Charleston’s bustling downtown area is a major attraction in this historic coastal town; the King Street shops are the top of mind. But, the gorgeous beaches should be an integral part of your Charleston itinerary. The coastal islands offer some of the best beaches in South Carolina.
With a short drive or wind-in-your-hair boat ride, you can be exploring a serene beach, frolicking at a family-friendly sandy locale, or enjoying a lively oceanside recreation zone. The beach towns and island playgrounds will add a relaxing vibe to your Charleston getaway.
Best For Lively Entertainment
When you want to be in the middle of all the action, Folly Beach is the best entertainment beach in the Charleston area.
1. Folly Beach
Folly Beach, known to locals as “The Edge of America,” is a barrier island between the Folly River and the Atlantic Ocean. By day, Folly Beach is a fun, family-friendly beach frequented by Charlestonians and vacationers in search of some fun in the sun. By night, the lively main drag is a hot spot for sun-tanned revelers looking for the perfect beach day ending with great seafood, fun libations, and rockin’ music.
Of course, Folly Beach is blessed with a beautiful sandy beach to lounge away the day. The Folly Beach Pier is under reconstruction and is scheduled to open again in the spring of 2023. However, the deck and restrooms are open for public use and offer a great view.
Grab a nosh at The Crab Shack where you will be perfectly comfortable in casual beach togs and flip flops. Another fun Folly Beach joint is Rita’s Seaside Grill where you can kick back and enjoy a relaxing meal. When the sun goes down, the lights come up and Center Street’s rooftop venues turn up the music and party atmosphere.
Street parking with the Passport Parking app is plentiful for early beach goers. Using the app is easy and you can add time with your phone without ever leaving your blanket if you choose to stay longer.
Pro Tip: The Folly Beach County Park offers clean restrooms, picnic facilities, and dressing rooms. It is a good spot for families or groups with youngsters.
Best For Quiet Beach Walks
Some beach adventures require quiet and solitude, which can be challenging to find in popular vacation spots. Three island beaches near Charleston offer guests a place to soak up the southern coastal sunshine while maintaining their own personal, zen vibe.
2. Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is a charming island accessible by a bridge. A smaller beach by barrier island standards at just over 3 miles long, the beach, at low tide, is exceptionally wide and welcoming.
In bygone days, visitors were shuttled around Sullivan’s Island on an electric trolley, stopping at public beach access points called stations. The station reference remains today, and you will notice each beach stop referred to by its station number. Plan a romantic sunset on the beach. Secure a blanket spot at station 18 by the lighthouse to watch the sun fade to orange over the horizon.
After the gorgeous sunset, head over to the Obstinate Daughter for exceptional lowcountry favorites served with a European flare. Consider their Miss Cina Pizza with red and green tomatoes topped with mozzarella and basil for a relaxing dinner.
Pro Tip: Explore Fort Moultrie while visiting Sullivan’s Island. This fort has been reinvented many times over the years and you can see a timeline that begins in 1776 highlighting the Fort’s evolution through World War II.
3. Bulls Island
When you are longing for a slice of nature, the rough, uninhabited Bulls Island will soothe your soul with its rugged beauty.
The famous Boneyard Beach is home to fallen, sun-bleached trees. The expansive eerie sight is reminiscent of an abandoned burial ground strewn with gigantic bones. A slow and peaceful walk through the cemetery of trees is the perfect spot for personal reflection. Created by intense hurricane damage, the beach is a reminder of the ferocity of Mother Nature’s power.
Bulls Island is a naturalist’s escape and intriguing laboratory. It is an important stop on the migratory bird path and is home to a wonderful array of birds. The Carolina Bird Club has an extensive list of sited migratory and native birds. Rare bird sightings on Bulls Island include the masked bobby, magnificent frigatebird, common eider, western kingbird, fork-tailed flycatcher, and snow bunting.
Pro Tip: The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge runs ferries to Bulls Island. The schedule varies by season and days of the week; refer to the website for the most up-to-the-minute schedule information.
