Ranking Charleston’s Beaches

Out of Isle of Palms, Folly, Sullivan’s, and Kiawah, what is the best beach in Charleston?

Julia Camp (12) at sunrise at the Morris Island lighthouse on Folly Beach.

This summer, Magnet students, locals, and tourists alike flocked to our famous Charleston beaches for a chance to escape quarantine. They probably loved their time there regardless of which beach it was, but which one is ultimately the best? In this article I will delve into four locations’ good and bad sides, to determine once and for all which beach is supreme.

Let’s start with Sullivan’s Island, what I think of as the quieter sister of IOP. With more residents there than renters, the vibe is much more relaxed. Although there are less restaurants and stores, Sullivan’s is only a few minutes away from the mainland of Mount Pleasant, where there are countless places to eat and shop. “I like that it’s quiet and not touristy but i don’t like how hard it is to find parking,” Nicole Tufts (12) says about the island. Sullivan’s is smaller than IOP, and the beaches are much flatter and wider, allowing for more recreation on the beach itself. Popular activities include paddle boarding or kayaking through the marsh, and biking through the streets or along the beach, but you can’t surf there since the waves are so small. Contrary to its appearance, though, Sullivan’s is home to the extremely dangerous Breach Inlet, where although the view is beautiful, tragedy there due to the intense rip currents is not unheard of.

Folly Beach: “The Edge of America.” At 6 miles long, Folly has a place for everyone. Families relax on the west end, Center Street and the Pier are home to group gatherings and tourists, and the Washout draws in surfers when hurricane swells come through. On any given day, you can see dolphins, find sharks teeth, and maybe even watch baby sea turtles hatch! The multitudes of restaurants are rarely quiet, even this summer when there were restrictions. One thing crucial to the vibe of Folly Beach is all the different types of people who you can find. Whether it be tourists, surfers, residents, or just the bums you see every day, everyone is chill and willing to have a chat. “The environment there is friendly,” says Christian Nelson (12). Downsides include that tourists (Ohioans) seem to be drawn to Folly like no other beach, so there is rarely a quiet weekend. “Visitors do not respect the island as much as I would hope at times,” Ms. Hooffstetter, a resident, reflects. Furthermore, Folly Beach is far away from those who live closer to Mt. Pleasant and N. Charleston.

Next up is Isle of Palms! With the Wild Dunes Resort and its pristine beaches, IOP is a natural draw for tourists and South Carolinians alike. “It’s always sunny!” Grace Anderson (12) exclaims about her favorite beach. Before this summer, there was a plethora of parking spots, but since the coronavirus, it has been more difficult to find somewhere to park. Looking for shells on IOP is an activity that never goes unsuccessful. The many restaurants offer a mix of food types, including seafood, Mexican, pizza, and ice cream, even a Ben and Jerry’s shop, loved by visitors. Catherine Santos (12) enjoys “the view of Fort Moultrie,” but rather dislikes all the crowding on the beach. Because there are so many places to rent on the island, there are lots of tourists, and the beaches and streets get very busy. Litter seems to be a prevalent issue on the island as well.

Kiawah Island is next, famous for its exclusive resort, expansive golf courses, and long beaches. Kiawah is one of the few beaches where you can walk your dog year round, and it is a hub for older, wealthier retirees. Taking advantage of the bike trails is a common activity, and so it nature-watching from land or from the creeks around the island. One can spot dolphins strand feeding, the elusive bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, deer, sharks, and of course the notorious alligators that reside on the island. Kiawah does not have many waves, although yesterday (Sept. 19), there were some nice ones to surf due to the tropical storms. Those who cannot get through the gates prefer to stop at Beachwalker County Park, a beach that attracts mostly families. However, the beach and pool at the resort are luxurious. Freshfields village is the hub for restaurants, general stores, and shops that are always busy. A downside to Kiawah is its distance from central Charleston, and the fact that it is very exclusive, costing money to get onto the beach unless you are a resident and have a pass.

Now for the ranking…

  1. Folly: it is the best of all worlds- it has waves, it has wildlife, people aren’t packed in together in one place, and it has a unique vibe.
  2. Isle of Palms- similar to Folly for all of it’s pluses, but comes in second due to the crowding and littering.
  3. Sullivan’s- a perfect beach for relaxation and solitude, but it lacks many of the things that people love about beach towns, including places to eat and shop. Also, there are no waves to surf.
  4. Kiawah- although it’s beautiful and filled with nature, it is not accessible to many people who want a simple beach day.

Tell us what beach you prefer!

What is your favorite beach?


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