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.
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Folly, known as “The Edge of America,” is the funkier of Charleston beaches. While it does get a large number 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.
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.
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. Folly Beach rentals range in size and price, but are the most affordable option, especially for groups.
Tides Folly Beach is centrally located on the island with sleek rooms with balconies, an onsite restaurant, a fitness center, and an outdoor pool. The adults-only Water’s Edge Inn offers complimentary breakfast, bike rentals, and a great location.
There are plenty of places to eat on Folly Island proper. My favorites are Taco Boy and Rita’s Seaside Grille. Drop-In Deli has sandwiches perfect for a quick bite and also delivers to the beach. Lost Dog Cafe is a favorite for breakfast. Another favorite of mine is Bowen’s Island Restaurant on James Island. Read the Charleston City Paper’s Folly Beach recommendations for more suggestions.
If you prefer to cook your own meals, there is Bert’s Market on Folly proper, which has less selection and higher prices. Otherwise, stop at the Bi-Lo on James Island on your way in. Shopping on Folly is limited to souvenir shops and beach and surf stores.
What to Do
Kayaking and stand up paddle boarding, 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.
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.
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.
Wild Dunes Resort was established on Isle of Palms in 1975 by the Sea Pines Company who previously developed Hilton Head Island. They own a number of properties on the island, including Boardwalk Inn and the main resort. Seaside Inn is a budget-friendly beachfront hotel. The Palms Oceanfront Hotel is mid-range with stylish furnishings.
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.
What to Do
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. 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.
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.
Sullivan’s Island doesn’t have any hotels but Sullivan’s Island rentals are the best way to stay on the island.
Poe’s Tavern is named for Edgar Allen Poe and is a neighborhood watering hole that serves up burgers and tacos, as well as craft beer. High Thyme has been open since 2003, serving upscale American cuisine in the casual beach town. They’re open for dinner and Sunday brunch.
The Obstinate Daughter has a raw bar, pizza, and pasta and is a certified “green” restaurant. Home Team BBQ and Dunleavy’s Pub are also good options. Read the Charleston City Paper’s Sullivan’s Island recommendations for more suggestions.