The seaside town of Folly Beach, and the barrier island of the same name, has a lot of lovingly applied nicknames from long-time locals and visitors alike. Known as "One of the last real American Beach towns," and "The Edge of America," this family-friendly destination features a world of outdoor fun, entertainment, shopping and dining, conveniently located around every sand dune.
Visitors will find that once they cross the 171 bridge across James Island and Oak Island, the scenery instantly changes with miles of local beach shops and seafood shacks, pastel colored vacation homes, and those signature Palmetto trees stationed along every corner. A sandy vacation destination that's just a 30 minute drive or so away from Charleston, this beach vacation hotspot is making waves with city weekend warriors and new visitors alike.
Folly Beach was named after an old English term, "folly," which meant "sense foliage," and was effectively founded around the early 1690s when the English settlers were first beginning to explore and colonize the region. Known for years thereafter as "Coffin Island," as the isle was owned by the local prosperous and plantation-owning Coffin family, Folly Island remained on the relative outskirts of the major American conflicts that plagued the region. In fact, during the Civil War, only one battle was fought in the area, a small-scale skirmish between a group of fact-finding Confederate troops and the Union Army, who occupied the island beginning in April of 1863. Though used as a headquarters and staging area for the Union Troops for the majority of the war, the island nevertheless remained relatively calm and conflict-free, even while the neighboring city of Charleston was clearly in turmoil.
Folly Island has seemingly always had the reputation of being a beach getaway, and in 1934, composer George Gershwin and author DuBose Heyward hunkered down on the island to draft their American opera and famous musical "Porgy and Bess." Today, the island is a highly-rated vacation destination, with a world of summertime amenities, and ample wide beaches that are simply postcard-perfect.
Even with its proximity to larger, barely-inland islands, like Johns Island which is the largest isle in South Carolina, Folly Island is a surprisingly expansive 18.6 square miles, which includes 6.4 square miles of water. The island has a small year-round population and a much larger seasonal tourist population, and generally stays busy throughout the year.
A short drive from Charleston, the island is especially popular on the weekends, when day-trippers can stop by the Folly Beach Pier or the Folly Beach County Park and conveniently enjoy the miles of beaches at their leisure.
Folly Beach County Park is, in fact, one of the most popular parks in Charleston County, and features 3,500' feet of ocean facing beaches in addition to 200' feet of soundside shoreline along the Folley River, which separates this island from the rest of the world. While park patrons can expect to pay a parking fee, and can also expect heavy crowds on a summer weekend, the park itself has ample beaches to go around in addition to picnic areas, restrooms and changing stations, and concession stands and beach gear rentals seasonally available.
The other big attraction on Folly Island, literally, is the Folly Beach Fishing pier, which holds the honor of being one of the longest fishing piers on the East Coast. The pier stretches 1,045' feet into the Atlantic Ocean, and is lined with several gazebos, including a large, shaded gazebo at the pier's end which is ideal for sightseers and couples in search of a romantic seaside stroll. With a pier house, gift shop, and adjacent restaurant, anglers and everyday visitors alike can easily spend a full day exploring the pier, and marveling at the miles of clear blue Atlantic Ocean views.
Arguably, life revolves around the water on Folly Beach, from the Atlantic Ocean waves to the quietly wild regions of the Folly River, and as a result, a number of watersports businesses service the area to the delight of seasonal vacationers. Kayak tours and rentals, fishing charters, boat tours, and stand up paddle board and surfing lessons are all available, and are all readily advertised along local surf shack marquis and watersports center's fliers.
There are also more than 25 restaurants on island, with cool air conditioned bars or shaded outdoor seating that specialize in the classic beach fare, in addition to new spins on the Lowcountry's signature seafood selections. Dive into a plate of shrimp and grits, or just pop into a local crab sack for a peel-and-eat-shrimp happy hour special, (complete with draft beer), and whet your coastal appetite with some of the freshest seafood in the region, which is often reeled in just a few miles off the coastline.
There is a major hotel or two in Folly Beach for brief, weekend stays, in addition to two locally owned B&Bs or inns for quieter and genuinely cozy stays. The island also features a number of vacation rental homes, which are the preferred accommodations for lucky visitors staying for a week or more. These homes range from two bedroom beachside bungalows to 5 or 6 bedroom estates with hot tubs, game rooms, and wooden boardwalks that lead directly to the beach, and are typically rented in weekly increments. History buffs will want to be on the lookout for historic shore side cottages that date back to the 1940s and even earlier for a not-quite-rustic place to stay that is filled with genuine southern charm.
Folly Beach is well known among Charleston or Beaufort locals as the go-to destination for a quick, mind-clearing trip outside of the city limits, but also has an equally long-standing reputation as a gorgeous and conveniently located barrier island beach destination for South Carolina travelers from all across the country.
Sweet and scenic, with miles of wide, blue beaches that combine perfectly with the local southern hospitality, Folly Beach is an ideal destination for vacationers who want to pull out the beach chairs, recline, relax, and simply enjoy the constant background noise of crashing waves and ocean breezes.