Getting to Know Charleston’s Beaches: Guide to Sullivan’s Island

Getting to Know Charleston’s Beaches: Guide to Sullivan’s Island

While Sullivan’s Island public beach is geographically the closest to downtown Charleston, it sees much less traffic than the area’s other main beaches. Although there are rental homes on the island, Sullivan’s Island has a large percentage of full-time residents, and it is much smaller than neighboring Isle of Palms (IOP).

But, Sullivan’s Island is an incredible place to visit. The island’s sunrises over the ocean are matched only by its winter sunsets over downtown Charleston and the Ravenel Bridge. Whether you visit for the evening, the week, or the rest of your life, you will undoubtedly be glad you came.

Getting to Know Sullivan’s 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 are two ways onto Sullivan’s Island. Most visitors come through Mount Pleasant on Ben Sawyer Boulevard and take the Ben Sawyer Bridge of the Intracoastal Waterway. If you’re coming from downtown Charleston, West Ashley, the Charleston International Airport (CHS), or ports farther west, this will most likely be your route to the island.

If you come this way, shortly after crossing over the bridge and passing the gas station you will find yourself at Middle Street. This is the center of Sullivan’s Island, and it is where you will find the island’s well-known restaurants like Poe’s Tavern and The Obstinate Daughter. Head west, and you’ll pass Fort Moultrie on your way to the end of the island. Head east, and in less than two miles you’ll be crossing another bridge (at Breach Inlet) to Isle of Palms.

The other option for getting to Sullivan’s Island is to come from IOP. The Isle of Palms Connector intersects with Highway 17 at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre. Once you get across the Isle of Palms Connector Bridge, you’ll take your first left and drive less than two miles to cross the bridge at Breach Inlet.

Picture of the beach in our guide to Sullivan's Island, SC
Sullivan's Island has some of the best sunset views in all of Charleston.

10 Things to Know About Sullivan’s Island

If you live in Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is a great place to go for dinner or a relatively quiet beach day (or a very quiet beach day much of the year). If you are planning a Charleston vacation, Sullivan’s Island trades the hustle and bustle of IOP and Folly Beach for its own unique blend of casualness and serenity. Here are 10 things to know about Sullivan’s Island:

1. Parking

There is parking along Middle Street in front of the island’s restaurants—though not much. As a result, unless you get lucky, you’ll be looking for a spot on the side streets between Middle Street and the ocean. Finding parking on Sullivan’s Island usually isn’t a problem; plus, the closer you park to the ocean, the closer you will be to the beach. Many local residents come to Sullivan’s Island for lunch or dinner and then take a blanket to the beach for the afternoon or to watch the sunset.

If you’re staying on Sullivan’s Island, parking won’t be an issue because you’ll have your own dedicated parking at your vacation home. The longest walk to the restaurants on Middle Street is about two miles—and, if you’re not interested in walking this far, you can either make the short drive to find street parking or rent bicycles (or e-bikes) during your stay. Many vacation rentals on Sullivan’s Island come with bikes or a golf cart as well.

When looking for street parking on Sullivan’s Island, be sure to pay attention to the signs, and don’t park in front of anyone’s driveway. As the signs indicate, you must be able to get all four wheels off of the pavement.

2. Breakfast, Brunch, and Coffee

Options for breakfast and brunch on Sullivan’s Island include The Co-Op seven days a week and The Longboard and The Obstinate Daughter on Saturdays and Sundays. Beardcat’s Sweet Shop is open for coffee at 8:00 am.

The Co-Op has a variety of breakfast options, including egg sandwiches, avocado toast, and a fantastic breakfast burrito. For weekend brunch, The Longboard offers a variety of toasts (including avocado, smoked fish, and ahi tuna), along with waffles, French toast, and lighter options. The Obstinate Daughter’s brunch menu is a bit more diverse and has options that are quintessentially Lowcountry, with choices ranging from a chef’s choice sweet roll to acai bowls, breakfast skillets, chowder, and peel-and-eat shrimp. Beardcat’s Sweet Shop has coffee and select breakfast items as well.

Breakfast, Brunch, and Coffee on Sullivan’s Island:

3. Lunch and Dinner

Lunch and dinner options on Sullivan’s Island include The Co-Op, The Longboard, and The Obstinate Daughter, along with the handful of other deservedly popular restaurants on Middle Street. The Co-Op has salads and sandwiches for lunch, while The Longboard and The Obstinate Daughter offer lunch and dinner options from the land and sea. The Obstinate Daughter has some vegetarian-friendly options as well.

