Categories
Real Estate Tips

Charleston Area Beaches Guide

Charleston is famous for many things, including its fantastic beaches. You’ll find five great beaches within Charleston County

Charleston is famous for many things, including its fantastic beaches. You’ll find five great beaches within Charleston County, at Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Kiawah Island, and Seabrook Island.

Each beach has its own personality and things it’s known for, and this guide will help you compare and contrast Charleston beaches so you know which one is right for you.

One logistical note: The drive times below to each beach from downtown Charleston are in “good traffic.” But these beaches are located on barrier islands which usually have just one or two (narrow) roads leading to them. That means in the summertime, drive times can be significantly longer – so plan ahead!

Folly Beach

Folly Beach is: Laid-back, funky, fun

Known for: The relaxed vibe, great surfing, choice of restaurants and bars

Open to public: Yes

Distance from Marion Square (downtown Charleston peninsula): 11 miles; about 20 minutes in good traffic. Closer to James Island and West Ashley.

Beach rules and regulations (parking, dogs, alcohol, glass, plastic, litter, sea turtles, golf carts, and so on): Find on the City of Folly Beach website.

Accommodations: A few hotels and inns including Tides Folly Beach hotel on the water; condos and houses for rent.

Shopping and eating: Several shops, bars, and restaurants on and around Center Street, including two surf shops.

Fun facts: The City of Folly Beach is nicknamed “Edge of America,” and the Folly Beach Fishing Pier is the second longest pier on the East Coast, at 1,045 feet long.

Folly Beach is a fun and welcoming beach town that’s perfect for a family day at the beach or a week-long summer rental on the shore. It’s an ideal spot for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, and paddleboarding.

Folly Beach is also the beach of choice for new and experienced surfers alike. It’s arguably the best place to surf in the state and in the top 10 on the East Coast. The Washout (aka Hollywood) and the Pier are two of the top spots of surfing here. Newbies and visitors can take advantage of rentals and lessons, too.

Sullivan’s Island Beach

Sullivan’s Island beach is: Pristine, quiet, relaxing

Known for: Fewer crowds, lack of commercial development, strict rules

Open to public: Yes

Distance from Marion Square (downtown Charleston peninsula): 9 miles; about 20 minutes in good traffic. Closer to Mt. Pleasant and Isle of Palms.

Beach rules and regulations (parking, dogs, alcohol, glass, plastic, litter, sea turtles, golf carts, and so on): Find on the Town of Sullivan’s Island website.

Accommodations: No hotels or inns on the island, but does have homes for rent

Shopping and eating: Limited, but has a few highly regarded restaurants including Poe’s Tavern and The Obstinate Daughter on Middle Street.

Fun facts: The island is home to Fort Moultrie, the first fort in the state, and was also home for a brief 13 months in 1827-1828 to Edgar Allen Poe, after whom Poe’s Tavern is named.

Sullivan’s Island is less commercially developed than Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, which is either a good or bad thing depending on what you want in a beach. It does mean beachgoers have fewer amenities like umbrellas, public restrooms, and public showers to wash off sandy feet, there are no shops or eateries along the water, and parking can be a challenge. But it also makes for a quieter, less crowded beach experience, which could be worth it for you.

Sullivan’s Island is a short drive away from the barrier island just to the north, the Isle of Palms (IOP), which has more selection when it comes to shopping, dining, and accommodations. If you plan to spend more than just a day on Sullivan’s beach, you can find some wonderful houses for rent on the island. You might also want to check out accommodations on IOP, too, for an even wider selection.

Isle of Palms Beach (Plus Wild Dunes)

Isle of Palms beach is: Lively, fun, family-friendly

Known for: Classic beach town vibe, sea turtles

Open to public: Yes

Distance from Marion Square (downtown Charleston peninsula): 13 miles; about 25 minutes in good traffic. Closer to Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island.

Beach rules and regulations (parking, dogs, alcohol, glass, plastic, litter, sea turtles, golf carts, and so on): Find on the City of Isle of Palms website here (rules) and here (parking).

Accommodations: You’ll find a couple hotels/inns on IOP along with a big variety of houses and condos for rent.

Shopping and eating: Several options close to the main beach access points right by the water, plus a full-size grocery store and other storefronts on Palm Boulevard.

