Practical Guide to the Best Charleston, SC Beaches

Oh Charleston!

My favorite city in South Carolina has lovely and charming colonial architecture, friendly people, lots of great eats, a fun nightlife and a fascinating history.

There are also some fantastic beaches in Charleston, SC!

Honestly, even without the lovely Charleston, SC beaches, if I were to pick only one city in the Palmetto State for someone to visit, Charleston would be the option hands down. Those gorgeous Charleston beaches are just icing on the cake. Or, maybe I should say shrimp on the grits!

One of the things I love about the best beaches in Charleston is that they are all within a half hour drive or less of the historic downtown.

That means the best beaches near Charleston make for great day trips if you’re staying in the City itself or somewhere nearby like Mount Pleasant, but they can also be great home bases for a beach vacation that still offers easy access to all the sites and attractions in Charleston itself.

If you’re planning a trip to check out Charleston and either want to stay at or just visit the best Charleston, SC beaches, read on to learn all about your options in this guide to the best beaches close to Charleston, South Carolina!

Photo of dunes with houses in the background at one of the best Charleston SC beaches.
Learn all about the best Charleston, SC beaches here.

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Best Charleston, SC Beaches – Contents

  • Why Choose the Charleston Beaches for Your SC Beach Vacation
  • The Closest Beaches to Charleston, SC
    • Folly Beach – Best Overall Charleston Beach
    • Sullivan’s Island – Best Relaxed Beach in Charleston
    • Isle of Palms – Largest Beach in Charleston
  • Some Other Beaches Near Charleston, SC to Consider

Why Choose the Charleston Beaches

South Carolina has some great beaches!

If you want a popular beach with tons of traditional beachy/touristy things to do like putt putt, entertainment and shows, and even mini them parks, plus great golf, head to Myrtle Beach.

You can even go a bit further into North Myrtle or Cherry Grove for something that is a bit more family friendly and relaxed but still offers easy access to those amenities

However, if you’re asking me, an SC native, the best place for a beach vacation in SC, I would recommend the Charleston, South Carolina beaches.


First, and probably most importantly, the Charleston beaches themselves are very good.

But second, you get pretty easy access to all the great things to do in Charleston itself too!

Especially if you’re looking for a vacation that lets you enjoy some neat cultural and historical experiences but also a small (or large!) slice of beach, the beaches of Charleston make a great option.

You can visit the site where the Civil War began at Fort Sumter, see the very well done South Carolina Aquarium, take in the charm of the historic homes of the battery and the rest of downtown colonial Charleston, including the iconic Rainbow Row, hit some great shopping on King Street, look for neat souvenirs in the historic city market, or enjoy some tasty shrimp and grits, the state dish, or any number of other great seafood dishes at the countless great restaurants in town.

Or, well, you can just bum it and catch some rays at the Charleston, SC beaches too!

A wooden boardwalk over grassy dunes to one of the Charleston beaches.
In my opinion the beaches in Charleston are the best in SC since since they give you access to Charleston, a great destination in its own right.

I spent a brunt of my formative years in Charleston attending the College of Charleston and grew up not so far away in Columbia, so I know the beaches of Charleston well.

Here, I’ll share my knowledge of Charleston’s beaches, so you can decide which is the best Charleston beach for you!

Folly Beach – Overall Best Beach in Charleston

You know you’ve found a good beach when it’s popular with the college kids, popular with the young beach bums who live here seasonally, popular for families, and popular with the retired crowd!

Folly Beach is my pick for the top choice among the best beaches near Charleston, SC since it offers a little bit of everything for everybody.

It also happens to the the closest beach to Charleston, SC.

Shoot across Highway 17 or Highway 30 onto James Island, then hit Folly Road, aka Highway 171 and you’re there!

You’ll arrive right by the pier where there is a cluster of good restaurants and bars along with the one stop shop of Bert’s Market. Taco Boy has always been a favorite of mine, of my mom, and quickly becoming a favorite of Susana’s now that she’s a SC transplant!

A wooden pier with a teal roof on the covered area at the end with waves washing up around it at a Charleston beach.
The pier at Folly Beach, my pick for the overall best Charleston beach.

You’ve also got the pier right here and there is a good amount of parking available.

