Sullivan’s Island: History, Beauty, and Charm All in One Place

woman on the beach

Nestled just off the coast of Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is a gem waiting to be discovered.

This barrier island of only 3.3 square miles is packed with:

  • History
  • Natural beauty
  • And local charm

Making it the perfect getaway for those appreciative of unique destinations. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach or explore historic landmarks, Sullivan’s Island is perfect for a day trip.

So what are you waiting for?

Read on:

Read more: Sullivan’s Island: History, Beauty, and Charm All in One Place

What is Sullivan’s Island known for?

sunset on the waves at sullivan's island sc

Sullivan’s Island is a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina.


It’s famous for its stunning beaches and (relatively) untouched natural beauty. Visitors to the isle can:

  • Stroll down the serene shoreline
  • Take part in outdoor activities
  • Or explore the local cuisine

All while admiring the captivating landscape. Sullivan’s Island also offers a variety of historical landmarks such as:

  • Fort Moultrie features artifacts related to its prestigious past during the Revolutionary War.
  • The Charleston Lighthouse towers over Sullivan’s Island’s otherwise unblemished beaches.

With its diverse attractions and magnetic charm, Sullivan’s Island is a remarkable destination.


Sullivan’s Island history

sailboat in front of the charleston light

History permeates charming Sullivan’s Island.


Revolutionary War

Just off the coast of South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island’s recorded history dates back to before the Revolutionary War. Fort Moultrie played a pivotal role in defending what was then Charlestowne from the British.


African-American history at Sullivan’s Island

Enslaved Africans were quarantined on Sullivan’s Island in a variety of “pest houses.” There, slavers tested them for communicable diseases. After passing inspection, they were transported to Charleston and sold at public auction. It’s estimated that 40% of the estimated 400,000 enslaved Africans transported to Colonial America arrived at Sullivan’s Island. If accurate, that made it the largest slave port in North America. The vast majority of African Americans, if not all, have ancestors who passed through Sullivan’s Island.


Edgar Allan Poe

This was also where Edgar Allan Poe famously served—not long before he wrote many of his most recognizable works. Edgar Allan Poe served as a private in the army and was stationed on Sullivan’s Island from November 1827 to December 1828. The island was the setting for his well-known story “The Gold Bug.”

What to do on Sullivan’s Island

From relaxing beaches to exploring local eateries and shops, there’s surely something to pique your interest. Explore the beaches and lush landscapes to get a glimpse of this town’s natural beauty.

Sullivan’s Island Restaurants

Stop by charming restaurants such as The Obstinate Daughter for dinner or scoop up some ice cream from the wonderful Republic Ice Cream.

container ship passing the beach at sullivan's island sc

The Obstinate Daughter

This Sullivan’s Island institution serves creative Southern and American fare influenced by:

  • French
  • Italian
  • And Spanish cuisine

The Obstinate Daughter is open daily for lunch and dinner. Classics like Frogmore chowder and Geechie Frites are offered on the menu. You’ll also find a variety of seafood options, pasta, pizza, and regional craft brews.

Poe’s Tavern

This popular restaurant is famous for its:

  • Lively atmosphere
  • Gourmet half-pound burgers
  • And creative bar concoctions

Its name honors Edgar Allan Poe, Fort Moultrie’s most well-known recruit. In honor of the Master of the Macabre’s works, Poe’s Tavern‘s menu includes burgers with names like Tell-Tale Heart, Black Cat, Gold Bug, and Pit & Pendulum.

Home Team BBQ

The atmosphere at Home Team BBQ is always lively, whether you eat inside or on the covered porch. Listen to live music performed by local and touring artists or watch TV to cheer on your favorite team while you eat some amazing ‘que.

Mex 1 Coastal Cantina

Mex 1 serves tacos, quesadillas, tortas, and other Mexican dishes made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Its atmosphere is reminiscent of Baja Peninsula cantinas. The pork and chicken are smoked on-site. Be sure to try a margarita or one of the house-infused tequilas.

Republic Ice Cream

When you need an afternoon pick-me-up or a scoop of delicious cream, stop by this ice cream shop. Coffee and milkshakes are also available.

Shopping on Sullivan’s Island

If shopping is more your thing, hop around the many clothing stores and gift shops. It’s the perfect opportunity to snag yourself some signature Sullivan’s Island souvenirs.

