The Isle of Palms is the go-to island near Charleston. It’s a terrific place to live, to visit for a week, or just come for the day. You can find a variety of amazing vacation rentals on Isle of Palms that are either right on the beach or one block away and close to all the fun free things to do.
There are plenty of great restaurants, shops, and nightspots to check out. You can go on an EcoTour, rent a boat, bike, or golf cart to tour around.
But there are also plenty of free activities to enjoy. Here are the top five free things to do on the Isle of Palms – plan your road trip accordingly!
1. Enjoy the peaceful IOP beach.
The beach is public, and visiting it is entirely free. It’s also hard to find a better way to while away a few hours than by simply relaxing there.
The beach at the Isle of Palms runs all along the entire seven-mile length of the island. There are no fences or barriers dividing it up; you are free to stroll along all of it. You can start at Breach Inlet and walk (or run) the whole way to the northern end. There you can spy the next coastal barrier island up, Dewees.
Low tide is a perfect time to visit the IOP beach. You’re more apt to find shells to pick up as free souvenirs. Recently, IOP neighbors have been finding whole sand dollars as well as sea urchin shells, a rare and particularly beautiful ocean treasure.
It’s also when tide pools form on the beach. They make for microcosm of sea life, with small fish, crabs, and other critters swimming around. Children especially love playing in their private little ocean tide pools. Dogs do, too! By the way, visiting dogs are allowed on the beach with no extra license fee (unlike Sullivan’s Island). You are just asked that they are current on their vaccines and have a rabies tag.
If you have a bike, low tide is also the best time to ride on the beach when the sand is firm, and you have ample elbow room.
Fifty-seven beach access paths are located at regular intervals along the island.
Even beach parking is free if you know where to look. You can park at no charge along Palm Boulevard, from 21st Avenue up to about 40th Avenue. There’s parking along both sides of the straightaway of Palm, except where noted. There are some rules, though. You must be parallel parked in the direction of traffic. Your tires must be at least four feet off the road; look for the chalk marks as guides. And you must not block driveways or fire hydrants. There are also free parking spaces at the end of certain avenues, like 42nd.
2. Enjoy some free beach reading.
The Isle of Palms is a vacation or day trip destination. But it is also home to a friendly community living here year-round.
You may be familiar with a “movement” called Little Free Libraries. It’s the largest network of book sharing in the world. Their tagline is “Take a book… share a book,” and their motto is “Building Community, Sparking Creativity, Inspiring Readers.”
People set up small lending libraries on their property. They look a little like a giant birdhouse, with roof, glass door that opens, with shelves inside that hold books, both paperback and hardback.
You are free to take a book to read and keep as long as you like. You are also free to leave a book that you’re finished with to share with others if you so choose.
There are several Little Free Libraries on the Isle of Palms. You are welcome to make good use of any or all of them. They are located at 508 Carolina Boulevard, 2201 Palm Boulevard, 7 Lauden Street, 3704 Hartnett Boulevard, and 3703 Palm Boulevard.
3. Make good use of the Rec Center.
The Isle of Palms has a terrific Recreation Center right in the middle of the island. It’s located at 24 28th Avenue.
The Rec Center is open to residents and visitors alike at no charge. They have spacious ball fields – soccer, baseball/softball. The Rec Center also sports basketball and tennis courts, an indoor gymnasium, fitness center, showers, and changing rooms. There’s a super fun outdoor playground for the little kids, with plenty to climb and ride on, along with a covered pavilion with picnic tables.
For the canine-loving set, there’s also a vast fenced-in off-leash dog park, complete with separate areas for small and large dogs. Again, there is no charge, but visiting dogs should have had all their vaccinations and a current rabies tag.
4. Go fishing or watch dolphins at Breach Inlet.
At the southern tip of the Isle of Palms is Breach Inlet. Here, the current is strong as water flows in from the ocean toward inland creeks and the Intracoastal Waterway.
It’s a dangerous place to swim; warning signs urge people to stay out of the water. But the Breach Inlet Bridge that connects the Isle of Palms with Sullivan’s Island is a terrific fishing spot. You can fish off either side of the bridge, which conveniently boasts wide sidewalks and bike lanes, or from the shore.
The fast tidal current ensures that a plentiful supply of fish moving around and under the bridge. People have been known to catch the following: whiting, sea trout, redfish (spottail bass/red drum), mullet, spadefish, flounder, bluefish, rays, tarpon, sheepshead, and small sharks.
Because of all the fish life, it’s also a perfect place to dolphin watch. You can spot them regularly there, especially on the inland side of the bridge, jumping and feeding in the waters near The Boathouse Restaurant.
It’s free to fish Breach Inlet. It’s important to note, though, that in South Carolina, fishing in saltwater does require a fishing license. Exclusive Properties has some locations on places to stay near Breach Inlet.
5. Watch a sea turtle release!
One of the most beloved creatures in the Lowcountry is the loggerhead sea turtle. These gentle giants have faced many threats to their survival. Thankfully, the good folks at the SC Aquarium, with their new and improved state-of-the-art turtle hospital, take in injured and diseased sea turtles and skillfully nurse them back to health.
When the turtles are well enough, the staff takes them to local beaches and releases them back into the ocean to live a free, natural life. The Isle of Palms is one of their favorite “homegoing” locations. They’ve released hundreds of loggerheads, Kemp’s Ridleys, green turtles, and other sea turtles back into the wild.
These sea turtle releases are triumphant, joyous events, where hundreds (and in one case over 2,000) people line the beach and cheer the turtles on as they head back into the surf. Folks come from as far away as Australia to experience it.
I’m a 40 something father of two girls who loves the mountains, still plays in the sand and enjoys being in the great outdoors. The mountains are always calling my name.
“Wilderness is a necessity” – John Muir