8 Best Beaches Near Charleston, SC Your Family Will Love!

by | May 8, 2024 | Family Adventures, South East, USA

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To me, the beautiful beaches near Charleston, SC, signal the end of summer. I grew up in Indiana, and almost every August of my childhood, my brave mom and dad would pack up our car and drive our family 733.2 miles to South Carolina. 

This was well before GPS, so more often than not, our trip would be extended by a few missed turns.

Confined to the backseat, my little brother and I quickly established boundaries. The invisible line was not to be crossed. When it was crossed there would be the kind of consequences that would ignite my mom’s fury. Her face beet-red, spittle flying from her mouth, turned to us as she scream-whispered, “Do NOT make me come back there.”

One time, at a flea market (after navigating a missed turn in the Appalachian Mountains), my mom found a wooden paddle with the images of two children’s bare bottoms, presumably representing mine and my brother’s. She kept it on the dashboard for the rest of the trip. My brother and I did a saintly job staying on our sides for the last 6 hours of the journey. 

These days, a family car trip kind of reminds me of giving birth. Most of it is hellish, but the end result makes you forget about all the horror. 

So what kind of magic brought us to stuffing the entire fam-damnly into the car for 12 tedious hours every August? It was definitely the unique beaches near Charleston, SC, and its barrier islands. Here are the eight best ones worth the entire journey.

 

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A Little About Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, often referred to as the “Holy City” because of its steeple-dotted skyline, has a certain kind of appeal, which must result from blending eccentric characters with old-money drama into a historical tapestry woven together by stories of ghosts, mermaids, and pirates. 

Established in 1670, this thriving city is home to the first public college, museum, and playhouse in the United States. All of this (and more!) makes this stunning city the perfect place for history buffs to vacation.

Criss-crossed with cobblestone streets, the history of the “Lowcountry” continues to captivate citizens, guests, and famous ghosts like Annabel Lee (yes, Poe’s Annabel Lee!), who meander through markets that have been in operation since the 1800s. 

When visiting the beautiful beaches near Charleston, SC, during the summer months, it’s important to remember that these East Coast beaches aren’t the only thing making Charleston so special; it’s also its historical impact. 

A large part of Charleston’s history is wrapped around the region’s geography and biodiversity. For junior and senior naturalists and everyone in between, there is no better place to discover Charleston than the Charleston County Parks. With a little planning ahead, visitors can find summer camps, family-friendly tours, and outdoor adventure programs at a very affordable rate. 

 

little boy on rocky shore of the Atlantic

The rocky shore by the clubhouse on Seabrook Island provided hours of fun exploring for my boys. @SteffyMcCourt

 

Morris Island

Morris Island, about 10 miles from Charleston, is not a beach made for sunbathing. It is rugged and accessible only by boat. 

The Morris Island Lighthouse Tour is a 2.5 hour, tide-dependent, voyage that departs from Charleston. They recommend bringing a bag for shells and shoes that can get dirty. Maybe some ginger for sensitive stomachs.

This is a unique beach experience with its iconic lighthouse, the tallest in South Carolina, and the backdrop for many well-liked Instagram photos. 

Morris Island is the ideal afternoon escape for those seeking non-commercialized beaches where natural beauty takes center stage. Although its more rugged and natural state makes it unsuitable for typical beach lounging, it provides a serene environment where visitors can truly appreciate the outdoors. 

(If you are familiar with the Young Adult novel series Virals, you might be surprised that nobody actually lives on this island.)

 

little boy on tree by the beach in South Carolina

Don’t forget a bucket when exploring the barrier islands! @SteffyMcCourt

 

Sullivan’s Island

Just 10 miles from Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is the quiet cousin. She rests between Charleston Harbor and Isle of Palms.

Families will find a serene beach experience that includes a chance to explore a maritime forest

Sullivan’s Island Beach is where history meets the sea, not far from the stoic Morris Island Lighthouse, constructed in 1876. 

