Southern Charm on the Sand: Best Beaches Near Charleston

Jennifer Keller Avatar

Beach path to Sullivan island

A trip to Charleston, SC isn’t complete without experiencing the splendor of a South Carolina beach. The best part? From downtown Charleston there’s only a short drive between you and some of the best beaches near Charleston. 

That makes it easy to add a beach day trip or overnight getaway to your Charleston experience and see why South Carolina beaches are a favorite East Coast destination. With several great options less than a 45-minute drive from downtown Charleston, you can easily have your toes in white sand, a breeze on your face and the Atlantic Ocean on your horizon.

Read More: 10 Best Beaches Near Savannah

Whether you’re a sunbather, sandcastle maker, surfer, watersports enthusiast, golfer, beachwalker, shell finder, nature junkie or history buff, these beaches near Charleston will wow you with their Lowcountry, barrier island magic. and if you need a place to stay, try one of these South Carolina resorts.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Need a great beach read to hold in your hands? Head on over to Buxton Books in downtown Charleston before heading to the islands. Make a beeline for the curated shelf of “great beach reads.” Buxton also offers Charleston-themed tours right from its front door: “The Ghosts of Charleston” and “Lost Stories of Black Charleston.”

Pier and beach at Folly Beach
Beachgoers enjoy Folly Beach and Pier on a picture-perfect day. Photo credit: Discover South Carolina

Folly Beach

Lucky for you, the one of the best beaches near Charleston—Folly Beach— isn’t far from the city’s downtown and it abounds in coastal riches. Nicknamed “the edge of America” this laid-back, family-friendly beach is less than 30 minutes from downtown Charleston and is the perfect spot for a variety of activities.

Want a day with swimming? Sand castles? Surfing? Paddleboarding? Kayaking? Fishing? Live music? Lively local restaurants? Good vibes? Folly Beach has you covered.

  • One of the best beaches on the East Coast for surfing. Long boarders can enjoy The Pier and shortboard surfers can head to The Washout.
  • With the second-longest fishing pier on the East Coast, fishing is another great option at Folly Beach. Want a lifeguarded swimming area? Head to Folly Beach County Park.
  • Always wanted to try kayaking or paddleboarding? Check out the Charleston Paddle Company for gear rentals and water tours. The full moon and sunset tours are an unforgettable way to experience the coast.

Maybe the best way to enjoy Folly Beach is to stroll Main Street, relax at one of its many beachfront restaurants or bars and soak up the good vibes in this genuine beach town. Really feeling the beach love? Stay overnight at an oceanfront hotel such as The Tides.

Folly Beach Instagram Moment: Check out the sunset from the eastern tip of Folly Island at the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. You’ll catch a glimpse of famous candy-cane striped Morris Island Lighthouse.

Isle of palms beach
The gentle surf at Isle of Palms lets you beach walk for miles. Photo credit: Discover South Carolina

Isle of Palms

A short drive north takes you to one of the best gems in the list of Charleston area beaches—Isle of Palms Beach. Set between the intercostal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Isle of Palms is sure to satisfy your beautiful beach fix. Miles of sand beach, parking, restrooms, outdoor showers and summer lifeguards make Isle of Palms a great public beach option for a day trip from Charleston.

Want to see this barrier island like a local? Tour it by bike! Check out bike and jogger rentals at Isle of Palms Bike Rentals. A family-owned business for 30 years, Rick, Angela and Morgan Sweat are happy to answer questions about bike routes and Charleston area attractions. Owner Rick even says, “Whether your readers use us or another shop, bicycles are just so great on the islands.” He’s happy to send you links and travel suggestions. Contact him through the website.

Bike at Isle of palms
Catch the barrier island vibe by bike! Photo credit: Rick Sweat
  • Game for a longer bike excursion? See five beach towns by bike! Find an enticing overview of this option here.
  • Watersports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and parasailing are also great options at Isle of Palms beach.
  • For fishing, check out Breach Inlet. Need gear or guides? The local experts at Isle of Palm Fishing can help out.
  • Soak up the Isle of Palms magic with a stay at the Wild Dunes Resort. With golf, spa and pristine beaches, you’ll find something to please everyone in your group.
  • Just in for the day? Enjoy live music and sand volleyball at local favorite The Windjammer.
view of houses at sullivan island
Views and skies stretch forever from the sandy bluffs of Sullivan’s Beach. Photo credit: Discover South Carolina

Sullivan’s Island

At the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island is a great spot for beach lovers and history enthusiasts. Only three miles long, the pristine beaches on Sullivan’s Island give you an intimate look at the overlap between U.S. history and the coast.

  • The wide beach makes this island an attractive option for beach combing and watersports.
  • Local restaurants on Middle Street serve up some of the best seafood in the region.
  • Need a refreshing, quintessentially South Carolina drink after exploring Sullivan’s Island? Don’t miss grabbing a frosé at the original Co-Op Frosé & Eatery.
  • History buffs can check out Fort Moultrie, a key military site in The Revolutionary War. The first fortress on the island—built with palmetto logs—became the source for South Carolina’s moniker “The Palmetto State.”
  • Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie in 1827 and set his story “The Goldbug” on the island. Bring a collection of Poe’s greatest stories and enjoy them over food and drinks at Poe’s Tavern. They also make great read-aloud entertainment on the beach at night!

