Charleston is home to three great beaches, and each one has its own vibe. And sadly, now that the Folly Beach booze ban is in effect thanks to a couple of knuckleheaded bros, you can’t legally drink an ice-cold adult bev on any of them. Sigh. But there are plenty of reasons to hit the sand and the surf. This year we’ve even included a few Best of Charleston picks, as selected by City Paper readers, and a few of our own recommendations. Enjoy.
Folly Beach’s laid-back atmosphere and bohemian vibe have made it a favorite for hang-loose locals and the college crowd for years. It’s a great place to relax on the beach, go for a swim, surf, or enjoy a game of volleyball or bocce. Surfers flock to the Washout year after year, your best bet for catching a few waves in the Lowcountry.
Folly Beach Best of Charleston Readers’ Picks
Best Folly Beach Bar: Surf Bar
Best Folly Beach Restaurant: Taco Boy
-The Drop In Bar and Deli delivers to the beach.
-Cure that hangover with an order of Huevos Rancheros at Lost Dog Café.
-Nosh on one of Tokyo Crêpes’ daily bento boxes or one of their signature sweet treats.
-Cast a line from the Folly Beach Pier while drinking a beer.
-Catch some waves at the Washout.
-Take a stroll to see the Morris Island Lighthouse.
The road to Folly turns into a bumper-to-bumper mess by noon, so you’ll want to get to the beach as early in the day as possible to beat the crowd. However, once you’re there, you’ll discover that parking is easier than expected, with $1-per-hour beach access parking and $8-per-day parking at the Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier. (Pro-tip: Stick to the beach around the pier if you want easy access to the potty.) If you can find street parking, you better make sure you’re all the way on the grass, or you’ll be ticketed.
Folly’s laissez-faire way of life took a hit last year when City Council voted to ban alcohol on the beach. But remember, just because you can’t drink on the beach doesn’t mean you can’t drink while you’re visiting the beach. There’s a place for everyone at Folly, from Blu (1 Center St., 843-588-6658), where you can down a frosty bev and watch the waves, to the laid-back Surf Bar (103 West Cooper Ave., 843-588-2009) and the private Sand Dollar Social Club (7 Center St., 843-588-9498).
Of course, you don’t need to drink to have fun at Folly, but what is there to do after you’ve finished soaking up the sun? Recommended dining options include Rita’s (2 Center St., 843-588-2525), Drop In Deli (32-B Center St., 843-633-0234), Lost Dog Café (106 W Huron Ave., 843-588-9669), Taco Boy (15 Center St., 843-588-9761), Woody’s Pizza (39 Center St., 843-588-0088), Snapper Jack’s (10 Center St., 843-588-2362), the Crab Shack (26 Center St., 843-588-3080), and the ‘Wich Doctor (106 W. Hudson Ave., 843-588-6666), where you gotta try the bánh mí-inspired Hanoi Hoagie. Folly is also well known for its nightlife; many of the bars and restaurants feature some of the area’s best acts on a nightly basis. And anyone with a sweet or savory tooth will want to stop by the Tokyo Crêpes (107. E. Ashley Ave., 843-580-6333) food truck. And if you want a cup of joe or an ice-cold beer, swing by Bert’s Market (202 E. Ashley Ave., 843-588-9449) for craft brews and complimentary coffee and cappuccinos. —Davin Turkewitz
The Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms
Best of Charleston Readers’ Picks
Best IOP Bar: The Windjammer
Best IOP Restaurant: Boathouse on Breach Inlet
-The Windjammer offers live music from national acts like Cracker, Cowboy Mouth, and Donavon Frankenreiter, as well as the annual Bikini Bash.
-Grab a beer and some shrimp tacos at Acme Lowcountry Kitchen.
-Play a round of golf at Wild Dunes.
The Isle of Palms is a warm and welcoming seven-mile stretch of beautiful beaches, and with over 50 beach access paths, it’s easy to find your way to the sea and sand from pretty much anywhere in town.
IOP prides itself on being Charleston’s family-friendly beach, and they have plenty of rules and regulations in place to make sure it stays that way. There are bans on glass bottles, fireworks, overnight camping, and bonfires on the beach, and jet skis and motorboats are forbidden from designated swimming areas. And if you or your child digs a hole on the beach while building a sand castle, remember to fill it back in. It’s the law. Seriously. Speaking of kids, IOP also offers a surprisingly nice beach-side park at 14th Avenue.
