9 Best Beaches in Charleston



Slide 1 of 10: You’re never far from the sand or water in this part of South Carolina—and the barrier islands beyond Charleston's city limits beckon for an afternoon jaunt. Many are just an hour drive from downtown, but you're able to find every kind of beach experience under the sun, from family days out with plenty of amenities, to secluded spots where it’s just you and nature, to historic lighthouses and wild beaches that look as if they're right off the set of Castaway. Grab a towel and a sturdy pair of sandals and get on the road—these are our absolute favorite beaches in Charleston.
Get more intel on this much-loved South Carolina city in our Charleston city guide.
Slide 2 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Thanks to its ten miles of pristine coastline, Kiawah Island is generally regarded as one of the country's most beautiful barrier islands—and you can bet the asking prices reflect the admiration. The majority of the pristine sands are under private ownership, but the public can sample the scenery at Beachwalker Park, down at the southwestern tip of the island. The sands are soft as anywhere else on this nature-lover’s island, and best of all, you don't need a homeowner's deed to enjoy them.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s around a 45-minute drive from Charleston’s downtown, through Johns Island. There’s a parking lot for public use, and entry costs between $5 and $10, depending on the season.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren't many beachside amenities, but those that are offered feel higher-end than your standard fare. There are gleaming dressing and picnic areas, as well as a small vending facility for drinks and snacks. In high season, you can rent chairs and umbrellas, and even beach-accessible wheelchairs.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Beachwalker Park definitely lives up to its name—you're venturing here to stroll along the sand, not to partake in high-octane water sports. The water is clean (though not clear) and canoeing and kayaking are both popular, especially around the Kiawah River, which runs parallel to the shore.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The soft sands are friendly to barefoot walkers, but they’re also firm enough to bike across. The entire stretch is clean and well-maintained.
Anything special we should look for?
If you’re lucky, you can spot dolphins feeding and playing at the point where the mouth of the river meets the ocean.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
If relative tranquillity and wildlife are your bag, then this is the place. And while you may not be crazy about the entry fee, it may wind up working in your favor: it acts as a built-in crowd control feature, so you can enjoy the luxury of space outside of the very peak times.
Slide 3 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Known colloquially as the Edge of America, Folly Beach is a barrier island on the front lines of the Atlantic, with nothing but ocean stretching out before it. Despite its popularity, the place has managed to retain its small-town character—you won't catch too many chains here—though funky restaurants and bars are still well in abundance.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s a 12-mile drive from downtown Charleston, and while free parking is theoretically possible around the downtown area, a day-long parking pass at one of the local lots ($7) isn't going to break the bank.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren't any cabanas at the beach, so you'll want to come wearing your suit; but there is a stand where you can rent chairs and umbrellas, and the rental crews will even set them up for you. If you want to try your hand at fishing, there’s a tackle and bait shop right on the pier, and you can find almost everything else you need at any of the dozens of local stores. The far West End of the beach has the Pelican Watch facility with changing and picnic areas.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
There’s the slightest hint of surf culture around sections of the beach, called The Pier and The Washout; but it’s low-key, and blends in with the beach's generally relaxed vibe.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The sands have a remedial coarseness, but are generally smooth and perfect for barefoot walks.
Anything special we should look for?
The pier is probably the most notable feature of the beach, especially if you intend to fish for your supper. The business district has managed to stay quaint, with more one-off joints than chains, and there are plenty of places to eat; try local favorite Lost Dog Café, famed for its breakfast menu (and its canine guests).
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Folly is an easy beach to visit and to love, with enough natural beauty to justify driving out, and plenty of amenities and restaurants within an easy walking distance. It doesn't feel too remote, nor is it sagging with overdevelopment, but on high season weekends can get very crowded on Center Street with more folks looking for fun than sun, so plan accordingly.
Slide 4 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Located at the Southern tip of Edisto Island, this beach's four-and-a-half miles of coastline and sands remain a picture of tranquillity, thanks mostly to very low levels of development. It’s part of the ACE Basin, a beautiful estuary; at Edisto, where the Edisto River meets the Atlantic, the wetlands and hardwood forests make way for long stretches of shell-rich sands.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
The beach is about 60 miles outside of downtown Charleston, with Highway 174 meandering its way through the changing landscapes. In total, there are 37 beach access points with parking, and it’s $5 to enter the State Park.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Preserving the natural beauty of the area means amenities are relatively scarce; but there’s a welcome station, an education center, restrooms, and a picnic area.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The clean sands and gentle waters make Edisto a perfect spot for families, with children safe to paddle in the lapping tides and forage treasures that are more likely to be seashells than broken beer bottles. Swimming and walking are about as energetic as things get in this part of the world, though you can also fish and hike.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Although there are stretches of smooth sand, the beach is also one of the more shell-strewn areas in the region; you'll want to strap on some decent footwear.
Anything special we should look for?
It’s about a 30-minute walk from the welcome center, but if you’re looking for shells, fossils, and shark’s teeth, then wander out to Jeremy’s Inlet at low tide, and spend a while sifting through the gems that have washed up on the shore. If you get lucky, you might also hit on some historic and archeological finds.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
It’s one of the longer drives out from Charleston, but the calm and relative quiet of the area, as well as its family-friendly environs, make Edisto Beach a must.

