The Best Beaches Near Charleston

A guide to the Lowcountry beaches close to Charleston, S.C.

The craving first strikes at mid-winter and its crescendo rises more and more as the first days of spring approach. We’re talking warm days at the beach, and in Charleston there are four chief spots, within a half-hour of downtown, where beach-goers tote their blankets and umbrellas into place.

The pier at Folly Beach near Charleston, South Carolina

Folly Beach

Once a popular spot for pirates and a stronghold for Union soldiers, Folly Beach today is one of the Lowcountry’s more popular beaches— among families and surfers alike. The county park offers lifeguards on duty seasonally, and an Eastern Brown Pelican rookery known as Skimmer Flats is visible on its west end. Parking fees at Folly—as well as Isle of Palms and Kiawah Beachwalker parks—are $7 per vehicle Mon-Fri and $10 Sat-Sun, May through Labor Day, and $7 daily March-April and Sept.-Oct. Parking is free November through February.

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Isle of Palms beach park

Isle of Palms (IOP)

Isle of Palms was developed in the latter ’90s by the because of public demand for improved beach access in the East Cooper/Mount Pleasant area. Visitors can stay and play golf at Wild Dunes Resort, and several other hotels and a number of vacation rentals are offered on the island. In the midst of that resort atmosphere is the Isle of Palms County Park, which offers white, sandy ocean frontage and modern-day amenities, including a children’s play area. Lifeguards are on duty seasonally. 

Kiawah Island Beachwalker Park

Consistently ranked in America’s “Top 10 Beaches” by professor Stephen P. “Dr. Beach” Leatherman (it’s No. 9 in his 2014 list), Kiawah Beachwalker Park—on the west end of Kiawah Island just a few miles south of Johns Island—offers both ocean frontage and a river view. It is the only public beach access on the mostly gated island, which also is home to the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Lifeguards are on duty seasonally at Beachwalker, and like the other county-run beaches listed here, alcohol is not permitted.

Sullivan's Island

As opposed to the other parks, which are county-run, the Sullivan's Island beach area is operated by the Town of Sullivan’s Island. There are no changing rooms, showers or restrooms; thus, it’s the area’s most native beach. With no lifeguards, visitors must be extra cautionary of rip tides and sandbars. Fort Moultrie was constructed on the island in 1776, or the same year in which colonials dealt the British a major defeat. Fort tours and exhibits are available at its visitors center. (Note: Beach parking is off-street only, no lots.)

Map of Charleston Beaches

Jay Bemis
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