Every summer, people from all over the country drive to South Carolina to spend the summer on the beaches surrounding Charleston. The best way to experience the summer in Charleston is to rent a beach house and spend your afternoons sipping sweet tea at one of the nearby restaurants in between tanning. Each beach has its own distinct personality and may better suit families or young people.
Folly, known as “The Edge of America,” is the more funky of Charleston beaches. While it does get a large amount of tourists because of the cheaper rentals, there is a definite party vibe.
Folly is the only beach that you can drink on, in plastic containers, and the Fourth of July is the biggest blowout in town. Editor’s Note: Drinking is no longer allowed on the beach because of abuse of the policy and trash on the beach. You enter on Folly Road and can turn left or right for beach access. The left is the east side and right is the west side with streets numbered on both sides.
Getting there: From downtown Charleston, take Savannah Highway or the James Island Expressway to State Highway 171, also known as Folly Road. Turn left on Folly Road and continue until you arrive on Folly Beach.
Staying there: Renting a beach house is the most popular choice for staying on Folly. Fred Holland Realty is the top dog on the island with plenty of rentals to choose from. HomeAway also has good options. I’ve used both many times and had great experiences. The local hotels include the Water’s Edge Inn and Tides Folly Beach.
Restaurants: There are plenty of places to eat on Folly Island proper. My favorites are Taco Boy and Rita’s Seaside Grille. I’ve also heard good things about BLU Restaurant & Bar, Folly Beach Crab Shack and Drop In Deli. Another favorite of mine is Bowen’s Island Restaurant on James Island. Read the Charleston City Paper’s Folly Beach recommendations for more suggestions.
Shopping on Folly is limited to souvenir shops and beach and surf stores. Kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, not to mention surfing, will keep you fit during your stay on Folly. Renting a kayak allows you to see things that you can’t see on land, namely the Morris Island Lighthouse. Many of the kayaking tours leave from Bowen’s Island.
Another interesting sight on the way to Folly is the Sheepman Graffiti wall on James Island located behind a shopping center at 1409 Folly Road. If you take East Ashley Avenue all the way to the end, you can park and walk the pedestrian path to the beach. There are the graffitied remains of houses destroyed by Hurricane Hugo and the best view of the lighthouse. Another island pastime is painting the Folly Boat, which washed up after the hurricane and has been painted for every occasion since. *It has since washed away.
Isle of Palms
If the beaches were a family, Isle of Palms would be the older, wealthier member. The rentals are more pricey, as are the stores. There are fewer restaurant options, but it’s a short drive to Mount Pleasant.
Getting there: Take US-17 to Mount Pleasant. You can either turn right at the fork in the bridge to go towards Sullivan’s Island and turn left for Isle of Palms or continue on US-17 through Mount Pleasant before turning onto the Isle of Palms Connector.
Staying there: Island Realty has the most rentals on the isle, but ResortQuest and Beach Vacations also dominate rentals. I also recommend Vacation Rentals By Owner, a subsidiary of HomeAway. Wild Dunes Resort is the mega-resort on the island and is one of Travel + Leisure‘s top resorts for families. There are also smaller hotels and inns.
Restaurants: Acme Lowcountry Kitchen is one of the more casual restaurants on IOP with Tex-Mex fare while Luke ‘n Ollie’s Pizzeria has reasonably priced pizza. The Boathouse at Breach Inlet is more on the fine dining end, as is Morgan Creek Grill. Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is close enough with cheaper seafood options. Read the Charleston City Paper’s Isle of Palms recommendations for more suggestions.
Grocery store options on the island are slim, with Harris Teeter and the Marina store, but there is a Target just across the bridge in Mount Pleasant.
The locals love Sullivan’s Island because it’s less touristy and the beaches are clean. It’s frequented mostly by families. Part-time residents like Bill Murray, musicians Band of Horses, and ex-wife of the former South Carolina governor Jenny Sanford have made homes here. There are great views of the Morris Island Lighthouse and the cargo ships entering the Charleston Harbor.
Getting there: Take US-17 north to Mount Pleasant and veer right on the Ravenel Bridge. Continue along Coleman Boulevard until you reach Middle Street on Sullivan’s Island.
Staying there: I recommend Vacation Rentals By Owner and HomeAway are the way to go for rentals because there aren’t any hotels to speak of on the island.
Restaurants: Poe’s Tavern is my absolute favorite on Sullivan’s not to mention Charleston. They have burgers and fish tacos named for one of the island’s one-time residents. Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ and Dunleavy’s Pub are also good options. Read the Charleston City Paper’s Sullivan’s Island recommendations for more suggestions.
As with the other beaches, bike and kayak rentals are a good activity for all ages. There’s also Fort Moultrie, one of the defenses during the Civil War.