Some of the best beaches in America are in the Charleston and Savannah region. While the upscale amenities aren’t always there and they aren’t very surfer-friendly, the area’s beaches are outstanding for anyone looking for a relaxing, scenic getaway.
By law, beaches in the United States are fully accessible to the public up to the high-tide mark during daylight hours, even if the beach fronts private property and even if the only means of public access is by boat. While certain seaside resorts have over the years attempted to make the dunes in front of their property exclusive to guests, this is actually illegal, though it can be hard to enforce.
On federally run National Wildlife Refuges, access is limited to daytime hours, from sunrise to sunset.
It is a misdemeanor to disturb the sea oats, those wispy, waving, wheat-like plants among the dunes. Their root system is vital to keeping the beach intact. Also never disturb a turtle nesting area, whether it is marked or not.
The barrier islands of the Palmetto State have seen more private development than their Georgia counterparts. Some Carolina islands, like Kiawah, Fripp, and Seabrook, are not even accessible unless you are a guest at their affiliated resorts, which of course means that the only way to visit the beaches there if you’re not a guest is by boat, which I really don’t advise.
Charleston-area beaches include Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms. Folly Beach has a county recreation area with parking at Folly Beach County Park. Isle of Palms has a county recreation area with parking at Isle of Palms County Park.
Moving down the coast, some delightful beaches are at Edisto Island and Hunting Island, which both feature state parks with lodging.
Hilton Head Island has about 12 miles of beautiful, family-friendly beaches, and while most of the island is devoted to private golf resorts, the beaches remain accessible to the general public at four convenient points with parking: Driessen Beach Park, Coligny Beach Park, Alder Lane Beach Access, and Burkes Beach Road.
The main beach in Georgia is outside Savannah at Tybee Island, with full accessibility from end to end. The beach on the north end is smaller and quieter, while the south end is wider, windier, and more populated. There are public parking lots, but you can park at metered spots near the beach as well.
Farther south, a very good beach is at Jekyll Island, a largely undeveloped barrier island owned by the state. There are three picnic areas with parking, Clam Creek, South Dunes, and St. Andrew.
Nearby St. Simons Island does have a beach area, but it is comparatively narrow and small. Adjacent Sea Island is accessible only if you’re a guest of the Sea Island Club.
The rest of Georgia’s barrier islands are only accessible by ferry, charter, or private boat. Many outfitters will take you on a tour to barrier islands such as Wassaw or Sapelo; don’t be shy about inquiring. The most gorgeous beach of all is at Cumberland Island National Seashore.
By far the most popular surfing area in the region is the Washout at Charleston’s Folly Beach. The key surf shop on Folly is McKevlin’s. For Folly surf conditions, go to www.mckevlins.com or www.surfline.com.
The only other surfing of note in the area is on the south end of Tybee Island near the Pier and Pavilion. The key surf shop on Tybee is High Tide Surf Shop. For a surf report go to www.hightidesurfshop.com.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition