8 Best Closest Beaches to Charleston, SC: Guide

February 4, 2024

Get the lowdown on the closest beaches to Charleston, SC, plus trip planning ideas to help you plan your trip to the Lowcountry! 

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Some of the best beaches on the East Coast sit along the southern coastal region. From the North Carolina coast down to Florida. With some of my favorites along the South Carolina coastline. 

​Specifically near historic Charleston where you’ll find beautiful architectural buildings, art, and great hospitality. The good thing about Charleston is not only its historic charm, it’s well centralized. 

From nearby small towns and beaches to local cuisine and vegan restaurants, you won’t fall short of things to do. So if you’re ready to plan your trip to Charleston but yet be close to some of the best beaches, continue reading. 

Steeped in history, Charleston is home to cobblestone streets, antebellum homes, a lively waterfront, and a vibrant arts scene. It’s among the most popular vacation spots in the eastern United States. 

The best part is, it’s easy access to beautiful nearby beach towns. My top picks are broken down below. 

Sullivan’s Island Beach

Sullivan’s Island Beach is a charming coastal destination located in Mount Pleasant. Just 9 miles away, this is the closest beach to downtown Charleston. 

Known for its relaxed atmosphere, Sullivan’s Island Beach is a favorite among both locals and tourists. It’s a perfect place if you are seeking a peaceful, beach getaway. 

This barrier island offers a pristine stretch of 3.4 square miles against the backdrop of colonial architecture and quaint beach cottages. Additionally, the island also features the popular Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse. A historic beacon that adds to the area’s rich history and charm. 

Sullivan’s Island is usually where I choose to stay when visiting Charleston. It has a small-town feel and is conveniently located over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Also known as the ‘Cooper River Bridge’. 

Just a short drive from downtown. 

With a less commercialized feel compared to nearby beaches, Sullivan’s Island provides a peaceful retreat and a much quieter beach option. Especially if you’re among nature lovers looking to appreciate the natural beauty and history of the South Carolina coast. 

Morris Island

Accessible by private boat or kayak, Morris Island is a long barrier island known for its secluded and undeveloped beaches. It’s a great option if you’re looking for a more private beach experience with close proximity to the Charleston area. 

This coastal barrier island is rich in history and boasts the iconic Morris Island Lighthouse which was built in 1876. Though the lighthouse is no longer operational, having been decommissioned in 1962, the area is still a popular spot to visit. 

Due to natural erosion, the lighthouse is now situated offshore and can be admired from a distance. It remains a picturesque symbol of the region, often depicted against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

For a historical, eco-friendly, coastal experience, lighthouse eco-tours are available and make it a great way to explore the island. 

Folly Beach

Just 11 miles from downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is located at the western end of Charleston Harbor. It’s well known for its slogan, “Edge of America” and the famous Folly Beach Pier. 

Considered the most popular beach in Charleston, Folly has become more family-friendly than the “party town” it once was. With its quirky charm, surf-friendly waves, Bohemian spirit, and vibrant style, you are sure to fall in love with the vibe. 

As far as things to do, there is plenty. From exploring local gift and surf shops to enjoying live music or simply lounging on the beach. 

And if you get to the beach bright and early, you can enjoy some quiet, meditation time while taking in the beautiful sunrise. Plus, take advantage of some island yoga beachside! 

For recreational activities, you can surf, kayak, or paddleboard the Intracoastal Waterway. 

While it gets a bit overcrowded during the summer months, Folly Beach remains a popular destination for travelers all over.

Folly Beach County Park 

Folly Beach County Park, located on the western end of Folly Island, offers a pristine and family-friendly beach experience. 

Known for its sand dunes, maritime forest, and sandy beach, the park spans 4,000 miles of shoreline and 2,000 feet alongside Folly River. Giving you an opportunity to spot wildlife and birdwatching.  

And with amenities like a picnic area, public restrooms, and outdoor showers, it’s a perfect spot to spend the day. 

The beach at Folly Beach County Park is particularly popular for its gentle waves, making it ideal for swimming and sunbathing. You can also have fun shell collecting so be sure to have your shell collecting tools handy to explore during low tide.

You may even spot some sea turtles!

Isle of Palms Beach

About 12 miles from downtown Charleston, you’ll find the beautiful Isle of Palms loved by locals and travelers alike. This picturesque coastal town is known for its pristine sandy beaches and family-friendly atmosphere. It’s a great spot if you want more of a relaxed resort town kinda vibe.

This barrier island boasts a wide beachfront with clean, soft sand and inviting ocean views. In addition, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. The beach also boasts a scenic boardwalk, offering stunning ocean views. 

