There are three Charleston SC beaches within a 20 minute drive of downtown. All of the beaches are safe, clean and less crowded than other South Carolina beaches but they also each have their own unique characteristics. Our Charleston Vacations Guide will help you decide which beach best suites you - so grab your towel, your sunscreen and get ready to hit the beach.
Folly Beach is a barrier island and one of the most popular Charleston SC beaches. The beach is located about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston and has a great mix of restaurants, cafes and shops. Center Street Beach, located in the front of the Tides Hotel with Folly Beach Fishing Pier in the center, is the busiest beach on the island. At 1,045 ft, the fishing pier is the second longest on the east coast and is great for fishing, walking and enjoying wonderful views of Folly Beach. Folly Beach County Park is on the western end of the island and here you will find showers, restrooms, changing rooms, picnic areas and a snack bar. The Washout is located on the other end of the island from Folly Beach county park. This is where most of the surfers go so it’s a great place to watch the surfers and catch some rays. Lighthouse Inlet Beach is as far east on the island as you can go and is usually the most secluded beach on the island. This beach offers great views of the Morris Island Lighthouse and has a parking lot about ¼ of a mile from the beach. Parking at the beach during the summer months can be hard to come by so I advise arriving early. Free parking is offered along the streets but this parking often fills up first. If you can't find any spots along the streets, you will have to pay to park at the County Park, the Folly Beach Pier or the public beach access points.
Beach Rules for Folly Beach
Sullivan’s Island is one of the most non-commercialized and natural Charleston SC beaches. The beach is about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston and is less crowded than the other beaches in the area. The island is small, only 3.3 miles long, and offers great views of Ft. Sumter, The Morris Island Lighthouse, and The Battery. Middle Street is the islands main drag and this is where you will find all the restaurants. The island doesn't have any public restrooms or showers and parking can be very hard to come by in the summer months. This island doesn't have any public parking lots so you have to park anywhere you can find a spot along the streets but be advised that all four tires must be off the road and don’t block private driveways. You will find about 30 public access paths that lead to the beach.
Beach Rules for Sullivan's Island
Isle of Palms, located about 25 minutes from downtown, is the most commercialized of the Charleston SC beaches. The beach is often popular with families because of the strict “no alcohol” policy, the calm waters and the cleanliness of the beach. Restaurants, shops and bars are located within walking distance of the beach and there are public restrooms and showers at the Isle of Palm County Park. You will also find a picnic area, grills, a boardwalk and vending machines. During the summer months they also have lifeguards, a snack bar, and beach chair/umbrella rentals. Isle of Palms also offers more parking than the other area Charleston SC beaches. There are two public parking lots near the beach where you can park for a fee. You can also park in metered spaces along Ocean Boulevard or alongside any road unless it is designated “No Parking” with a sign.
Beach Rules for Isle of Palms
The Charleston Battery and White Point Gardens are one of the must see places when visiting Charleston. The park is located at the southeastern point of the city and is bordered by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The area got its name from the bleached oyster shells and white sand and is the spot where dozens of pirates were hung and left dangling from their nooses to deter other pirates from entering Charleston Harbor. In 1837, the City of Charleston bought part of White Point to create a waterfront park.The park has numerous monuments, a gazebo, and cannons that date back to the Civil and Revolutionary War era. The park is surrounded by beautiful antebellum mansions and massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss. From the Battery, you can see Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
Highlights of The Battery and White Point Gardens
Waterfront Park is a very popular park with residents and tourists and is one of the most visited parks in Charleston. The park is located a few blocks from the market and offers awesome views of the Cooper River Bridge and Charleston Harbor. The park has a pier and you can sit on family sized swings and watch large container ships entering and exiting the harbor. The park has two fountains, a splash fountain and the famous Pineapple fountain. These fountains are a great place to cool off on a hot summer day and are beautiful to watch when lit up at night. I’ve always enjoyed walking to the park in the evening after dinner. You can sit on one of the swings and enjoy the night time breeze while taking in awesome views of the Cooper River Bridge lit up at night.
Highlights of Waterfront Park
The Angel Oak is located on John’s Island about 12 miles from downtown Charleston. It’s about a 20 minute drive, but it is well worth it to see this massive Oak Tree which is believed to be around 400 years old. The tree is not extremely tall but the huge limbs that stretch out produces shade the covers about 17,000 sq ft. The pictures you see online of this massive oak, don’t really do it justice. This is one tree you really need to see in person. Parking is available at the park and the admission is Free. The park also has a small gift shop and a picnic area.
Highlights of Angel Oak Park
James Island County Park is a 643 acre park located about 15 minutes from downtown Charleston and about 20 minutes from Folly Beach. The park has so many fun things to do including saltwater fishing, pedal boats, kayak rentals, volleyball courts, campground, climbing wall, miles of paved trails, and an 18 hole disc golf course. The park also has a Splash Zone Waterpark for kids and an off leash park with a large lake for dogs. This park has something for the entire family. Parking is available at the park and the the admission for the park is $1. General Admission for the Splash Park is $12 and admission for the climbing wall is $14.
Highlights of James Island County Park
The Cooper River Bridge also called the Arthur Ravenel Bridge is an eight lane cable-stayed bridge over the Cooper River connecting downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant. The bridge opened in 2005 and is the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. The bridge has a bike and pedestrian lane and parking is available on either side of the bridge. If you want to walk or ride your bike on the bridge, my suggestion is to park on the Mount Pleasant side and walk or ride to the halfway point and back. This will take you to the highest span on the bridge and give you the chance to take some really awesome pictures. If you have time, there is a really nice park on the Mount Pleasant side called Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. It offers really good views of the bridge from below.
Highlights of James Island County Park