Waterfront in a Harbor Town: Charleston's Best Beach Hotels

Charleston, South Carolina is a harbor town, and while most hotels on the peninsula offer breathtaking views of the Charleston harbor, beachfront hotels are only found outside city limits. Luckily, beaches aren't heard to come by in the Charleston area, and it's quite common for visitors to stay off-peninsula at Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, or on Shem Creek, (close to Sullivan's Island).

Couples and families staying at beach or waterfront hotels are able to enjoy sunny days at the beach while also venturing into Charleston's historic downtown for shopping, dining, and nightlife. Most Charleston beach hotels are just 15-20 minutes from downtown, though heavy traffic is common during peak season.

Travelers looking for a casual, tranquil setting will enjoy The Palms Hotel or Seaside Inn on Isle of Palms. Others looking for an all-inclusive IOP experience should head to Wild Dunes Resort, with two 4 Diamond hotels, vacation condo rentals, golf, and tennis facilities.

Sullivan's Island doesn't allow any beach hotels, but island lovers can stay on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, a 5-10 minutes' drive from the beach. The picture perfect views from Shem Creek Inn make up for the short commute. Want a beach all to yourself? You'll come close with a stay at Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina–the resort offers a private beach for guests.

Folly Beach offers several family-friendly lodging options for beachgoers. The Tides is a budget friendly but high quality choice, while the Regatta Inn offers a bed and breakfast-style alternative nearby. 


The casual, comfortable accommodations at Ocean Inn are styled to be more like apartments than the rooms of a hotel. For that reason, Ocean Inn makes for a preferable Isle of Palms lodging choice for those travelers staying on the island for an extended vacation or visit. The 20-condo property offers studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom units, a pool, washer and dryers, and on-site parking, and is located just 300 yards from the beach. A quite, 15-20 minute drive takes you swiftly over to the historic district of downtown Charleston--nearly everything's in reach when staying at Ocean Inn.

This dreamy Folly Beach bungalow just might bring your romantic dream vacation to life. Book a room at the Beachside Boutique Inn, styled with a 'funky Folly' flair, to enjoy gorgeous wood interiors, cozy, comfortable accommodations, and 5-minute stroll to the beach. Also known as the "Wooden Castle," the Beachside Boutique Inn offers rooms in the main house, as well as in two other separate cottages. The property is full of sunlight, bright colors, and history, too--one of the cottages, known as the "submarine house," provided sleeping quarters to soldiers during WWII. This adorable, affordable little inn guarantees a unique and memorable stay on Folly.

Just a 15 minute drive from historic downtown Charleston, Seaside Inn on the Isle of Palms is the ideal beachfront hotel for families on a budget. This oceanfront property boasts a small, rooftop pool and two sundecks, and 50 guestrooms decorated in a "casual tropical style." Guests may choose from Deluxe 2 Queen Bed rooms, Deluxe King or Queen rooms, or Oceanfront King Rooms. All rooms enjoy amenities like complimentary WIFI, daily continental breakfast, in room microwave and fridge, and complimentary use of beach towels. There is no minimum stay at the Seaside Inn, and all rooms are nonsmoking. Expert Tip: Seaside Inn is in close proximity to The Windjammer, a casual beachside bar and restaurant. If you are concerned about noise level, inquire about which rooms are furthest away from the Windjammer.

Folly Island

This bed and breakfast-style inn is located just 10 minutes from historic downtown Charleston, and offers "Southern Hospitality with Key West Charm." Water's Edge Inn is a small, bed and breakfast style property located just a few blocks from Folly Beach, the "Edge of America." The property is within walking distance to Folly's small downtown area of bars, restaurants, and shops, as well as the Folly fishing pier. Water's Edge opened in March of 2007 and is maintained by on site owner and local firefighter, Paul Lauer. Choose from one of the 8 suites at Water's Edge, and enjoy instant relaxation. Water's Edge features an outdoor hot tub overlooking the marsh, golf cart shuttle service to the beach, and on-site bike, beach chair, and umbrella rentals. Guests also enjoy a daily happy hour with their signature "Folly Punch," as well as light hors d'oeuvres from 4 - 7 p.m.

