Getting to Know Charleston’s Beaches: Guide to Folly Beach

Guide to Folly Beach

Folly Beach is a popular destination for Charleston locals and vacationers alike—and for good reason. The wide beach is good for sunbathing, playing volleyball, and relaxing in the sun (or under an umbrella), and the waves are big enough to attract surfers and boogie boarders most days of the week. While Folly Beach is family-friendly, it has nightlife too; and, whether you are planning a beach day or a spring break or summer vacation, you can plan a trip that suits your personal wants and needs.

Getting to Know Folly Island

In this series on getting to know Charleston’s beaches, we’re starting each article with a general overview of the island itself. If you're familiar with the area, you can skip ahead to the next section.

There is only one way onto Folly Beach. Folly Road cuts through the middle of James Island and turns into Folly Beach Road at the Folly River crossing. Once you get across the river, you are officially on Folly Island.

On Folly Island, Folly Beach Road turns into Center Street. The four blocks of Center Street closest to the beach and the four blocks of East and West Second Street on either side are where you’ll find most of Folly’s restaurants and shopping.

Continue to the end of Center Street, and you’ll run into the Tides Folly Beach parking lot. The Tides Folly Beach is the only hotel on the island, and the parking lot is for guests only. But, there are plenty of places to park if you’re not staying at the hotel—which we cover in detail below.

From here, you can either go north or south. If you go north, you’ll eventually find yourself with a view of the ocean on your right as you drive past the Washout. At the northern end of the island is the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, which is as close as you can get to the Morris Island Lighthouse without a kayak or boat.

If you go south, you’ll pass through the main vacation rental area on Folly Island. Some full-timers live here too. You’ll pass several public beach access points, and eventually arrive at Folly Beach County Park at the southern tip of the island.

10 Things to Know About Folly Beach

If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Folly Beach (or possibly even thinking about moving to the beach), you have lots of options for places to stay and making the most out of your time on the island. While you can use sites like Airbnb, VRBO, TripAdvisor, and Yelp to find reviews of the island’s vacation rentals, restaurants, and outfitters, this guide provides an overview of everything you need to know to start planning your stay.

1. Parking

There are both free and paid options for parking at Folly Beach. While finding free parking can get challenging during the on-season and other busy times of year (like spring break and holiday weekends), if you head to the island in the morning, you will be able to find a spot without too much trouble most days. Of course, if you’re staying on the island, you’ll have parking at your rental, but you may want to drive toward Center Street and park so that you can walk to restaurants and the pier.

Folly Beach has two main rules for free street parking: Watch the signs carefully; and, when you parallel park along the street, make sure all four tires are in the sand. On the side streets around Center Street and farther out, there are areas that are designated for resident parking only—and you’ll get a ticket if you don’t have a resident stick on your vehicle.

There is paid parking at the Folly Beach Pier. There are also small paid parking lots at many of the public beach access points along much of the island’s five miles of oceanfront. Heading north on E. Ashley Avenue toward the Washout, you’ll find free and metered parallel parking spaces as well; and, if you go to Folly Beach County Park, you can park for free with a Charleston County Parks Gold Pass (otherwise, parking fees vary by season).

Folly Beach, one of many Charleston beaches to visit on vacation
Folly Beach County Park is often much less crowded than the main beach area farther north.

2. Breakfast, Brunch, and Coffee

Folly Beach has a handful of good options for breakfast, brunch, and coffee. The restaurant at the Tides Folly Beach, BLU Beach Bar and Grille, has good breakfast and brunch menus. It also has patio seating on the ocean—one of the few places for oceanfront dining on Folly. The hotel also has a small coffee shop where you can grab a coffee and walk right onto the beach.

Most locals will tell you that the best place to go for breakfast or brunch on Folly Island is Lost Dog Café. Lost Dog Café embodies the feel of Folly Beach, and its casual dining room and patio are both ideal places to start your beach day.

Other options for breakfast, brunch, and coffee at Folly Beach include Rita’s Seaside Grille, Planet Follywood, and Center Street Coffee.