One important tip: there is lots of free on street parking both along the beach front road and back roads, but you have to make sure your tires are all the way off the pavement. Also, be sure you are not blocking a driveway. They hand out tickets about as fast as that SC sun will turn you red.

The central area here around the pier is where you’ll find some of the wider sections of this top Charleston beach but also probably the most people.

I would still recommend this area for most Charleston beach day trippers and even those renting houses nearby that aren’t beach front as you have easy access to the public bathrooms by the pier. There are also beach chair and umbrella rentals.

This general vicinity is also great to have easy walking access to the restaurants clustered around here as there isn’t much else on other parts of the island.

If you do have some gear with you, you can head either direction where there are public beach access points every couple blocks.

To the right side facing the pier, you’ll also usually find a bit more family friendly beach areas with mostly a vacation rental crowd. If you want a rental on the river inlet, this is the best area for it in my opinion too.

A wave washing up on the beach with homes and orange skies in the background at one of the beaches in Charleston SC.
There’s a little bit of everything for everybody on Folly, including a gorgeous sunrise!

Finally, if you head all the way down to the right you’ll find Folly Beach County Park, where there is a very large beach area that curls around to the mouth of the river. This is also a good spot for day trippers, especially families.

You do have to pay to park and enter the park, but there are good changing and bathroom facilities, and you can leave to go get lunch and reenter, which is nice.

If you head left when facing the pier, the area, say, between 4th and 12th Street will thin the crowd to some degree and is a good spot to relax.

The area not too far past 12th street where the waterfront East Arctic Avenue ends is known as “The Washout” and is especially popular with surfers. I feel like this area and the area a bit before it was always where I felt like we went in college, usually doing our best to hide our beers from the beach patrol.

Yes, be aware that on Folly, not to mention the rest of the best beaches in Charleston and most of the beaches in SC, alcohol is technically forbidden, as are glass containers.

You’re likely to see plenty of people, of all ages, not just college kids, with red solo cups though!

Farther up from this area, you’ll eventually get to a thin stretch of the island with little development. Eventually, you reach a little inlet between Folly and the undeveloped Morris Island, where you can see the Morris Island Lighthouse on an often nearly deserted beach.

Overall, I really believe Folly makes for the top overall of the best Charleston beaches, and it has a come one, come all non-pretentious vibe, which contrasts it a bit with the other two beaches closest to Charleston I’ll discuss below.

A sandy beach with a light house in the distance over the water at one of the beaches near Charleston SC.
The Morris Island Light House seen from Folly Beach in Charleston.

Where to Stay on Folly Beach

There are just a few hotels at Folly Beach.

The Tides is a long running all around solid spot just by the pier and public beach. You really can’t beat the location with the best restaurants and bars here just a few minutes walk away.

The Hotel Folly has just been recently renovated and is a gorgeous little property with a great view of the inter-coastal waterway. It is a few blocks from the beach, although it is on the main avenue where most of the restaurants and pier are located.

Water’s Edge Inn is a lovely little adult only bed and breakfast style lodge located near the heart of town near the marshes of the inter-coastal waterway. Even better is the Regatta Inn, also adults only, located near the southern tip of the island close to the county park.

Of course, there are slews of great rental properties on Folly as well. There’s also a bit more range in terms of size and budget for rentals available here compared to the other best Charleston beaches discussed below. Click here to search for vacation rentals on Folly.

Sullivan’s Island – Great for a Relaxed Beach Day

Sullivan’s Island is a bit of a place of contradictions in my opinion, but I also think it’s an underrated Charleston beach.

I got to know Sullivan’s Island well when I worked at Fort Sumter National Monument in a sweet college gig I probably didn’t appreciate enough at the time. The headquarters is here on Sullivan’s at Fort Moultrie, which I think might be Charleston’s most unappreciated historic site.

Honestly, if you like history, be sure to include a visit to Fort Moultrie during your time in Charleston. It was in use from the independence era until World War II. And this underrated Charleston beach is right next door!

Even if you don’t want to see the fort I would still say you should consider Sullivan’s if you’re looking for a relaxed beach day.

Especially, if you’re willing to go a bit from the main “strip” where there is a small cluster of restaurants, there usually aren’t a ton of people on the beach here.

The area around and just past the lighthouse is where you’ll find the largest beach area as there is sort of curved point here.

The catch with Sullivan’s Island is I always got the impression that most of the locals would prefer that the place just be a private beach.

