Beaches -- Three great beaches are within a 25-minute drive of the center of Charleston.
In the West Islands, Folly Beach, which had degenerated into a funky Coney Island–type amusement park, has made a comeback following a multimillion-dollar cleanup, but it remains the least pristine beach in the area. The best bathroom amenities are located here, however. At the western end of the island is the Folly Beach County Park, 1100 West Ashley Ave. (Nov–Feb daily 10am–5pm; Mar–Apr and Sep–Oct daily 10am–6pm; May–Labor Day daily 9am–7pm; free admission; parking $7–$10), with bathrooms, parking, and shelter from the rain. To get here, take U.S. 17 East to S.C. 171 South to Folly Beach.
In the East Cooper area, both the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island offer miles of public beaches, mostly bordered by beachfront homes. Windsurfing and jet-skiing are popular here. Take U.S. 17 East to S.C. 703 (Ben Sawyer Blvd.). S.C. 703 continues through Sullivan’s Island to the Isle of Palms.
Kiawah Island has the area’s most pristine beach—far preferable to Folly Beach, to my taste—and draws a more upmarket crowd. The best beachfront is at Beachwalker County Park (Nov–Feb daily 10am–5pm, Mar–Apr and Sept–Oct daily 10am–6pm, May–Labor Day daily 9am–7pm; free admission, parking $7–$10), on the southern end of the island at 8 Beachwalker Drive. Get there before noon on weekends; the limited parking is usually taken by then. Canoe rentals are available for use on the Kiawah River, and the park offers not only a boardwalk, but also bathrooms, showers, and a changing area. Take U.S. 17 East to S.C. 171 South (Folly Beach Rd.), and turn right onto S.C. 700 Southwest (Maybank Hwy.) to Bohicket Road, which turns into Betsy Kerrison Parkway. Where Betsy Kerrison Parkway dead-ends, turn left on Kiawah Parkway, which takes you to the island. For details on the major resorts on Kiawah Island and the Isle of Palms, http://www.frommers.com/destinations/kiawah-island/hotels.
Biking -- Charleston is basically flat and not traffic-clogged except on its main arteries at rush hour. Biking is a popular local pastime, and most of the city parks have biking trails. The most popular run is across the 2.5-mile, eight-lane Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which links downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. For the best bike rentals, contact the Bicycle Shoppe at 280 Meeting St. (tel. 843/722-8168; www.thebicycleshoppecharleston.com). Rentals begin at $7 for 1 hour or $28 per day. ID and credit card required.
Boating -- A true Charlestonian is as much at home on the sea as on land. Sailing local waters is a popular family pastime. One of the best places for boat rentals is Isle of Palms Marina, 1207 Palm Blvd., Isle of Palms (tel. 843/886-0209; www.iop.net), where 18-foot boats, big enough for seven people, rent for around $240 for half a day, plus fuel. A larger boat, big enough for 10, goes for about $375 to $450 for a half day, plus fuel.
Fishing -- Freshwater fishing charters are available year-round along the Lowcountry’s numerous creeks and inlets. The waterways are filled with flounder, trout, spot-tail, and channel bass. Some of the best striped-bass fishing available in America can be found at nearby Lake Moultrie.
Offshore-fishing charters for reef fishing (where you’ll find fish such as cobia, black sea bass, and king mackerel) and for the Gulf Stream (where you fish for sailfish, marlin, wahoo, dolphin, and tuna) are also available. Both types of charters can be arranged at the previously recommended Isle of Palms Marina (tel. 843/886-0209). A fishing craft holding up to 10 people rents for $900 for 6 hours, including everything but food and drink. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance.
Folly Beach Fishing Pier (tel. 843/588-3474; www.ccprc.com), 101 East Arctic Ave., Folly Beach, is a 25-feet-wide wood pier that extends 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean. Facilities include restrooms, a tackle shop, and a restaurant. It’s accessible to people with disabilities, and open daily May to September 6am–11pm (Dec–Feb 8am–sunset; Mar and Nov 7am–sunset; Apr and Oct 6am–10pm; free admission, parking $5–$10).
Golf -- Charleston is said to be the home of golf in America. Charlestonians have been playing the game since the 1700s, when the first golf clubs arrived from Scotland. With 26 public and private courses in the area, there’s a golf game waiting for every buff.
Wild Dunes Resort, Isle of Palms (tel. 843/886-2164; www.wilddunes.com), offers two championship golf courses designed by Tom Fazio. The Links Course is a 6,387-yard, par-70 layout that takes the player through marshlands, over or into huge sand dunes, through a wooded alley, and into a pair of oceanfront finishing holes once called “the greatest east of Pebble Beach, California.” The Harbor Course offers 6,402 yards of Lowcountry marsh and Intracoastal Waterway views. This par-70 layout is considered to be target golf, challenging players with 2 holes that play from one island to another across Morgan Creek. Greens fees at these courses can range from $95 to $175, depending on the season. Both courses are open daily 7am to 6pm.
Charleston Golf, Inc. (tel. 800/774-4444; www.charlestongolfguide.com; Mon–Fri 8:30am–5pm) represents 20 golf courses, offering packages that range from $112 to $269 per person March to August. Prices include greens fees on one course, the use of a golf cart, a hotel room based on double occupancy, and taxes. Travel pros here will customize your vacation with golf-course selections and tee times; they can also arrange rental cars and airfares. Reservations must be made 1 week in advance.
Hiking -- The most beguiling hiking trails begin around Buck Hall in Francis Marion National Forest (tel. 843/887-3257; www.fs.usda.gov/scnfs), located some 40 miles north of the center of Charleston via U.S. 17-N. The site consists of 250,000 acres of swamps, with towering oaks and pines. Within the national forest, Buck Hall Recreation Area(tel. 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov), reached by U.S. 17/701 north from Charleston, has camping sites ($15–$25 per night), plus a boat ramp and fishing. Other hiking trails are at Edisto Beach State Park, 8377 State Cabin Rd., on Edisto Island (tel. 843/869-2156; admission $5; daily 8am–6pm).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.