Beaches of Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island

Beautiful Beaches of South Carolina

Off the north end of the Charleston harbor, two barrier islands, steeped in history, create a picturesque setting of an inviting and relaxed way of life.

Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are separated by Breech Inlet, the waterway that connects the Intracoastal Waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. Only minutes away from one another, each island has its own special charm. Nearly 95% of the buildings and homes were destroyed on the Isle of Palms when Hurricane Hugo slammed into the Charleston coast in 1989. Sullivan’s Island retained more of its original homes and vegetation, but each has the original ambiance of what they once were.

Isle of Palms

Thought to be first inhabited by the Sewees Indians, it was referred to as the Hunting Island because of its lush jungles and wildlife. Also thought to be a sanctuary for pirates in its beginnings, legend has it, there are treasures still buried. The island was the departure point for the CSS Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship during the Civil War. Purchased in 1899 by J.S. Lawrence, it was renamed the Isle of Palms to attract tourism. Since the 1900s, this island has been home to thousands and a favorite vacation paradise for thousands more.

Luxury hotels and homes, upscale shops, island-themed bars, and seafood bistros and restaurants are part of its community, known as Front Beach. The Windjammer, the epitome of a casual beach bar, is a landmark on the island. Since its opening in the early 70s, barely surviving Hugo, it has stood watch over hundreds of volleyball tournaments and hosted as many live bands. With six miles of unspoiled beaches offering dolphin watching, kayaking, surfing, and boating, Isle of Palms gives visitors and residents an ideal location to live and vacation.

Volunteer residents from the two islands, known as the Turtle Team, ensure that hatchings gain safe entry to their ocean home during the nesting season from May to October.

Isle of Palms Country Park

Begin the day by heading to the Isle of Palms County Park. It’s the closest parking available to the beach. They offer parking for $7.00 per day and also maintain picnic areas, changing stations, restrooms, and showers. Lifeguards are on duty from Nov.-Feb. 10am-5pm; March-April & Sept.-Oct. 10am-6pm; May-Labor Day 9am-7pm.

To have an enjoyable day at the beach, it is best to bring some essentials. Beach chairs or towels will be more comfortable than sitting on the sand all day. A beach umbrella is also a good idea as the South Carolina sun can be hot. Bring a small shovel in order to dig a deep enough hole to make sure the umbrella doesn’t blow away. Boogie Boards are available for rent at the County Park or bring one. Skim Boards are also becoming very popular. Suntan lotion is a must, of course. All that’s left is a cooler with some water and a great book! Fido can also come to the beach as well. Isle of Palms is one of the few beaches that does not have pet restrictions during the summer.

Where to Eat at Isle of Palms

Head to Coconut Joe’s for lunch. The beach restaurant and bar is just to the right of the Isle of Palms pier on Ocean Avenue. It has a rooftop bar with live music and the second story is the restaurant. They serve up good hamburgers and cold drinks. The dress is casual as some flip flops and a swim cover-up are all that is needed.

Have dinner at The Boathouse at Breach Inlet. It’s been in business since 1994 and is a converted bait shop. It was also the actual launching site of the United States’ first submarine, the H.L. Hunley. They have some of the freshest seafood around and for nonseafood lovers, the steaks are also great.

Where to Stay at Isle of Palms Beach

Wild Dunes Resort is very popular and has many condos, rental homes, and villas for rent in varying sizes. There is also the AAA four-diamond Boardwalk Inn at Wild Dunes. An off-island about a mile or two located in the town of Mount Pleasant is the Marriott Residence Inn. This hotel is one of the few that allows pets. This hotel is located in the Mount Pleasant Town Centre shopping area and is close to shopping and restaurants.

Sullivan’s Island

This island is home to Fort Moultrie, the fort that saved Charleston from British occupation in 1776. The fort, named in honor of its commander, Colonel William Moultrie is a historical landmark and has been restored to portray its role in Charleston history. Edgar Allan’s Poe’s short story, The Gold Bug, was written while Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie in the early 1800s, and one of the favorite hotspots on the island is Poe’s Tavern. The island’s military history is evident in its architecture; some of its condos were once military housing for officers and manmade bunkers rise over its town park.

Mainly residential, its main street called Middle Street has a smattering of restaurants, shops, bars, and an art gallery showcasing local artists’ work. Dunleavy’s Pub, a tavern just a few blocks away from the beach has a casual atmosphere with indoor/outdoor dining. Its long-time tradition of the annual Polar Bear Swim every year on New Year’s Day brings hundreds of residents to welcome in the New Year with a brisk swim in the ocean. Sullivan’s Island’s commitment to remaining a small, bedroom community is unmistakable—there are no hotels or multi-family dwellings. Instead one will find original, Charleston-style homes that flank each side of tree-lined streets.

The island’s flora includes large, twisted oak trees heavy with long, thick masses of Spanish moss, palm trees, magnolias, jasmine, and roses. Activities on the island include fishing, crabbing, and shrimping; longtime traditions indigenous to its past. Dogs run free during certain hours on the island’s two-mile beach and there’s nothing like a sunset stroll at the end of the day. Island Realty offers small to luxury homes for vacationers wishing to take advantage of a quiet, low-key vacation.

These quaint islands, with their sense of strong continuity, southern hospitality, and charm provide a soothing milieu and a return to life’s simple pleasures.

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