Sure, Charleston has historic homes and an outrageous restaurant scene. But half the fun of this city is getting on the water.
That means lounging on the beach, sure, but there’s much more to do here. You don’t need to shell out for an expensive boat or a marina slip to tour the harbor or explore the marshes.
And you don’t need to be a daredevil to do something more active than reading a book or sunbathing. But adrenaline junkies can have their fill, too.
That’s the beauty of Charleston’s watersports: There’s something for most any budget and comfort zone. And if conditions aren’t cooperative, say, the surf is too calm or too choppy, there’s always another option.
Charleston is hours from the nearest whitewater, but kayaks are an easy and affordable way to take in the coast.
They’re also versatile. They can take you on a relaxed trip through placid marshes to watch birds and spot dolphins. Or they can put you right in the surf, the closest thing you’ll get to whitewater around here.
You don’t need big waves to get a rush, but you will need to be courteous around surfers and swimmers, especially when the beaches fill up in the summer.
Most kayakers opt for the scenic route in the estuaries, which offer some of the Charleston area’s most stunning natural views. Don’t let the flat water deceive you, though: Paddling against the tide is still strenuous work.
Kayaking options are scattered along the coastline, but popular spots, and rentals, are found on Folly Beach, which gets some of the area’s best surf, and nearby Bowen's Island. It’s also popular on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant and the Isle of Palms.
Charleston isn’t known for the size of its waves, but it’s got some of the best surfing in South Carolina. And if you’re new to the sport, small breakers might not be so bad anyway.
The area’s surfing and surfing culture tend to center around Folly Beach, which has some of the best waves in the area and a laid-back vibe. Isle of Palms is another go-to spot.
On Folly, the happening spot is the Washout, on the northeast end of the island. It was formed by hurricanes such as Hugo, which cut into the beach at a narrow point on Folly. Surfers also hit up the area around the Edwin S. Taylor Pier at the center of the island.
On the Isle of Palms, popular spots include 7th, 25th, 30th and 53rd avenues.
There are also plenty of surf lessons offered around the area. Among the prominent schools are Isla Surf School, Shaka Surf School and Sol Surfers, all on Folly. But beginners ought to be aware of the most popular and crowded spots, and everyone should be courteous of swimmers in the water.
For a less physically intense day, it’s hard to beat an afternoon fishing.
Much of the area’s best fishing requires a boat, like, say, the jetties at the mouth of the harbor or barrier islands like Bull’s, Capers, Dewees and Morris.
But there are still good spots accessible by car and by foot. Lighthouse Inlet at the north end of Folly Beach, Bowen's Island and Breach Inlet between Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island are some local favorites.
There are also some go-to manmade spots, like the Mount Pleasant Pier at the base of the Ravenel Bridge, the Edwin S. Taylor Pier on Folly and the old Pitt Street Bridge in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village.
Be sure to buy a fishing license before you start casting. For residents, a year of fishing will cost $10, but you’ll need a separate license if you head into freshwater. And it’s easy: You can buy a license on your phone.
Paddleboarding: A beginner-friendly water sport that will only take most people a few minutes to get the hang of, or at least get their balance. You can rent a paddleboard on most beaches and on Shem Creek.
Kiteboarding: A more technically advanced sport that essentially blends surfing and sailing. A few outfitters now rent kiteboards, like Force Kite and Wake in Mount Pleasant, Holy City Kiteboarding on Kiawah Island, and Sealand Adventure Sports on Sullivan’s Island.