The working man’s beach for a century, this six-mile sliver of sand, aka “The Edge of America,” is hanging tough to its funky, everyone’s-welcome roots. The Center Street hub is home to nearly two dozen restaurants and bars, including the much anticipated Wiki Wiki Sandbar. Visitors who venture further are rewarded by views of the Morris Island Lighthouse and rides at popular surf break the Washout.
On the Water
Folly has one of South Carolina’s most thriving surf scenes. The Washout breaks most consistently, but beginners can avoid a crowded lineup almost anywhere else on the island. Two legit surf shops—Ocean and McKevlin’s—support the pastime. Novices won’t regret opting for a lesson: McKevlin’s pro instructors are well worth the $40/hour cost. McKevlin’s Surf Shop: 8 Center St., www.mckevlins.com Ocean Surf Shop: 31 Center St., www.oceansurfshop.com
Those looking for a gentler adventure can rent stand-up paddleboards or take a guided tour with Charleston SUP Safaris (pictured above), immediately on the right after crossing the bridge onto the island. Owner “Big Jon” Ory offers a variety of tour options through the nearby salt marsh, including sunset paddles and floating yoga classes. 83 Center St., www.charlestonsupsafaris.com
The northeast end of Folly Beach was once a Coast Guard base and is now the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve (pictured offshore above). As the name suggests, it’s the place to see the Morris Island Light, but its maritime forest and dune ecosystems are also critical habitats for migrating and local songbirds and shorebirds. On the second Friday of each month, Audubon South Carolina and Charleston County Parks host a guided bird walk on Folly. This summer’s lighthouse walks are July 13 and August 10 at 8:30 a.m. 1750 E. Ashley Ave., www.ccprc.com
Cool Off Indoors
A beach town in the South isn’t where you’d expect to find a quality Irish pub, but the Irish-owned St. James Gate feels like stepping into a Dublin watering hole—welcoming indeed when it’s 100 degrees outside. They pour a perfect pint of Guinness, and during the day, at least, it’s kid- and pet-friendly. Grab a table under the fans on the garden patio, or retreat into the cool, wood-walled shadows indoors. 11 Center St., www.stjamesgatesc.com
September 22: Sea & Sand Festival
Folly is known for its winter events like Follypalooza and Folly Gras, but the summer calendar is left refreshingly open (apart from a fireworks display at the pier on July 4). The season’s end is celebrated in September, however, with this street party including live bands and dozens of food and craft vendors, plus a beauty pageant, sand castle and surf contests, and a 5K race. www.visitfolly.com
Eat & Drink
The ’Wich Doctor (pictured above): Humble and unassuming, this local secret lives up to its name in making magical sandwiches, but the best time to visit is for Sunday brunch, when chef Jeff Butler gets creative with a menu of Vietnamese cuisine that packs enough eggs and spice to cure any lingering effects from Saturday night. 106 W. Hudson Ave., www.thewichdoctor.net
The Wooden Spoon at Bert’s Market: Bert’s is a Folly staple, and while it still sells 75-cent hot dogs and gives away free coffee, it has upgraded for the 21st-century palate. The Wooden Spoon deli features gourmet sandwiches and wraps—try the turkey, apple, and pepper-jack panini or Vegan Goddess wrap. 202 E. Ashley Ave., www.facebook.com/bertsmarket/
Pier 101 (pictured above): The folks from Avocet Properties took over the Locklear’s spot on the pier, and the menu is what you’d expect—sandwiches and seafood. But the real reason to put it on your to-do list is the outdoor bar; where else can you order a cocktail and then stroll 1,000 feet out over the Atlantic? 101 E. Arctic Ave., www.pier101folly.com
Black Magic Café: When this local favorite opened as a coffee shop in 2009, it wasn’t more than a grab-and-go counter-serve. Now it’s a full restaurant, and its flavored frappes and smoothies (like the mango, banana, and pineapple “Hurricane Hugo”) make healthy sweet treats on a steamy afternoon. 103 W. Erie Ave., www.blackmagiccafe.com
On July 5, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins renourishing Folly’s beach north of the Washout to reduce the damage of recent storms, including Irma. Given the machinery on the beach and temporary closings between 8th Street East and the end of Ashley Avenue, you’ll want to plan your beach days accordingly: use the tracker at cityoffollybeach.com to see exactly where construction is happening, and always scope the scene before committing to a parking spot. Even if you’re staying clear of the work, it’s wise to time your beach visit around low tide, when there’s more room to spread out in the sand.
Traffic: There’s only one way on and off of Folly by car—a two-lane road—so traffic backs up quickly. If you’re arriving between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a weekend, or departing between 3 and 7 p.m., budget an extra 30 to 45 minutes.
Parking: Folly has ample paid parking around Center Street, and plenty of free parking across the rest of the island. The 10 feet closest to any road are fair game for parallel parking, unless there are city signs indicating otherwise. Park with the flow of traffic, and be sure to get every inch of rubber off the pavement, or you’ll likely be ticketed.
Dogs: Unleashed dogs are never allowed on Folly Beach (unless they join the city-ordained FIDO club, which permits them in restricted areas and times). During summer, leashed dogs are allowed on the beach before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.