Slide 5 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Isle of Palms, one of the area's most family-friendly beaches, stretches across seven miles of shoreline. Between the two ends is a tight seaside community that offers a vast range of activities (water sports, golfing, boat tours, and fishing charters), plus stunning white sands.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s just a twelve-mile drive through Mount Pleasant to reach IOP (as the locals call it) County Park. It’ll cost you $10 to park in one of the lots. Once there, the shoreline is eminently walkable, though if you want to scope out entire stretch, you might want to rent a bicycle.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
The main County Park lot has a vending area and bathrooms, so you can both change and buy sunhats, boogie boards, and beach sundries as well as basic snacks. There’s also a rental station for chairs and umbrellas.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The sands are family-friendly—they're nice and soft, and you'll see plenty of other kids splashing around. Beyond the opportunities for swimming and surfing, the Wild Dunes public golf courses are a big draw, along with the sports fishing charters and the ever-popular sunset dolphin-watching cruises.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
It’s smooth, white sands as far as you can see, with plenty of space to lay out even during peak season.
Anything special we should look for?
If you can, arrange a way to get out on the water, whether it’s to fish, or take an eco tour of the barrier islands (IOP attracts turtles during egg laying season). If you're less about the sea turtles, and more about the adult beverages, take your party to the Windjammer beach club, where buzzy drink specials and live music are a tempting prospect once the sun goes down.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
The pull of IOP is its accommodating size: there's plenty of room for families and groups to stretch out, even on busier weekends. It's nice to hit the beach, and not have to worry about getting sand kicked into your cooler.
Slide 6 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Seabrook is a private, residential beachfront community that's home to some of the region's toniest summer houses. It has some four miles of pristine, sandy beaches, and for the most part, said beaches are much quieter than similar neighboring spots.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
Seabrook is about an hour’s drive from downtown Charleston right on the roundabout at Kiawah’s Freshfields Market. And a word to the wise: the community is strict about parking, so stick to the designated public lots.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
The beaches are mainly equipped to suit the needs of local residents, so there's not much in the way of purpose-built picnic spots or changing cabanas. Bring with you what you might need for a day at the beach, and be prepared to change in the car unless you’re renting a place on the island.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Pelican Beach (also known as Sunset Beach) is the most popular stretch for sun-worshippers or families with children. The waves are gentle enough for kids to paddle around in safety (with adult supervision, of course), and swimming is a singular pleasure.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Like most of the region’s beaches, the sand is soft, and ideal for barefoot afternoon strolls; it's also good for building sandcastles.
Anything special we should look for?
If you can rouse yourself for the sunrise, head to North Beach, where the sun's first rays make a spectacular landfall each morning. From the grassy dunes, you can spot all types of seabirds, and if you're lucky, a pod of dolphins feeding nearby.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Maybe you're more interested in spending a lazy day stretched out on the sand or picnicking in the sand dunes than having shops and restaurants at your disposal, although there are a few of both. If a day away is what you're after, Seabrook is your best option.
Slide 7 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
This undeveloped barrier island is one of the most dramatic spots along the entirety of the South Carolina coast. It's also home to some of the heaviest vegetation, and the narrow stretches of sand are lined with living and petrified palm trees (many damaged by Hurricane Hugo), giving it a surreal, otherworldly look.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
Capers island can only be reached by boat, but you can find charters from Sullivan Island. If you're a little more adventurous (or more athletically inclined) you can canoe or kayak to the island under your own steam.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
It’s a fairly remote and undeveloped island (hence the appeal); so you'll want to bring everything you might need with you, from bug spray, to extra layers of clothing and water.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
If you come here with visions of sunbathing and picnicking, you'll be in the minority: Most people come to hike through the eerie beachside forest, and to photograph the tree skeletons and stumps that have been there for years, and have been bleached by the sun. There’s also plenty of wildlife to look out for, from deer to loggerhead turtles to ospreys.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The thin stretch of sand is soft enough, but you’ll mostly be walking across timber and woodland area—so wear shoes that can withstand some serious use, especially closed-toe hiking boots if you're going to explore the forest.
Anything special we should look for?
The front beach is known affectionately as the Bone Yard. This memorable collection of weirdly tangled trees is the main draw for budding nature photographers.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Yes, you're here for the fishing and birding; but you're also pretending you're in Robinson Crusoe. It's really that desolate looking.
Slide 8 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
If even the low-level development of the neighboring barrier islands is too much for you, Bulls Island (part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge) delivers an even more remote experience. North Beach is a Robinson Crusoe-esque stretch of untouched sand, while Boneyard Beach, as its name suggests, looks like a ghoulish cemetery of sorts, with spiny tree branches poking out from beneath the sand.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
From Charleston, you can take U.S. 17 North through Mount Pleasant, turning off for Garris Landing where a twice-daily ferry (in summer, it runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; in winter, just Saturdays) will transport you into the estuaries; if you’re lucky, a pod of dolphins will be there to welcome you as you approach. It’s $40 for adults and $20 for children over the age of two.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Although the beaches are incredibly scenic and panoramic, it’s not really a sunbather’s spot. Most people are there to spot the local wildlife, so don’t expect kiosks selling sunglasses, or even any real facilities. Bring what you need, including hiking gear and water.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The gentle coastal waters are fine to swim and paddle around in, and granted, some visitors while away a few hours doing just that. But the real reason for coming to Bulls Island is to throw on your binoculars and look out for the fauna, which includes everything from alligators to flamingo. Hiking, shelling, and beachcombing for sand dollars and bits of Native American pottery are secondary, though no less enjoyable, activities.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
North Beach has the smooth sands, while Boneyard Beach is a little tougher on the toes. Either way, bring a sturdy pair of sandals.
Anything special we should look for?
The all-encompassing natural beauty is a special thing all on its own, but to drum up the experience even more, book a sunrise expedition from one of the tour companies at Garris Landing.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
You really feel like you're adrift on an island in the middle of the Atlantic when you're here, as opposed to just a few miles off the coast of prim and proper Charleston. If you really need to get away from it all for a few hours, this is the place to go.
Slide 9 of 10: Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Though it's pretty quiet in the off-season, the beach at Sullivan’s Island is a hive of activity come spring and summer. Driving out of downtown Charleston across the Ravenel Bridge, marsh and wetlands give way to this lovely barrier island, with its public beach overlooked by the historic lighthouse. Come at low tide, when the sands are wide enough to accommodate the throngs of day trippers trickling in from the city.
Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s car-accessible, and just a 15-20 minute drive from the peninsula. You can park anywhere you can back onto the sands (there are beach access points approximately once per block), but get there before 10 a.m. during high season if you want to avoid a veritable scrum of vehicles.
Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren’t really any beachside amenities, but the fact that the environs aren’t overdeveloped is part of Sullivan's appeal. And don't count on privacy: you can sneak off behind a dune if you need to, but otherwise, plan on bringing (and wearing) everything you might need for a day at the beach.
How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Most people come here to just chill on the sand, but the swell does get respectable enough for some surfing; if you're lucky, the breeze might even pick up enough to kite surf. It's also worth noting how well-maintained this beach is: the water and sands are super clean, with hardly an ice cream wrapper in sight.
Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Your shade is as good as you make it, so be sure to pack plenty of umbrellas and shades, especially if you're quick to burn. Luckily, there's plenty of room to spread your stuff around: the beach itself is wide, and even during peak season, doesn't feel too claustrophobic.
Anything special we should look for?
Edgar Allan Poe was stationed here during his military service, one of this island's claims to fame; another is its name “Obstinate Daughter,” a moniker earned by the area during the American Revolution, and now one of the best spots to eat on the island, though if your feet are still sandy, swing by HomeTeam BBQ
instead, where you can order wings and rinse off your feet while you’re waiting.
If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
The island is an easy hop from Charleston, and a good all-round beach for families and water sports enthusiasts. There's even something for history buffs: Fort Moultrie, operated by the National Park Service