The absence of hotels keeps the crowds thin, making it a perfect spot for those seeking a bit of solitude with their saltwater. Can’t bear to part with the island? There is a collection of beachfront homes for rent

There are a few excellent restaurants on this barrier island. A must-stop is The Obstinate Daughter, named after none other than Miss Carolina Sullivan, a cartoon figure made in 1776 of Sullivan Island that looks a lot like William Pitt (the first Earl of Chatham who fought for Britain’s possession of North America) with a “hair-do” meant to conceal weapons. 

 

Folly Beach

Located 12 miles from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach, famously dubbed the “Edge of America,” is made of sandy stretches and is regarded as one of the best places for surfing on the East Coast

Families will love spending the day at  Folly Beach County Park, where visitors can access ample parking, showers, a snack bar, beach toy rentals, and public restrooms. 

The Folly Beach Pier stretches 1049 feet into the sparkly Atlantic. Visitors come here for excellent fishing opportunities and stunning panoramic views.

The shores of Folly Beach are also a crucial habitat for sea turtles, making it a prime spot for nature enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures in their natural environment. 

After a long day riding waves or building sandcastles, visitors can explore Center Street, where local restaurants serve up everything from seafood to that vital beach taco.

Folly Beach represents a perfect blend of relaxation, history, and natural beauty, making it a cherished spot for both locals and tourists.

 

Where to Stay In Folly Beach

Tides Folly Beach Hotel is an oceanfront property that will win everyone in the family over. Just a short drive from the city life in Charleston, this hotel features a large heated pool, tiki bar, private surf lessons, and three unique restaurants.

 

DON’T MISS! Folly Beach Hotels: Oceanfront Options

 

Kiawah Island

Just a 25-mile drive from Charleston, Kiawah Island is a golfer’s paradise with a nature-lover’s twist. This upscale resort area offers ten miles of beaches where the Atlantic Ocean gently meets what locals call East Beach and West Beach

West Beach is the oldest developed part of the island and is home to Cougar Point Golf Club and an extensive family-friendly pool complex. East Beach includes Kiawah Island’s Night Heron Park, the epicenter of the resort’s activities and entertainment, including Kamp Kiawah for kids.  

Visitors can rent bikes to explore the well-paved trails through the expansive maritime forest or find a cozy beach chair to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Kiawah Island is known for its wildlife preserves and secluded beach spots.

My family spent many of our vacations on Kiawah Island, and my husband and I spent our honeymoon there. It’s my ideal vacation spot- quiet beaches, walking and biking trails, excellent food, and so much wildlife. It’s the perfect marriage of the great outdoors and luxury living. 

 

Where to Stay In Kiawah Island

For guests who don’t mind paying for laid back luxury, The Sanctuary, a palatial oceanfront property is the place to stay. Refined Southern hospitality meets guests at this 20-year old four story hotel. Amenities include a spa and salon, indoor and outdoor pools, a fleet of Volvos for guests’ personal use, room-service, and six unique restaurants.

 

two boys running through the waves

My boys LOVE them some beach time! @SteffyMcCourt

 

Seabrook Island

A few swings of the golf club away from Kiawah and approximately 23 miles from Charleston, Seabrook Island offers a more remote beach experience. 

Seabrook is known for its many private beaches, equestrian center, and tranquil environment. It is the go-to spot for those wanting to escape more crowded scenes. 

Recently, my husband and I began renting a home for a week in July on Seabrook Island, often inviting my in-laws to join us. We love Seabrook Island because it feels like a laid-back version of Kiawah Island. There are also more affordable vacation rentals for larger groups, which is great when squeezing seven people into a house.

It’s perfect for family gatherings or a romantic retreat, where the toughest decision of the day is choosing between the sound of waves or the clip-clop of horse hooves on sandy trails.

 

Where to Stay In Seabrook Island

Seabrook Island is a private residential island. Visitors can rent everything from a 1-bedroom villa to a 10 bedroom mansion. I have not found a rental home on the island that I wouldn’t recommend. 

