Charleston, South Carolina, is known for its historic homes, its plantations, and its beaches. History or the natural beauty of the Lowcountry may not be your thing. In which case, there are still some fantastic beaches near Charleston, SC, to experience. So read on to find the best places to soak up the sun and enjoy your upcoming beach vacations in Charleston. Visiting any of these beaches is among the top 10 best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.
A Hipster’s Thoughts on the Beach
Before moving here, I wasn’t much of a beach person.
Give me mountains and woods any day over the beach.
But since moving here, I have come to appreciate living in a beach town.
Unlike most other people, I don’t have to plan a week (or a full day, even) to enjoy the beach. Some of my favorite beach outings consist of getting off work and driving to the nearest beach to enjoy just a few hours before the sun goes down.
My pasty skin thanks me for going when the sun is weakest, and I can get a beach fix without feeling guilty for not getting my money’s worth. At least, that’s how I assume tourists visiting here for the beach must feel.
And in reality, I don’t really know what to do at the beach besides lay on a towel or the sand for a while, swim in the water, dry off, and repeat until I get bored.
But that’s just me. For those looking to plan their beach vacation from someone who doesn’t know how to plan a beach vacation, read on.
Charleston Beach FAQs
First, the most commonly asked questions:
Is Charleston on the ocean?
Charleston is located on a harbor that feeds out into the Atlantic Ocean. The harbor that surrounds and protects the historic downtown Charleston peninsula is why the city was settled in the first place.
And yes, that is a commonly asked question.
Are there beaches in Charleston, SC?
Charleston, South Carolina is home to five distinct beach towns. Each of these towns has its own character. Looking at a map of the beaches near Charleston, SC shows the string of beaches around historic downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
From north to south stretch:
- Isle of Palms
- Sullivan’s Island
- Folly Beach
- Seabrook Island
- Kiawah Island
- Edisto Beach
What is the closest beach to Charleston?
To be fair, though, the difference is statistically insignificant: the drive from downtown Charleston to Sullivan’s Island is about 20 minutes, or 9.5 miles. The drive from downtown to Folly Beach, the next closest, is about 21 minutes, or 11.5 miles. I do personally pick going to Sullivan’s over Folly, though.
What are the closest beaches to Mount Pleasant?
The closest beaches to Mount Pleasant are Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. Which one depends on where you are in Mount Pleasant. Isle of Palms is closer to Park West and the farther reaches of Mount Pleasant. Well, in relation to downtown Charleston.
What is the best beach in Charleston, SC?
Like everything in life, it depends. My favorite is Sullivan’s Island for a couple reasons:
- it’s close to downtown
- traffic to get there (ie: across the sea island bridges) is rarely bad
- it’s always quiet, especially when compared to Folly Beach
But a subjective opinion question depends on what you’re looking for. Read on to figure out which will be your favorite place for a beach day.
The Best Public Beaches near Charleston, SC
1. Isle of Palms
One of the more upscale beaches in the Charleston area, Isle of Palms is a top beach resort island with a world class golf course and ocean front. Isle of Palms is one of the best beaches near Charleston for families. The city of Isle of Palms is nestled among the best neighbors nature can offer in the Atlantic Ocean. Sullivan’s Island, the Intra-coastal Waterway, and Breach Inlet border each respective side. Its active and close-knit community complement the beautiful surrounds. Championship golf at the Kiawah Island Golf resort, tennis, endless beaches, marina, local restaurants and the Isle of Palms County Park all provide plenty of activities during a beach vacation. The island is only 12 miles from downtown Charleston, heading north up Route 17 through Mount Pleasant.
Beachfront hotels on the Isle of Palms include the modern and beautiful Seaside Inn of Isle of Palms. Wild Dunes Resort is another option for waterfront places to stay in the Charleston area.
Isle of Palms Beach Rules for Dogs
Visitors do not need a license but must take note of the periods where a dog can be left off leash. You can bring dogs to the beach, but must keep them on a leash at all times. Signs may be posted about when dogs cannot be on the beach at all. Ensure you take a clean-up bag to the beach to avoid paying a hefty fine (and being exceptionally inconsiderate).
2. Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is an inviting combination of water sports, folklore, history, and broad beach. A neighbor to the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island is nestled at the tip of the Charleston Harbor. The island is a few minutes from Charleston, South Carolina, through Mount Pleasant. Sullivan’s Island is a local favorite. It’s one of the quieter beaches while still close to Charleston.
The island is only 3.3 miles, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. Its beachfront environment of dunes and woods are owned and protected by the town under easements. The goal is to preserve the dynamic and beautiful environment treasured by visitors from all over the world. A stroll or drive through the neighborhoods of Sullivan’s Island is quite pleasant on a warm (not too muggy) day. Elegant beach homes, most year-round residences, line the streets. Some great restaurants on Sullivan’s Island include Poe’s Tavern and Home Team BBQ. Poe’s Tavern was named after Edgar Allen Poe, by the way, who served a stint at Fort Moultrie on the island.
