A Guide to Charleston’s Beaches (With Kids!)

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Charleston's beaches

If there’s one thing on the top of local parents’ activity list, it’s the beach. Here in Charleston, we have some beautiful places to go, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to navigate with kids. With the right gear, the right spot and the right time, a family beach trip can be an amazing outing. 

What to Bring

First things first, let’s talk beach gear. You’ll want enough to make the trip enjoyable but not so much stuff that you’re weighed down, sweating like crazy in the hot summer heat as you lug everything to and from the sand. As a minimalist, I like to keep a short list:

  • Backpack beach chair (for mama)
  • A bag full of towels
  • Snacks
  • A small cooler of drinks
  • Shovels and buckets to keep the kids busy
  • A gallon jug of water for rinsing off when you get back to your car

If I’m going solo with the kids, I like to pile everything in a wagon on our trek out to the beach. If I’m with my husband we can usually carry everything ourselves. And if you’ve got a little one, a large-wheeled stroller can be a great carrier for your gear. 

Charleston's beaches

Where to go

Here’s the fun part – we have a number of options in Charleston and depending on your mood, you can choose your own adventure.

Sullivan’s Island

If you’re looking for a quaint beach town, Sullivan’s Island is it (although traffic in recent years has increased dramatically, see below for the best times to go). The waves are calm and minimal and various points along the beach have gullies, or tidal pools, that make great play spots for kids of all ages.

Parking is available along the street and there are a number of beach access points or stations. Which station to head to is a matter of personal preference. If you want a smaller beach with some rocks to climb on, head to Station 30 or above, closer to the Isle of Palms side of Sullivan’s Island. If you want a more expansive beach with views of downtown, head to Station 18 or below. Gullies can be found close to Station 22 as well, but get there early to get a parking spot. Sullivan’s Island does not have public restrooms, so plan accordingly. Also, most stations do not have a place to rinse off the sand, so be sure to keep a gallon jug of water in your car to wash off those sandy toes.

If you’re hungry, there are a number of restaurants on Sullivan’s Island and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Our favorite is The 450 Pizza Joint and we always grab an ice cream cone from the little spot attached to 450. Again, parking can be tricky so you may have to park a block or two away and then head to a restaurant during busy beach hours. 

Isle of Palms

Isle of Palms is the northern-most beach in Charleston and tends to have more wave action than Sullivan’s Island. For an easy, convenient trip you can head to the county park which sits right off the IOP connector. Parking is included with the Charleston County Parks Gold Pass or $10 during the week and $15 on the weekends.

This park has a nice boardwalk, lifeguards, showers, bathrooms, and a playground. If you’re looking for ease, this is the spot. If you’re looking for a (potentially) less crowded experience you can drive in either direction on the island and parallel park along the road. People tend to have their favorite spots, so take some time to explore the different beach accesses and see what suits your family!

As for food, there are plenty of restaurants on Isle of Palms and they are all located on front beach, just past the county park. Our family always makes a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s for an ice cream cone. 

Charleston's beaches

Folly Beach

If surfing, waves and people watching are more your thing, then head to Folly Beach. While it tends to get a little rowdier than the other beaches, Folly is a fun destination. A county park sits on the west end of the beach and has bathrooms and outdoor showers as well as lifeguards. Parking is included with the Charleston County Parks Gold Pass and $10 during the week and $15 on the weekends if you don’t have a pass. Sadly, the east end of the beach is eroding which means the crowds tend to flock to the west end of the beach. Folly Beach definitely has its own unique feel and an early day trip is best for families. 

There are plenty of restaurants along Center Street and we love Taco Boy for an inexpensive and fun place to eat. 

Kiawah Island

If you’re up for a beautiful drive, head south to Kiawah Island. It’s about an hour from Charleston and has some lovely, less crowded beaches. Beachwalker Park offers the only public beach access on Kiawah and provides parking (included in the Gold Pass), picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. It also offers the convenience of lifeguards, a concession stand and a boardwalk to the beach. If you don’t feel like lugging beach chairs to the beach, you can rent them when you get to Beachwalker Park. The gentle waves make Kiawah a perfect family-friendly beach.

After you shower off and change, head to Freshfield Village for a bite to eat before you head home. 

When to Go

No matter which beach you go to, traffic and parking are potential downers to your trip. For easier parking and less sun exposure, getting to the beach early to mid-morning is your best bet. Holiday weekends can be crazy, so just know that before you head out. One thing our family loves are late afternoon/evening beach trips. Getting to the beach around 4pm or later will likely ensure less traffic, better parking, and less intense sun exposure. It also makes for an easy dinner option and then straight home for bed. 

Charleston's beaches

The beaches in Charleston are some of the best parts of the city. We know that you moms have your own tips and tricks so we would love for you to comment below with any additional advice for making the most out of a beach excursion with kids!