Fun fact: Breach Inlet, located where IOP and Sullivan’s Island connect by bridge, is a picturesque spot, but don’t be deceived by the beauty; the waters there are so dangerous due to strong currents that swimming is forbidden. (Not exactly a fun fact, but an important one to know if you visit.)

Isle of Palms (IOP) is the most commercially developed of the these first three beaches, but don’t let that deter you – it still has that small town beach feeling. While it is more crowded than nearby Sullivan’s Island, it has more amenities for the beachgoer, too. Visitors looking to stay have plenty of options to choose from, from a hotel room at the Palms Oceanfront Hotel to a multi-bedroom luxury house with a pool for a vacation with extended family.

Wild Dunes is on IOP, but as a gated resort community, it’s really its own thing. It has its own accommodations, restaurants, event spaces, golf courses, swimming pools, and beaches accessible only to Wild Dunes guests and residents. It’s a popular choice for families who want an all-in-one resort vacation experience.

Kiawah Island Beach

Kiawah Island beach is: Pristine, quiet

Known for: Exclusive resort life, the famous Ocean Course golf course, conservation and nature

Open to public: Yes and no (read more below)

Distance from Marion Square (downtown Charleston peninsula): 25 miles; about 40 minutes in good traffic. Closer to Johns Island.

Beach rules and regulations (parking, dogs, alcohol, glass, plastic, litter, sea turtles, golf carts, and so on): Find on the Town of Kiawah Island website here.

Accommodations: The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, a large and luxurious oceanfront hotel, is the star here. There are some other hotels/inns on the island plus villa and homes for rent, too.

Shopping and eating: Several options for dining, including many at The Sanctuary, and some limited shopping.

Fun fact: The 2000 Will Smith/Matt Damon movie The Legend of Bagger Vance filmed many of its golf scenes on Kiawah’s golf courses.

Kiawah Island is a beautiful retreat that has a reputation for luxury and relaxed, high-end living. There’s a guardhouse at the main entrance and in many ways it is one giant gated community, with a number of private beaches accessible only to residents, renters, and their guests. However, anybody may access and enjoy the beach at Beachwalker County Park (part of the Charleston County parks system) on the west end of the island without a special gate pass. Beach access is free, but parking comes with a fee.

Kiawah Island is a wonderful choice for a luxury vacation if you want to mainly stay on the island and enjoy everything it has to offer including the beaches, dining, spa services, and golfing at one of the many golf courses, including the world-renowned Ocean Course. It’s also very nature friendly, with trails for biking and walking and its focus on wildlife and conservation.

Seabrook Island Beach

Seabrook Island beach is: Exclusive, pristine, not crowded

Known for: Great golf, beautiful wildlife and nature, horse riding on the beach

Open to public: No

Distance from Marion Square (downtown Charleston peninsula): 25 miles; about 40 minutes in good traffic. Closer to Johns Island.

Beach rules and regulations (parking, dogs, alcohol, glass, plastic, litter, sea turtles, golf carts, and so on): Find on the Town of Seabrook Island website here.

Accommodations: No hotels or inns; to access the island and its beaches you must be an owner or their guest or rent one of the homes for rent.

Shopping and eating: Some options for dining and shopping on the island.

Fun facts: Its name has nothing to do with its location on the sea but comes from William Seabrook, who bought the island in 1816 and proceeded to cultivate the rare Sea Island Cotton on it.

Seabrook Island is a private beach island with no beaches open to the public, which makes it different from the other beaches on this list. It’s like Kiawah in many ways but is even smaller and more private. Like Kiawah, it also has great golfing and other club activities, and is big on wildlife, nature, and conservation. One fun feature is the Equestrian Center, which offers horse rides on the beach and horse-riding lessons to people of all skill levels.

Because you can’t just visit for the day (unless you’re the guest of someone already on the island), the beaches on Seabrook Island are a good choice if you want a high-end yet quiet family vacation on a gorgeous private island.

Moving to the Greater Charleston, SC Area?

The beaches in the Charleston area are just one of its many high points. If you’re looking to move to the Charleston, SC area, give me a call. My name is Kenton Selvey and I’m an experienced Realtor with William Means. I’m ready to help you find your dream home. Call me at 843-806-7222 or email me here. I look forward to hearing from you!