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Charleston beach guide: Let the summer begin at Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms

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The Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, also known as the Charleston Light, can be seen from the beach. Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 1962. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Memorial Day is almost here, which means that beach season has officially begun. With the summer stretched out before us like a sun-dazed blanket of crashing waves, blissful breezes and seashell collections, I decided to create a beach guide featuring Charleston's most popular sandy shores.

This time around, I'm highlighting two local beaches, Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms, from a landmark lighthouse to surfboard rentals to oceanfront dining. Stay tuned for a "famously funky" Folly guide, which will be coming after next week's Spoleto Festival issue. 

As for this week, get your sunblock on (let's start with 70 SPF for good measure), grab your beach towel and let the summer begin. 

Get a weekly list of tips on pop-ups, last minute tickets and little-known experiences hand-selected by our newsroom in your inbox each Thursday.

Sullivan's Island

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One popular feature of Sullivan's Island is the lighthouse. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Dog Rules: All dogs on beach must have Sullivan's Island permit ($50 visitors, $25 residents); no dogs allowed on beach at all 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 1-Sept. 30, otherwise dogs must be on a leash except for 5 a.m.-noon Oct. 1-April 30 and 5-10 a.m. May 1-Sept. 30.

Parking: Free parking at dining and shopping establishments for customers; free street parking for beachgoers at designated areas on side of roads with tires off pavement (pay attention to "No parking this side" street signs). 

Food + Dining

Dunleavy's Pub

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Dunleavy's Pub and 450 Pizza Joint are located on Middle Street on Sullivan's Island. File/Staff

Sullivan's Irish pub is a family-owned island staple, featuring folk, country and acoustic music on the stage and Guinness, Smithwicks and Harp on tap. Dunleavy's is also known for its annual Polar Plunge and St. Patrick's Day festivities.

Home Team BBQ

Home Team has three local locations, and Sullivan's Island is one of them. At this BBQ joint, enjoy the nice weather with open-air seating. There's brunch on Sundays, lunch and dinner throughout the week and a late-night menu for those staying for live music and adult beverages from 10 p.m. to midnight.

450 Pizza Joint

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Quentin Ring, 3, enjoys his ice cream made in-house at 450 Pizza Joint on Middle Street on Sullivan's Island. File/Staff

Not only does this pizza place serve pies but also breakfast each morning between 8-11 a.m. Snag a homemade buttermilk biscuit, avocado toast or roasted mushroom omelette. Then, for lunch and dinner, you can try various-styled 'zas, from New York to Detroit. There's also made-in-house ice cream.

Pier 22

You can get a lobster roll, peel-and-eat shrimp or a tuna tartare burger at this fine dining seafood restaurant with an elegant waterfront atmosphere. 

High Thyme Cuisine

One of the island's Sunday brunch spots, High Thyme features fried chicken biscuits, huevos rancheros, pan-fried crab cakes and seasonal omelettes. And don't fear. You can also get a mimosa or bloody Mary (or a Poinsettia or Magnolia). Tuesday, enjoy tapas, and Wednesday through Saturday try dinner.

Poe's Tavern

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The gold bug mosaic outside of Poe's Tavern is an artistic ode to the author. Kalyn Oyer/Staff

One of Charleston's best burger joints is named after a macabre poet and fiction writer who spent some of his early life on Sullivan's Island as a solider. The whole restaurant is Edgar Allan Poe-themed from a variety of portraits to menu items like the "Pit & Pendulum," "Annabel Lee" and "Tell-Tale Heart." Don't miss the gold bug mosaic out front.

Middle Street Market

Get quick sandwiches, salads, beer and wine, groceries, candy and coffee at this cute little market on the main stretch in the style of an old-school general store.

Mex 1 Coastal Cantina

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Mex 1's mahi tacos are served with salsa verde made with tomatillos. File

Another Sullivan's stop with multiple area locations is this Mexican restaurant that offers tacos, Baja bowls and what I might argue are the best margaritas in town (try the jalapeno marg). An outdoor patio taking in island breezes is a nice summer touch, along with occasional live music.

Sullivan's Restaurant

This casual family-owned island restaurant has been serving the area everything from burgers to seafood pasta for almost 30 years. There's dinner nightly, lunch on Fridays and Saturdays, and brunch on Sundays.


This is my favorite place to stop on a beach day to pick up pimiento cheese, boiled peanuts or frose. You can also order fresh deli sandwiches, pick from a shelf full of Lowcountry chips and other snacks or load up on coffee, soda, beer or wine.