There are definitely some frickin’ enormous homes here that I imagine cost a pretty penny, so I guess I get it.

In fact, supposedly Bill Murray, Reese Witherspoon, Stephen Colbert, Judge Judy all own homes on the island!

Photo of a large white home with big balconies and an American flag hanging behind trees.
There are lots of gorgeous homes on Sullivan’s Island, including some owned by the rich and famous.

But as I said, there are also some contradictions.

I always found the handful of little restaurants right as you come onto Sullivan’s Island to be pretty non-pretentious. I used to come up here on lunch breaks when I was working at Fort Moultrie some days.

Poe’s Tavern, named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe who was stationed for a time at Moultrie and wrote his short story “The Gold Bug” based on the island, has really good burgers. Dunleavy’s Pub has decent food and decent prices for a cold beer. Finally, Home Team BBQ which opened up a bit later after I left Charleston has really good barbecue.

There are not any public facilities anywhere on Sullivan’s Island though, nor are there any hotels and there are very few vacation rental properties.

So it’s probably best for those looking for the best Charleston, SC beaches to visit as a day trip.

Well or you could try to befriend Bill Murray over some beers at a minor league baseball Riverdogs game for a place to crash!

If you can’t manage to swing that, you can click here to see the handful of rental properties on Sullivan’s Island.

Isle of Palms – Most Extensive Beach in Charleston

Next up is Isle of Palms, the barrier island just past Sullivan’s Island a bit further north of Charleston.

I remember spending lots of fun times here in high school and college at my friend George’s beach house. I would sometimes come out here while at CofC on my own too.

One of the things I loved about Isle of Palms is the beach here is really wide. There’s normally even a pretty decent sliver of beach left at high tide.

Photo of a best Charleston beach with a wave washing up with a row of homes in the background.
I always loved how wide the beach seemed to be on most of Isle of Palms, even at or near high tide.

It is a bit further from downtown Charleston than the other two best Charleston beaches above though.

That’s why I would say it’s a better option for those that want more of a traditional beach vacation solely and care a little less about being able to see the sites in Charleston itself.

There’s a good number of rentals here, and there is even a proper supermarket, which isn’t really the case on Folly or Sullivan’s where there are only small convenience stores. There’s also a lot more rental options than on Sullivan’s and they tend to be a bit larger, nicer, but also pricer than Folly.

Also, I would say the public beach facilities on Isle of Palms probably does make it the best public beach in Charleston, South Carolina.

You’ll find this public beach area at the Isle of Palms County Park pretty much straight ahead once you cross over the IOP Connector from Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant (fyi, it’s also possible to cross over from the north edge of Sullivan’s Island to IOP).

At the park, there is a playground, grills, umbrella rentals, and even a beach volleyball area.

However, the best thing is that there are nice shower and bathroom facilities. Well, actually maybe the best thing is that there is a good amount of parking available.

Also right around this area you’ll find a handful of restaurants and bars. The Windjammer is a particularly good spot that often has live music and usually has a decent nightlife crowd. There are also a few hotels right in this area.

Farther up, you’ll find mostly rentals and there aren’t any other public facilities, but the beach is great and usually not too crowded. There are also public beach access points on nearly every block.

Much of the northern edge of the island after about 45th street is part of Wild Dunes, a sort of combo of a gated community, golf club, and resort area. There are hotel/resort style accommodations as well as vacation rentals here. This can be a good option for those who want some hotel and resort style amenities but also the privacy and peace and quiet of a family style beach rental.

In conclusion, Isle of Palms makes for another great choice among these 3 best Charleston beaches.

Photo of a large home at one of the Charleston SC beaches with reeds in the front and palmetto tress in the background.
A home inside the Wild Dunes area of Isle of Palms.

Where to Stay on Isle of Palms

Next to the pier and with easy access to the mini-strip of restaurants on the island you’ll find the Palms Oceanfront Hotel. Next door, you’ll find the smaller Seaside Inn.

Inside of Wild Dunes, you can stay at the gorgeous Sweetgrass Inn and Boardwalk Inn that has lovely pools and amenities. There are also hotel style rooms at the Residences at Sweetgrass.

Of course, you’ll find tons of great beach rentals all over Isle of Palms, including in Wild Dunes. Click here to check out vacation rentals on Isle of Palms.