Slide 10 of 10: Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here?
The breeze over the tidal creek is pretty much a constant at Mosquito Beach, off a little country road on a island that seems forgotten.
Fun! Any standout features or must-sees?
During the 1950s, when other area beaches were segregated, the African-American landowners in this historic community began opening clubs and restaurants—and eventually a 14-room hotel—on this narrow strip of land between two tidal creeks. Soon it became a gathering place for those denied access to the whites-only beaches. That era has passed, and the years haven't been kind to the few remaining buildings or the boardwalk, which was a victim of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Recently, though, the beach and its history have garnered attention from preservationists. The 14-room Pine Tree Hotel was just awarded a grant for restoration from the National Park Service, though exactly what the building's use will be in the future is still under debate. The Island Breeze, run by Norma and Norman, is a must-visit here for its blend of Caribbean soul food and live music—come for the sunset, stay for the party, and bring plenty of bug repellant.
Got it. Was it easy to get around?
Mosquito Beach is located off Sol Legare Road on the way to Folly Beach, but this is a pocket of "country" community, so there isn't much signage. If you drive all the way to the end of Sol Legare, you'll hit a public boat landing with another outstanding view—not a bad extra detour.
That sounds cool. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for?
Don't come looking to park it on the beach for the whole day; there's just a tidal creek, and we wouldn't suggest swimming. But the view is beautiful, and by ordering a delicious plate of crab rice from Island Breeze, you'll be supporting the community's preservation efforts.

