5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

by | May 17, 2023 | Destinations, Family Adventures, South East, USA

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What could be more epic than the classic East Coast family beach vacation by the Atlantic Ocean?

‘Yeah, epic headache, you mean: can’t find parking, sand everywhere, no shade in sight.’ Luckily, whether travelers have tods or teens in tow, Charleston’s beautiful beaches have something to offer the whole family, with fewer headaches. Families can easily find the perfect place for their crew.


Family playing on the beach with battleships in background - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

Your perfect beach vacation doesn’t need to be a battle(ship) of a trip. Image: Family at Gator Beach, California. By Official U.S. Navy Imagery.


Before jumping into the best family beaches to visit, let’s explore a few reasons Charleston, South Carolina, in the United States, makes such an epic family vacation town for all ages. For starters, it’s a nice city for its size. Travelers are going to find all the comforts and conveniences of a bigger city along the Atlantic Ocean but with a smaller-town vibe. Traffic? Light. Streets? Clean. Residents? Friendly. Prices? Affordable. It’s also a great place for parents to enjoy their own interests, be it a romantic dinner, seeing the historic sights, or shopping your heart out. When it comes to things for kids, beautiful beaches aren’t the only game in town: Charleston is full of great parks, children’s museums, and fun for the whole family.

But, you came to this article for the best family beaches, so let’s get cracking.




All Around Best Beach: Folly Beach

Charleston Magazine touts Folly as the beach on the Atlantic Ocean “where toddlers outnumber surfers” – they couldn’t be more right. This year marks the iconic shore’s 50th anniversary. That party might not be until late fall, but there will be fun in the Folly Beach sun all summer long. South of Charleston’s downtown, even if families don’t stay on Folly Island itself, the short drive (25 minutes) from the city is well worth even a half-day outing. 


How To Best Enjoy Folly Beach

Want to make it a full day? Travelers will pass a family-friendly Harris Teeter grocery on the way in for picnic provisions, or find Bert’s Market on the main drag. Handy when you’ve forgotten a family beach essential for your outing, like dry clothes for when the toddler unexpectedly gets wet. (Veteran parents, feel free to laugh at our rookie mistake of not realizing he would get wet even on a colder day!) Pack your own beach chair or contact a business like Folly Beach Chair Company in advance to plan a rental.


What To Do At Folly Beach

Head southwest down to Folly Beach County Park to plant the family beach chairs in the perfect spot. The Last Jetty on the Island makes a fun activity for the whole family. At the center and northeast end of the island (a left on Ashley!), public parking and great beach access are easy to find. Or, continue driving to the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve – with easy accessibility and a short half-mile walk to the lighthouse, it makes a fun way to burn off pre-nap energy.


DON’T MISS: Folly Beach Hotels – Oceanfront Options


Man carrying surfboard on Folly Beach - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

If ‘tis folly to be wise, be a wiz kid by choosing Folly Beach. Image: Surfboard @ Folly Beach, South Carolina by timparkinson.


Best Sand Activity Beach: Sullivan’s Island Beach

Of course, kids’ favorite family beach activities might require a bit more space to spread out. From frisbee and volleyball to epic sand castles and art, Sullivan’s Island beaches provide plenty of room to roam. Closer geographically to downtown Charleston (under 10 miles), traffic conditions can make getting to Sullivan’s Island Beach about the same as heading to Folly. But the trip there offers the opportunity for budding engineers and transportation enthusiasts alike to marvel at the big ships in the harbor from the impressive span of the famous Ravenel Bridge


Palmetto tree with Fort Moultrie in background - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

An a-fort-able afternoon activity might include a stop at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. Image: Fort Moultrie by Sweet Carolina Photography


How To Best Enjoy Sullivan’s Island Beach

Station 18, one of eight great beaches on the main island, is particularly recommended as a starting point for the widest sand stretches available, but be aware that parking can be tricky. The centrally located eponymous main beach boasts a classic wooden boardwalk and a square-shaped lighthouse that kids can enjoy. You have the choice to haul your own beach chair here as well or rent from a company like Beach and Games to Go.


What To Do Around Sullivan’s Island Beach

On the southeast end of the island (turn right!), travelers will find Fort Moultrie National Historic Park, a great place to let the kids loose running through the ruins. Sullivan’s Island Nature Trail can provide a little relief from the unrelenting summer sun as well as nature play for the littlest ones.



