What Are The Best Beaches In Charleston?
Pack up your towels, beach umbrellas, and sunscreen – it’s time to go to the best beaches in Charleston and get your fun and sun on!
But doesn’t Charleston have several beaches? What would locals call the best beaches in Charleston? It’s true that Charleston is home to several of the best beaches on the East Coast, and the best one for you will depend on your group’s preferences. Ahead, we’ll break down each beach in Charleston and share all the fun things to do in the area.
Isle of Palms – One Of The Best Beaches In Charleston For Families
Sprawling 12 miles north of historic downtown Charleston, Isle of Palms boasts an immaculate coastline, a smattering of nearby bars and restaurants, a world-class resort and golf course, and a well-maintained marina.
When you’re not building sandcastles on the beach with your family or admiring dolphins from the shore, you can enjoy a round of beach volleyball at The Windjammer – which also serves as a bar and concert venue – or savor an ice cream cone at Duney’s Ice Cream Shop at Wild Dunes Resort. Throughout the island, there are several launch points for paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, and the Intracoastal Waterway is an accessible place for your young ones to learn how to paddle.
Regarding accommodations, many people opt to rent a vacation house along Palm Boulevard or several streets back so that they can easily walk with their kids to and from the beach with beach gear in tow. Wild Dunes Resort is by far the best hotel on the Isle of Palms, and guests can choose among luxurious rooms, suites, or condominiums.
You’ll find no shortage of tasty restaurants on Isle of Palms, including plenty of kid-friendly and fresh seafood options. Many locals consider Acme Lowcountry Kitchen to be IOP’s best restaurant, which serves Southern staples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For a more upscale experience, enjoy delectable Italian cuisine on Coda del Pesce’s waterfront terrace. If you stay at Wild Dunes Resort, you’ll definitely want to check out their on-site restaurant Coastal Provisions, which serves upscale, locally-sourced seafood fare along with other decadent entrees. Isle of Palms is easily one of the best beaches in Charleston for finding exceptional food.
Sullivan’s Island – Charleston's Beach With The Best Food
If you drive across Breach’s Inlet from the Isle of Palms, you’ll enter into Sullivan’s Island, SC. As you meander from “station” to “station,” as the beach access points are labeled, you’ll feel simultaneously worlds away from humanity while in awe of the grand beach vacation homes on either side of the avenue.
Sullivan’s Island is one of best beaches in Charleston for biking around with family, as the only traffic in the area is relegated to the condensed dining area on Middle Street. That said, if you’re looking for the beach with the best food options in Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is also your best bet.
Most restaurants are located on Middle Street, where parking can be somewhat difficult to find (hence, the reason for taking bikes!) Home Team BBQ serves some of the best barbeque in Charleston and has a great outdoor patio or bar area where you can watch the game. Across the street, sink your teeth into a monstrous juicy burger at Poe’s Tavern, a gastropub named after the notorious poet Edgar Allan Poe, who was shipped to Sullivan’s Island as a military officer from 1827-1828.
The Obstinate Daughter holds court as the best restaurant on Sullivan’s Island. The beautiful space serves Southern fare influenced by Spanish, Italian, and French cuisine and houses a homemade gelato shop downstairs for a sweet ending to any meal. If you’re looking for a grab-and-go option for a beach picnic, order a slew of sandwiches at The Co-Op, which also serves several varieties of fro-se to thirsty beach-goers. You can even order online and have your items ready for pickup when you arrive!
Discretion is advised, as Sullivan’s Island (and all Charleston beaches) impose a strict penalty for drinking on the beach. Per locals’ advice, as long as you are respectful of others, pick up your trash, and keep any alcoholic beverages tucked away in a cooler, you should be able to enjoy a beverage on the beach. Sullivan's Island is by far one of the best beaches in Charleston for experiencing what it's really like to live at the beach, and the city wishes to maintain that welcoming and inviting atmosphere.
Folly Beach – The Most Laidback Beach In Charleston
Come kick it at the infamous Edge of America! Folly Beach welcomes people from all walks of life to its eclectic and laid-back Center Street. Here, visitors can enjoy a diverse array of affordable food options within close walking distance of the beach. Rita’s Seaside Grille serves up juicy, mouthwatering burgers while you can indulge in a trio of salsas and frozen screwdrivers at the spectacularly colorful and whimsical Taco Boy.