With a backdrop of upscale beachfront homes and a charming beach town ambiance, Isle of Palms Beach provides an ideal Lowcountry experience. 

Isle of Palms County Park 

Within 5 minutes of the eastern end of Isle of Palms, you’ll find Isle of Palms County Park. Also, a popular beachfront destination offering various recreational amenities. 

The park features a wide stretch of white sand beaches, great for swimming, soaking in the sun, and beachcombing. Additionally, the park provides amenities such as picnic areas, volleyball courts, and a playground for the kiddos. 

The park is known for its scenic beauty, with palm trees lining the shore and the iconic Isle of Palms Pier. With its blend of natural charm and beachside facilities, Isle of Palms County Park provides a welcoming environment for everyone. 

Kiawah Island Beach 

Kiawah Island is approximately 25 miles southwest of Charleston and is renowned for its pristine natural beauty and unspoiled coastline. However, the only public access to the beach is found at Beachwalker County Park which is located on the west end of the island.

The expansive shoreline provides a peaceful setting for leisurely walks, shell collecting, and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

What I love most is that Beachwalker Park is committed to environmental conservation and protecting wildlife and its coastal ecosystems. An essential part of beach life preservation. 

This coastal gem is a great place for relaxing on the beach, connecting with nature, and taking in the beautiful scenery. And with several amenities that include picnic areas and walking trails, it makes for a perfect, family-fun day. 

>>Click for healthy lunch ideas

Aside from the park, Kiawah Island is part of a gated community that provides an exclusive and tranquil atmosphere. Making it a preferred destination if you seek more of a private and upscale beach experience.

Seabrook Island Beach 

Adjacent to Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island is about 23 miles from Charleston. It offers a more private and exclusive coastal escape with beautiful beaches. Similar to Kiawah. 

Unlike the other beaches, Seabrook is a private island, gated community. Only residents, club members, and vacationers renting a home have access to the beach. 

An ideal destination if you’re looking to escape to a private, less crowded area. The island’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty is a big part of what makes this beach a true Lowcountry coastal treasure. 

Although this island is not as commercialized as some of the others, it still offers local restaurants to explore. Just be sure to ask for their vegan options!

Edisto Island Beach State Park

Located 50 miles southwest of Charleston, Edisto Island is known for its laid-back environment and natural beauty. The area offers unspoiled charm and very little commercial development making it a popular destination for a peaceful escape. 

It also features 37 public beach access points with free parking at each stop. Making it a great place for beachgoers. 

And if you enjoy being surrounded by nature, head over to Edisto Beach State Park to explore the outdoors. Here you’ll have the opportunity to hike, bird watch, observe wildlife, kayak, and even go camping. 

The park is oceanfront so if you choose to camp, I highly recommend reserving a campsite directly on the beach for easy access. 

Keep in mind, that Edisto is a small beach town with limited commercial stores. So if you plan on more than a day trip, be sure to pack all travel essentials including electrolytes for hydration!

Hunting Island Beach

Hunting Island Beach is located approximately 90 miles from Charleston in the Beaufort, South Carolina area. It’s a bit further away but worth the trip. 

The beach is known for its pristine, white sandy beaches, diverse ecosystems, and 1859 historic lighthouse. It has also been named as one of America’s top beaches on Tripadvisor. Making it one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks. 

Despite its popularity, the island remains well-preserved and not very crowded. 

While there are over 5 miles of public beach access, there are no lifeguards on duty. So, it’s a swim-at-your-own-risk kind of beach and more so for experienced swimmers considering the strong currents. 

But don’t let that turn you away. There is plenty more to do if you can appreciate nature!

Visitors can hike the trails and explore maritime forests, creeks, and acres of salt marsh. All showcasing the area’s rich biodiversity. It’s also a great place to bird-watch and observe wildlife. 

The park’s commitment to conservation and the preservation of its natural habitats enhances the overall experience. It makes for a tranquil and unspoiled escape if you seek a more secluded coastal adventure.

Explore Coastal South Carolina

Beaches within 3 Hours of Charleston

The following beaches may not be the closest but they are only within a 3-hour drive and are worth the road trip. 

Hilton Head Island, SC 

Hilton Head Island is located about 2 hours southwest of Charleston offering over 12 miles of pristine sandy beaches and upscale resorts. This barrier island is renowned for its world-class golf courses, making it a premier destination for golf enthusiasts.

In addition, you will also find a wide range of recreational activities including water sports, swimming, and beachcombing. Plus, several bike paths wind through the island’s lush landscapes, providing a scenic way to explore the area. The island is well known for its bike-friendliness. 

