Charleston's Folly Beach: Funky Vibes Meet Sand and Surf

One of the city's best known beaches, Folly draws beach-goers, picnickers, surfers, fishermen—and a popular strip of bars and restaurants is a short walk away.

Once a haven for pirates and plague victims who crossed the Atlantic, Folly Beach today is arguably Charleston's most popular when it's time to kick back and enjoy the ocean breeze and waves. Development as a beach community began in the 1920s with the construction of a pavilion and jelled with a tourism boom in the 1930s. Despite a fire that destroyed three major properties in 1957 and devastation wreaked by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Folly stands proud in the 21st century as a collection of hotels, condominiums, surf shops, restaurants, gift shops, offices and bars along Center Street (Highway 171), the main road and gateway to town.

A popular stretch of beach is around the iconic Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier, which stretches 1,045 feet into the Atlantic from the end of Center Street. Several fishing and surfing competitions take place here throughout the year—surfers particularly adore the Washout, which has helped Folly gain recognition as one of the more popular surf spots along the East Coast. There also are monthly Moonlight Mixers at which people dance the night away under the stars on the pier.

Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier
The Edwin S. Taylor Fishing Pier is a popular spot for anglers. (Courtesy Charleston County Parks)

Life can be a picnic at the Folly beach, but be aware that alcohol is prohibited on the beach itself and litter rules are enforced. Visitors are asked to bring garbage bags and drop their trash in containers placed at beach-access points. Picnickers who prefer more amenities, such as shelters, grills, restrooms and tables, will want to head to the southwestern end of the island and Folly Beach County Park, which also is home to Skimmer Flats, a major Eastern Brown Pelican rookery. Operated by Charleston County Parks, the Folly park offers beach chair and umbrella rentals and lifeguards seasonally, outdoor showers and a retail area and snack bar.

Beer and alcohol are available at businesses near the pier and along the several blocks of bars and restaurants that line Center Street.

Visitors like to hit McKevlin's Surf Shop, 8 Center St., for surfboards, including rentals, plus skimboards, hats, T-shirts and other beach accessories aplenty. Other tour and shopping opportunities include: Flipper Finders for sea-kayak tours and rentals and boat tours, which lead to dolphin sightings and the historic Morris Island Lighthouse; Charleston SUP Safaris, which specializes in stand-up paddleboard (SUP) rentals and tours, as well as SUP yoga and fitness classes; and Crosby's Fish & Shrimp for fresh seafood for the barbie.

Flipper Finders
Rent a kayak from or take a tour with Flipper Finders. (Courtesy Sea Island Media)

A number of eateries include Rita's Seaside Grill, which offers a large selection of gourmet burgers along with fresh seafood, sandwiches and salads. Relax in the shade of the patio with a margarita or a beer from the bar. At the Black Magic Cafe, you can get energized for a day your day at the beach with a cup of joe and a hearty breakfast or a burger, salad, wrap or sandwich for lunch.

Campers who want to spend several days at Folly may want to consider the nearby, 643-acre James Island County Park, home to a campground and vacation cottages.

For oceanfront views and oceanfront dining, consider the Tides Folly Beach Hotel and its Blu Restaurant & Bar—mere steps from the Edwin S. Taylor pier. Blu serves up fresh local seafood, other entrées and small plates, all of which are served in a contemporary coastal style—think fried oyster po'boy or a pimento cheese BLT for lunch or pan-seared grouper or seafood jambalaya for dinner.

Staying in downtown Charleston and want a ride to the beach? Ride Lowcountry offers a shuttle from The Vendue Inn near Waterfront Park on Charleston Harbor to Folly at a cost of $10 per person (three-rider or $30 minimum).

Make it a day of surf-’n’-turf physicality on your way to Folly by checking out the new elevated ropes course at Wild Blue, about a mile off Folly Road. Team-building business groups and families will like this outdoor adventure center, which features more than 70 suspended obstacles—some of them 35 feet in height—and four difficulty levels. It also offers night climbing and celebratory events.


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