Isle of Palms is one of the Charleston area’s two main beaches (along with Folly Beach) that are popular spring break and summer vacation destinations. But, Isle of Palms is also home to many full-time residents, and it is popular with locals from downtown Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, and other surrounding areas as well.
There are lots of reasons why Isle of Palms is so popular with locals and visitors alike. From its miles of pristine beaches to its restaurants and easy access to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) and the uninhabited sea islands slightly farther north, Isle of Palms has a lot to offer. Whether you are planning a vacation or a day trip, this comprehensive guide provides an overview of what you need to know.
Getting to Know Isle of Palms
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 are two ways onto Isle of Palms. Most visitors take the Isle of Palms Connector from Highway 17 at Mount Pleasant Towne Center. If you are coming from downtown Charleston or Charleston International Airport (CHS), you will make a right onto the Connector, (you’ll start to see signs as you get close) and then you’ll drive about 3.75 to the Connector Bridge. Once you’re across the bridge, you’re on Isle of Palms. This puts you near the main public parking lots on Ocean Boulevard and at Isle of Palms County Park. If you’re staying at one of the oceanfront hotels on the island, you’ll make a right on Ocean Boulevard and immediately start looking for your hotel on the left.
The other way onto Isle of Palms is to come from Sullivan’s Island. Once you cross the Ben Sawyer Bridge onto Sullivan’s Island, you will take the second left onto Jasper Boulevard. Jasper Boulevard turns into Palm Boulevard before crossing over Breach Inlet onto Isle of Palms.
10 Things to Know About Isle of Palms
For Charleston residents, visiting Isle of Palms is well worth the short drive any time of year. During the winter months, parking is rarely an issue, and on weekdays you may find that you have a stretch of the beach mostly (if not entirely) to yourself. If you are thinking about visiting Isle of Palms for your Charleston vacation, planning ahead will help you get the most out of your stay. With this in mind, here are 10 things to know about Isle of Palms:
- Breakfast, Brunch, and Coffee
- Lunch and Dinner
- Ice Cream
- Public Beach Access
- Points of Interest
- Things to Do
- Outfitters and Beach Rentals
- Hotels and Vacation Rentals
- Living Full-Time on Isle of Palms
While the parking rules on Isle of Palms are somewhat complicated, there are three easy options (of course, if you are renting a vacation home or hotel room, then parking won’t be an issue). There are two public parking lots in the main beach area, one at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pavilion Drive, and the other just across 14th Avenue at Isle of Palms County Park. These are both paid parking options, unless you have a Gold Pass from Charleston County Parks, in which case you can park at the park for free.
There is also limited street parking along Ocean Boulevard, although these spots typically fill up quickly on warm weekends and during the summer months. These are also paid spaces.
Isle of Palms does have free parking options as well, but you have to know where to go. As the City of Isle of Palms’ website explains, visitors may park in the Beach Parking District only. According to the city, “[n]o permit or parking fee exists to park along the public rights-of-way in the following beach parking areas”:
- 3rd Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Charleston Boulevard
- East side of 4th Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Charleston Boulevard
- 5th Avenue, between Ocean Boulevard and Carolina Boulevard
- 6th Avenue, between Ocean Boulevard and Carolina Boulevard
- 7th Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Carolina Boulevard
- East side of 8th Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Carolina Boulevard
- East side of 9th Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Carolina Boulevard
- Palm Boulevard between 21st Avenue and 40th Avenue
- Palm Boulevard between 42nd Avenue and 57th Avenue
In certain areas, off-street parallel parking is permitted; but, in others, parking is permitted in designated spaces only. So, if you plan to park for free, make sure you know where to go and what rules apply.
2. Breakfast, Brunch, and Coffee
There are a handful of options for breakfast, brunch, and coffee on Isle of Palms. The Coffee Bar at the Refuge (1517 Palm Boulevard) is a good option if you just want coffee. They have a variety of specialty drinks, including their Mexican Mocha and White or Dark Chocolate S’mores, or you can choose from a menu of standard options and add your own flavorings as desired.
Other options for breakfast, brunch, and coffee on Isle of Palms include:
- Café Paname (1202 Palm Boulevard)
- Coastal Provisions (200 Grand Pavilion Boulevard)
- Hudson’s Market & Café (5757 Palm Boulevard)
- Sea Biscuit Café (21 J.C. Long Boulevard)
- The Co-Op (1515 Palm Boulevard)
- Woody’s Eatery (5891 Palmetto Drive)
Note that some of these are located in the Wild Dunes Resort, which has gated access.