A Few Other Beaches to Consider Near Charleston

Truthfully, you can’t go wrong with any of the best beaches near Charleston mentioned above.

I’d say, if you want the best public facilities, go for Isle of Palms. If you want the least crowded beach and are ok not having public facilities, go to Sullivan’s. If you want the best of both worlds, the shortest drive, or the best values for rentals, head to Folly.

I’d encourage most people to stick to these 3 best Charleston beaches.

However, If you’re willing to drive a bit longer for a day trip or you don’t care about having relatively quick access to the city for a longer stay, you might check out these other beaches near Charleston.

North of Isle of Palms, you’ll find mostly undeveloped marshland and preserved barrier islands that really aren’t all that accessible until you get to Pawley’s Island. Just north of that and usually closely associated with it is Litchfield by the Sea.

Pawley’s is about an hour and a half away from Charleston, so I think it’s pushing the distance I’d want to go for a day trip but it is very highly regarded and is a popular place for family vacation rentals especially.

There is a Hampton Inn on Pawley’s as well as the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort. There are also a good number of rental properties here in addition to a few other hotels. Click here to see vacation rentals on Pawley’s.

Turning south, you will find a few beaches a bit closer to Charleston.

First, you’ll find Kiawah Island, located just past Folly.

Much of Kiawah is privately owned or part of the whopping 7 golf courses on the island.

Yes, you read that right, there are 7 golf courses on Kiawah. These include courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player among others. Kiawah Island Golf Resort owns 5 of these and the other two are owned by Kiawah Island Club.

So, for those who want their Charleston beach vacation to be primarily spent on the golf course, or possibly those whose families want a good beach and easy access to the city while they golf, Kiawah might actually their choice for the best Charleston beach.

Since so much of the island is either privately owned or part of the golf resorts, there isn’t a ton of public beach access points at this beach near Charleston.

There is a public beach at the Kiawah Beachwalker Park. It has bathroom, shower, and changing room facilities as well as lifeguards. If you’re coming here for a day trip, this is the best place to do it.

There are also some vacation rentals in addition to the golf resorts on the island. Click here to see vacation rentals on Kiawah.

Just south of Kiawah, you’ll find Seabrook Island.

Some of this island is owned by the Audubon Society and there is also a golf course here. There is no public beach here, but there are some vacation rentals.

Since much of the island is protected land and undeveloped, it’s a good choice for those who want to experience a bit of nature at the beach. In fact, there are some nice nature trails on the island. Lots of birds and even deer can be seen in the protected areas.

Lots of people claim they can see dolphins in the water off the coast too!

Click here to see rentals on Seabrook Island. You can also stay at the Andell Inn, a lovely property along the inter-coastal waterway between Kiawah and Seabrook.

South of Seabrook, you’ll find Edisto Island, the last place we’ll discuss in this section on other best beaches near Charleston.

My good friend Jono’s family had a beach house here growing up, and I remember going at least once with them. Similar to Kiawah and Seabrook, there are fewer restaurants and the like here.

However, it also isn’t quite as exclusive as those places.

There is a state park and even camp grounds here, making it fairly accessible to all types of travelers. Much of the land around Edisto is protected, leaving it largely pristine and undeveloped. There’s a neat serpentarium on the way to the beach too.

There’s usually not much of a crowd here and the area is overall very family friendly. I remember riding our bikes all over the island as kids.

This is also one of the better places to stay at the beach near Charleston if you want to do some fishing too.

And, don’t worry, there’s a golf course here too!

There are a few hotels, including the Club Wyndham Ocean Ridge on Edisto. There are also a lot of great vacation rental options available on the island. Click here to see rentals on Edisto.

At just about an hour away from Charleston, it’s fairly doable as a day trip too.

There are some nice beaches south of Edisto, but they are really too far to consider them to be “Charleston beaches,” so I’m leaving them to discuss in another place.

Which are your favorite Charleston beaches?

Now you’ve got a guide to the best beaches in Charleston, SC.

You’ve got just about everything you need to know about the 3 beaches closest to Charleston, and even a bit of info on 4 more beaches near Charleston.

Which is the best beach in Charleston for you is going to depend a bit on what you’re looking for, but I hope this guide helped you decide which Charleston beach, or even better Charleston beaches, you plan to visit.

Cheers and Happy Beach Bummin’!