You’re never far from the sand or water in this part of South Carolina—and the barrier islands beyond Charleston’s city limits beckon for an afternoon jaunt. Many are just an hour drive from downtown, but you’re able to find every kind of beach experience under the sun, from family days out with plenty of amenities, to secluded spots where it’s just you and nature, to historic lighthouses and wild beaches that look as if they’re right off the set of Castaway. Grab a towel and a sturdy pair of sandals and get on the road—these are our absolute favorite beaches in Charleston.

Get more intel on this much-loved South Carolina city in our Charleston city guide.

Kiawah Beachwalker Park

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Thanks to its ten miles of pristine coastline, Kiawah Island is generally regarded as one of the country’s most beautiful barrier islands—and you can bet the asking prices reflect the admiration. The majority of the pristine sands are under private ownership, but the public can sample the scenery at Beachwalker Park, down at the southwestern tip of the island. The sands are soft as anywhere else on this nature-lover’s island, and best of all, you don’t need a homeowner’s deed to enjoy them.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s around a 45-minute drive from Charleston’s downtown, through Johns Island. There’s a parking lot for public use, and entry costs between $5 and $10, depending on the season.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren’t many beachside amenities, but those that are offered feel higher-end than your standard fare. There are gleaming dressing and picnic areas, as well as a small vending facility for drinks and snacks. In high season, you can rent chairs and umbrellas, and even beach-accessible wheelchairs.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Beachwalker Park definitely lives up to its name—you’re venturing here to stroll along the sand, not to partake in high-octane water sports. The water is clean (though not clear) and canoeing and kayaking are both popular, especially around the Kiawah River, which runs parallel to the shore.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The soft sands are friendly to barefoot walkers, but they’re also firm enough to bike across. The entire stretch is clean and well-maintained.

Anything special we should look for?
If you’re lucky, you can spot dolphins feeding and playing at the point where the mouth of the river meets the ocean.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
If relative tranquillity and wildlife are your bag, then this is the place. And while you may not be crazy about the entry fee, it may wind up working in your favor: it acts as a built-in crowd control feature, so you can enjoy the luxury of space outside of the very peak times.

