Charleston, South Carolina is known for its beautiful 1940's pastel colored row houses, historic charm, fabulous shopping and top-notch dining scene! Since Charleston is geographically situated on a peninsula, travelers and residents also can get away from the city and enjoy multiple beaches all within an hours drive of downtown.
South Carolina has some of the best beaches in the country, beautiful wide open smooth light sand, warm yet refreshing water, breathtaking views, and gorgeous weather year round. No matter what type of beach experience you are looking for, the beaches of the Lowcountry have the answer to all of your wishes!
Whether you are in town visiting or new to the area we have come up with the Ultimate Charleston Beach Guide, showcasing below 6 beaches all within an hour drive of downtown Charleston. Each beach has its own unique character and feel. Below we have provided detailed descriptions including restaurant suggestions, beach parking, surf spots, public access points, and more to allow you to make sure your next trip to the beach is nothing but fabulous!
Edisto Island Beach
Starting with our furthest option South of Charleston, clocking in at a little over an hour drive would be Edisto Island Beach. Edisto Beach is the perfect place for those strictly looking for that beach vacation. Edisto is extremely small and one of the few non-commercialized beaches left in SC with no bowling alleys, movie theaters, or much of a nightlife.
The atmosphere makes Edisto a great place to wind-down, disconnect, and enjoy the beauty of the beach and all the entertainment the ocean has to offer. Rent a house with a large group of friends or family and enjoy a week soaking up the sun and enjoying good company.
As for the few attractions that are on the island, heading into Edisto you pass Edisto Beach State Park which is one of the 4 oceanfront state parks in South Carolina with camping and trailer sites as well as hiking trails, and various learning centers throughout the park. Edisto also has Shell Island for my fellow seashell lovers! Shell Island is a sandbar island across from Jeremy's Inlet that is only reachable by boat, for information on how to get there click the link above.
If you are looking from the beach, in the heart of downtown is the Plantation Course at Edisto. The Plantation Course is the main golf course on the island and has a great history dating back to its origin in 1973.
Once you have spent the day in the sun and sand and are ready for some grub try one of these three awesome restaurants on the island.
- Whaley's Restaurant & Bar - located at an old filling station Whaley's has great choices for the whole family from fresh seafood to excellent burgers and fries!
- Dockside Restaurant - Edisto's oldest waterfront bar and restaurant attracting a lot of locals. Serving up traditional fresh seafood dishes with a great bar scene!
- The Waterfront Restaurant - owned and operated by a island natives, Susan and Scot Flowers whose name upholds 4 generations in the Edisto Seafood Industry. The Waterfront serves seasonal fresh seafood in a casual atmosphere.
Heading North back up the coast in the direction of downtown Charleston the next beach you come across is Seabrook Island. About a 45 minute drive from Charleston, Seabrook Island is about 3 miles of beautifully preserved beach access private only to residents and rental guests only. Seabrook Island is the perfect getaway for those looking for extreme privacy, you'll feel as if your the only people on the beach! The area is home to a lush maritime forest, and beautiful coastal wildlife. The winding streets surrounding private homes, condos, and rental villas are lined with live oaks and hanging Spanish moss.
Seabrook Island is the perfect destination to completely "getaway" from the distractions of life,disconnect from the world, and enjoy the beauty of nature. Aside from the beach, is the Seabrook Island Beach Club. Here guests and members can enjoy two state of the art swimming pools with towel service, a game room with ping pong, billiards, foosball, etc. When your hungry stop in and enjoy a drink and appetizer at Pelican’s Nest right next to the pool or one of the other dining locations located at the Beach Club.
Finish off the evening by heading to Bohicket Marina for a sunset stroll by the water, where you can book your next sailing or charter fishing trip.
The island is also home to the Seabrook Island Golf Course which has been referred to as a "Golfers Paradise" because of the 36 unique holes of pristine championship golf and uncrowded playing conditions. Seabrook Island will not disappoint so plan your next trip today!
Kiawah Island Beach
Next up after Seabrook Island comes Kiawah Island, which is comprised of 10 miles long of beautiful beach. About 35-40 minutes from downtown, Kiawah has two areas commonly referred to on the island as East Beach and West Beach. Similar to Seabrook, Kiawah Island is very private and only offers one public beach called Beachwalker Park located on the west end (West Beach) of the island.