Island Features

  • World-class golf courses
  • 60 miles of paved bike trails
  • Vibrant dining scene
  • Luxury accommodations 
  • ​Sea Pines Preserve
  • Harbour Town Lighthouse

Hilton Head Island embraces a sophisticated yet relaxed lifestyle with a combination of natural beauty and luxury. Making it a sought-after destination if you’re seeking more of a refined coastal escape in the heart of the Lowcountry.

Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach is about 2 hours and 15 minutes northeast of Charleston. It’s a popular tourist destination with a long stretch of sandy beaches, entertainment, and a vibrant boardwalk. 

This is a high-traffic, touristy area with lots of things to do. Great for a family vacation. 

Popular Points of Interest 

  • Waterparks
  • Interactive museums
  • Mini-golf
  • Skywheel
  • Diverse culinary scene
  • Wellness spas
  • Shopping

If you want something less crowded and not as commercialized, I would suggest going to North Myrtle for a more peaceful, enjoyable experience.

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Pawleys Island, SC

Pawleys Island sits about an hour and 45 minutes northeast of Charleston and is known for its historic charm, relaxed atmosphere, and pristine beaches. Locals refer to this timeless treasure as “arrogantly shabby” for its ‘weather-worn’ homes and unique style.

It’s also considered part of the “Hammock Coast” – a South Carolina coastal stretch between Myrtle Beach and Charleston. The name is derived from the famous cotton rope hammock which you will find throughout the island. 

Hammocks are hand-woven by the “Hammock Man,” Marvin Grant, and make a perfect gift or souvenir to take home! You can pick one up at the historic Pawleys Island shopping village along with unique local crafts and other local treasures. 

Although the island has developed quite a bit from what it was years ago, it still retains its quaint style and slow pace. 

And with its rich history and distinctive Southern charm, the Island remains a cherished destination. Especially if you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

Tybee Island, GA

Tybee Island is a barrier island located 2 1/2 hours south of Charleston and about 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. The island has been a popular vacation destination since the 1800s and is known for its vibrant coastal charm and historic sites. In addition to its relaxing, laid-back environment. 

It’s also where “The Last Song” with Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth was filmed. 

If you enjoy nature, a great way to take it all in and explore the island is by kayaking and eco-tours. Have your camera ready though, because the island’s bottlenose dolphins are sure to make an appearance! 

And if you love dolphins like I do, I would suggest taking a dolphin excursion to see more of their playfulness in action.  

Popular Points of Interest 

  • Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion
  • Historic Tybee Island Lighthouse and Museum
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument
  • Uninhabited Little Tybee Island (accessible by boat or kayak only – Great for nature lovers!)
Some popular annual events include the Tybee Island Pirate Fest or Beach Bum Parade.

Jekyll Island, GA

Jekyll Island, one of the Golden Isles, is located approximately 3 hours south of Charleston. It’s one of the most beautiful islands to visit along the South Carolina-Georgia coast. 

The barrier island boasts pristine beaches, maritime forests, and tidal marshes and is renowned for its natural beauty and relaxed nature. 

With several public beach access points throughout the island including wheelchair access, everyone can enjoy a day at the beach. Great Dunes Park is the most common beach access. And if you enjoy biking, you can rent a bike from one of several bike rental places for a fun way to explore the island. 

But don’t leave without a stop at Driftwood Beach. Located on the north end of the island, it’s a must on a Jekyll Island visit. 

The beach is named for the years-old scattered driftwood trees and fallen branches that line the shore. These weathered trees offer a stunning backdrop for photographers and nature enthusiasts. What’s more, is that there’s a protected bird sanctuary with a walking trail that runs parallel to the beach. 

​So if you love bird watching, this is a perfect place for it with lots of unique, wildlife to spot.​

Popular Points of Interest 

  • Georgia Sea Turtle Center
  • Jekyll Island Historic District 
  • Mosaic Museum

When it comes to dining, most restaurants offer vegan and vegetarian options. They are also willing to make adjustments if you need them to. 

HappyCow is a good resource to keep handy no matter where you choose to go. 

Stay Securely Connected

Stay connected throughout your whole trip with Solis. A pocket WiFi that can connect up to 10 devices at a time. Perfect for the entire family. 

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Sandra Campillo

Sandra Campillo is a holistic lifestyle and travel blogger focused on veganism, eco-tourism, and wellness - mind, body, and spirit. Join Sandra and her community of readers on SandraCampillo.com to learn how to live a holistic, more sustainable, and compassionate way of life.

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