Charleston’s beaches are siblings. And while they’re all related, each one of these beautiful babies has a very distinct personality. The Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach are all great for different activities, moods, and types of people.
If you’re looking for an afternoon of people watching and beach volleyball, head to the Isle of Palms. If all you want is to soak up the sun and devour a trashy magazine, you’ll love Sullivan’s Island. And if your goal is to catch a buzz and play a rowdy game of bocce ball, Folly Beach is where it’s at.
Folly Beach. The most mellow and free-spirited of the beaches, Folly is a great place for college kids looking to blow off some steam. As the only location out of the three main Charleston area beaches that still allows alcoholic beverages on the sand (as long as they’re not in a glass bottle or a can), Folly attracts a more fun-loving crowd than the rest. Known for its laid-back vibe and some of the best waves in the area, Folly is a favorite among local surfers. Stroll down to the Washout to watch some of Charleston’s best surfers do their thing. If you want to get in on the action but have no idea how, private and group lessons are offered by several surf shops. As with the other two beaches, there’s plenty of free parking along the roads near the beach. The county park also has parking (for a fee) and offers amenities like bathrooms, showers, a snack bar, chair rentals, and lifeguards. No dogs are allowed on the beach from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer, and they must be on leashes at all other times. Set aside some time to wander around the little shops on Center Street before you head home. Hungry? Try Taco Boy for yummy guacamole, tacos, and potent margaritas, or head to Surf Bar for a freshly grilled burger and beer.
Isle of Palms. Loved by Mt. Pleasant residents for the short drive and easy access, many others complain about the crowds of visitors that flood the IOP during the summer months. Street parking is free and plentiful, but make sure your tires aren’t so much as a single inch on the road or there’s a good chance you might get a parking ticket. If you’d rather not deal with street parking and don’t mind spending some extra cash, park at the county park for access to changing areas, showers, bathrooms, and the comforting presence of lifeguards. During the summer season, dogs can run free from 5-8 a.m. but must be on a leash at all other times. Alcoholic beverages and glass bottles are strictly prohibited, and police vehicles patrol the beach to make sure the rules are followed. If you’re looking for classic fun in the sun, head to the pier area. Watch the surfers for a while, wander over to the Windjammer for a game of beach volleyball, or grab a burger at the seaside Banana Cabana. For a more relaxing and less crowded experience, set up your umbrellas at Station 28 or farther out.
Sullivan’s Island. The most residential of the three beaches, Sullivan’s is the quietest; in fact, it’s illegal to so much as whistle outside past 11 p.m. While Sullivan’s is quickly catching up to the IOP’s rule-centric nature with a series of recently passed noise ordinances (don’t worry, these won’t affect you much during the day), it wins major points for its less touristy crowd. The water is usually exceptionally calm at Sullivan’s, making it the perfect place to bring a raft and float the sweltering afternoon away. Sullivan’s also boasts free roadside parking, but be prepared to spend some time searching for an open space on weekends and holidays. Alcohol and glass containers are not allowed on the beach or streets. All dogs must be registered with the town, and no dogs are allowed on the beach from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer. Additionally, dogs may be off leashes from 5-10 a.m. and must be on leashes from 6 p.m.-5 a.m. in the summer season. You’ll find a peaceful spot pretty much anywhere you throw your chair on Sullivan’s. Make sure you stop by Poe’s Tavern for a beer and mahi-mahi tacos on your way home.