Developer J.S. Lawrence knew what he was doing when he gave this island its current name in 1899 and later opened a 50-room hotel. Before then, it was “Long Island,” and it’s still our largest beach. “IOP” is home to Wild Dunes Resort and its two golf courses, as well as the IOP Marina, a jumping-off point for many adventures. And the compact downtown has all the kitsch and tourist traps you’d expect—plus a few hidden gems
PHOTO: Tidal Wave Water Sports
On the Water
IOP’s six miles of wide beaches mean that you’ll rarely be too crowded, outside of the commercial Front Beach between 10th and 14th Avenues. If you’re bringing kids who want to play in the waves, opt for Isle of Palms County Park (www.ccprc.com) at 14th Avenue, where there are lifeguards are on duty (plus umbrella rentals and showers). There’s not a bad place to swim on the entire beachfront, apart from Breach Inlet at the southern end, where rip currents can be deadly.
If you want to escape into the wild waterways, head to Tidal Wave Water Sports. This locally owned outfit offers banana boat rides, wakeboarding, and “Safari Tours” on their fleet of Wave Runners. And if you’ve always brushed off parasailing as a tourist activity, splurge on the $60 adrenaline rush—you’ll get a view that you’ll never forget. IOP Marina at 41st Ave., www.tidalwavewatersports.com
Cruising the Intracoastal north of IOP, there’s little more than birds, fish, and mostly undeveloped islands. Easy access to Capers Island—where you can crab in an unspoiled creek, explore a vast boneyard beach, or just relax in the sun all by your lonesome—is part of IOP’s appeal. Book a “Family Fun Day” with Barrier Island Eco Tours out of IOP Marina. The dedicated naturalists know where to find dolphins, can navigate to unique tidal sandbars, and double as cooks—many trips end with a seaside feast of Lowcountry boil. 50 41st Ave., www.nature-tours.com
Cool Off Indoors
The island is home to an impressive Rec Center, including tennis courts, baseball fields, and basketball courts. Indoors, there’s a cardio gym free to visitors, as well as a basketball court for half-court play and a community library. There are also daily workout classes (drop-in fees average $10), including barre, Zumba, yoga, and even line dancing. 24 28th Ave., www.iop.net
If exercising—even in the AC—isn’t your idea of cooling off, the Windjammer lets beachgoers enjoy the view from a shaded patio with a cold drink in hand. This legendary music venue’s summer lineup includes longtime favorites like Southern jam band Jupiter Coyote (June 16) and feel-good rockers Cowboy Mouth (July 13-14). 1008 Ocean Blvd., www.the-windjammer.com
PHOTO: Sand-Scultpting Contest.
Sand-Sculpting Contest: June 9
Marking its 30th year, this contest, in conjunction with the Piccolo Spoleto arts festival, draws would-be pros and aspiring amateurs to compete in categories like “Best Architectural” and “Most Creative.” Saturday, 9 a.m. Front Beach, www.iop.net
IOP Beach Run: July 21
Get off the asphalt and into the sand with this annual race down the beach. Saturday, 8 a.m. www.iop.net
PHOTO: Coda del Pesce.
Eat & Drink
The Refuge: Tucked into the shopping center next to Harris Teeter, this restaurant and coffee bar has felt like a local’s secret for its two-year existence. We’re letting the cat out—stop in pre- or post-sunbathing for a Lowcountry Club, a splurge-worthy amalgam of shrimp salad, crab cake, and bacon. 1517 Palm Blvd., Ste. A; www.therefugeiop.com
Coda del Pesce: For fine dining with ocean views, Charleston has two real options: the Ocean Room on Kiawah and this little gem that serves Italian-style seafood by chef Ken Vedrinksi. 1130 Ocean Blvd., www.codadelpesce.com
Sea Biscuit Café: You’ll want to beat the after-church crowd if you come on Sunday, because this perennial favorite bustles with patrons hungry for biscuits and Benedicts. 21 JC Long Blvd., www.facebook.com/seabiscuitcafeiop/
Island Joe’s: This old-school ice cream stand is nothing fancy, and there’s no redeeming health benefit to a Joe’s Hand-Dipped Milkshake. But even if you’re just here for the day, you’re on vacation. 1122 Ocean Blvd., www.coconutjoes.biz
Morgan Creek Grill at IOP Marina hosts local bands and songwriters on its outdoor stage on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and on Sunday afternoons from 2 to 5 p.m. It’s away from the rush of Front Beach and a popular hangout for discovering the local music scene. 80 41st Ave., morgancreekgrill.com
Traffic: The IOP Connector is generally the fastest way onto the island. Arrive before 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays if you want to avoid at least 10 to 15 minutes of stop-and-go traffic. Palm Boulevard stays busy until sunset, so be mindful of pedestrians and take your time.
Parking: IOP recently redrew its beach parking maps, with well-placed signs indicating where parking is free and/or legal. On a weekend, unless you arrive before 10 a.m., plan to park in one of the fee lots, including two on Front Beach ($8 weekdays, $10 weekends) and one at the County Park ($10 weekdays, $15 weekends).
Dogs: The island is relatively pet-friendly, allowing dogs to be off-leash from 5 to 9 a.m., if owners have the leash in hand and clean up excrement. Pups are allowed on the beach at all other hours, if they’re on leash.