It’s no secret; I’m a fan of South Carolina. Maybe that’s because I live in Minnesota and any break from cold and snow is a good one. Maybe it’s because, while we live in the land of 10,000 lakes, there’s something to be said for peering out over the vast Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe it’s because there’s something special about the barrier islands and beach towns on the east coast. Case in point: Folly Beach.
A few years ago when my husband Dean and I started trying different snowbird destinations, one location we explored was Folly Beach, which is about 12 miles south of downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
This coastal beach town made a lasting impression and we love it as our home base to explore the area. Here are a few of our favorite things to do.
1. Folly Beach
The star of the show is Folly Beach, the namesake of the town itself. It’s a beautiful, expansive beach right on the Atlantic that has miles of great walking and exploring — or renting paddle boards, relaxing with a good book, watching an informal game of beach volleyball, or hearing the laughter of kids building sandcastles. In short, Folly Beach checks all the boxes on reasons why people love the beach! Seeing dolphins swimming right offshore was another bonus to our Minnesota eyes.
Pro Tip: In addition to street parking, the largest parking lot can be found at the end of West Ashley Avenue at Folly Beach County Park. You’ll pay a parking fee (not unusual for this area), but since most activities, shops, and restaurants are further east, the beach is also quieter here.
2. Folly Beach Fishing Pier
The newly replaced Folly Beach fishing pier is at the heart of the beach, and it’s a great place for ocean views, or to watch hopeful fishermen try their luck, scan the waters for dolphins, or catch the sunrise. It was an easy walk from our beachfront condo rental.
Pro Tip: Folly Beach is a beach town through and through, with surf shops and rentals of all kinds. A popular source for rentals, from umbrellas to beach chairs to kayaks (and more), is Folly Beach Adventures.
3. Loggerhead Turtle Nesting Area
Folly Beach is a loggerhead sea turtle nesting area. We were there in March, but a sign in our condo told us about regulations in effect from May to October, from dusk to dawn: “Close curtains and blinds, turn off all lights that illuminate the beach.” Baby loggerheads that hatch on Folly Beach need a dark beach so they can use the moon to find their way to the ocean. It’s one more reason to love Folly Beach.
Pro Tip: Respect for the uniqueness of this area can also be seen in the grassroots preservation of the Morris Island Lighthouse, located just off the northern end of Folly Beach. Check out their “Save The Light” effort that salutes maritime history here.
4. Restaurants In And Near Folly Beach
Loggerheads Beach Grill
If you’re looking for a great place with a casual vibe, Loggerheads Beach Grill is a great place for seafood, burgers, and cocktails with a large outdoor deck and additional seating inside.
The Lost Dog Café
The Lost Dog Café is a laid-back and delicious choice for breakfast and lunch. Their breakfast menu is filled with good things like homemade muffins, breakfast burritos, and cinnamon rolls, and their lunch options are equally tempting. We enjoyed their shrimp po’ boy sandwich and a classic burger and French fries.
The Washout And The Crab Shack
Seafood is plentiful on Folly Beach, and two places we didn’t get to but are very popular are The Washout and the Crab Shack, both located on Center Street.
Seafood tacos are common beach fare, and The Washout’s blackened mahi tacos and grilled shrimp tacos are local favorites. Check their nightly calendar of events — everything from cornhole to oyster roasts.
The Crab Shack has been an island staple for 20 years. I wish we had known what their website says, “the locals will tell you is the best restaurant on the beach,” because we would have been “all in” on giving their seafood baskets or steamed buckets a try.
Bowen’s Island Seafood
For authentic Lowcountry fare, look no further than Bowen’s Island, about 3 miles inland of Folly Beach. This no-frills place is a best-kept secret because it doesn’t look like much, but it’s all about the fresh seafood.
Since 1946, they’ve been serving locally harvested oysters, shrimp, hushpuppies, and Lowcountry boil (also called Frogmore stew). I overdid it with a seafood platter of fried shrimp, fish, hushpuppies, French fries, and a side cucumber/tomato/onion salad, but that meant plenty of leftovers for the next day. We loved eating out on the deck facing the peaceful river and marsh views.
Pro Tip: Dinner is first come, first served, and they don’t take reservations. Check the website for hours and go at an “off hour” to minimize the wait.
The Tattooed Moose
Another part of the Folly Island culinary experience can be found at The Tattooed Moose on nearby John’s Island. It’s famous for duck fat fries. Not fans of duck, we passed on that option and ordered Rueben and pulled pork sandwiches. The food was good, but I can’t help but feel we missed the boat on the fries. When you go, maybe you’ll be willing to give them a try!
5. Joe Riley Waterfront Park
Just a short drive from Folly Beach, Charleston is full of great things to do. We enjoyed Joe Riley Waterfront Park with wonderful shops, flowering bushes, myrtle trees, sailboats in the harbor, kids playing in a kiddie fountain area, and a long pier. We saw dolphins here, too.
Pro Tip: When out exploring, know that Folly Road/Highway 171 is the one main road to Folly Beach, which can lead to some traffic back-ups. When possible, avoid popular drive times to minimize traffic congestion.
6. Patriots Point Naval And Maritime Museum
Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum is one of the largest fleet museums in the world. Located in Mount Pleasant just across the Cooper River from Charleston, it’s an easy drive from Folly Beach.
The walkway lined with American flags drummed up a sense of patriotism in me. General admission includes self-tours of three historic ships, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, the destroyer USS Laffey, some 28 historic aircraft, the Medal of Honor Museum, and an outdoor exhibit called the Vietnam Experience.
The USS Clamagore
We toured Patriots Point’s iconic Cold War submarine, the USS Clamagore, the only GUPPY III submarine preserved in the country. As we walked through it, signs explained life on the sub. On a field trip, some older elementary school children were walking ahead of us, and I overheard one of them say she couldn’t imagine living on something like this! I thought it was kind of funny until I realized I really couldn’t either.
Pro Tip: Tickets can be purchased online or at their ticket window on-site. Online tickets are valid on any date for one full year from the date of purchase.
7. Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park
Also minutes from Folly Beach, the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park was curious because it’s built partially under Charleston’s Arthur R. Ravenel Bridge. It has a nautically inspired playground for children, lots of beautiful landscaping with flowering bushes (azaleas everywhere), shops, restaurants, and a long walkway out to the water.
The highlight for me here was the War Memorial area, with emblems of each military branch and a striking bronze sculpture of a woman with a tri-folded flag in her left hand and resting her right hand on a World War II helmet, supported by a rifle. I read that she represents contrasting emotions of hope and loss. At the foot of the statue, we read, “On behalf of a grateful nation.”
What’s Not To Love?
Folly Beach is a lovable place. With its endless beach, dramatic sunrises, bustling pier, curious loggerhead nesting areas, great eats, and proximity to the good fun and good food in Charleston, what’s not to love? Ignoring this one would be pure folly.