Isle of Palms
This nearly 3,000-acre island is home to family beach houses, ice-cream shops, Wild Dunes Resort, and summertime Sunday bikini contests at the Windjammer. Avoid Breach Inlet at the southwestern tip and its dangerous currents, unless you’re surf fishing. But there is a beachfront county park with a designated swimming area with lifeguards, as well as parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, and umbrella/chair rentals.
Isle of Palms County Park: 114th Ave. Daily, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Parking fee: $8-$10, free for Gold Pass holder. (843) 762-9957, www.ccprc.com
Beach access paths and boardwalks across dunes lead to three miles of generally wide beaches, tidal sandbars, and old military bunkers on this mostly residential island. (The beachfront Fort Moultrie dates back to the Revolutionary War.) Closest to the mouth of the harbor is best for watching ships and dolphins. The streets are numbered “stations,” a leftover from trolley days. Note: parking can be tricky (see sidebar, below).
The local favorite for surf breaks, Folly Beach is also home to hundreds of beach houses (many available for vacation rentals), a fishing pier, surf shops, cafés, and beach bars. Past the Washout on the island’s eastern end is the best spot for looking out at the striped Morris Island Light (circa 1876). Folly Beach County Park on the western end has lifeguards on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, and umbrella/chair rentals.
Folly Beach County Park: 1100 W. Ashley Ave. Daily, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Parking fee: $8-$10, free for Gold Pass holder. (843) 762-9960, www.ccprc.com
Even when seawater temperatures reach the balmy 80s at the height of summer, Kiawah Beachwalker Park on the west end of the private resort and residential island likely won’t be as packed as Folly or Sullivan’s. The public beach outside the gates of Kiawah is known for its quieter beauty. In summer, lifeguards are on duty, the snack bar is open, and umbrella/chair rentals are available.
Kiawah Beachwalker Park: 8 Beachwalker Dr. Daily, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Parking fee: $8-$10, free for Gold Pass holder. (843) 762-9964, ccprc.com
ISLAND INSIDER: Parking
Carpool. Get there early. Wear comfy shoes or flops—the walk from the car might be longer this year. Both Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s aim to reduce traffic congestion this summer by limiting visitor parking during the beach season. Here’s the scoop: On Sullivan’s, watch for new “No Parking” signs. Public-street parking is now reduced to one side of the road only, and all four tires must be off the roadway. On IOP, nonresident beachgoers should stick to the free parking on Palm Boulevard from 21st to 57th avenues, and along the first block off Ocean Boulevard from 3rd to 9th avenues. Other parts of IOP will be reserved for residents-only (and their guests), and the fine for violators is $50.
Park It! Get direct links to each island town’s parking and beach rules:
Isle of Palms: www.iop.net/beach-access-parking
Sullivan’s Island: www.sullivansisland-sc.com/visitors.aspx
Folly Beach: www.cityoffollybeach.com/city-departments-services/public-safety/folly-r...
Kiawah Island: www.ccprc.com/1411/Kiawah-Beachwalker-Park
Get: Beach Bag Essentials
Maximize the fun of a day in the sand and surf with these locally sourced products
❶ Coola SPF 30 matte tint BB cream, $36 at OOH! Beautiful
❷ Luca SPF 50 sheer body mist, $15.50 at Stella Nova
❸ Sunnylife “Beach Sounds” speaker, $49 at Drift
❹ Remaining Neutral Turkish towel, $38 at thecharlestonweekender.com
❺ Flora Bella tote, $275 at Calypso St. Barth
❻ Sun Bum SPF 30 lip balms, $3 each at Shades of Charleston
❼ TKEES flip-flops, $60 at Out of Hand
❽ SALT Optics “Steve” sunglasses, $468 at Jackson Davenport
❾ “Amanda” makeup bag, $25 at Roberta Roller Rabbit
❿ Las Bayadas Mexican beach blanket, $50 at Drift S’well insulated water bottle, $45 at Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant MD Solar Sciences SPF 30 tinted cream, $32, and SPF 50 mineral beauty balm, $39, both at The Spa at Charleston Place Aviate “CHS” cap, $35 at II Brunettes
Before You Go: Watch this Charleston County Parks video and get tips on preparing for your day at the beach from naturalist Chet Morse.