An Insider's Guide to Sullivan’s Island

Brooke Mccallion
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Sullivan’s Island is highly regarded as the most beautiful of all the beaches in the Lowcountry. From the fall until spring, Sullivan’s Island is a quaint, sleepy beach community where you might see the occasional dog walker or beach-goer every couple hundred yards. Not so in the summer.

The moment the temperature rises above 70 degrees in Charleston, Sullivan’s Island explodes into pure pandemonium. The strong spring winds bring kiteboarders from all along the coast, local surfers flock to the beach, and the narrow streets of Sullivan’s Island flood with cars, beach cruisers, and skate boarders.

On your first visit to this island, it can be a little discouraging. The important thing to remember is that Sullivan’s has a massive beach with room for all, and if you do it the right way, you can beat crowds and avoid any stress-inducing situations that may kill your beach vibes. Here's the inside scoop on how to beach the Sullivan’s Island way.

Brooke Mccallion

Before You Beach

The first thing you need to know about the island is that traffic can back up in the blink of an eye, and parking is every man for himself. All you have to do to beat the crowds is get on the island before 10:30 am. Sullivan’s Island is extremely small. The main road running down the middle of the island has a couple of restaurants and stores, but for the most part you are limited in the ways of breakfast/brunch spots.

Odds are, you're heading to the beach from Mount Pleasant or downtown, which means you're going to pass The Shelter and Coleman Public House along the way—lucky you. Both of these establishments are home to some seriously tasty breakfast/brunch foods, not to mention bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Mary bars.

Fill up your tank before hitting the beach, otherwise you might run into some longer waits if you try to eat on the island during lunch hours. Once you cross the causeway over to the island, beach access points are located every block along the length of the island. The further you go left or right down the beach, the less crowded it is.

While You're There

Sullivan’s appeals to every kind of beach-goer. On a good day, the swell can bring in a decent set of waves for surfing, and the steady winds are a kiteboarder’s dream. If you're not into sharing your spot with other beach-goers, just head into the dunes for a little more privacy, and if you want to take a break from the waves, bring your rod and cast a line. Multiple drop-in points along the marsh side of Sullivan’s give you easy access to stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. You can rent either or bring your own.

What To Bring

  • Beach chair/backpack combo

  • Cooler or insulated water bottles (Hydro Flask growlers work great)

  • Change bin (for wet towels/clothes Afterwards)

  • Umbrella

  • Bike

  • Sun protection/towels/speakers...the usual stuff

One thing to keep in mind is your proximity to the business district (where the bathrooms are), and the fact that the beach accesses are long enough to encourage bringing all your gear in one trip. Backpack/beach chair combos are Walgreens' gift to the world, as they come in crazy-handy for storing towels, speakers, etc. Bring a beach cruiser in case you want to ride and  grab a brew and lunch The Co-Op , or if you need to run to the surf shop for supplies.

It's always a good idea to bring some shade along with you too. We've found the best in this category to be a mid-sized umbrella—with an anchor attachment. The wind is going to blow it away no matter how hard you push it in the sand; you don't want to be the guy chasing his umbrella down the beach. The umbrella brings the shade, but it also saves the day when random spring/summer showers happen (which is about five times a day in July).

Dave Carner

After you Beach

Plan to stay at the beach all day. If you get there before 10:30 a.m. and leave around 6:30 p.m., you're not going to run into any traffic, and you'll probably have one hell of a sun tan. If you try to drive anywhere in between those times, you're going to have to deal with traffic. When your inner dinner bell is ringing around six o'clock, head over to Poe's and grab some grub. They've got the burgers that will have your mouth watering and the ice-cold local beers that will make you want to stay all night. The best part about Poe's is its outdoor bar on the porch, and the fact that it's only about 100 yards from the beach. After dinner, take a final cruise on the beach, watch the sun go down, and head home after you've had your fill.

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