Folly Beach visitors frequently find prehistoric shark teeth on the beach. Grab a bucket and start your beachcombing!
If you turn left off of Center Street and follow the shoreline, you’ll encounter what’s colloquially known as the Washout – a surfing spot beloved by locals and surfers who travel to Folly Beach for excellent surf. Folly Beach is indubitably one of the best beaches in Charleston for surfing. Drive further down and park on the right side of the road to park and walk the graffiti-splattered Morris Island Lighthouse Trail for entrancing views of the water-encompassed tower.
Should you turn right off of Center Street instead, you can enjoy a leisurely cruise past impressive beachfront homes before smacking into Folly Beach County Park. Families with children may love this option because their entry pass includes direct beach access, beach chair and umbrella rentals, lifeguards on duty in the on-season, restrooms and showers, and a seasonal snack bar. Like Isle of Palms, Folly Beach (County Park) is another one of the best beaches in Charleston for families with kids.
Here’s another hidden gem you’ll encounter on your way to (or from) Folly Beach: Bowen’s Island. Just as you’re leaving James Island in your rearview mirror on Folly Road, you’ll pass a large sign on your right pointing you down a narrow causeway to Bowen’s Island Restaurant.
This restaurant – known for its locally harvested oysters, Frogmore stew, and cold beer – has a long and storied history dating back to 1946. It has a large outdoor deck overlooking the marsh and a small indoor dining room with a casual, beachy vibe. Bowen’s Island is a perfect place to introduce young kids to seafood dishes they may not have tried before! Folly Beach is one of the best beaches in Charleston for enjoying local oysters!
Kiawah Island – The Most Beautiful Beach In Charleston
Recently recognized as one of the top ten beaches in America and the top 15 happiest places to live on the coast, Kiawah Island is no stranger to coastal accolades. Much of Kiawah’s allure undoubtedly stems from its pristine natural beauty. Sweeping dunes, winking blue waters, and meandering shoreline are just a few fixtures of this lush maritime forest.
Tourists travel from all over the country to comb the Kiawah beaches for whelks, conchs, and sand dollars, or to play golf at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, consistently heralded in Gold Digest as one of the top ten golf courses in the United States. Kiawah Island has some of the best beaches in Charleston for avid bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts – it’s certainly the beach where you’re most likely to encounter an alligator crossing the road!
The best place to stay on Kiawah Island will depend on your group’s needs and preferences, but most choose Kiawah to stay at one of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s accommodations:
- The Sanctuary Hotel – a 5-star property with excellent amenities
- Resort villas – comfortable rentals with exclusive resort access
- Private homes – luxurious vacation residences for attaining peak island vibes
- Cottages at The Ocean Course – 4-bedroom golf cottages located on the Ocean Course
Some of the best restaurants on Kiawah Island are at The Sanctuary Hotel. Jasmine Porch is the resort’s signature restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. While the menu changes seasonally, diners can expect delicious Southern staples with surprising twists, like cheddar-bacon corn fritters with hot honey and warm pimento cheese spread for a starter or swordfish bouillabaisse with heirloom tomato and saffron broth as an entree. Overall, Kiawah Island is one of the best beaches in Charleston for vacationers seeking a luxurious retreat.
Seabrook Island – One Of The Best Beaches In Charleston For Recreation
Not too far from Kiawah Island, you’ll find one of the best beaches in Charleston for privacy and restoration. The beaches at Seabrook Island are accessible to residents and visitors who stay in the community’s private homes or vacation rentals. There is also limited public access to the beach at the Seabrook Island Beach Club.
At the beach club, guests additionally enjoy access to two swimming pools (including one with a waterslide!) indoor and outdoor dining options, and plenty of options for recreation. Guests can experience playing on two championship golf courses, play doubles at the tournament-caliber tennis center, saddle up at the state-of-the-art equestrian center, and get in some laps at the swimming/fitness complex.
Staying on Seabrook Island? Choose between house or villa rentals tucked into the maritime forest or facing the oceanfront. Guests will also find satisfying dining options like Red’s Ice House, a popular seafood restaurant and bar located at Bohicket Marina (great for waterfront dining). If you’re seeking sandwiches and salads, the Osprey Cafe in Seabrook Island Club is great for outdoor dining or grab-and-go fare.