A Local’s Guide to 9 TOP Beaches Near Charleston, SC

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Charleston, South Carolina is a historical coastal city offering close access to a number of beaches. The three beaches in the general Charleston area are Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Folly Beach, but there are other fantastic beaches not too far of a drive away from the city. 

All of the beaches are unique in their own way and have different accommodations and activities that they offer. As a Charleston local, I mostly go to Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island simply because they are the closest beaches to me. 

However, all of the beaches close to Charleston are fantastic and you really can’t go wrong with whichever one you choose to visit! Here are some of the best beaches just a short drive from Charleston.

Trip map created using Wanderlog, a travel planner on iOS and Android

Isle of Palms

Photo: Samantha Kramer

Located near Mt. Pleasant, Isle of Palms Beach (or as the locals call it, IOP) is a family and tourist friendly beach. On Ocean Boulevard, you’ll find gift shops with beach trinkets and restaurants. You can explore the six miles of beach through numerous public beach accesses dotted along the shoreline. 

Alternatively, you can park at The Isle of Palms County Park. Even though it costs a small fee, parking here is worth it! Isle of Palms County Park has plenty of parking, a playground, beach volleyball, and showers to rinse all the sand off at the end of the day. It’s just a great way to have convenient beach access and have some amenities to make your visit more enjoyable.

Enjoy other activities on the island while you’re there, like kayaking, fishing, surfing, paddleboarding, and sailing. To end the day, catch some live music at The Windjammer, the island’s own bar, complete with an outdoor stage and beach volleyball courts.

Enjoy live music and a great atmosphere at the WindJammer. Photo: Samantha Kramer

If you want more of a vacation experience, look into staying at Wild Dunes Resort, located on the Isle of Palms on the north end. This gated resort has hotels, vacation rentals, a golf course, a pool, tennis courts, and a variety of local restaurants.

Sullivan’s Island

Photo: Samantha Kramer

When you visit Sullivan’s Island Beach, you’ll find that it has more of a local feel, with a less crowded beach. As a primarily local’s beach, the only places to stay on the island are vacation houses. This quiet beach blends history with residential charm. History buffs will enjoy exploring Fort Moultrie, a fort that has a history dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Enjoy a nice walk on the beach in the morning, and you’re bound to see dogs enjoying the ocean. If you’re wanting a more active beach trip, you can enjoy kayaking, fishing, sailing, kiteboarding, and paddleboarding.

Sunrise and sunset are both great times to enjoy Sullivan’s Island. Photo: Samantha Kramer

Though Sullivan’s Island is only 3.3 square miles and not heavily commercialized, it has its fair share of good quality restaurants. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but my two favorites are The Obstinate Daughter, which features unique appetizers and pizzas, and Poe’s Tavern, which has delicious burgers. Poe’s Tavern is literary-themed, with a nod to Edgar Allan Poe, who was stationed at Fort Moultrie in the Army from 1827 to 1828. 

This laid-back beach is perfect for families and those seeking a break from the business of life! It’s my personal favorite!

Folly Beach

Photo: Samantha Kramer

Known as “the edge of America,” Folly Beach, on Folly Island, is laid back and has a hippy vibe. Surfers flock here to ride the waves, and seashell hunters delight in finding treasure along its six miles of shoreline. The Folly Beach County Park has picnic areas and chair, umbrella, bicycle, and boogie board rentals. 

The Folly Beach Fishing Pier is perfect for anglers looking to cast their lines. It’s 24 feet wide and extends 1,045 feet out into the ocean. Beyond fishing, the beach is also great for biking, kayaking, boating, eco-tours, sea wildlife, and capturing gorgeous pictures of the sunrises and sunsets.

Grab a bite at Taco Boy after a day on the beach. Photo: Samantha Kramer

After a day at the beach, you’ll find all kinds of fun restaurants, bars, and live music on Center Street that can keep the night going. Enjoy a meal at Taco Boy or visit Bert’s Market (one of my favorite spots) for 24 hour bites, ice cream, and grocery needs.

Bert’s Market may have a humble exterior, but it’s a hidden gem and one of my favorite spots. Photo: Samantha Kramer

Every time I’ve gone out to Folly Beach, I feel like I’m in a whole different world. The island has a fun vibe and feels like everything I would expect from an island vacation. 