3. Lunch and Dinner

Folly Beach has several good options for lunch and dinner, nearly all of which exude Folly’s casual beach vibe. These include seafood and burger options as you might expect, and there are good options for tacos and vegetarian-friendly restaurants as well. Along with the restaurants we’ve already mentioned, some of the best places to go for lunch and dinner at Folly Beach include:

  • Alfredo’s On Folly
  • Chico Feo
  • Jack of Cups
  • Loggerhead’s Beach Grill
  • Lowlife Bar
  • Pier 101
  • Snapper Jacks
  • James Gate
  • Taco Boy
  • The Crab Shack
  • The Washout

4. Ice Cream

If you’re going to the beach, there’s a good chance that you (or someone in your family) will want to stop for ice cream. The main options for ice cream at Folly Beach are:

  • Dolce Banana Café
  • The Pineapple Hut
  • Three Monkeys Ice Cream Parlor

All of these are located along Center Street and within walking distance to the beach and the Folly Beach Pier.

5. Public Beach Access

There are several public beach access points along Folly’s oceanfront. The two main access points are at the Folly Beach Pier and at the corner of W. 3rd Street and W. Arctic Ave. Both of these have public bathrooms and outdoor showers, and they’re within easy walking distance of many of the free parking spaces you’ll find a few blocks inland. Whether you head north or south from here, there is a public beach access point at just about every numbered cross street. Some of these have small parking lots; but, on busy days, you’ll need to get lucky to find a spot after about 10:00 am. The better bet is to look on the cross streets and the streets that run parallel to Ashley Ave.

There is also public beach access at Folly Beach County Park, the Washout, and the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. Folly Beach County Park has a huge parking lot, though even this can get full on summer afternoons. If you head toward the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, parking options start to thin out on the north end of the island; but, if you find a spot, the walk past the gate to the northern tip of the island is well worth it.

6. Points of Interest

Aside from the beach, Folly Island has several points of interest. As we just mentioned, taking the walk through the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve is a worthwhile—and popular—activity, as this is one of the best places in Charleston to view the Morris Island Lighthouse on foot. The Folly River Boat Ramp is a good place to go for a sunset view, and a walk to the end of the recently renovated Folly Beach Pier is a worthwhile endeavor morning, afternoon, or evening.

For families with young children, the Wave Watch Playground on W. 5th Street is worth a visit if you’ll be on the island for a few days (or longer); and, if you head all the way to the southern end of the island to Folly Beach County Park, you can walk around to the beach on the river side of the island to get away from the waves (and the crowds).

The view from Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve at Folly Beach
Morris Island Lighthouse from the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve on Folly Island

7. Things To Do

We’ve covered many of these already, but we’ll consolidate to make it easier to plan your visit to Folly Beach. Some of the main things to do at Folly Beach include:

  • Go out for a waterfront meal at BLU or Pier 101
  • Go out for ice cream and walk to the beach or pier
  • Go surfing or boogie boarding (you can rent a surfboard at the beach)
  • Hunt for shark teeth, sand dollars, and shells
  • Play volleyball at one of the permanent nets on the beach
  • Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and paddle the Folly River
  • Ride bikes throughout the island (rentals are available)
  • Take a guided kayak tour or boat charter
  • Visit the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve
  • Walk the Folly Beach Pier

There are several events on Folly Island throughout the year as well. These include the Bill Murray Polar Plunge on January 1, Taste of Folly in January, Save the Light Half Marathon and 5k in February, Sea and Sand Festival in February, Independence Day fireworks, and the New Year’s Eve flip-flop drop.

8. Outfitters and Beach Rentals

If you’re interested in renting a bicycle during your trip to Folly Beach, you can do so at Cool Breeze Bike Rentals on Center Street or Folly Beach Rentals on Ashley Ave. Kayak and SUP rentals and tours are available through Folly Beach Rentals, Charleston Outdoor Adventures, Flipper Finders, and Charleston SUP Safaris (among others). Isla Surf School rents surfboards on the beach at the W. 3rd Street public beach access point (you can also sign up for a lesson), and you can rent chairs and umbrellas from the Folly Beach Chair Company there as well.

9. Hotels and Vacation Rentals

As we mentioned above, Tides Folly Beach is the only hotel on the island. This isn’t a bad thing, as the hotel is centrally located and has waterfront rooms with balconies. There are vacation rental homes throughout the island; and, as is the case with most beach rentals, prices vary widely between oceanfront, second-row, and third-row homes.