Beachwalker Park can get busy on the weekends in the summertime but other then that is fairly quiet for a public park, it fronts the ocean but also offers wonderful views of the Kiawah River. Parking prices can vary based on the season, and there are restrooms open year around as well as access to picnic areas and grills. Beach chair and umbrella rentals are available during prime beach season, and dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.
Another well known resort, Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers 5 legendary state of the art golf courses. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort is home The Sanctuary Hotel the islands luxurious oceanfront hotel, and also has a large selection of rental villas and homes. Their are over a dozen restaurants, cafes, and lounges on the resort each with its own unique selection showcasing seasonal ingredients from local Lowcountry farmers and fishermen. Click for more information on Kiawah Island dining options.
Folly Beach, also commonly referred to as the "Edge of America" is one of the most "happening" beaches in the greater Charleston area. Located about 12 miles from downtown Charleston, this barrier island has an extremely laid-back beach vibe. With only one way in and one way out, Folly Beach traffic can get hectic on the weekends so plan on getting a head start and leaving at a decent time!
You enter into the town on Center Street and immediately sense the mellow beach-town feel. Spanning about five to six city blocks Center Street offers multiple choices of restaurants, surf shops, souvenir shops, rental equipment booths, and much more.
If you are looking for any necessary beach supplies take a pit stop at Bert's Market, they have THE BEST made to order deli sandwiches and lots of other beach necessities! As for souvenirs stop at Mr. Johns Beach Store which has been open since 1951!
Center Street comes to a dead end in front of the Tides Hotel, the light before is Ashley Avenue. A left on Ashley Avenue will take you to the west side of the island and dead end at the Folly Beach County Park, parking is available here but limited.
The Folly Beach Pier, spans 1045 feet out into the Atlantic and is 25-feet wide and 23-feet above sea level recognized as the second longest pier on the east coast. The pier is a great place to walk and enjoy the spectacular views of the ocean, fish, and dine!
If you are into water sports; surfing, skim boarding, paddle boarding, etc. Folly Beach is the areas best surf spot. "The Washout" on the far east end of the island is where you will find the best waves and most of your local surfers.
On the northeast end of the island is the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, which played a significant role in the Civil War and was also used throughout the twentieth century by the US Coast Guard. Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve is a perfect spot for surf fishing, runs or walks, birding, and the best place to view Morris Island Lighthouse, located about 300 yards off shore.
Public beach access points are scattered up and down the strip with limited parking but plenty of street parking on inland streets (just remember all tires need to be off the pavement)!
As for dining options, Folly has the largest selection out of the beaches in the greater Charleston areas. Here are a few that cater to everyone:
- BLU: apart of the Tides Hotel has a great indoor/outdoor restaurant located right next to the beach. BLU is a great place to grab a drink and apps while enjoying the beautiful ocean breeze.
- Pier 101: another great waterside dining option, Pier 101 is located on the Folly Beach Pier and is a wonderful family friendly dining option with choices for everyone!
- Lost Dog Cafe: one of the best breakfast and brunch spots in all of Charleston! Dog friendly well known spot with excellent Bloody Mary's.
- Surf Bar: Surf Bar’s vibe and design matches the beach town feel of Folly Beach. Another locals favorite with a great selection of wood fired burgers, cheese steaks, and tacos!
The town of Sullivan's Island is a barrier island north of the Charleston harbor with great history and a local population of about 2,000 residents. Sullivan's Island, about 10 minutes or less from downtown Charleston was once dominated by Fort Moultrie which was the base of command for the defense of Charleston until the 1940's.
Today, Fort Moultrie has been restored to showcase the major periods of its history and war and is open to visitors for views and tours. Built in 1962, located just off the shore adjacent to Fort Moultrie is the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, which is known as one of the most modern lighthouses in the country. The Sullivan's Island Lighthouse is a must see and one of the best photo opportunities in the area!