Obstinate Daughter

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The Obstinate Daughter is at 2063 Middle St. on Sullivan's Island. File

Paying homage to the Revolutionary War history of Sullivan's Island, this New American restaurant is a prime date night location. Start off with Geechie frites, griddled octopus or Mepkin Abbey mushrooms. Then indulge in pasta or pizza for your entree. The Sunday brunch menu includes a cinnamon roll, frittata and Bananas Foster waffles with peanut butter.

Beardcat's Sweet Shop

Right by Obstinate Daughter, you'll discover this gelato and sweets shop with milkshakes, floats and ice cream sandwiches on the menu.

Republic Ice Cream

You can also head to Republic for your sweet food fix, Middle Street's ice cream parlor with a cow statue out front that features flavors like Thunderstorm Chocolate, Old-Fashioned Strawberry and Cherry-on-top Vanilla.

The Boathouse at Breach Inlet 

In between Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms you'll find The Boathouse at Breach Inlet, with plenty of outdoor space for soaking in the views, live music and fresh fish daily. 


Sandpiper Gallery

This Sullivan's Island art gallery offers paintings, jewelry, ceramics, prints and even stationery from a variety of artists, along with changing exhibits.

Almost Pink

This island clothing store offers contemporary garb to look chic on the beach and beyond, like summer sandals, loose pants and flowing dresses.

Shades of Charleston


Shades of Charleston has a shop on Sullivan's Island. Provided

Get a pair of stylish shades to block out those beach rays at this sunglasses shop with trendy frames and even locally designed graphic hats. 


This Sullivan's Island boutique offers jewelry, bathing suits, clothes, beach accessories and more. 

Adele's Pottery

If you're exploring the island, look for the Adele's Pottery sign. This pottery studio and gallery features wheel-thrown and hand-built clayworks by Adele Deas Tobin. Pottery classes are also offered.


Fort Moultrie

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Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island now is a historic site. File/Provided 

You might notice a blast from the past when wandering Sullivan's Island. Fort Moultrie still stands as a memory from the Revolution. Tour for more history and plaque knowledge.

Edgar Allen Poe Library

Poe is a fixture of Sullivan's Island, from restaurant and shop names to its library name. At this library branch, you'll find special Poe-themed classes and lectures, like "The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe with Dr. Scott Peeples" from 12-1 p.m. May 25.

J. Marshall Stith Park

This park off Middle Street is home to a playground, gazebo and basketball court. You'll also find an open field and a hill leading up to one of my favorite places to explore in Charleston: the Sullivan's Island bamboo forest. Wear hiking shoes. This park also hosts the Sullivan's Island Farmers Market on Thursdays between 4-7 p.m. April 4 through June 27.

Sullivan's Island Nature Trail

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A couple make their way down the path at Station 16 through the maritime forest on Sullivan’s Island to the beach. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

With 650 feet of boardwalk and a footpath, this nature trail is positioned right off Atlantic Street next to Station 16. Enjoy views of the harbor, vegetated dunes and forest wetlands. 

Sullivan's Island Lighthouse

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The Sullivan's Island Lighthouse is located near Station 17. File/William Brumley/Provided

The Sullivan's Island Lighthouse, commonly called "The Charleston Light," is a distinctive local landmark that can be seen from the shore. The lighthouse was finished in 1962 and is fenced off and not open to the public, though the surrounding grounds offer an opportunity for exploration.

Sealand Adventure Sports

For some sea and sand exploration, Sealand Adventure Sports offers bike, surfboard, paddle board and beach chair rentals along with kite surfing lessons and ocean apparel. 

Health & Beauty

Beauty & the Beach

This small island salon offers cuts, colors and highlights.

Body Garden

Headed to the beach for a relaxing getaway? Why not throw in a massage for good measure. This tranquil relaxation center offers deep tissue, Swedish and hot stones massages along with facials and other treatments.

Isle of Palms

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Cindy Branscome's dogs Jack and Myra love walks on the beach and more time to enjoy beautiful sunsets, like this one on the Isle of Palms. File/Cindy Branscome/Provided

Dog Rules: Must have Isle of Palms dog permit ($5); dogs must be on a leash at all times except 5-8 a.m. April 1-Sept. 14 and 4 p.m.-10 a.m. Sept. 15-March 31 (leash must be in hand still).

Parking: $5-$15 Isle of Palms County Park lot 10 a.m.-sunset Jan.-April, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. May-Labor Day, 10 a.m.-sunset Sept.-Dec.; $2 an hour pay-at-kiosk metered parking from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. March 1-Oct. 31; free parallel parking on Palm Blvd. between 21st and 40th Ave. four feet from pavement behind chalk lines. 

Food + Dining

Ben & Jerry's

The Ben & Jerry's ice cream stand has been on Isle of Palms as long as I can remember. It was the "cool" job in high school. I worked at the now-closed shop "Splash" instead, which is currently Papi's Taqueria, but would go over after work for a delicious cone. 

