Charleston, South Carolina has most anything you could want from a city… and then it has beaches. Where else in the USA can you marvel at historical architecture, eat an affordable gourmet meal, and then lay yourself down on a splendid stretch of sand? Savannah? Saint Augustine? The list is short. In this article we’re going to look at five beaches in the Charleston area and decide which is the best beach in Charleston.
And when you’re done, if you would like to learn more about all the things to do, see, eat, and experience in and around Charleston SC, be sure to read our Complete Guide to Charleston.
Here we go!
Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island (that’s a mouthful) is the most unusual beach we’ve ever visited and therefore earns the title of best beach in Charleston (map). It would be easy to give the designation to Folly Beach or Isle of Palms, two popular beaches fronted by mansions and restaurants. However, we are drawn to distinct, one-of-a-kind places around the country, and while Driftwood Beach isn’t the only dead tree sanctuary on the East Coast, it is the most haunting and spectacular of them all. In fact, it is one of the best things we’ve seen in our US travels.
When you first set foot on Driftwood Beach you might think you’ve landed on another planet or another time. It is the work of Medusa; the trees are dead and upright like your co-workers. Spend the day climbing around and picnicking with the kids. Walk northward to the bay — Here you will find an assortment of beautiful shells adorning every branch on every tree. As tempting as it may be to sneak a shell or two from the beach, there is a $285 fine. Click for more words and photos…
If a day of sunbathing and boogie boarding fits your agenda, or perhaps a simple afternoon inspecting the swimsuits of fellow beachgoers, then Folly Beach is your kind of place. This is our favorite Charleston SC beach to frequent because it reminds us of a California Beach (without all those — ahem — Californians). We can say that because we’re self-loathing Seattleites who blame our neighbors down the road for all our problems. It’s a west coast thing.
The town of Folly Beach is terrific for shopping and eating foods. The vibe is summery. They have two fantastic surf shops for all your hat and t-shirt needs. The houses are large and beautiful. And the streets of Folly Beach are practically as nice to stroll as the the beach! Everything here is clean and relaxed — an ideal scene for families and co-eds — making it an easy choice for best beach in Charleston.
On the North Side of Charleston Harbor is Sullivan’s Island (map). This is a wealthy corner of the city where the houses are extra large and the beach feels almost private, (but it’s not — it’s for all of us to enjoy). The north end of the island runs flush with Isle of Palms, and at the south end of the island is Fort Moultrie (of Civil War fame). These photographs were taken at the south end looking toward downtown Charleston.
Sullivan’s Island has the locals-only feel in the best possible way: Lowkey crowd, a little bit of shopping, a couple of restaurants, nice house along the beach, and a whole lotta sand. Here you can walk for miles and see very few people.
Isle of Palms isn’t all that different than Sullivan’s Island — a small inlet is all that separates them (map). It’s a little closer to civilization and has more commerce, so it feels more commercial, (which is why we ranked it lower). Nonetheless, the quality of beach and opulence of mansion are every bit as nice as Sullivan’s, and some consider this the best beach in Charleston.
We witnessed a baptism while we were here the day these photos were taken. A large group of African women wearing white were out in the ocean singing songs and looking incredibly conspicuous. It was amazing. We would also recommend the Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, which is easy to find on Isle of Palms. They have excellent food.
Kiawah Island is a golf mecca of akin to Hilton Head Island to the south. Everything appears homogenous on the island, and honestly, we find Kiawah a bit dull. The island is not without its merits, however. The beach is nondescript, but on the far south shore where the Kiawah River separates Kiawah Island from Seabrook Island you might find a flock of pelicans to harass. It’s a cool, remote corner of the island, but there’s something even better going on here.
Kiawah Beachwalker Park has a very interesting inhabitant, the river dolphin, and the river dolphin is up to some interesting things. The dolphins in these parts perform what is referred to as “strand fishing” to catch their meals. It is a rare behavior where the dolphins swim in a circle to surround a school of fish before pushing them onto the beach with a “team-effort” wave of water. Then, once the fish are flopping on the sand, the dolphins beach themselves and feast like college students without any hands. What. The. Heck. That’s pretty darn awesome. Well, we visited twice — at the correct times — and they weren’t performing either day. So we self-medicated with excellent fried chicken at the Blue Water Gas Station.
Charleston, SC is a special place for many reasons. We love it here and will return again and again over the years. A big part of our love for the city are the beaches, and I think most Charlestonians will agree.
If you’re in town for a weekend to check out the historical plantations, a trip out to Folly Beach is a no-brainer for a pleasant afternoon. If you’re here a little bit longer, we would encourage you to make the drive to Edisto Island for Driftwood Beach. It will live in your memories forever. Some other incredible places to visit include:
South Carolina Beaches and Coastal Things to Do
South Carolina Islands to Visit
Historic Downtown Charleston: Streets and Parks
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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