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7 Great Charleston Water Parks and Beaches
When the going gets hot, the hot go get wet with some splashy fun.
These beautiful beaches and fun water parks have something for everyone.(Getty Images)
Charleston, South Carolina, is surrounded by water – and come summertime, that’s a mighty good thing. Given the region’s hot and humid weather, visitors and residents alike appreciate the easy access to beautiful beaches and fun water parks. And while summer is a particularly popular time to indulge in sun, sand and surf, you can enjoy Charleston beaches year-round. Even the off-season is ideal for quiet beach walks and catching spectacular sunsets. All area beaches are family- and dog-friendly (though seasonal leash restrictions and other rules vary), yet each beach town has its own personality and unique flavor. Here’s a rundown on where to get wet and refreshed when the weather gets hot.
The closest beach (a 20-minute drive) from downtown Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is a quaint seaside neighborhood. Mainly residential, with no hotels or rental condominiums, Sullivan’s Island is ideal for families and those seeking to relax along its 3 miles of wide beach. Soak up the sun or military history with a visit to Fort Moultrie at the southern tip or Breach Inlet at the north end, where the Confederate-built H.L. Hunley made fateful history as the world’s first successful combat submarine during the Civil War. Bring sunscreen and a Frisbee, but no need to pack a lunch – just stop by Poe’s Tavern, a popular burger and fish taco spot named after the island’s literary hero, Edgar Allan Poe, who was stationed here. Top off your day with a beer at Dunleavy’s Pub or decadent homemade gelato from Beardcat's Sweet Shop.
For those seeking beach time, Jess Segall, front office supervisor at HarbourView Inn, recommends Sullivan’s Island. “It’s my personal favorite,” she says. “It offers the best of both worlds – a bit quieter and a lovely beach, with good restaurants and bars, too.”
[Read: The Best Charleston Ghost Tours.]
Parking: It's free but restricted to certain areas and sides of streets, so read the signs.
Don’t Miss: If the local fire and rescue department's annual fish fry fundraiser in June or the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge coincide with your visit, consider stopping by.
Bonus: Sullivan’s Island has a great shaded playground for younger children, as well as public tennis and basketball courts.
Isle of Palms
Just north of Sullivan’s Island and about 15 miles from Charleston, Isle of Palms, known locally as IOP, is a bit larger and offers more commercial options (shops, groceries, restaurants and small hotels) than its sleepier neighbor. When the wind is up, kitesurfers dazzle as they dart across the waves, and surfers and anglers tend to gravitate toward the pier, but there’s plenty of beach for everyone.
At IOP’s commercial Front Beach hub, you'll find classic beachy ice cream and hot dog stands, as well as T-shirt shops. The centrally located Isle of Palms County Park offers easy beach access, plus parking, handicapped-accessible ramps, bathrooms, outdoor showers, picnic tables and grills, lifeguards, and a beachfront playground with a sand volleyball court. It's open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May through Labor Day. During that time, admission is $10 per standard vehicle during the week and $15 on weekends. Off-season hours and rates vary during the cooler months.
Parking: There's a mix of free and metered on-street parking in designated areas.
Don’t Miss: Listen to live music at The Windjammer, a popular beachfront bar.
Bonus: Golfers will love the Tom Fazio-designed course at Wild Dunes Resort on the northern part of the island.
Folly Beach in Charleston, South Carolina. (Courtesy of Vive Media, VisitFolly.com)
A 25- to 30-minute drive south of Charleston, Folly Beach is the quintessential beach town, with dive bars, surf shops and colorful characters who help Folly Beach earn its “Edge of America” nickname. The Washout on Folly’s north end is one of the South’s best surf spots, and the Edwin S. Taylor Folly Beach Fishing Pier is a great place to people-watch, fish or enjoy a seaside meal at the new Pier 101 Restaurant & Bar. The beach town has a plethora of eclectic knickknack shops, art galleries, locally owned restaurants (try Taco Boy or Lost Dog Cafe for lunch, and Rita’s Seaside Grille for a fancier dinner) and miles of beach.
“If visitors are looking for more entertainment and younger crowds and bars, Folly is the way to go, but avoid the Center Street areas on crowded holidays,” suggests Devon Brusseau, concierge at The Restoration.
[Read: The Best Charleston Tours.]
Parking: It's free on designated streets, and there's some metered parking in commercial areas.
Don’t Miss: Dance the night away at the monthly Moonlight Mixers on the Folly Beach Pier, generally May through September.
Bonus: The 1876 Morris Island Lighthouse, a historic landmark, stands offshore at Folly’s far northern tip.
Kiawah Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island’s pristine beach is accessible to the public via Charleston County’s Kiawah Beachwalker Park. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., May through Labor Day. During that time, admission is $8 per standard vehicle during the week and $10 on the weekend. Off-season hours and rates vary.
“Beachwalker Park is a lovely place to walk and shell,” says Richard Burton, head concierge at the Belmond Charleston Place, who likes the fact that because it’s farther out (25 miles, and about a 45-minute drive, from downtown), Kiawah Island’s beaches tend to be less crowded. Plus, there are lifeguards, showers, bathrooms, grills and a handicapped-accessible ramp at the public park.
Parking: It's included with park admission.
Don’t Miss: Make a pit stop for lunch, gourmet picnic supplies or shopping at Kiawah Island's Freshfields Village.
Bonus: Kiawah Island has miles of bike trails, and is ideal for birders and nature lovers.
Charleston County's 3 Water Parks
Palmetto Islands County Park in Charleston, South Carolina.(Courtesy of Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission)
Even with beaches nearby, sometimes a tall, twisting waterslide is the ticket. Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission offers three different water parks for kids of all ages to find wet thrills. In Mount Pleasant at Palmetto Islands County Park (about 30 minutes from downtown Charleston), Splash Island Waterpark is ideal for younger children and beginning swimmers. James Island County Park’s Splash Zone Waterpark (about 20 minutes southwest of downtown Charleston) is an excellent midrange park, with two slides and a larger lazy river, plus a wading pool. And for those seeking more thrills (and crowds), North Charleston’s Wannamaker County Park's Whirlin' Waters Adventure Waterpark features The Big Kahuna wave pool, several twisting slides, a shallow toddler play area and other adventures.
[Read: The Best Charleston Walking Tours.]
Splash Zone Waterpark in Charleston, South Carolina.(Courtesy of Gary Coleman)
Visitors to Splash Island and Splash Zone must pay a gate entry fee of $2 per person and buy a water park admission ticket: Splash Island Waterpark is $6.99 for general admission, $5.99 for those less than 48 inches tall, $3.99 for seniors and free for kids 2 and younger. Splash Zone Waterpark's general admission is $9.99, $8.99 for those less than 48 inches tall, $5.99 for seniors and free for children 2 and younger. Whirlin' Waters Adventure Waterpark does not charge a gate entry fee but tickets are $19.99 for general admission, $14.99 for those less than 48 inches tall, $9.99 for seniors and free for kids 2 and younger.
The hours vary seasonally, so check the website for more information.
To experience more of what Charleston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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