Folly Beach

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Known colloquially as the Edge of America, Folly Beach is a barrier island on the front lines of the Atlantic, with nothing but ocean stretching out before it. Despite its popularity, the place has managed to retain its small-town character—you won’t catch too many chains here—though funky restaurants and bars are still well in abundance.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s a 12-mile drive from downtown Charleston, and while free parking is theoretically possible around the downtown area, a day-long parking pass at one of the local lots ($7) isn’t going to break the bank.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren’t any cabanas at the beach, so you’ll want to come wearing your suit; but there is a stand where you can rent chairs and umbrellas, and the rental crews will even set them up for you. If you want to try your hand at fishing, there’s a tackle and bait shop right on the pier, and you can find almost everything else you need at any of the dozens of local stores. The far West End of the beach has the Pelican Watch facility with changing and picnic areas.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
There’s the slightest hint of surf culture around sections of the beach, called The Pier and The Washout; but it’s low-key, and blends in with the beach’s generally relaxed vibe.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The sands have a remedial coarseness, but are generally smooth and perfect for barefoot walks.

Anything special we should look for?
The pier is probably the most notable feature of the beach, especially if you intend to fish for your supper. The business district has managed to stay quaint, with more one-off joints than chains, and there are plenty of places to eat; try local favorite Lost Dog Café, famed for its breakfast menu (and its canine guests).

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Folly is an easy beach to visit and to love, with enough natural beauty to justify driving out, and plenty of amenities and restaurants within an easy walking distance. It doesn’t feel too remote, nor is it sagging with overdevelopment, but on high season weekends can get very crowded on Center Street with more folks looking for fun than sun, so plan accordingly.

Edisto Beach

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Located at the Southern tip of Edisto Island, this beach’s four-and-a-half miles of coastline and sands remain a picture of tranquillity, thanks mostly to very low levels of development. It’s part of the ACE Basin, a beautiful estuary; at Edisto, where the Edisto River meets the Atlantic, the wetlands and hardwood forests make way for long stretches of shell-rich sands.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
The beach is about 60 miles outside of downtown Charleston, with Highway 174 meandering its way through the changing landscapes. In total, there are 37 beach access points with parking, and it’s $5 to enter the State Park.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Preserving the natural beauty of the area means amenities are relatively scarce; but there’s a welcome station, an education center, restrooms, and a picnic area.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The clean sands and gentle waters make Edisto a perfect spot for families, with children safe to paddle in the lapping tides and forage treasures that are more likely to be seashells than broken beer bottles. Swimming and walking are about as energetic as things get in this part of the world, though you can also fish and hike.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Although there are stretches of smooth sand, the beach is also one of the more shell-strewn areas in the region; you’ll want to strap on some decent footwear.

Anything special we should look for?
It’s about a 30-minute walk from the welcome center, but if you’re looking for shells, fossils, and shark’s teeth, then wander out to Jeremy’s Inlet at low tide, and spend a while sifting through the gems that have washed up on the shore. If you get lucky, you might also hit on some historic and archeological finds.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
It’s one of the longer drives out from Charleston, but the calm and relative quiet of the area, as well as its family-friendly environs, make Edisto Beach a must.

Isle of Palms

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Isle of Palms, one of the area’s most family-friendly beaches, stretches across seven miles of shoreline. Between the two ends is a tight seaside community that offers a vast range of activities (water sports, golfing, boat tours, and fishing charters), plus stunning white sands.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s just a twelve-mile drive through Mount Pleasant to reach IOP (as the locals call it) County Park. It’ll cost you $10 to park in one of the lots. Once there, the shoreline is eminently walkable, though if you want to scope out entire stretch, you might want to rent a bicycle.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
The main County Park lot has a vending area and bathrooms, so you can both change and buy sunhats, boogie boards, and beach sundries as well as basic snacks. There’s also a rental station for chairs and umbrellas.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The sands are family-friendly—they’re nice and soft, and you’ll see plenty of other kids splashing around. Beyond the opportunities for swimming and surfing, the Wild Dunes public golf courses are a big draw, along with the sports fishing charters and the ever-popular sunset dolphin-watching cruises.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
It’s smooth, white sands as far as you can see, with plenty of space to lay out even during peak season.

Anything special we should look for?
If you can, arrange a way to get out on the water, whether it’s to fish, or take an eco tour of the barrier islands (IOP attracts turtles during egg laying season). If you’re less about the sea turtles, and more about the adult beverages, take your party to the Windjammer beach club, where buzzy drink specials and live music are a tempting prospect once the sun goes down.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
The pull of IOP is its accommodating size: there’s plenty of room for families and groups to stretch out, even on busier weekends. It’s nice to hit the beach, and not have to worry about getting sand kicked into your cooler.