Sullivan’s Island Beach Dog Rules
All dogs on the beach must have a dog license issued by the island. The dog license must be worn at all times. The license costs $35 and also requires a certificate from a vet of recent rabies vaccination. Dogs are not permitted on the beach from the first of May to September 30th from 10 am to 6 pm. Sunday mornings are a doggie “free for all” day. Those days, dogs may wander without a leash but must be within voice command of its owner. Clean up bags must be used for pet messes. Clean up after your dog or you risk getting fined.
3. Folly Beach
This beach is only 15 miles from downtown Charleston through James Island on the appropriately named Folly Road. While biking from Charleston to Folly Beach is possible, I wouldn’t encourage it.
Folly Beach is a universe in and of itself, offering a laidback environment to tourists and locals alike. Its eclectic beachside neighborhoods and locally-owned restaurants make it an ideal place in which to relax and refresh. It’s also a pretty great place to surf in our area.
Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Folly River, Folly Beach is home to not just a fabulous beach vacation location. It is also home to dolphins, loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, and seabirds, and several more endangered species. Some fun locations around the island to experience nature include the trail to the stretch of secluded beach with views of the Morris Island Lighthouse, and the Folly Beach County Park on the opposite end of the island.
The Tides Hotel of Folly Beach is hard to miss in Folly Beach, as it rises high above the main drag of the island. This is one of the most famous beachfront hotels in Charleston, SC, as it has access directly to the beach besides its own pool. The Tides Hotel is within easy walking distance of all the restaurants in Folly Beach and the Folly Beach Fishing Pier.
Folly Gras is also a major attraction to the Edge of America, as Folly Beach is affectionately known. This weekend before the start of Lent each year is Folly Beach at its best: quirky, unique, and laidback.
Folly Beach Dog Rules
Dogs are allowed on the beach only if they are on a leash, but. From May 1 to Sept. 30 and between 10 am and 5 pm, dogs are not permitted on the beach. Other times of the year, dogs are allowed, but only if they are on a leash. As I got bitten by a particularly vicious tiny (unleashed) dog one time on Folly, I can understand that rule. Leash your damn dogs.
4. Kiawah Island
The public beach of Kiawah Island is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in America as well as Charleston. The beautiful Kiawah island features ten miles of pristine beaches. It’s just a 21-mile drive through James Island and Johns Island from downtown Charleston. The Island is an oasis of natural beauty for individuals seeking a luxurious beach adventure. Kiawah beaches are among the most dog-friendly beaches near Charleston. Leashed dogs are allowed within beach premises all year-long. Dogs can be off-leash only during the winter. The secluded beaches of Kiawah Island are for the entire family. The island also offers a view of sand dunes, preserved maritime forests, and marshes where whitetail deer, turtles, and seabirds abound.
5. Seabrook Island
Seabrook Island is a welcoming, private, oceanfront community only thirty minutes from Charleston, SC. The island is immersed in natural splendor. This coastal barrier island is home to serene marshes, lush maritime forest, and pristine beaches.
A lively local community thrives within the Island. There’s a fairly lengthy list of activities and locations throughout Seabrook Island to visit and relax. Visitors can easily explore over three miles of bright sandy beaches, go kayaking through the marshes, horseback ride on the beach, or explore the marina. At the end of the day, you can dine overlooking the ocean. Seabrook Island is a unique opportunity to have whatever holiday experience you’re looking for (except mountains).
6. Edisto Beach
Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is rich in the history of Native America. It’s one of the best oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Island is the least commercial of the island communities near Charleston partly due to its distance. It’s still a good distance for a Lowcountry daytrip or longer-term camping. Edisto Beach provides 38 points of public beach access, some with off-street parking and dune walkovers.
Edisto Beach State Park offers trails for biking and hiking trails. They provide an excellent tour of the park, including some of the tallest palmetto trees in the state and the requisite beautiful live oaks. One of the best trails leads to a 4,000 year old shell midden on a secluded beach on a tidal creek. The park has an environmental education center which is a “green” building. Inside are exhibits that highlight the history of the Edisto Island and its surrounding ACE Basin. This Edisto public beach is open to tourists and locals.
Edisto Beach Directions from Charleston
From downtown Charleston, take highway 17 SOUTH. Turn to the left on HWY 174 and follow road signs to Edisto Beach. The drive is about an hour.
The Best Beaches near Savannah, GA
Continue down the coast from Edisto and hit the beaches near Beaufort, Hilton Head, and finally Savannah. The closest beaches near Savannah, Georgia, are all on Savannah islands. The Tybee Island Beach is the closest to Savannah, at just a 20-minute drive from downtown. Tybee Island, called “Savannah’s Beach”, offers 5 miles of public-access beach.
One of the most famous weekend road trips from Charleston, SC, is the scenic drive to Savannah.
Experience One of the Best Free Things to Do in Charleston This Summer!
There’s no question that visiting Lowcountry beaches is one of the best things to do in Charleston. One of the best parts about the beaches here is that they’re all free attractions in Charleston. Our fantastic beaches are yet another reason to visit besides the National Heritage sites and various museums and other activities!