Charleston, South Carolina, has been topping 'the best of lists for years. The historic city has always had a ton to offer, attracting tourists for its southern charm, world-class culinary offerings, antebellum architecture, and lively arts and entertainment scene. Further adding to Charleston's appeal are its beaches.
Sitting just a few miles from downtown Charleston is a series of easily accessible small barrier islands where visitors can enjoy an afternoon at the beach or vice versa. With such close proximity to the city, visitors can choose to base themselves on the beach instead. Each one of the Charleston beaches has its own distinctive vibe and attributes. Here is an overview to help find the perfect fit!
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Isle Of Palms
This popular Charleston beach manages to maintain a balance between upscale and classy, as well as hip yet family-friendly. The island is self-catering with ample accommodation options, an extensive retail district, a diverse range of restaurants, and a full-service grocery store. The beach has lifeguards on duty, and there are dressing rooms, restrooms, and snack bar facilities centrally located at the oceanfront County Park.
There are roughly six miles of beach with over 50 access points, so hitting the sand on 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. Visiting the Windjammer is a must. A long-time staple of the island (more than 50 years in business), the Windjammer is an oceanfront sandbar that hosts frequent concerts, beach volleyball tournaments, and more. Oh, and dogs are welcome at the Windjammer too!
This quaint 3.3 square mile island can be summed up by three S's: serenity, slow pace, and simple pleasures. The town has actively worked to preserve its quiet character, and as such, short-term rentals of less than 30 days are prohibited. Nestled between Charleston Harbor and Isle of Palms, it remains close and convenient to explore for the day while staying elsewhere.
One of the oldest-standing forts on the East Coast is located on Sullivan's Island. Fort Moultrie was first constructed as a Revolutionary War defense in the 1700s but was once again put to use during the Civil War. Fort Moultrie is open to the public and remains a top tourist attraction. Fabled author Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie during his stint in the army, and Sullivan's Island served as the setting for some of his literary works. Nowadays, the quirky and eclectic Poe's Tavern pays homage to its namesake and is one of the most beloved local eateries.
Sullivan's Island is the perfect spot for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle and simply have a relaxing day at the beach. The wide, flat beach is great for strolling along the shore or riding bikes at low tide, and the prevailing winds are excellent for kiteboarding. Ocean enthusiasts can also fish, kayak, and paddleboard, and land-lovers can enjoy the island's several parks and recreation areas too. The restaurants along Middle Street offer wonderful food and alfresco dining in a fun atmosphere, often with live entertainment.
Affectionately referred to as the 'edge of America', Folly Beach is a funky beach community that has retained much of its charm and unique character. A long-time haven for surfers, College of Charleston students, artists, and salty seafarers, Folly Beach has somewhat of a cult following amongst vacationers too. Folly-devotees return to their beloved beach year after year and rarely venture elsewhere. The island has a relaxed, working-class vibe, and long-time locals foster a palpable sense of community.
Swing by Bert's Market and fill up the cooler before hitting the beach. Bert's is a local institution that adheres to its 'we may doze but we never close' slogan; they are open around the clock and are much more than just a market. Folly Beach is regarded as one of the top 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 several surf schools on the island. Kayaks or stand-up paddleboards are an excellent way to explore Folly's extensive network of marshes and inlets.
The main shopping and dining hub of Folly Beach is Center Street, and it is well worth a stroll. The eclectic shops have lots of local and handcrafted items rather than just tacky souvenirs. Center Street and the surrounding blocks are also packed with dozens of eating and drinking locales for every taste and budget, as well as bars and nightlife. Come as you are - the ambiance everywhere is unpretentious, and flip-flops are always welcome.
Bonus Beach: Kiawah Island
Although Kiawah is a huge vacation destination, it wasn't initially included as one of the main Charleston-area beaches simply because many areas of the island and its beaches are private. Kiawah is gated, and visitors can only access certain restricted areas with a guest or owner's pass; not everything is accessible to the public. Nonetheless, Kiawah is worth a mention as it is a popular vacation spot and has its own unique draw.
As one may expect, Kiawah is a luxury vacation destination. The 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 PGA Tour and other top-level events. Kiawah was also named the #1 tennis resort in the world!
Life Is Better At The Beach
While the Charleston area is surrounded by dozens of barrier islands, these beaches are the main hot spots to stay and play. The beaches make a great addition to any Charleston vacation itinerary, but they each have plenty to offer as a stand-alone destination too. Visitors can settle down, relax, and enjoy the slower pace of island time!