 

coffee and reading on the porch in seabrook

This gorgeous rental home on Seabrook Island gave me major treehouse vibes. @SteffyMcCourt

 

 

Bulls Island

Just about 15 miles from Charleston as the crow flies, Bulls Island is a pristine and largely untouched natural reserve that offers an utterly uncommercialized beach experience. Accessible only by ferry or private boat, it forms part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

Visitors can only get to the island via a ferry called the Bulls Island Beach Drop. It departs only a few times per month, when the tide is right, from Garris Landing. The boat ride and the island exploration experience takes around 4-hours total and includes an intimate tour of the area with a naturalist. It’s important to note that visitors must bring a lunch and a drink, because there are no stores or restaurants on this island. 

This secluded island is home to diverse wildlife, including deer, alligators, and various bird species, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and bird watchers. 

The island’s famous Boneyard Beach is striking, with its dramatic landscape of sun-bleached trees sprawled across the shore. 

Bulls Island is ideal for those looking for adventure and solitude. It offers miles of hiking trails and untouched beaches for a day of exploration.

 

little boy holding a horseshoe crab

My boy isn’t afraid to pick anything up. @SteffyMcCourt

 

Isle of Palms

About a 16 mile drive from Charleston, this beach is ideal for those who enjoy more than just a good swim. Isle of Palms is hopping.

Isle of Palm’s Beach attracts many families during its busiest seasons. Be sure to check out the Isle of Palms County Park! Beyond lounging and building sandcastles in this beach area, visitors can participate in various activities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and biking throughout the island. Don’t worry about packing all of the outdoor adventure equipment! Most of it can be rented from the county park. Other awesome amenities of this park include, seasonal lifeguards, outdoor showers, a playground, a picnic area with grills, an ice cream stand, restrooms, and a boardwalk with an accessible ramp.

The Isle of Palms’ county park offers well-maintained public amenities and plenty of parking spots. All of which are a stone’s throw away from Wild Dunes Harbor Course, a gorgeous public golf course, . It’s the perfect spot for those who can’t decide between sand traps and water traps. You can have both! 

 

Where to Stay In Isle of Palms

The Palms Oceanfront Hotel prides itself on being a laid-back family-friendly vacation destination. Visitors will love the bright and airy maritime decor and the brand new mattresses in every one of the 68 rooms.

 

Searching for shells

Finding seashells while mama takes pictures. @SteffyMcCourt

 

Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach is the furthest beach on this list from Charleston (50 miles), but it is a standout destination. 

It is part of Edisto Island and skirts the edge of the Atlantic. The beach is known for its lack of commercialism. This makes it perfect for families, couples, or anyone looking to disconnect and enjoy nature. With its easygoing atmosphere, Edisto Beach is a cherished spot for those who enjoy leisurely beach days, fishing, or simply the sounds of the ocean waves without the backdrop of a busy beachfront.

It’s an excellent option for a family getaway, especially for those who fancy a break from digital screens – although the local wildlife might photobomb sunset shots.

 

Where to Stay In Edisto Beach

There are two options for places to stay- a rental property or a campground. Both are equally great options for those who value spending quiet time away. 

 

Boys laughing in the ocean's surf

Beachy joy! @SteffyMcCourt

 

Each of these South Carolina beaches extends a unique slice of coastal life, all within a shell’s throw of Charleston. (Find out why my brave parents drove 12 hours yearly to get to these gorgeous beaches! I promise it will all make sense when your feet hit the sand.)

 

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Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active and awesome boys, two budgies, one cockatiel, and a mischievous corgi. Currently an ELA Teacher in Plymouth, Michigan, she also writes for parenting magazines and education websites. She just recently launched her own travel website, www.mifamilytravel.com; a tribute to the state of Michigan. She has an MS in Educational Leadership from Butler University and a BA in English from Indiana University.