The coastal southeast offers plenty of beaches and barrier islands, but few offer the charm and natural beauty of Isle of Palms, South Carolina. With pristine beaches, historic sites, and a wide variety of outdoor activities, we’re taking a closer look at the spots you shouldn’t miss on your next trip. Let’s dive in.
About Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Isle of Palms is a barrier island located in the Atlantic Ocean near Charleston, South Carolina. It’s best known for its beaches, resorts, boating, fishing, and golfing. The island’s long history stretches back hundreds of years to when Native American tribes once inhabited it. Local legend says pirates hid their gold there, too.
It saw action in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars but remained without permanent residents until the late 1800s. Isle of Palms served as a relatively quiet getaway community for Charleston until the 1970s, when the arrival of major resorts in the community made it into the vacation hot spot it remains today.
Best Things to Do in Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Isle of Palms, South Carolina has some great activities for travelers of all tastes. You can have a relaxing day on the beach or learn about the nature or history of this beautiful area.
Isle of Palms Beach
The beach serves as the main attraction that draws visitors to the Isle of Palms. The island has seven miles of wide, sandy beaches, perfect for swimming, fishing, kayaking, or just soaking in the sun. Rules banning styrofoam and glass containers and smoking help keep the beach clean and enjoyable for all visitors. The city makes visiting easy, with affordable parking available in nearby municipal lots and on many of the town’s streets. This provides visitors quick access through 50 beach paths spread along the coast.
Don’t miss Isle of Palms County Park, located near the town’s lively commercial district. Here, you’ll enjoy amenities like a boardwalk, chair and umbrella rentals, snack stands, changing rooms, and other helpful facilities for a day at the beach. Lifeguards are also on duty in the park’s swimming area.
Barrier Islands Eco Tours
One of the best ways to explore this beautiful coastal region is by boat. Barrier Island Eco Tours offers daily public excursions, including sunset dolphin tours near Charleston and wildlife exploration trips to Capers Island. You can even take crabbing excursions or enjoy a low country cookout on the beach in the summer.
Larger groups who’d prefer a more personal experience can use the private and charter boats. These trips range from fishing and oyster harvesting to your own custom nature exploration adventures. The tours are operated by self-described “naturalists” with lifelong roots in the region. They provide environmentally sensitive excursions rich in local knowledge.
Visit Dewees Island
If you prefer an ultra-exclusive experience, Dewees Island has what you’re looking for — if you can get permission to visit. Dewees Island is entirely private, with access only granted by owners to their guests, renters, or those on other official island business. You can only reach it via a short ferry ride from the Isle of Palms.
The three-mile island has 150 homes, all constructed in eco-friendly ways that respect the natural environment. It’s a quiet place with not much going on, and that’s just the way residents like it. It’s a perfect place to relax and unwind while strolling the picturesque beaches and forests.
The Charleston and Isle of Palms area has a long history of military conflict, dating back to pre-American days. Back then, it was known as “Charlestown.” The predecessor of the current Fort Moultrie helped defend the city against British attacks during the Revolutionary War, the beginning of nearly a century of action for the post.
The current iteration of the fort was built in 1809 and saw its most significant action during the Civil War, a conflict sparked by the attack on nearby Fort Sumter. Fort Moultrie was modernized several times after, before becoming obsolete in the mid-20th century. Today, visitors can explore this National Park Service-operated facility with a self-guided tour and interpretive exhibits.
Where to Eat in Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Like many of the beautiful barrier islands along the southeastern coast, Isle of Palms, South Carolina, offers various dining choices. Many combine the region’s unique southern heritage and readily available seafood.
Sea Biscuit Cafe
Get your day started right with a delicious meal from Sea Biscuit Cafe, only open for breakfast and lunch. You can chow down on southern favorites like biscuits and gravy. Or, have some seaside delights like crab omelets and shrimp and grits. They also offer casual lunch classics like Reubens and tuna melts.
The cafe, located just a few hundred feet from the beach, makes it a great stop before hitting the sand or an easy place for lunch after a morning in the sun. Reviewers also praised the high-quality service.
Coconut Joe’s Beach Grill
Coconut Joe’s calls itself “the friendliest place on the beach.” It’s been slinging casual seafood, southern food, and bar food classics to Isle of Palms residents and visitors for nearly 25 years.
It lies just steps from the water, and the restaurant’s rooftop bar provides panoramic vistas of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding island. Plus, you’ll enjoy live music several days a week during the tourist season. It’s a perfect place to wind down after a busy day exploring coastal South Carolina.
Long Island Cafe
Are you looking for a unique dining experience? Head over to the Long Island Cafe, which serves a fusion cuisine combining the best of French cooking and South Carolina classics.
This local institution has been delighting diners’ palates for 35 years but saw a massive interior refresh in 2012. Long Island Cafe offers a variety of higher-end Isle of Palms dining experiences with a raw bar, extensive wine list, and brunch service.
Where to Stay in Isle of Palms, South Carolina
While you may want to roll out a blanket and sleep under the stars on the fantastic beaches, you might need a more traditional spot to lay your head at night. Fortunately, you’ll find several good options on the Isle of Palms or close to it.
Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA
Experience South Carolina’s low country at this unique campground on land once occupied by an antebellum plantation. Lined with oak trees draped in Spanish moss, this KOA includes a private 30-acre lake for fishing, a one-and-a-half-mile nature trail, and a pool. The campground offers cabins and a lodge in addition to tent camping and RV sites with full hookups.
You’ll also enjoy on-site laundry, Wi-Fi throughout the campground, and plenty of opportunities for fun right in the park, including bike and boat rentals and sports facilities. It’s also pet-friendly so that you can bring your furry friend along on your trip.
The Palms Oceanfront Hotel
Enjoy a stay on the beach at The Palms Oceanfront Hotel, a 68-room local landmark that prides itself on its laid-back style. The recently refreshed building includes updated guest rooms, a saline pool, and direct beachfront access.
The central location also makes it ideal to explore the rest of Isle of Palms or head into Charleston or other popular areas nearby. The Palms also serves as a more affordable hotel option, making it an excellent choice for families.
Wild Dunes Resort
There’s something for everyone at Wild Dunes, a massive beachfront resort complex occupying much of the eastern tip of Isle of Palms. Accommodations range from hotels like the luxury Boardwalk Inn or the more modest Sweetgrass Inn to vacation rentals and furnished residences.
Guests may never have to eat at the same place twice. This is all thanks to a half-dozen restaurants within the resort, which has two award-winning golf courses. Entertain yourself with a wide variety of resort activities, or just chill on the beach or at the on-site spa. As the resort that made the island into a well-known vacation spot, it’s truly one of the most iconic spots to stay on a trip to Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
Isle of Palms Vacation Destination
Isle of Palms, South Carolina, is a vacation destination that offers the best of many worlds. You’ll enjoy pristine beaches to relax on, unique coastal ecosystems to explore, and local and American history to learn. So whether you want to relax or have fun, consider visiting for your next trip.
Don’t Miss Out: Less than a two hour drive south is the small village of Edisto Beach where you could end up with a tranquil beach all to yourself.