While many people try to find vacation rentals close to Center Street, you have more options toward the southern end of the island; and, if you rent toward the northern end, you’ll get away from the larger crowds—as there simply aren’t as many homes (nor is there as much public parking) in this area. For more cost-effective lodging options, you can rent a condo just across the Folly River and still be within easy walking or biking distance to the beach (about three-quarters of a mile).

10. Living Full-Time at Folly Beach

Interested in moving to Folly Beach? Like the Charleston area’s other beaches, Folly is home to many full-time residents. Many of the island’s residents surf in the morning before heading to work on the island, on James Island, or in downtown Charleston. Living on Folly is definitely for those who want the beach lifestyle. You’ll have easy access to the island’s restaurants and shops; but, if you need to go grocery shopping or make a trip to the hardware store, you’ll need to drive to James Island. As long as you plan your trips around the beach traffic, this shouldn’t take much longer (if any) than driving to the store from most other places in Charleston.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Folly Beach in Charleston, SC

Is Folly Beach Worth Visiting?

Yes, Folly Beach is absolutely worth visiting! A trip to Folly Beach is worth it for the beach itself—which, while among Charleston’s busier beaches, is nowhere near as busy as most other oceanfront vacation destinations. Folly has its own unique character; and, unlike larger beach towns, it does not have a boardwalk lined with overpriced shops. Instead, the local restaurants and shops cater to residents and visitors alike, and the island has a slower and more casual feel than a typical beach vacation destination.

Folly Beach is also a great place to try surfing or rent a kayak or SUP. You can go surfing on the ocean in the morning, then go paddling through the marshes on the inland side of the island in the afternoon. With more than five miles of beaches, you can find a place to yourself most times of year, and the Folly Beach Pier is the perfect place to end a long day with dinner and dessert.

Are There Vacation Rentals at Folly Beach?

Yes, there are vacation rentals at Folly Beach. In fact, Folly Beach primarily has vacation rentals, as there is only one hotel on the island. Rental options include condos, small cottage-style homes and bungalows, and large oceanfront homes that will sleep 12 to 15 guests (or more). With all of the options that are available, you can find a good option regardless of your price point.

Is There a Hotel at Folly Beach?

Yes, there is one hotel at Folly Beach, the Tides Folly Beach. It is located on the oceanfront in the middle of the island, and it dominates your view as you arrive on the island via Center Street. The Tides Folly Beach has oceanfront rooms with balconies, an oceanfront restaurant with patio seating, and a bar and a coffee shop on the beach.

Do People Live on Folly Island Full-Time?

Yes, Folly Island has many full-time residents. Living on Folly is a unique experience, and definitely one worth considering if you want to be able to walk to the beach (or have an oceanfront view) every day of the week. Whether you want a small bungalow on the river side of the island or a multi-million-dollar oceanfront home, there are options available. Buying a condo on Folly Island is an option as well.

What Are Some of the Best Restaurants at Folly Beach?

It’s hard to say which of Folly Beach’s restaurants are the best, as nearly all of the island’s restaurants are both very good and very unique. If you are looking for a place to eat out on Folly Island, we’d recommend just focusing on the type of food you want to eat. Pick a restaurant with a menu that looks good, and you can’t go wrong. But, in terms of the best views, Pier 101 and BLU are currently the only two restaurants on the island with oceanfront seating.

Can You Swim at Folly Beach?

Yes, swimming is popular at Folly Beach. You will see people in the ocean at Folly all times of year (though the water gets chilly in the winter). Folly Beach is Charleston’s main surfing destination as well, and the island’s surf school offers lessons and camps for kids (and adults) of all ages. So, getting in the water at Folly Beach is generally considered safe, and there are lifeguards on duty for much of the year.

What Should You Do at Folly Beach?

Walking on the beach at sunrise is definitely a must-do during a Folly Beach vacation. We’d also strongly recommend taking a walk on the Folly Beach pier. If you’re interested in surfing, Folly Beach is a great place for beginners; and, if you’re interested in kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding, you can rent (or take a guided tour) on the Folly River and in the marshlands behind the island. Finally, if you were going to visit just one restaurant during your stay, we’d have to say that Lost Dog Café is definitely the place to go.


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