Luke 'n Ollie's Pizzeria

This easygoing pizza eatery features outdoor seating ideal for a beach day.

Binky's Seaside Oyster and Liquor Bar 

The recent replacement for island long-term mainstay Banana Cabana is Binky's Seaside Oyster and Liquor Bar. It's set to open this summer and will include indoor and outdoor seating with an outdoor bar.

Coconut Joe's 

The colorful pink and blue facade that can be seen from the sand is just one of the beachy features of this grill that's been around since '97. You can get brunch, lunch or dinner here and enjoy the view while you're eating.

Papi's Taqueria


The chef of Papi's Taqueria on Isle of Palms is Zac Brown Band's chef. Provided

New to the beachfront is this locally sourced and crafted taqueria featuring Zac Brown's chef and a mouth-watering menu of starters, tacos and drinks. 

The Windjammer

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Darius Rucker in performance at The Windjammer on Isle of Palms. File/Rick Diamond/Getty Images 

Known as a prominent entertainment venue and island cocktail-slinging bar, The Windjammer is an IOP beachfront staple that's been around for almost 50 years. There's a volleyball court, outdoor space for live music and mingling, and several concerts by local and touring artists throughout the year. Check the schedule for some special outdoor summer sunset concerts. 

The Dinghy 

This dive bar across from the 'Jammer offers live music on the patio and a late-night menu that includes mozzarella sticks, jumbo wings and mac 'n' cheese bites. 

Coda Del Pesce

There's a contemporary Italian restaurant on the Isle of Palms with a small outside deck overlooking the ocean.

Sea Biscuit Cafe

This cozy cafe with nautical touches serves breakfast, lunch and coffee.

Acme Lowcountry Kitchen

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Shrimp trilogy dish from Acme Lowcountry Kitchen on the Isle of Palms. File

Southern coastal cuisine is prepared at this no-frills beach grill with a full bar and deck. You can get breakfast, brunch or dinner daily here. 

Cafe Paname

With a VW bus out front decked out in black and turquoise decor and flower stickers, Cafe Paname is a cute coffee shop down the road from Acme with baked goods and deli sandwiches in addition to iced and hot drinks.

Morgan Creek Grill

The classic American fare at this eatery comes with water views from the panoramic windows and rooftop deck. Catch live music and enjoy fresh seafood.

The Refuge

There are "Day Tide" and "Evening Tide" menus at The Refuge, featuring everything from breakfast French toast to a lunch patty melt to seared sea scallops for dinner.

Chill 360 

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Rolled ice cream is available at Chill 360. File/Staff

This ice cream shop serves Thai-inspired ice cream rolls instead of traditional scoops. 

Long Island Cafe

This bistro in the Harris Teeter shopping center offers Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner with menu items that include shrimp and grits, crab-stuffed shrimp and filet mignon with crab cakes.

Simmons Seafood

Local since 1947, Simmons Seafood is a family-owned catering, retail and wholesale business featuring fresh catches.


Island Surf Co. 

Get your beach apparel and gear here. You can rent surfboards or buy jewelry and sandals.

Island Mermaid

This beach store has everything you could need or didn't know you needed, from sunscreen, towels and swimsuits to keepsakes and decor to bring back home.

Isle of Palms Beach Chair Company

Left your beach gear behind? You can rent chairs, umbrellas, bikes, boards and more at this shop.


Isle of Palms County Park

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Kite surfers are seen utilizing the winds near Breach Inlet on Isle of Palms. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The Isle of Palms County Park has its own parking lot, a volleyball court, a picnic area with grills, a playground, and beach chair and umbrella rentals. There are also changing rooms for getting into your swimsuit and outdoor showers for rinsing the sand off your toes. 

Beachside Excursions

Get to sightseeing IOP with this sea and air excursions agency that features walking tours, fishing charters, jet ski rentals, fixed air tours and more.

Isle of Palms Bike Rental Shop

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The Isle of Palms boardwalk. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

See the island on two wheels and pedal your way from restaurants to the sandy shore with the help of this bike rental shop.

Port City Moped

If those two wheels aren't speedy enough, try Port City Moped for a quicker way around the isle. 

Health & Beauty

Salon Latitude

Want to look your best during your beach outing? This trendy salon offers cuts, colors, treatments, extensions and waxes. 

Beach House Spa

This tucked-away cozy cottage at the end of Carolina Avenue offers relaxation therapies and treatments such as massages, body wraps and scrubs, and reflexology. 

Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

Kalyn Oyer is a Charleston native who covers arts and entertainment for The Post and Courier's Thursday edition, Charleston Scene. She used to write about music for the Charleston City Paper and Scene SC.