Sullivan’s Island’s painful past can’t be glossed over: The island was a central quarantine station for enslaved West Africans; it is often considered “the Ellis Island” of slavery in the United States. The National Park Service has commemorated this history with a bench memorial on the island, dedicated in 2008. (Read author and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s words at the dedication ceremony here.)

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

Sullivan’s Island offers the perfect location to remember the past, to not forget the complexity of the United States and to honor the country’s natural treasures with a long walk on the beach.

Kiaway Island sunset
Sandy beach and gorgeous sunsets await you at Kiawah Island. Photo credit: Town of Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island

The next stop on our list of the best beaches near Charleston is less than an hour from downtown Charleston. Kiawah Island offers more than 10 miles of beach-walking beauty. When Kiawah Island was rated #2 by Condé Nast (in 2020) in its “best islands in the U.S.” coverage, they described its charms perfectly: “Kiawah Island is seemingly custom-made for escaping the drudgery of the work week.”

  • For your island escape, check out the highly regarded resorts The Sanctuary or Kiawah Island Golf Resort, home to the 2012 and 2021 PGA Championships.
  • Kiawah island has pristine maritime forest and marsh ecosystems to explore. Check out events at Kiawah Island Resort’s Night Heron Park Nature Center.
  • For guided nature tours of Kiawah (by kayak!) call up Tidal Trails and enjoy a watersport tour of this amazing island.
sand seat turtle sculpture with baby sea turtles
Sandy tribute to local treasure of Kiawah Island — the sea turtle! Photo credit: Town of Kiawah Island
  • Not staying at one of the island’s resorts? No problem! Beachwalker County Park offers all the beauty and amenities needed for a glorious beach day on Kiawah Island. The park also has an ADA-accessible boardwalk.
  • Needing a frosé fix? Check out the Co-Op’s new location on Kiawah Island, in the amazing Freshfield’s Village complex, a scenic marketplace for your dining and shopping needs.
aerial photo of Seabrook Island
Stunning views and surf will greet you at Seabrook Island Resort. Photo credit: Pam Harrington Realty

Seabrook Island

Primarily a private resort community, Seabrook Island is a good fit for anyone seeking serene sandy beaches, golf and club-style resort rentals. Pre-paid amenity cards allow access to some club facilities. (For information on how to visit the island as a non-resident click here.)

Seabrook has SIC Audubon Sanctuary Golf Courses and is designated an Audubon International Certified Sustainable Community: “From lush maritime forests and serene marshes to miles of pristine beaches, Seabrook Island works to keep our serene natural sanctuary thriving.”

trees at Botany Bay on Edisto Island
Beach solitude and natural wonders await you at Botany Bay on Edisto Island. Photo credit: Marie McAden

Edisto Beach/Edisto Island

If you’re willing to go a bit further afield (less than 1.5 hours), you will be greatly rewarded with a visit to Edisto Island. The barrier island south of Seabrook, Edisto Island sits at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and the ACE (Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto) Basin.

Ocean-view hiking and camping make Edisto a beach and nature-lover’s prime destination.

Edisto Island is rich with resources for learning about its natural habitats and wildlife.

Want to view dolphins or sea turtles? Or learn about local Gullah/Geechee culture?

Morris Island Lighthouse with family
Beach strolls and lighthouse views for the whole family on Morris Island. Photo credit: Discover South Carolina

Morris Island

This uninhabited island at the mouth of Charleston Bay is reknowned for two reasons. It was the site of a significant Civil War battle between the 54th Massachusetts Infantry—an African-American regiment—and Confederate troops. (The 54th regiment and the battle were famously featured in the Denzel Washington film “Glory.”)

Morris Island is also known for its candy-cane striped lighthouse. It’s great to visit Morris in combination with nearby Fort Sumpter, but you’ll need a boat tour to see the island and lighthouse.

 driftwood, natural sculptures of Boneyard Beach and Bulls Island
The famous driftwood, natural sculptures of Boneyard Beach and Bulls Island. Photo credit: Scott Schroeder Photography

Beyond:

  • Bull Island & Boneyard Beach: The wildlife viewing at Bull Island and the driftwood-strewn Boneyard Beach are breathtaking. Only accessible by ferry, this nature paradise is full of wonders. To get there check out these tour options.
  • Hunting Island State Park: Pristine beaches, saltwater lagoon and thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest make the drive to Hunting Island well worth it. Check out Hunting Island State Park for services, activities and travel information.
  • Pawley’s Island: One of the oldest summer resort town on the East Coast, Pawley’s is a great choice for renting a place with friends or family to enjoy all it has to offer. Find travel info here.
  • Capers Island: Want a nearby, undeveloped barrier island experience? Capers Island is for you. Home to Capers Island Heritage Preserve. Ecotours available through Barrier Island Eco Tours.
  • Myrtle Beach & Hilton Head: Want a bigger, full-on beach trip? Myrtle Beach is 2 hours north of Charleston and Hilton Head is around two hours south. For those specific destinations look here.
A writer, educator and mama living in Walla Walla, Washington, Jennifer has spent the past decade living in the shrub-steppe deserts of California, Colorado and Washington. But she’s really most at home in the tropical forests of Indonesia and coastal Washington. Check out recent nonfiction at The Threepenny Review and www.jenniferruthkeller.com.
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