Mount Pleasant

Boat watching and dolphin watching is a breeze at this family friendly hotel on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. Located just across the Ravenel Bridge 4 miles from downtown Charleston, Shem Creek Inn is also just minutes from the beaches of Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. The 50 room property offers creek/water side rooms and interior rooms with king or queen size beds. All rooms enjoy amenities like the complimentary continental breakfast, in-room microwaves and refrigerators, WIFI, coffee and tea, and free parking. Guests enjoy a pristine outdoor pool and sundeck perfect for catching some Charleston rays or watching the sun set over Shem Creek. Expert Tip: Be sure to inquire about special and seasonal packages!

The pick stucco façade of this Isle of Palms Hotel is almost as inviting as the wide expanse of beachfront just steps from the resort's front door. The Palms IOP offers 60 rooms, all in tropical beach decor, and all including in-room microwaves and fridges, complimentary continental breakfast daily, complimentary coffee and tea all day, and free WIFI access. Three types of guestrooms are offered at The Palms: Oceanfront Studio Suites, Partial View Rooms, and Traditional Interior Rooms. The Palms is located just 20 minutes from downtown Charleston, and in close vicinity to Blackbeard's Cove Family Fun Park. Families also enjoy the Palms' proximity to the tennis and golf facilities at the nearby Wild Dunes Resort. Expert Tip: The Palms does not provide beach towels to guests, so be sure to bring your own or purchase them at a nearby beach store!

Folly Beach

A sister property of Water's Edge Inn, also located on Folly Beach, Regatta Inn offers up a luxury venue of bed and breakfast-style accommodations. As the name implies, this beachfront property is styled in the nautical fashion both inside and out, featuring bright colors and a seaside charm throughout. All rooms feature a king size bed, screened porch or balcony, gas fireplace, mini fridge, and coffee maker, functioning as the ideal home base for all of your island explorations. Enjoy a homestyle breakfast at the Regatta Inn before heading out to the beach, and look forward to a happy hour when you return, with free beer, wine, the 'World Famous Folly Punch,' and refreshments from 4-7pm. There's even golf cart shuttle service from the hotel to the beach!

The Tides Folly Beach is Folly's premier beachfront hotel, newly renovated late 2011, and located just 9 miles from downtown Charleston. Each and every room at Tides is an oceanview room, featuring king or queen bed arrangements and a Juliet balcony. Amenities at the Tides include an oceanfront pool, free WIFI, an outdoor, (and poolside!), bar and lounge, a 24 hour fitness center, ice cream shop, and free parking. Pets are welcome at the Tides with a fee. Blu also offers on-site wedding and event planners, and was a 2012 pick for The Knot Best of Weddings. Blu, one of Charleston's best seafood restaurants, is housed within the Tides hotel property, and is open daily for lunch, dinner, dessert, and catering. Expert Tip: Book a first floor room for a beachfront patio and easy Folly Beach access.

At home at Patriot's Point, Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina is just minutes away from historic downtown Charleston. But there's no need to drive! Charleston Harbor Resort offers a complimentary trolley to transport guests between the resort, downtown destinations, and historic sites like the USS Yorktown and Fort Sumter. This oceanfront resort is perfect for active families, with sailing lessons, fishing, yacht charters, boat rentals, and their many resort activities like arts and crafts, movie nights, and day trips. Ask about the Mini Mariners program for kids, while parents and couples can escape to The Reel Bar, poolside bar and lounge, the Indigo Grill, or the resort's own private beach. Expert Tip: Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina is the perfect stay for golf enthusiasts, with Patriot's Point Links located "next door."

Wild Dunes Resort By Destination Hotels
Photo courtesy of Shem Creek Inn

Wild Dunes has long been known as one of Charleston's premier lodging destinations, and it is indeed a destination. This family friendly resort on IOP offers vacation homes and condo rentals, including two AAA 4 Diamond properties, as well as world-class golf and tennis facilities. The Boardwalk property is just 150 yards from the beach, and offers guests pool, beach, court, or golf course side accommodations. There are guestrooms, suites, and junior and presidential suites available at this location, as well as an on-property restaurant. The Village property also houses a restaurant, The Lettered Olive, as part of the Village Plaza, with a salon, grocery, spa, and fitness center. The Village offers 1 to 3 bedroom guestrooms just a short stroll to the beach. Be sure to ask about 3 to 7 bedroom rental homes and 1 to 3 bedroom rental condos located throughout the resort.


Meet Clare Sweeney

A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare is always venturing between traveling abroad and her beloved Lowcountry. 

Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days...  More About Clare