10 Scenic Beaches Near Charleston for a Sunny Escape

Ten more reasons to book your Charleston, South Carolina, vacation now.

Folly Beach, South Carolina
Photo: Riddhish Chakraborty

There are plenty of good reasons to make the trip to Charleston, South Carolina: Historic homes make for colorful photo ops, the restaurant scene is fresh and inventive, and locally owned stores and boutiques make for unparalleled shopping. Some of the Holy City's greatest assets, though, aren't actually within the city limits. Pack the sunscreen and load the car because the scenic beaches near Charleston are a gem. You won't find ultra-crowded beaches, just a quiet spot to relax and soak up the sunshine. The smooth sand, cool water, and near-perfect weather will make you think you've found pure bliss. Here, find our guide to the sun-drenched beaches that are just a quick drive from the Charleston Peninsula. They're worth the detour.

Kiawah Island
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1. Kiawah Island

While the 23-mile drive from the peninsula out to Kiawah Island takes about 40 minutes on a good day, the pristine stretch of sand at Kiawah's public Beachwalker Park is well worth it. It's quiet, especially for a public park, fronts the ocean, and also offers views of the Kiawah River. Beach chair and umbrella rentals are available seasonally, and dogs are welcome, as long as they're on a leash. Explore Kiawah Island's private beaches by renting a house or villa on the island or booking a stay at the Sanctuary, the island's luxurious oceanfront hotel.

Folly Beach, South Carolina
Riddhish Chakraborty

2. Folly Beach

Just 12 miles from downtown, the "Edge of America" is the grooviest of Charleston's nearby beaches. It's a popular hangout for surfers, who frequent "The Washout," a stretch of coast known for having the area's best waves. Center Street, the bohemian beach town's colorful main thoroughfare, is lined with surf and souvenir shops and good eats, like Taco Boy and Rita's Seaside Grille, and is just steps away from Folly's 1,045-foot fishing pier.

Isle of Palms
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3. Isle of Palms

The oceanfront county park on this barrier island has picnic tables, a sand volleyball court, and a playground for the littlest beach bums, making it a great place to take the whole family. Venture a little farther down the beach, beyond the park, to discover a number of fun beachfront bars and eateries, like family-friendly Coconut Joe's Beach Grill and The Windjammer, a classic dive bar and music venue that's as salty as they come. Paddle the intercoastal waterway from Isle of Palms where you may encounter dolphins and get up close to coves and marshes.

Seabrook Island, SC boats at marina
Courtesy of Explore Charleston, ExploreCharleston.com

4. Seabrook Island

Though the island's nearly 4 miles of unspoiled beaches are private to residents and rental guests only (book your stay here), Seabrook is still worth a stop if you're already making the trip out to Kiawah's Beachwalker Park, which is just a few miles away. An Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary, Seabrook is home to a variety of wildlife, including foxes, bobcats, deer, sea turtles, and bottlenose dolphins. Head to Bohicket Marina for a sunset stroll by the river, then plop down at an outdoor table at the Salty Dog Cafe for water views, East Coast peel-and-eat shrimp, and a cold beer or two.

Sullivan's Island
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5. Sullivan's Island

When it comes to old-school cottages, small town charm, and a spotless beach to boot, you won't find a dreamier destination than Sullivan's Island. While neighboring Isle of Palms has a lively resort feel, 3.3-square-mile Sullivan's tends to fly under the radar–and the locals like it that way. Be sure to stop by Poe's Tavern on Middle Street for a killer burger before you head back toward town. Flip-flops and salty hair are always welcome on the front porch.

Bulls Island, South Carolina
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6. Bulls Island

Accessible only by ferry, this barrier island is 45 minutes away from downtown Charleston and feels far away from the comforts of civilization. A good way to see the birds of this untouched island, and perhaps a playful dolphin if you're lucky, is on a guided paddling tour. Comb the beach for shells, walk Boneyard Beach where a forest is being recalled by the sea, or track foxes, bobcat, and deer.

Edisto Beach, South Carolina
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7. Edisto Island

About 60 miles from Charleston, Edisto Beach's unspoiled coastline makes it worth the drive. Stay beachside for a dreamy vacation, or take a day trip from Charleston. One of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina, palmetto-lined Edisto Beach State Park provides the picture-perfect backdrop for swimming, hunting for shells and sharks' teeth, fishing, or strolling. After a day on the island's trails, savor some seafood at the Waterfront Restaurant or the tacos at McConkey's Jungle Shack.

folly-beach-charleston
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8. Morris Island

Hunt for shells and fossils near the candy cane–striped lighthouse on this uninhabited island just minutes from Charleston. Accessible only by boat, visitors can opt for several tour options, including riding out on a 55-foot power catamaran that's for the more adventurous traveler. For photography buffs, view the lighthouse from the shores of Folly Beach.

Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
The beautiful undeveloped beaches of Pawley's Island are an idyllic spot to hunt for jingle shells, lettered olives, or the perfectly striped banded tulip shells. The nature center at Huntington Beach State Park can teach curious minds about the inhabitants of those shells. If you want even more shell-finding opportunities, head to the nearby 312-acre Myrtle Beach State Park that lines the Grand Strand coast. hiramtom/Getty Images

9. Pawleys Island

It takes a bit longer to reach from Charleston than some of the other beaches, but the slower pace on Pawleys Island is instantly soothing. This barrier island packs a lot into its four-mile stretch. Set off in a canoe or kayak to explore the salt marsh that separates this island from the mainland, or settle in for a day at the beach. There's shelling, fishing, and crabbing to be done. Sign up for surfing lessons—some of the best waves are near Pawleys Island Pier.

Capers Island, Charleston, SC
Courtesy of Explore Charleston, ExploreCharleston.com

10. Capers Island

Similar to Bulls Island, Capers Island has its own forest of forgotten sea-bleached trees covering the shoreline. At low tide, you may see feeding dolphins and water birds like egrets and herons searching for a meal. Discover tide pools as you walk the beach, hike the island to see gators and deer in their natural habitat, or paddle along the shores and see jellyfish and crabs. Reach this undeveloped island by chartered boat, or take a kayak tour to learn about the area's ecosystem.

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