Isle of Palms Is the Coastal Getaway of the Summer

The South Carolina barrier island just 30 minutes from Charleston may just be the area’s best-kept secret.

Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Photo: Chris M. Rogers

Swaths of uninterrupted white-sand beach, the smell of salty spray, warm sun on your skin, and the rustle of palm fronds gently blowing in the wind—these are the sights, sounds, and scents of Isle of Palms. The South Carolina barrier island packs a lot of relaxation and big fun into a vacation destination that's just seven miles long and one mile wide. The island's proximity to Charleston (just 18 miles by car), make it a preferred summer hideout for locals. An abundance of vacation rentals and the iconic Wild Dunes resort have been drawing visitors from across the country since the early 1970s.

With the deep blue Atlantic on one side and marshy creeks of the Intracoastal Waterway on the other, Isle of Palms offers the best of the Lowcountry and the beach in one stunning setting that's begging to be added to your vacation calendar.

What to Do

Six of Isle of Palms' seven total miles are occupied by public beaches, which means you'll have your pick of the litter when looking for a sandy spot where you can post up for the day—or the week. Once you've staked your claim, all the normal beach activities are yours for the choosing, from splashing around in the surprisingly calm seas to building the ultimate sandcastle or playing a game of beach volleyball. For families, the Isle of Palms County Park, located in the middle of the island's coastline, is ideal. The public beach has lifeguards, outdoor showers, chair and umbrella rentals, restrooms, and even a playground for little ones retreat to once they tire of the sun and surf.

Isle of Palms
By Stephanie Zell/Getty Images

Make the most of a visit to Isle of Palms by scheduling a charter to take you offshore. Get your sea legs at the Isle of Palms Marina, where you can easily rent a boat and spend a day exploring the island's bays and waterways. Fishing charters are plentiful and offer both reef fishing and Gulf Stream fishing. For adventure enthusiasts or wildlife lovers, Barrier Island Eco Tours hosts a range of naturalist-guided tours that take visitors through winding salt marshes, tidal creeks, and the Intracoastal Waterway on the way to uninhabited Capers Island. Animals you might see along the way include loggerhead turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and every shape and size of coastal birds.

Where to Eat

Breakfast is noteworthy at Sea Biscuit Café. The tiny beachside shack has been dishing out delicious morning meals since 1968. While they offer all the classics, the daily specials are where the magic happens. Past offerings have included chocolate banana challah French toast, lemon lavender pancakes, and tomato pie.

When you need a mid-day refuel for the whole family, Coconut Joe's is the obvious choice. Located on Isle of Palms' main drag, you won't have to venture far to get fresh seafood and impeccable vibes. The open-air covered deck is the ideal spot for munching on the restaurant's namesake shrimp, while rocking sandy toes and sun-bleached hair. When happy hour hits, venture to the rooftop bar for a frozen cocktail or painkiller. Nothing will put you on island time faster.

By the time you're finally ready to come in from the sun and go out to dinner, Isle of Palms will be waiting with plenty of options. The Boathouse and Acme Lowcountry Kitchen are island staples that have stood the test of time thanks to excellent quality food and good old-fashioned Southern hospitality. For a special night out, try Coda del Pesce, a fine dining restaurant that specializes in Italian with lots of influence (and fresh catch) from the nearby seas.

All trips to Isle of Palms must include at least one visit to The Windjammer at Front Beach. The legendary local music venue is known for its incredible live shows, stellar views of the water, cold drinks, and unbeatable fried pickles.

24. Windjammer Isle of Palms
The Windjammer sits on the beaches of Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Patrons can enjoy tunes from a breezy deck overlooking the water, or jump into a game of volleyball out back. Charleston local Darius Rucker is a regular player in the rotation. Getty Images

Where to Stay

The obvious choice for places to stay in Isle of Palms is Wild Dunes Resort, a 1,600-acre family-friendly resort that offers everything from rooms and suites at two inns, to private beach condos and home rentals. In addition to a more-than-comfortable stay, the resort also features several resort-style pools, a spa, and two championship golf courses.

Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, SC
Wild Dunes Resort

If you're hoping for a cozier stay, the newly renovated Palms Oceanfront Hotel consists of 68 modern rooms with gorgeous views of the sparkling Atlantic. There are also plenty of rentals through Airbnb and VRBO for everything from multifamily waterfront homes to one-bedroom condos.

Whether you book for a long weekend or stay for an entire week, the memories and magic of Isle of Palms will stay with you for months and years to come—maybe even until you have a chance to make another trip back!

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