Although waves at the Isle of Palms tend to be too flat for surfing, paddleboarding has become a popular sport. And if you want a more laid-back activity, try your hand at shrimping, crabbing, or fishing in a nearby creek. The IOP Marina also offers fishing charters, boat rentals, and customized outdoor excursions.
While IOP offers its fair share of rentals, many golf nuts choose to stay at the swanky Wild Dunes Resort. In addition to sporting two 18-hole golf courses, Wild Dunes also offers other outdoor activities, from bicycling to kayaking and tennis. And if you want to do your purty little body a favor, you can also get manicures, pedicures, facials, and massages at the spa.
Metered parking options are available on Ocean Boulevard near Front Beach between 10th and 14th avenues. Visitors are allowed to park in any open space, but don’t forget to put the receipt on your dashboard to avoid a ticket. The meters are only enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the beach season. If you don’t want to pay for parking, you can always park your vehicle on the side of the road as long as it hasn’t been designated with a “no parking” sign. And make sure all four tires are off the road, or you will find a bright yellow ticket on you windshield when you get back.
Next to Front Beach you will discover a variety of shops and stores selling all the beach essentials, from towels to sunscreen and kids’ toys.
When it comes to food and drink, grab a bite or down an icy cold beer at Acme Lowcountry Kitchen (31 J. C. Long Blvd., 843-886-0024), Banana Cabana (1130 Ocean Blvd., 843-886-4361), Coconut Joe’s (1120 Ocean Blvd., 843-886-0046), or the Windjammer (1008 Ocean Blvd., 843-886-8596). The ‘Jammer is also IOP’s go-to live music spot, hosting national acts and local favorites. It’s also home to the Hazelnut Hang, an annual gathering of Sister Hazel fans (See page 43 to learn more). —Haley Thomas
Best of Charleston Readers’ Picks
Best Barbecue and Ribs: Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ
Best Sullivan’s Island Restaurant & Best Sullivan’s Island Bar: Poe’s Tavern
-Order a burger at Poe’s Tavern, like the Tell-Tale Heart (fried egg, bacon, and cheddar cheese) or the Hop Frog (applewood bacon, Monterey Jack, and BBQ sauce).
-Barbecue fans must try the smoked chicken wings with Alabama white sauce at Home Team BBQ.
-Learn how to kiteboard.
-Visit Fort Moultrie for a genuine slice of American history.
If you’re into small beach towns with spacious shorelines and serene atmospheres, then Sullivan’s Island is the destination for you. Sullivan’s prides itself on being a beach that steers clear of all commercialization and fluff. Basically, it’s everything that Myrtle Beach is not. Sullivan’s welcomes families to its beaches, and generally it’s a quieter, more peaceful beach than the others in town. (Pro-tip: Keep it down after 11 p.m. Sullivan’s has a very strict noise ordinance.)
Though the beach has a peaceful vibe, the small business district on Sullivan’s is always lively, thanks in part to its local restaurants, like Home Team BBQ (2209 Middle St., 843-883-3131), Taco Mamacita (2213 Middle St., 843-789-4032), Dunleavy’s Pub (2213 Middle St., 843-883-9646), The Co-Op (2019 Middle St., 843-882-8088), High Thyme (2213 Middle St., 843-883-3536), and Poe’s Tavern (2210 Middle St., 843-883-0083), named for Edgar Allan Poe. The celebrated author was once stationed at Fort Moultrie, which played a crucial role during the Revolutionary War. The fort is open for touring every day from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. for just $5 per family or $3 per person.
Of course, Sullivan’s Island’s main attraction is the beach itself, and as far as beaches go, Sullivan’s has all the essentials — except for a curious lack of public restrooms (how better to keep out the riff raff?) and absolutely no lifeguards. And while there’s not a designated parking lot for visitors, there’s plenty of free street parking. But be careful about parking in someone’s yard or in a no-parking zone. You will get towed.
Sullivan’s is not really the place for surfing, but boogie boarding and body surfing are fun alternatives in the smaller swells, and kiteboarders have found a Lowcountry home here (head out to Station 28.5 on a windy day to see dozens of ‘boarders in flight). If you’re going to swim, make sure you’re in a safe area. The stunning beach at Breach Inlet, which separates Sullivan’s from Isle of Palms, is notorious for its extremely dangerous rip current. Pay attention to the caution signs, but most of the waters between Station 18 and Station 28 should be A-OK. And beware of the sand bars that show up at low tide. They may look fun to play on, but when the tide comes in, it can be pretty difficult to get back to shore safely. —Brooks Brunson