Kiawah Island Beach

Kiawah is the perfect island escape. The island has two beaches, East Beach and West Beach, along with private beach accesses for owners and renters. The only public beach access is on West Beach at Beachwalker County Park. The county park has a picnic area, changing space, outdoor showers, lifeguards, and beach and chair rentals. 

Along with the island’s ten miles of beaches, you’ll also find golfing, a resort, and the charming shopping center, Freshfields Village. Freshfields has lots of cute shops, a grocery store, and some restaurants. Make sure to stop at Java Java for all your coffee needs! 

Kiawah is also a great place for wildlife spotting since it’s a less crowded beach. Here, you have the chance to see deer, alligators, bobcats, seabirds, and sea turtles. 

Seabrook Island

Neighboring Kiawah Island is Seabrook Island. The island is small, with a little over three miles of beaches, but it has a lot to offer for families and kids. 

An equestrian center on the island allows riders the chance to horseback on trails or the beach itself. The island also has two championship golf courses, a tennis center, fitness and aquatic centers, and Camp St. Christopher, a children’s camp with counselors.

Spend the day biking around the island or exploring the water by boat, kayak, or paddleboard. The barrier island is a gated community, which means the beaches won’t be very crowded. Seabrook Island makes for a great Charleston getaway!

Edisto Beach State Park

A little further, a bit past Kiawah and Seabrook, you’ll Edisto Beach State Park. You’ll have to pay to enter the state park, but the 1.5 miles of beach is worth it because of its beautiful sunrises, sunsets, and great shells. 

The state park also has trails for hiking and biking, along with an Environmental Learning Center. Here, you can learn about the island, view a collection of fossils, and see live animals including an alligator. 

Another must do at Edisto Beach State Park is a Botany Bay Ecotours. There are a variety of tours available to choose from that allow you to fully take in Edisto Island’s ecosystem.

Botany Bay Ecotours

The ONLY biologist-owned ecotour business on Edisto and the ACE Basin.

Fripp Island

Fripp Island is a private community only accessible to those who are staying on the island. This barrier island is only three and a half miles long and half a mile wide, but it is home to all kinds of wildlife. 

The island has over 175 species of birds, bottlenose dolphins play in the surrounding water, and the island is a place where loggerhead turtles like to nest. You’ll also see whitetail deer roaming all over the island. I remember going to Fripp Island as a kid and seeing deer all the time. People even went up and fed them, but that’s not encouraged now. When you see the deer, it’s best to let them be and observe from a distance. 

After relaxing on the beach, wind down at Fripp Island’s five pools. You can also enjoy golfing, tennis courts, visiting Fripp Island’s Marina for fishing, eating at some good restaurants, and enjoying outdoor excursions. 

Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island is about two hours from Charleston, but it has the perfect small town charm with beautiful beaches. There are plenty of hotels, inns, resorts, villas, and vacation homes here. 

If you’re a Disney fan, experience the magic at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. No matter where you decide to stay, you’ll be certain to enjoy Hilton Head’s twelve miles of beach. Hilton Head is ranked as one of the top islands in America and its white sands and calm water clearly show why it’s a favorite. 

There’s plenty to do on the island, even after you’ve had your fill of sand and sun. Golfers will delight in the island’s 26 courses. Get some water activities in too, with opportunities to kayak, paddleboard, parasail, or jet ski. Fun excursions also include dolphin cruises, fishing charters, guided tours, and bike rentals.

2-Hour Guided Kayak Nature Tour of Hilton Head
Hilton Head Island Dolphin Boat Cruise

Pawleys Island

Pawleys Island is just over an hour from Charleston. This island is known for its relaxing beaches and laid-back vibe. With three miles of coastline, public beach accesses, and free parking, it’s easy to get to the beach and start sunbathing and enjoying the water. 

There are also plenty of places to rent umbrellas, chairs, and beach accessories. The creek in between Pawleys Island and the mainland is a good place to fish and crab. Experience dining, golfing, biking, and shopping on both the island itself and the mainland. 

Visit The Hammock Shops Village, which is home to the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock. It also has 21 shops and 2 restaurants. I personally love the fudge at the Original Hammock Shop!

The Bottom Line

Charleston provides access to a great variety of beaches. Whether you’re looking for a vacation getaway, a local beach, or a good time, there is a beach in the Charleston area for everyone. 

No matter which beach you choose to visit, you’ll be reasonably close to Charleston. This in itself can make for the perfect day trip, too, if you need a break from the beach or want a wider selection of restaurants!



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