3. Lunch and Dinner
When it comes to lunch and dinner, you may be tempted to venture to downtown Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Shem Creek, but there are several good options right on Isle of Palms. Whether you are looking for casual lunch fare or an upscale oceanfront dining experience, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from on the island. Here are 10 of our favorites:
- Acme Lowcountry Kitchen (31 J.C. Long Boulevard)
- Coastal Crust (5802 Palmetto Drive)
- Coconut Joe’s Beach Grill (1120 Ocean Boulevard)
- Coda Del Pesce (1130 Ocean Boulevard)
- Lawrence’s Seafood Company (1130 Ocean Boulevard)
- Luke & Ollie’s Pizzeria (1101 Ocean Boulevard)
- Papi’s Taqueria (1012 Ocean Boulevard)
- The Boathouse at Breach Inlet (101 Palm Boulevard)
- The Refuge (1517 Palm Boulevard)
- The Windjammer (1008 Ocean Boulevard)
4. Ice Cream
Aside from getting ice cream for dessert at one of the restaurants listed above, there are two main options for ice cream on Isle of Palms, both of which are in the Wild Dunes Resort. Hudson’s Market & Café and Duney’s Ice Cream Shop (200 Grand Pavilion Boulevard) are both good choices, though Duney’s is only open during the on season.
If you are up for a bike ride or drive, Sullivan’s Island has a couple of great ice cream spots as well (and Sullivan’s Island is definitely worth visiting if you are vacationing at Isle of Palms). You can’t go wrong with either Beadcat’s Sweet Shop or Republic Ice Cream.
5. Public Beach Access
There are several public beach access points on Isle of Palms. If you are visiting for the day, you can access the beach from Ocean Boulevard just across the street from the public parking lot, or you can park at Isle of Palms County Park. All of Isle of Palms’ oceanfront hotels have direct beach access as well; and, if you are renting a vacation home, you won’t have to walk more than a few blocks to get to the ocean regardless of where you are staying—as there are more than 50 public beach access paths on the island.
6. Points of Interest
Where should you go on Isle of Palms? While the entire island is worth exploring by foot, bike or car, Isle of Palms has three main points of interest. These are:
- Front Beach (public beach access on Ocean Boulevard) – Front Beach is the main public beach access point at Isle of Palms. It is right across the street from the public parking lot on Pavilion Drive, and it is within walking distance to most of the restaurants we’ve listed above.
- Isle of Palms County Park (1 14th Avenue) – Isle of Palms County Park is located adjacent to Front Beach. Along with public beach access, the park offers a large playground just off of the beach as well as outdoor showers and restrooms.
- Isle of Palms Marina (50 41st Avenue) – Isle of Palms Marina is where you’ll go for most non-beach-related water activities on the island. This includes kayak tours and rentals, boat cruises, and fishing charters.
7. Things to Do
What is there to do on Isle of Palms? Without question, the most popular activity on the island is spending the day at the beach. Isle of Palms has more than six miles of pristine shoreline; and, whether you go for a sunrise stroll, pack a picnic and activities for the afternoon, or take a walk on the beach after dinner, you won’t feel like you are wasting a minute of your time.
But, there are a variety of other things to do on the island as well—including several different types of activities. For example, some of the most popular things to do on Isle of Palms (besides going to the beach) are:
- Boat Cruises and Fishing Charters – Several companies offer boat cruises and fishing charters that depart from the Isle of Palms Marina. Along with the outfitters and charter companies listed below, The Co-op offers a sunset cruise on the ICW that heads toward the Charleston harbor.
- Golf – There are two public golf courses on Isle of Palms—the Links Course and Harbor Course. You can schedule a tee time through the Wild Dunes Resort.
- Kayak Rentals – Kayak rentals are available at the Isle of Palms Marina. You can either paddle past the waterfront homes lining the ICW on Isle of Palms and neighboring Goat Island, or you can head north toward the undisturbed wetlands on the north end of the island.