Sealand Adventure Sports offers all the gear you need for a day of fun at the beach. GOLDBUG showcases the modern and unique jewelry collection of Ashley Reid Martin. Meanwhile Sandpiper Gallery showcases the work of local and regional artists. Adele’s Pottery showcases the beautiful wheel-thrown and hand-built clay works of Adele Deas Tobin. And the Farmers Market offers fresh, local produce, baked goods, and an assortment of locally made products.

There’s no doubt that visiting Sullivan’s Island will be an experience like no other!

Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse

charleston light

The Charleston Light, also known as the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, was built in 1960. It replaced the long-lost Morris Island Light off of Folly Beach, SC. The lighthouse has a triangular cross-section, an aluminum alloy skin, and a steel frame and stands 140 feet tall.


It originally wore a paint job of white and red-orange. After residents complained about the distracting color of the upper half, it was later repainted white and black.


The lighthouse was the federal government’s final constructed onshore manned lighthouse. And it is the only lighthouse in the United States with an elevator and air conditioning.

Fort Moultrie National Monument

When Fort Moultrie first defended South Carolina from the British in 1776, it wasn’t even finished. The fort, built of roughly hewn palmetto logs, got its name and a place in American history as a result of that battle, won by Col. William Moultrie.

British cannonballs bounced off the palmetto logs, helping the Americans hold off the invaders. Though the British eventually captured Charleston, the lowly palmetto earned a spot on the South Carolina flag.

Today, the National Park Service maintains the fort and provides tours.

Bench by the Road

This 6-foot-long black steel bench at Fort Moultrie was the first in a series of benches. Erected at historically significant locations worldwide, they honor the memory of enslaved Africans and the many forgotten events in African American history. From the “African Slave Trade Point of Entry” bench on Sullivan’s Island, you can see the waterway that brought thousands of slaves here.

Battery Gadsden

The historic Battery Gadsden is a former Spanish-American War four-gun battery. Today, it hosts two attractions:

Edgar Allan Poe Library

The Edgar Allan Poe Library uses the battery’s two-foot-thick walls to protect the library’s 15,000 books from all but the sea air.

Battery Gadsden Cultural Center

This is also the home of the island’s cultural center. It serves as a platform for musicians, performers, lecturers, and artists. It also includes a calendar of neighborhood events and an oral history archive for Sullivan’s Island.

Thompson Park

The park commemorates a Revolutionary War battle site. Here, Americans repelled British troops as they waded the incoming tide to storm Fort Moultrie. The Battle of Sullivan’s Island was one of America’s first significant victories of the Revolutionary War.

Thompson Park overlooks Breach Inlet, which separates Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms.

During the Civil War, the Confederate blockading ship H.L. Hunley set sail from Breach Inlet to sink the USS Housatonic. Shortly after the four-miles offshore attack, the Hunley, the first submarine to destroy an enemy warship, sank under still mysterious conditions.

How to get to Sullivan’s Island from Charleston

ben sawyer bridge to sullivan's island sc

Getting to Sullivan’s Island from Charleston couldn’t be easier!


A scenic 21-minute drive:

  • Over the Ravenel Bridge over Charleston harbor
  • Then across the Ben Sawyer Bridge from Mount Pleasant, SC

Will bring you here.

Can you stay on Sullivan’s Island?

Sullivan’s Island is a charming beach paradise that will make your vacation truly unforgettable. This peaceful yet inviting town is brimming with history and beauty – perfect for your upcoming getaway.

If you’re looking to stay on the island itself, a vacation rental is your best bet. Limited development means no hotels or bed and breakfasts within the limits of the island.

Nearby Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant are where you’ll find hotels and resorts that are plentiful and easy to access.

Find even more things to do in Charleston, beyond the beaches at Sullivan’s Island

view of sullivan's island towards charleston harbor

Sullivan’s Island is an intriguing, historic place to explore. And there’s more to it than just pristine beaches close to Charleston.

Although those are quite nice, too.

Keep exploring our guides to plan your visit to town, especially the beaches and islands near Charleston, SC:

And for all the best attractions, activities, and things to do in Charleston, SC, be sure to read the full guide!

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