Sullivan's Island is one of the locals favorite beach spots! While neighboring, Isle of Palms (next on the list) has the lively resort feel, Sullivan's Island has kept the sleepy beach town feel that locals love! The island is very quaint and calm with no hotels and only a very small selection of rental properties. Middle Street runs from one end of the island to the other and the "downtown" strip lasts no more than a mile with only a handful of restaurants and stores.
Similar to Folly Beach, the bridge leading into Sullivan's Island can develop heavy traffic especially on the weekends so plan to head to the beach early. There are no public parking lots located on Sullivan's but plenty of street parking available, just look out for private property signs and make sure all wheels are off the pavement! Public beach access paths are located at every block the entire length of the island making the navigation of parking a little easier for beach comers.
Sullivan's Island is a great beach for everyone! Some days the swell can bring in the perfect conditions for kite-boarders and windsurfers as well as an occasional set of good waves for the surfers. There are multiple drop-in points along the marsh side of Sullivan's Island offering easy access to those looking to paddle-board or kayak.
Once finished for the day, head into to the business district (Middle Street) and try one of these awesome restaurants!
- The Obstinate Daughter: with a name referencing the sweet history of the island, The Obstinate Daughter will not disappoint. Pizza, pasta, small plates and a raw bar are the focus of the menu.
- Poe's Tavern: one of the most popular locations on the island, famous for their burgers! Also, located next to Poe's is a public park with a playground and basketball courts for the kiddos!
- Dunleavy's Pub: family owned and operated for over 25 years Dunleavy's is an awesome Irish Pub with great specials and one of the first restaurants you see as you head into the island.
Last but not least, before heading home stop by Breech Inlet (another excellent photo opportunity), this is where a bridge connects Sullivan's Island to Isle of Palms and enjoy breathtaking views of two of the best South Carolina beaches!
Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms is located 12 miles northeast of downtown Charleston and just a few minutes away from Mount Pleasant and neighboring Sullivan's Island. Isle of Palms, referred to by locals as IOP is separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway and is an extremely family friendly beach. I would say Isle of Palms is the most "touristy" of the Charleston area beaches.
If you are heading to the beach with a large group of family and friends, Isle of Palms is a great choice since it has an extremely large selection of rental properties, hotels, resorts, restaurants, shops, and a full-service grocery store so you won't even have to leave the island!
Isle of Palms has so many awesome activities for kids of all ages! There is a marina, a top-notch golf resort Wild Dunes, souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream, beach volleyball, and much more. The main business district and public beach area is known as "Front Beach" located on Ocean Boulevard from 10th Ave. to 14th Ave. Along "Front Beach" you will find lifeguards on duty seasonally and the Isle of Palms County Park has an awesome playground located directly on the sand with picnic tables, grills, public restrooms, and outdoor showers.
As for parking, visitors will find metered parking along Ocean Boulevard between 10th-14th Ave. Make sure you find the closest kiosk once parked and purchase the appropriate amount of time and place the receipt on the dash so it is visible. If there are no metered spots available the City has two public parking lots close to Front Beach located on Pavilion Drive. One lot offers handicapped parking options as well as season-long parking for those who have purchased a decal from the Public Safely Building. These lots are managed just like the meters by automated parking kiosks, the fee is $1 per hour and the lots run from 8 AM - 8 PM.
Click on this LINK to see a map of paid beach parking locations on Isle of Palms.
Isle of Palms Dining options:
- Coconut Joe's: this oceanfront dining spot has a casual family friendly atmosphere and has everything from fried seafood platters, tacos, burgers, and sandwiches.
- Windjammer: Isle of Palms favorite party spot that overlooks the ocean and showcases a variety of live music acts and a beach volleyball court, serving great food and drinks.
- Acme Lowcountry Kitchen: serves upscale Southern Coastal Cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Has indoor and outdoor seating available and dining options for the whole family.
Another great place to stay on Isle of Palms located at the far end of the island is the Wild Dunes Resort, which will give you that all-inclusive resort styled vacation. Guests who book accommodations through Wild Dunes Resort receive exclusive access to all private resort amenities such as equipment rentals, bike rentals, tennis courts, swimming pools, fitness centers, dining options, and more. If you are a golfer, Golf Digest listed The Wild Dunes Resort course as one of the "Best in State" for golf in South Carolina.
Photo: Getty Images