Other restaurants for lunch and dinner on Sullivan’s Island include Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, Poe’s Tavern, High Thyme Cuisine, Sullivan’s Fish Camp, Dunleavy’s Pub, and Home Team BBQ. These restaurants offer a variety of options as well, and are all worth visiting during your time on the island.

Lunch and Dinner on Sullivan’s Island:

4. Ice Cream

For ice cream (or gelato) on Sullivan’s Island, you’ll want to check out either Beardcat’s Sweet Shop or Republic Ice Cream, or both. Both are excellent, centrally located on Middle Street, and just a short walk from one of the many public beach access points on Sullivan’s Island.

5. Public Beach Access

The cross streets on Sullivan’s Island are numbered “Stations,” and almost every cross street from Station 16 on has a public beach access point at the end. Station 16 is home to the Sullivan’s Island Nature Trail, and all other Stations have a much shorter walk to the beach (though a walk on the Nature Trail is well worth it). The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse is located at Station 18 1/2, and Stations 21 through 23 are the primary beach access points for visitors who are having breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner on Sullivan’s Island.

Public beach access on Sullivan's Island, SC
One of the many public beach access points on Sullivan's Island.

6. Points of Interest

Without question, the main point of interest on Sullivan’s Island is the beach. Sullivan’s Island’s beach is extremely wide (and extremely flat) at low tide; and, at more than three miles long, the coastline has plenty of room for everyone to spread out and have their own space. If you head toward the western tip of the island, you can get an incredible view of downtown Charleston across the harbor; and, if you head east from Middle Street, you will quickly feel like you are far, far away.

Other points of interest on Sullivan’s Island include:

  • Battery Thomson – Located at the intersection of Middle Street and Station 20 1/2, Battery Thomson is a historic artillery battery built at the start of the 20th century. It is an interesting place to photograph and explore, as it isn’t as well-maintained as many of the other historic sites around Charleston. There is a small parking lot directly in front of the battery.
  • Fort Moultrie – Located at 1214 Middle Street, Fort Moultrie isn’t as well-known as its sister site of Fort Sumter, but it is just as steeped in American history. Fort Moultrie’s grounds and parking lot are open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, and the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center is open from the first Sunday in November through the second Sunday in March.
  • Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse – The Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, also known as the Charleston Light, is located on Station 18 1/2 at the beach. It is a working lighthouse, and has been in use since taking over for the Morris Island Lighthouse in 1962. While visitors cannot climb to the top of the lighthouse, visiting this 162.5-foot icon of the Charleston skyline up close is well worth the photo opportunity.

7. Things to Do

Despite its relatively small size, there are still lots of things to do on Sullivan’s Island. Along with dining at the island’s restaurants and visiting the points of interest we just mentioned, other things to do on the island include:

  • The playground and tennis courts PARD Park (2114 Middle Street)
  • Shopping for locally made crafts at A Maker’s Post (2019 B. Middle Street)
  • Boogie boarding, skimboarding and kite surfing at the beach
  • Hunting for shells and shark teeth at Thomson Park (3217 Middle Street)
  • Kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) from the Station 26 Boat Landing
  • Biking around the island
  • Visiting neighboring Isle of Palms or Mount Pleasant

8. Outfitters and Beach Rentals

There is one outfitter on Sullivan’s Island. Sealand Adventure Sports is located at 2120 Middle Street, on the northwest corner of the intersection with Station 22. Sealand Adventure Sports offers rentals for the following:

  • Bicycles and e-bikes
  • Beach chairs and umbrellas
  • Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs)
  • Surfboards
  • One wheels

Sealand Adventure Sports also sells surf, paddle, and skate gear, along with wetsuits, apparel, and other beach essentials. If you are interested in trying kitesurfing or wingfoil surfing, you can take a private or semi-private lesson through the outfitter’s Kiteschool.

If you are interested in renting a kayak, you can head to the nearby Isle of Palms Marina or visit Coastal Expeditions on Shem Creek. The Co-Op also offers boat charters on the ICW that depart from the Isle of Palms Marina.