Best Beach Playground: Isle of Palms

North of Sullivan’s Island Beach lies the Isle of Palms, a somewhat unexpected trove of family beaches. Isle of Palms can be known for its great beach nightlife, local restaurants, and upscale beachfront condominiums. With fast-growing inland community minutes from the beach, however, it can also be a great place for families. There, families will find more affordable long-term stay hotels and other family vacation rentals. Beach parking is abundant and affordable, particularly at the Isle of Palms County Park public beach. 


How To Best Enjoy Isle of Palms

Bonus for families with toddlers: Isle of Palms County Park features a playground and sand pit between the parking lot and the beach for added fun. You might think a playground would be a very ho-hum addition to a beach vacation, but think again! Adding sand to a standard playground turns it into an incredible, mind-blowing adventure. The beach playground really made the entire trip for our two-year-old, a fact we ironically rued during the weeks he kept asking for it afterward. The park also offers outdoor showers, changing rooms, public restrooms, a picnic area, and concessions that include beach chair and umbrella rentals along with beach basics and snacks.


Things To Do Around Isle of Palms

For our family, Isle of Palms also held some sentimental value (my spouse lived there after college for a bit). I had been through the isle on my way to Pawley’s Island in the past but hadn’t given it the attention it truly deserves. Pawley’s Island offers beautiful beaches and amazing South Carolina and United States history (not to mention unique local artisan shopping). But the distance from Charleston to Pawley’s Island combined with the more residential retirement air of the island wasn’t quite a fit for this most recent trip. And let’s be honest: who can overcome a husband’s nostalgia for his misbegotten youth?

Isle of Palms it was, and what a great find for family vacation fun it turned out to be! Beyond the beach playground mentioned above, our family enjoyed dinner overlooking the beach with live music at the Windjammer – we saw several families with young kids there too. Highly recommend following that up with Shaka Shack for a frosty treat! Closer to our hotel inland, we had excellent pizza at Woodward Tavern before enjoying a nice long pre-bedtime walk along the lake and park nearby.


Toddler leaving Isle of Palms beach to visit the county park playground - 5 best charleston beaches for epic family vacations.

“Beach? What beach? Get to a playground, woman!” Isle of Palms County Park, Image: Jennifer Nelson.


Best Nature Play Beach: Edisto Beach

On the other hand, if the perfect beach for your family is a less developed, more natural setting, Edisto Beach, south of town, could be right. It makes a nice stopping point on a leisurely drive from Charleston down to Savannah. A too-quick internet search for the best family beaches on that drive might lead travelers to Seabrook Island. Known for its outstanding natural beauty, Seabrook Island would certainly appeal to any traveling family. Unfortunately, travelers will find options for visiting Seabrook Island somewhat limited by the private, residential nature of this gated beach community.


What To Do Around Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach has much to offer as an alternative to Seabrook Island beyond accessibility. Budding naturalists can explore the island’s serpentarium and Botany Bay nature trails while parents soak in the scenic live oaks dripping with Spanish moss for a change of scenery from the coastal norm. This is not to say that Edisto Island lacks beautiful beaches. Continuing down the highway to the coast, the state park offers several public beach access points as well as camping opportunities. Families will find fishing opportunities up shore at Edingsville Beach. Or, satisfy the kids’ inner archeologist with a stop at Boneyard and Driftwood Beaches to explore what the tides bring in. Worried about all the gear you might have to haul along with your beach chair? Never fear. Businesses like Edisto Beach Services or Edisto Essentials have you covered.


Sandpiper on beach at water's edge - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

Heed the piper’s call to Edisto Beach nature play this summer. Sanderling – Calidris alba, Edisto Beach State Park, Edisto Beach, South Carolina by Judy Gallagher


Best Shell Beach: Kiawah Island

North of Edisto Island lies Kiawah Island. Truthfully, the beautiful beaches on both islands produce abundant shelling opportunities at low tide. Kiawah might be the right speed if staying in a hotel is a traveler’s idea of roughing it, though. A great place to go instead of destinations like Hilton Head Island, modern amenities such as a full-service resort and golf course lie side by side here with the natural beauty of sandy beaches and protected shorelines. This trip is a bit longer from Charleston at about an hour of southerly highway driving, but that remoteness also means smaller crowds and better shelling. 


