Charleston Beaches: An Insider’s Guide

June 9, 2023

It’s a sunny summer day in Charleston and you know what that means… two words, five options: BEACH DAY. There are three Charleston beaches within a 25 minute drive from downtown and another two about 40 minutes away, and each bring their own vibe. With so many options, it can be overwhelming to decide which to visit during your trip, so I thought I’d share what makes each one unique. But first first, here are some general tips for when visiting any beach around Charleston:

  • Summer weekends in Charleston are full of tourists, and that means beach traffic. Get out there before 10 am to beat the crowds, or after 4 pm.
  • Pay attention to the street parking signs & make sure all 4 of your wheels are off the road to avoid getting a ticket.
  • Glass and plastic cups are banned, as is alcohol. That’s right, here there ARE laws when you are drinking the claws- but nbd as long you keep that seltzer out of sight in a cooler or insulated cup!
  • Storms blow through fast here, so your weather app is probably wrong. Don’t get too hung up on the forecast, just go live your best life and seek shelter if needed… a roof and a drink with an umbrella is never too far away.

Beaches Near Downtown Charleston

There are three beaches within a 20-30 minute drive from downtown Charleston:

Folly Beach

Visit Folly Beach when in Charleston

I call Folly the spring break beach of Charleston. It’s known for its laid-back atmosphere and has the most affordable rental options, making it a great day trip or weekend getaway. The beach has a lively strip of local shops, restaurants, and bars- Taco Boy and Lost Dog are longtime staples, but Jack of Cups Saloon and the Pineapple Hut are newer local favorites. Folly Beach is also the most popular surfing spot for locals, especially the portion of the beach called the Washout. 

Nicknamed “The Edge of America,” there is only one way on or off Folly Beach, and traffic can get brutal, especially on the weekend. Go early to avoid bottlenecks. 

Sullivan’s Island

Visit Sullivan's Island when in Charleston

Sullivan’s Island is a quieter beach community (no short-term rentals) located just 10 miles from downtown Charleston. Edgar Allen Poe lived there for a while, and the island library is still named after him. Today, local celebrities like Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert have homes on Sullivan’s,, but all the beach stations are public and popular with locals and tourists. Grab a burger at Poe’s Tavern or pizza from The Obstinate Daughter, followed by ice cream at Beardcat’s Sweet Shop, then head back to the lighthouse end for some of the best sunset views in all of Charleston.

Isle of Palms

Visit Isle of Palms Beach when in Charleston

Isle of Palms is a picturesque barrier island just north of Sullivan’s. Lots of locals still live there, but it fills up with tourists in the summer visiting the several resorts and Wild Dunes Golf Club. The beach along south Isle of Palms is perfect for sunbathing and dolphin spotting along Breach Inlet, but go further north if you are hoping to catch some waves. Visit Acme Lowcountry Kitchen for local seafood with a southern flair, or Coda del Pesce for fine dining with an ocean view.

Further from Downtown: Kiawah & Seabrook Islands

Visit Kiawah Island when in Charleston

Kiawah and Seabrook Islands are the most private, exclusive beaches- both located around 25 miles, or 40 minutes, from downtown Charleston. Both islands are gated, but it is easier to get into Kiawah, as there is still a county park open to the public, just be prepared to pay a parking fee upon entry. Kiawah is a popular retirement or second home spot among Charlestonians, but still gets a lot of visitors thanks to its swanky beach resort and world-class golf courses- plus the Kiawah Island Golf Resort was featured in season 1 of Outer Banks. Seabrook is truly locals and rentals, and you have to have proof of either to get on. 

Whether you are looking to plan a girl’s trip, romantic getaway, family vacation, or surfing adventure, there is a beach here that is perfect for you and never too far from other fun Charleston activities. So pack that sunscreen, head out early, and get ready to experience the beauty of Charleston, South Carolina beaches.

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