4. Capers Island
Isolated and uninhabited, Capers Island is easily accessible by kayak or boat. You will find another boneyard beach on Capers Island reflecting the island’s weather-beaten history.
Rent a kayak from Charleston Kayak for a glorious on-the-water workout and a fairly secluded island to explore as your reward. For visitors who would prefer not to paddle, Barrier Island Eco Tours offers a half-day trip out to Capers Island with a focus on the local marine life and ecology.
Pro Tip: The coastline is heavily vegetative, so sunbathing is not the best reason to visit. Capers Island is the perfect island for adventurous explorers.
Best For Family Enjoyment
Bring the kids, grandkids, and best friends to these three Charleston beaches for a family fun beach vacation getaway.
5. Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms Beach is a vacation destination that invites families and friends to relax and enjoy oceanfront rentals, charming beachy establishments, and ample parking for day-trippers.
The 7-mile stretch of soft white sand is a playground for beach lovers along with a seemingly endless soft, wave-dodging walking path. Apply copious amounts of sunblock and build giant sandcastles. Isle of Palms is the prescription for bringing joy and laughter into your getaway.
During sea turtles’ nursery season (May–October), Isle of Palms is popular with loggerhead turtles nesting and caring for their eggs and hatchlings. These amazing creatures are making a comeback from severely dwindling numbers. You may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a nest in a cordoned-off dune.
Pro Tip: Public beach access paths are plentiful; narrow lanes sit between residential and getaway structures along Ocean Boulevard.
6. Kiawah Island
The beautiful island of Kiawah is one of Charleston’s worst kept secrets — everyone wants to be there when the sun is shining and the temperature is rising.
The public beach, Kiawah Beachwalker Park, is a long and lovely white sand beach. Access to the beach is provided by a wooden boardwalk that slowly meanders through the dunes from a small parking lot. If you want a parking space during prime season, plan to arrive early.
A large section of Kiawah Island is a gated community with no public beach access. Gorgeous rentals like this five-star ocean view property are the key to your private island getaway stay. Alternatively, the luxurious five-star oceanfront hotel, The Sanctuary, is an oasis of casual elegance and indulgence.
Enjoy a lovely lunch or relaxing dinner at The Sanctuary’s Jasmine Porch restaurant. Serving elegant dishes in classic southern style, the staff tends to guests like Carolina royalty. Another gorgeous setting to enjoy a light lunch or libation is the Ryder Cup Bar at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
Pro Tip: You need a plan when visiting Kiawah Island. Early arrival for a day at the beach or reservations at Jasmine porch and you will thoroughly enjoy your visit. Check out our Kiawah Island destination guide to get you started on the right path.
7. Edisto Beach
South of Kiawah Island and a little over an hour from Charleston sits Edisto Beach State Park. It features toes-in-the-sand fun for the entire family along with hiking, biking, an educational center, and lots of trails to explore.
Overnight campsites are available through the South Carolina State Park reservation system. You can enjoy the park with rustic tent and camper sites that allow you to immerse yourself in this wooded refuge.
If you need something a little less camping focused, this ocean view cottage sleeps 12 — perfect for a family reunion gathering at the beach. Spacious and family friendly, it comes with a five-star review from happy guests. What better way to enjoy your family getaway; everyone gathered together for a long weekend of beachy fun.
Charleston’s South Carolina Coast
You will be delighted when you visit these gorgeous white sand beaches in Charleston and the nearby area. Whether you are looking for a peaceful spot to rejuvenate, a romantic getaway, or a family reunion, you will find just the right vibe on these soft sand, sunshine kissed beaches.
While you are visiting Charleston, make sure you experience the amazing restaurants in the area. Our Best Restaurants in Charleston recommendations will point you in the right dining direction. When you are ready to plan your getaway to this delightful southern coastal city, Explore Charleston has all the up-to-date information about the city’s beaches.
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