Seabrook Island

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Seabrook is a private, residential beachfront community that’s home to some of the region’s toniest summer houses. It has some four miles of pristine, sandy beaches, and for the most part, said beaches are much quieter than similar neighboring spots.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
Seabrook is about an hour’s drive from downtown Charleston right on the roundabout at Kiawah’s Freshfields Market. And a word to the wise: the community is strict about parking, so stick to the designated public lots.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
The beaches are mainly equipped to suit the needs of local residents, so there’s not much in the way of purpose-built picnic spots or changing cabanas. Bring with you what you might need for a day at the beach, and be prepared to change in the car unless you’re renting a place on the island.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Pelican Beach (also known as Sunset Beach) is the most popular stretch for sun-worshippers or families with children. The waves are gentle enough for kids to paddle around in safety (with adult supervision, of course), and swimming is a singular pleasure.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Like most of the region’s beaches, the sand is soft, and ideal for barefoot afternoon strolls; it’s also good for building sandcastles.

Anything special we should look for?
If you can rouse yourself for the sunrise, head to North Beach, where the sun’s first rays make a spectacular landfall each morning. From the grassy dunes, you can spot all types of seabirds, and if you’re lucky, a pod of dolphins feeding nearby.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Maybe you’re more interested in spending a lazy day stretched out on the sand or picnicking in the sand dunes than having shops and restaurants at your disposal, although there are a few of both. If a day away is what you’re after, Seabrook is your best option.

Capers Island

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
This undeveloped barrier island is one of the most dramatic spots along the entirety of the South Carolina coast. It’s also home to some of the heaviest vegetation, and the narrow stretches of sand are lined with living and petrified palm trees (many damaged by Hurricane Hugo), giving it a surreal, otherworldly look.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
Capers island can only be reached by boat, but you can find charters from Sullivan Island. If you’re a little more adventurous (or more athletically inclined) you can canoe or kayak to the island under your own steam.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
It’s a fairly remote and undeveloped island (hence the appeal); so you’ll want to bring everything you might need with you, from bug spray, to extra layers of clothing and water.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
If you come here with visions of sunbathing and picnicking, you’ll be in the minority: Most people come to hike through the eerie beachside forest, and to photograph the tree skeletons and stumps that have been there for years, and have been bleached by the sun. There’s also plenty of wildlife to look out for, from deer to loggerhead turtles to ospreys.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
The thin stretch of sand is soft enough, but you’ll mostly be walking across timber and woodland area—so wear shoes that can withstand some serious use, especially closed-toe hiking boots if you’re going to explore the forest.

Anything special we should look for?
The front beach is known affectionately as the Bone Yard. This memorable collection of weirdly tangled trees is the main draw for budding nature photographers.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
Yes, you’re here for the fishing and birding; but you’re also pretending you’re in Robinson Crusoe. It’s really that desolate looking.

Bulls Island

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
If even the low-level development of the neighboring barrier islands is too much for you, Bulls Island (part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge) delivers an even more remote experience. North Beach is a Robinson Crusoe-esque stretch of untouched sand, while Boneyard Beach, as its name suggests, looks like a ghoulish cemetery of sorts, with spiny tree branches poking out from beneath the sand.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
From Charleston, you can take U.S. 17 North through Mount Pleasant, turning off for Garris Landing where a twice-daily ferry (in summer, it runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; in winter, just Saturdays) will transport you into the estuaries; if you’re lucky, a pod of dolphins will be there to welcome you as you approach. It’s $40 for adults and $20 for children over the age of two.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
Although the beaches are incredibly scenic and panoramic, it’s not really a sunbather’s spot. Most people are there to spot the local wildlife, so don’t expect kiosks selling sunglasses, or even any real facilities. Bring what you need, including hiking gear and water.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
The gentle coastal waters are fine to swim and paddle around in, and granted, some visitors while away a few hours doing just that. But the real reason for coming to Bulls Island is to throw on your binoculars and look out for the fauna, which includes everything from alligators to flamingo. Hiking, shelling, and beachcombing for sand dollars and bits of Native American pottery are secondary, though no less enjoyable, activities.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
North Beach has the smooth sands, while Boneyard Beach is a little tougher on the toes. Either way, bring a sturdy pair of sandals.

