Battle of the Beaches
Throughout my years of living in the Charleston area I have encountered several discussions and arguments over which one of our treasured beaches is the best. I'll be focusing on the big 3 (Folly, Sullivan's and the IOP beach). At the end of the day it all boils down to personal preference and what you look for in a beach but here are some of the stigmas, critiques and praises I have gathered.
Folly beach is known for being the best surfing beach around. With its reputation for bigger and better waves it tends to attract slightly younger crowds than that of Sullivan's and Isle of Palms. Folly beach is also known as being a more “hip/fun” beach to attend mostly due to the fact that it used to be the only beach that allowed the consumption of alcohol before the unfortunate events of July 4th 2013. Although we cannot legally enjoy an adult beverage on the sands of Folly...its reputation for fun and positive vibes still remains strong. As far as the beach itself, I have encountered many people in the past complain about its small size especially during higher tides. On popular/ ideal beach days, high tide can leave little to no space to set base for the day which has led many (mostly non-JI/Folly residents) to venture to North of downtown for the larger beaches. The awful traffic on Folly road sometimes creating 45-60 minute commutes from downtown (especially on the weekends) has also contributed to many people exploring other beaches. Folly's parking situation is by no means an easy endeavor but I still do not believe it is the worst out of the big 3. Folly has many great dining options and has an excellent bar scene as well. It's a very pretty beach to walk on and like IOP is has an excellent ratio of residential to commercial properties. Folly is a very walk-able beach, has fluffy white sand and is also a decent beach to collect shells. Folly beach definitely has the most unique and laid back vibe out of the 3 which is a trait that will hopefully stay true forever.
Sullivan's beach is known for being a more quiet and relaxing beach...perhaps a beach that one would more likely visit by themselves. It has recently gotten more popular with the younger crowds and is slowly starting to lose its reputation for having a really quiet/more family oriented beach atmosphere. Sullivan's island is beautiful and is pretty much entirely residential with the homes being set back much further from the ocean than that of Folly or Isle of Palms homes. The restaurant and bar scene is becoming increasingly stronger however, unlike Folly/IOP you have to walk an extra 2 blocks to get your drink/meal or use the restrooms. The parking situation in recent years has become a nightmare and its increasing popularity with the young crowd has certainly contributed to this inconvenience. The traffic on the Sullivan's connector has also gotten worse… especially if you have to wait 20 minutes for a tiny sailboats passing under the bridge. Sullivan's beach is by far the widest among the beaches in the area often ranging in 200 yards wide at low tide giving ample space for people to set their base. This can give the illusion that the beach is far less busy than it really is. The sand here tends to be a bit harder than the other beaches which makes is an excellent place for joggers and bikers but often a turnoff to many who prefer the fluffier sand. Waves here are pretty much non existent so if you see someone carrying a surfboard and they aren't wearing one of those “I love small waves” shirts then make sure to laugh at them. You don't have to try very hard to find copious amounts of sand dollars, but this beach is by far the worst for collecting shells. The reputation of Sullivan's beach seems to be changing at a much faster pace than the other two beaches...but for now will remain as the best beach for quiet relaxation or exercise.
Isle of Palms beach has many reputations. It is by far the biggest tourist destination beach of the big 3 mainly due to Wild Dunes Resort, but also attracts many locals. This beach has the best combination of fun and relaxation as it attracts people of all ages and walks of life. The beach itself is not quite as wide as Sullivan's but much bigger than Folly. The sand here is white and fluffy like Folly but also is large enough to bike on at low and mid tides. This beach also has the ability to produce waves which attract surfers from all over and that population is increasing by the day. This beach has excellent dining/bar options within close proximity making it the most convenient beach to leave/return for a meal. The new parking regulations have created a lot of frustration and the competition to find that perfect spot on busy days can be pretty annoying. The traffic on the IOP connector and Palm Blvd can be pretty concerning during the summer months and we have the tourist staying at Wild Dunes to thank for a lot of it. More so than the other 2 beaches, Isle of Palms has many different pockets that go from quiet small groups of locals, to busy sections with tons of tourists and people traveling from a few hours away. IOP beach is a beautiful beach to walk on and is loaded with shells making it by far the most desirable beach for collecting. Isle of Palms Beach will always be the most popular beach for outsiders and should continue to give locals and tourist a laid back but exciting environment.
Overall, we are incredibly lucky to have these 3 beautiful and amazing beaches that are all special in their own ways. Each one is better for different reason and everyone has their favorite. I thought I knew which one was my favorite but like the tides, my opinion is constantly changing. I think I speak for the majority when I say that convenience is by far the most important factor that deciphers our beach choice.