How To Best Enjoy Kiawah Island

Kiawah could also easily be voted Charleston’s best beach destination for golf courses, with an abundance to choose from. Cougar Point Golf Course and The Ocean Course are both along the shore and near some of the island’s beautiful family beaches. More centrally, travelers find Osprey Point Golf Course and Turtle Point Golf CourseTurtle Point Golf Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, while just west on the mainland is Oak Point Golf Course. All of these golf courses are minutes from the family beach fun on Kiawah Island, offering options for the whole family.


Five people walking and sitting on the Kiawah Island beach - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

Beach at Kiawah Island, by Lowtopspin.


What To Do Around Kiawah Island

Stay on the island and visit Kiawah Beachwalker Park as the tide is going out for the best shelling opportunities with minimal preparation. If travelers are willing to do a bit more planning and make the commitment in advance, tour boats departing for Bull Island beach and other barrier island destinations are timed to take advantage of the best shelling hours of the day. Kiawah Island is also a great place for families scouting for sea turtles, dolphins, and other wildlife viewings. Here too, a rental service like Kiawah Beach Services can save you from schlepping the beach chair load and other equipment.


Shells on the sand - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

To capture it in a sea-shell, Kiawah Island has some of the best collecting opportunities in South Carolina.  Shell on Kiawah Beach4 by lotopspin.


Best Close to Downtown Beach: Peninsula

A short trip to downtown Charleston could be a nice no-car family vacation opportunity for those who enjoy walking. But that doesn’t have to mean missing out on the charms of the best family beaches. 


DON’T MISS! Our 9 Favorite Things To Do In Charleston With Kids


What To Do Around The Peninsula

Visiting the Charleston Waterfront Park along the Charleston Harbor for the famous, highly Instagrammable Pineapple Fountain? Turn right for sand and sun fun with a short walk south along the water. Time it right with low tide so the kids can enjoy a mini-beach full of oyster shells and salt marsh plants. 


How To Best Enjoy The Peninsula

This spot near East Bay Street and East Battery is family-friendly (read: has benches and shade for the weary) and dog friendly. Good idea to bring water shoes to protect feet and buckets for the inevitable scavenging.


Palmetto lined sidewalk at the Charleston waterfront - 5 Best Charleston Beaches for Epic Family Vacations

Downtown! Isn’t it great to be at the beach downtown? Charleston’s Battery Park and Famous Pineapple Fountain, by Jennifer Nelson.


When You Go 



Getting to Charleston From Los Angeles 

Direct flights from LAX to Charleston, South Carolina (CHS), are rare, with only JetBlue currently offering non-stop service in the form of a 4.5-hour red-eye. American, Delta, and Spirit also fly there nonstop but from other cities, arriving late afternoon to early evening. Most other major airlines offer connecting services through a variety of airports across the United States.

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!

When we lived in Oregon and traveled regularly to the East Coast, we often stopped over a night or two in each direction with family in the Chicago area. 


Where to Stay In (and Around) Charleston’s Beaches

The best advice in choosing where to stay for an epic Charleston family beach vacation is to start with a sense of which beautiful beaches the family will visit.  

If the family is comfortable being city bound, or are renting a car, there is no reason to shy away from staying downtown. Great choices include a luxurious retreat at Charleston Place in the heart of downtown or a more budget-friendly stay at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Charleston Historic District.

Alternatively, travelers might choose to stay on one of the islands. This can help manage costs and driving time, depending on the family’s goals. Whether choosing an oceanfront option like The Tides Folly Beach or the calmer intercoastal waterway side like the Andell Inn on Kiawah Island, travelers can’t go wrong. 

Visiting Isle of Palms? We recently stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriot and the Hampton Inn & Suites in Mt. Pleasant, which we highly recommend for convenience (ahem, Target next door!), the walkable dining and shopping district, and of course, all the amenities that make life with tods easier to take. The drive to the water was quick and painless, clocking in at less than two Pinkfong episodes. 

Feeling tired just thinking about all this planning? Delegate, delegate, delegate with an all-inclusive resort. Particularly nice choices for families include the Isle of Palms Wild Dunes Resort and Kiawah Island Golf Resort.




Jennifer Nelson is a freelance writer and sustainability consultant. She loves visiting national parks, quirky pit stops on road trips, and a nice cold swim on a hot summer day. With the help of her husband, she’s been preparing her toddler to take on big adventures since his first major road trip, a cross-country drive while teething at nine months old. It’s all downhill from there, right?!