9.Hotels and Vacation Rentals

There are no hotels on Sullivan’s Island—if you want to rent a hotel room, you’ll either need to head to neighboring IOP or Folly Beach. However, Sullivan’s Island has several vacation rentals, including luxury oceanfront homes that will easily sleep 10 or more. As is the case elsewhere, homes further inland are generally more affordable, and all of the vacation rentals on Sullivan’s Island are within easy walking distance to the beach.

10. Living Full-Time on Sullivan’s Island

As we mentioned above, Sullivan’s Island has many full-time residents. If you are thinking about moving to Sullivan’s Island, you have the same flexibility as vacationers as far as the location and size of the home you want to choose. Many of the homes on Sullivan’s Island are extremely high-end, and their design reflects the island’s proximity to Charleston combined with the island’s laid-back atmosphere. Since Mount Pleasant is just over the bridge, Sullivan’s Island residents have easy access to everything they need.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Sullivan’s Island in Charleston, SC

Is Sullivan’s Island Open to the Public?

Sullivan’s Island is open to the public. While the island has many full-time residents, it is also a popular evening and weekend destination for other Charleston locals. There are vacation rentals on the island as well, and Sullivan’s Island is a popular summer vacation destination for families and groups that want to avoid the larger crowds at Isle of Palms and Folly Beach. There is public parking throughout the island (just pay attention to the signs), and points of interest like Battery Thomson and Fort Moultrie have their own parking lots as well.

Is Sullivan’s Island Worth Visiting?

Sullivan’s Island is absolutely worth visiting. The beach, while pristine, is not as heavily manicured or maintained as those at other nearby beaches in Charleston. As a result, it has much more of an “out there” feel. The beach on Sullivan’s Island is also a great place to view (and photograph) the Ravenel Bridge and the downtown Charleston skyline. From the island’s well-known restaurants to historic Fort Moultrie, there are many other reasons to visit Sullivan’s Island as well.

Are There Vacation Rentals on Sullivan’s Island?

Yes, while there are no hotels on Sullivan’s Island, the island does have many vacation rentals. This includes large, luxury ocean-front rentals as well as more affordable options on the second row, third row, and beyond. Due to the narrow shape of Sullivan’s Island, all vacation rentals on the island are within easy walking distance to the beach, and most are within walking or biking distance to the restaurants on Middle Street as well.

Is There a Hotel on Sullivan’s Island?

No, there is not a hotel on Sullivan’s Island. Sullivan’s Island has vacation homes for rent, and there are hotels on neighboring Isle of Palms.

What Are Some of the Best Restaurants on Sullivan’s Island?

All of the restaurants on Sullivan’s Island are good; and, if you are visiting for the week (or visiting multiple times as a local), we recommend trying as many of the island’s restaurants as you can. Some of the most well-known restaurants on the island include High Thyme Cuisine, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, Poe’s Tavern, The Longboard, and The Obstinate Daughter.

Where is the Best Place to Go on Sullivan’s Island?

The best place to go on Sullivan’s Island depends on what you want to do while you are there. Going to the beach is the easy answer; and, if you want solitude, heading east away from the restaurants on Middle Street is the way to go. Head west, and you’ll have an unmatched view of the Charleston peninsula that relatively few people get to see. If you are looking for a place to eat, you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurants on Sullivan’s Island, so choose the one that sounds best based on what you’re in the mood to eat. If you’re looking for things to do besides going to the beach, visit Fort Moultrie or rent a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and explore the marshes behind the island from the launch point at Station 26.

Can You Swim at the Beach on Sullivan’s Island?

You can swim at the beach on Sullivan’s Island. However, there are no lifeguards on duty at any time, so you must swim at your own risk. The beach at Sullivan’s Island is extremely flat, so at high tide you can walk out and swim in shallow water a significant distance from the exposed sand.

What Are the Rules at Sullivan’s Island?

The beach at Sullivan’s Island is very clean and largely undisturbed, and it is important that everyone do their part to help keep it that way. The Town of Sullivan’s Island has adopted several rules that are designed to help maintain the island’s character, including:

  • Tents and canopies larger than 10 feet by 10 feet are not permitted
  • No one is allowed on the beach after 11:00pm
  • All dogs must have a license from the Sullivan’s Island Town Hall, and dog owners must promptly clean up after their pets
  • No plastic or glass containers are allowed on the beach at any time
  • Alcohol is prohibited on the streets, boardwalks, and beaches
  • Golf carts are prohibited on all beach paths and the beach itself
  • All visitors must stay off of the dunes and stay away from turtle nesting areas


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