Anything special we should look for?
The all-encompassing natural beauty is a special thing all on its own, but to drum up the experience even more, book a sunrise expedition from one of the tour companies at Garris Landing.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
You really feel like you’re adrift on an island in the middle of the Atlantic when you’re here, as opposed to just a few miles off the coast of prim and proper Charleston. If you really need to get away from it all for a few hours, this is the place to go.

Sullivan’s Island

Give us the wide-angle view: what kind of beach are we talking about?
Though it’s pretty quiet in the off-season, the beach at Sullivan’s Island is a hive of activity come spring and summer. Driving out of downtown Charleston across the Ravenel Bridge, marsh and wetlands give way to this lovely barrier island, with its public beach overlooked by the historic lighthouse. Come at low tide, when the sands are wide enough to accommodate the throngs of day trippers trickling in from the city.

Lovely. How accessible is it?
It’s car-accessible, and just a 15-20 minute drive from the peninsula. You can park anywhere you can back onto the sands (there are beach access points approximately once per block), but get there before 10 a.m. during high season if you want to avoid a veritable scrum of vehicles.

Got it. Decent services and facilities, would you say?
There aren’t really any beachside amenities, but the fact that the environs aren’t overdeveloped is part of Sullivan’s appeal. And don’t count on privacy: you can sneak off behind a dune if you need to, but otherwise, plan on bringing (and wearing) everything you might need for a day at the beach.

How’s the actual beach stuff—sand and surf?
Most people come here to just chill on the sand, but the swell does get respectable enough for some surfing; if you’re lucky, the breeze might even pick up enough to kite surf. It’s also worth noting how well-maintained this beach is: the water and sands are super clean, with hardly an ice cream wrapper in sight.

Excellent. Can we go barefoot?
Your shade is as good as you make it, so be sure to pack plenty of umbrellas and shades, especially if you’re quick to burn. Luckily, there’s plenty of room to spread your stuff around: the beach itself is wide, and even during peak season, doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.

Anything special we should look for?
Edgar Allan Poe was stationed here during his military service, one of this island’s claims to fame; another is its name “Obstinate Daughter,” a moniker earned by the area during the American Revolution, and now one of the best spots to eat on the island, though if your feet are still sandy, swing by HomeTeam BBQ
instead, where you can order wings and rinse off your feet while you’re waiting.

If we’re thinking about going, what—and who—is this beach best for?
The island is an easy hop from Charleston, and a good all-round beach for families and water sports enthusiasts. There’s even something for history buffs: Fort Moultrie, operated by the National Park Service

Mosquito Beach

Let’s start big picture. What’s the vibe here?
The breeze over the tidal creek is pretty much a constant at Mosquito Beach, off a little country road on a island that seems forgotten.

Fun! Any standout features or must-sees?
During the 1950s, when other area beaches were segregated, the African-American landowners in this historic community began opening clubs and restaurants—and eventually a 14-room hotel—on this narrow strip of land between two tidal creeks. Soon it became a gathering place for those denied access to the whites-only beaches. That era has passed, and the years haven’t been kind to the few remaining buildings or the boardwalk, which was a victim of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Recently, though, the beach and its history have garnered attention from preservationists. The 14-room Pine Tree Hotel was just awarded a grant for restoration from the National Park Service, though exactly what the building’s use will be in the future is still under debate. The Island Breeze, run by Norma and Norman, is a must-visit here for its blend of Caribbean soul food and live music—come for the sunset, stay for the party, and bring plenty of bug repellant.

Got it. Was it easy to get around?
Mosquito Beach is located off Sol Legare Road on the way to Folly Beach, but this is a pocket of “country” community, so there isn’t much signage. If you drive all the way to the end of Sol Legare, you’ll hit a public boat landing with another outstanding view—not a bad extra detour.

That sounds cool. All said and done, what—and who—is this best for?
Don’t come looking to park it on the beach for the whole day; there’s just a tidal creek, and we wouldn’t suggest swimming. But the view is beautiful, and by ordering a delicious plate of crab rice from Island Breeze, you’ll be supporting the community’s preservation efforts.

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