8. Outfitters, Beach Rentals, and Charters
Whether you want to rent a kayak, rent a bicycle or golf cart, take a boat tour, or go on a fishing charter, you have several options on Isle of Palms. Some of the outfitters, beach rental companies, and charter companies on the island include:
- Charleston Fishing Adventures (50 41st Street at IOP Marina)
- Coastal Expeditions (50 41st Street at IOP Marina)
- Isle of Palms Golf Cart Rentals (3806 Cameron Boulevard)
- Headshaker Charters (1 Cross Lane)
9. Hotels and Vacation Rentals
Isle of Palms is the beach with the most hotels in Charleston by far. There are a handful of hotels along Ocean Boulevard, as well as the Wild Dunes Resort on the north end of the island. All of these are good options if you prefer to rent a room as opposed to renting an entire house during your stay, and the Wild Dunes offers all of the amenities you would expect from a luxury beachfront golf resort.
Vacation rentals are available across the entire island as well. Isle of Palms’ vacation rentals are popular with both families and groups, and options range from more affordable second-row and third-row beach rentals to large luxury vacation homes on the ocean and the ICW. Regardless of where you stay, you will be within easy walking distance of the beach.
10. Living Full-Time on Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms has many full-time residents. Many Charlestonians have their second homes on Isle of Palms as well. With its beaches, access to the ICW, restaurants and all of the basic necessities, it’s not hard to see why living on Isle of Palms is so popular. Isle of Palms residents have special parking privileges as well, and Sullivan’s Island, Mount Pleasant, and downtown Charleston are all just a short drive away.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Isle of Palms Beach in Charleston, SC
Is Isle of Palms Worth Visiting?
Isle of Palms is absolutely worth visiting! With more than six miles of beach, easy access to boating and kayaking on the Intracoastal Waterway, a variety of restaurants, and comfortable temperatures just about year-round, there are lots of reasons to check out Isle of Palms whether you are a Charleston local or you are planning a Charleston beach vacation. Isle of Palms is one of the best beaches on the East Coast, and it attracts visitors from across the United States and around the world.
How Far is Isle of Palms from Downtown Charleston?
Isle of Palms is about 15 miles from downtown Charleston—and while Charleston is a top vacation destination for a reason, the drive alone is worth it. On your way to downtown Charleston from Isle of Palms, you will cross over Sullivan’s Island and the Intracoastal Waterway, pass through historic Mount Pleasant, and go over the iconic Ravenel Bridge.
Are There Vacation Rentals on Isle of Palms?
Yes, there are lots of vacation rentals on Isle of Palms. Whether you are looking for a modest rental for your small family or a large oceanfront vacation house for a group of friends or a family reunion, there are plenty of good options available.
Are There Hotels on Isle of Palms?
Isle of Palms is one of only two beaches in Charleston with hotels, and there are a handful of hotels on the island to choose from. There are a handful of hotels along the beach on Ocean Boulevard, and the Wild Dunes Resort offers rooms with ocean views, pool views, and other luxury amenities.
What Are Some of the Best Restaurants on Isle of Palms?
It’s hard to say which restaurants on Isle of Palms are the best, because they are all worth visiting for their own reasons. But, some of our favorites are Café Paname, Sea Biscuit Café, The Refuge, and Papi’s Taqueria. If you are looking for a classic pizzeria by the beach, Luke & Ollie’s is the place to go.
Where is There to Do on Isle of Palms?
There is a lot to do on Isle of Palms. While you could easily spend your entire vacation checking out the island’s restaurants and exploring its miles of coastline, there are a variety of activities available on the island as well. You can rent bikes and cruise the island’s quiet neighborhood streets, rent a kayak, or take a boat tour or fishing charter from the Isle of Palms Marina. There are two golf courses on the island as well.
Does Isle of Palms Have Public Beach Access?
Yes, Isle of Palms has public beach access, and it is possible to access the island’s entire six-plus miles of coastline. There are more than 50 public beach access points on the island, including access points at Front Beach and Isle of Palms County Park near the public parking lots you’ll see when you first arrive on the island.
What are the Rules on Isle of Palms?
Isle of Palms does have rules, and it is important that everyone follows them. Local residents and the local wildlife rely on visitors to do their part to maintain the island’s pristine nature. Some of the rules enforced by the Isle of Palms Police Department include:
- Littering is prohibited
- Smoking and vaping are prohibited on the beach and public access paths
- Glass bottles and alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the beach
- Golf carts are not allowed on the beach
- Beachgoers must fill in any holes they dig before they leave (unattended holes can be dangerous for both people and animals)
- Beachgoers must stay off of the dunes
- Dogs must be on a leash except during designated hours, and dog owners must clean up after their pets
- Leaving tents, chairs, and other personal items on the beach overnight is prohibited
- Camping overnight on Isle of Palms beach is prohibited
- Never approach or disturb a sea turtle or sea turtle nest
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