actively worked to preserve its tranquil character, and as such, short-term rentals of less than 30 days are prohibited. Nestled between Charleston Harbor and the Isle of Palms, it remains close and convenient to explore for the day while staying elsewhere.
One of the oldest forts on the east coast is located on Sullivan’s Island. Fort Moultrie was first built as a Revolutionary War defense in the 1700s, but was again used during the Civil War. Fort Moultrie is open to the public and remains a major tourist attraction. Noted author Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie during his time in the military, and Sullivan’s Island served as the setting for some of his literary works. Today, the quirky and eclectic Poe’s Tavern pays homage to its namesake and is one of the most beloved local eateries.
What to see and do on Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is the perfect place for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle and just spend a relaxing day at the beach. The wide, flat beach is ideal for strolling along the shore or biking at low tide, and the prevailing winds are excellent for kitesurfing. Ocean enthusiasts can also fish, kayak, and paddleboard, and land lovers can also enjoy the island’s many parks and recreation areas. Restaurants along Middle Street offer delicious food and al fresco dining in a fun atmosphere, often with live entertainment.
Affectionately referred to as “America’s Edge,” Folly Beach is a hip beach community that has retained much of its charm and uniqueness. A longtime haven for surfers, College of Charleston students, artists and salty sailors, Folly Beach is also a bit of a cult following among vacationers. Insanity-seekers return to their beloved beach year after year and rarely venture anywhere else. The island has a relaxed, working-class vibe, and longtime residents foster a palpable sense of community.
Pass by Bert’s Market and fill the cooler before heading to the beach. Bert’s is a local institution that sticks to its slogan “we can doze but we never close”; they are open 24 hours a day and are much more than just a market. Folly Beach is considered one of the best surfing destinations in the Southeast, and there are two full-service surf shops on Folly. Experienced surfers can head to The Washout section of the beach, or novices can take a surf lesson with one of the many surf schools on the island. Kayaks or stand-up paddleboards are a great way to explore Folly’s vast network of marshes and coves.
Folly Beach’s main shopping and dining hub is Center Street, and it’s well worth a stroll. The eclectic shops have plenty of local and handcrafted items rather than just tacky souvenirs. Center Street and the surrounding blocks are also packed with dozens of food and drink venues to suit all tastes and budgets, as well as bars and nightclubs. Come as you are, the vibe everywhere is unpretentious and flip flops are always welcome.
One of the best ways to get around the 12-square-mile island is by golf cart. Just be aware that they can’t walk down Center Street (but they can cross it to cross to/from the east and west sides of the island).
Bonus Beach: Kiawah Island
Although Kiawah is a huge vacation destination, it was not initially included as one of the main beaches in the Charleston area simply because many areas of the island and its beaches are private. Kiawah is closed and visitors can only access certain restricted areas with a guest or owner pass; not everything is accessible to the public. Nonetheless, Kiawah deserves a mention as it is a popular vacation spot and has its own unique appeal.
As you would expect, Kiawah is a luxury vacation destination. Resort accommodations, vacation home rentals and amenities are world-class, as are Kiawah’s dining options. The island’s five golf courses are also top-notch, frequently hosting the PGA Tour and other high profile events. Kiawah was also named the #1 tennis resort in the world!
Visitors can take advantage of the public beach access at Beachwalker County Park, just before the ranger station. Bring your own bike to enjoy Kiawah Island’s 10 miles of pristine beach without needing to show a pass.
Life is better at the beach
While the Charleston area is surrounded by dozens of barrier islands, these beaches are prime hotspots for staying and playing. The beaches make a great addition to any Charleston vacation itinerary, but they also have a lot to offer as a standalone destination. Visitors can sit back, relax and enjoy the slower pace of the island!