With Great Eateries, Watersports, Rentals, & County Park, IOP is Charleston's Preferred Beachside Community
Jeff Walker, Food & Beverage Writer
Noted travel and tourism magazines have been getting it right for decades. They've all listed Charleston as one of the top, if not the number one city to visit. Lowcountry natives and transplants agree three things set Charleston apart and they are hospitality, charm, and history. Combined they are a triple threat and the main reason people love living here as well as vacationing in Charleston.
And although the city itself receives much recognition for its hotels, bed & breakfasts, churches, restaurants, and historic venues, locals know there much more to offer in greater Charleston especially during the peak seasons. Unless you're one of the few privileged to walk in the warm sand along Charleston's select resort communities, the vast majority of locals regularly enjoy one of three area beaches, namely Sullivan's Island, Folly Beach, and Isle of Palms.
While all three are awesome in their own right, they are totally different. Sullivan's is easily the more subdued and attracts locals. On the other hand Folly is the utopian beach, extremely welcoming and a haven for the spirited beach goer. Without question the most trafficked beach for Charleston area residents and yearly visitors is the Isle of Palms (IOP).
For decades sun worshippers of all ages have been flocking to IOP to catch some rays, swim in the ocean, walk along the shore, play volleyball, and just enjoy a great day at the beach. With a plethora of ocean front lodging and vacation home rentals available, many enjoy a weekend retreat or longer stay on IOP. Like a majority of seaside municipalities IOP has grown to accommodate the influx of visitors.
What was once a small village complete with a couple restaurants and the world famous Windjammer is now a thriving seaside community with The Windjammer as its downtown anchor. Amid ocean front properties running for miles, the core of downtown IOP is bookended by a Charleston County Park and The Windjammer. In that little more than half mile stretch along Ocean Boulevard are a variety of eateries, lodging, and beach shops, all aimed to please whether for the day, the night, or longer.
The Windjammer has been serving up great music and eclectic bar food for over 50 years. What started out as a island sports bar in 1972 has become a legendary music venue where the likes of Hootie & the Blowfish, Edwin McCain, Zac Brown, Sister Hazel, Drivin' n Cryin' got their starts. During the day the Jammer is appropriate for islanders of all ages, with corn dogs and grilled cheese a favorite for the youngsters. Adults may opt for a BBQ sandwich, Buffalo Wings, or a fried shrimp basket to accompany a cold brew or cocktail.
After the sun sets the Jammer is the preferred music venue where regional bands, up and comers, and seasoned artists, perform on the beach stage, providing epic views of the Atlantic from their raised patio. Delicious beach eats from lunch to late night, and always a Jam good time all day long at The Windjammer. Set sail at https://the-windjammer.com/
Along the strip which includes a stones throw of JC Long Blvd beach goers will discover a pleasant mix of dining options that touch on Mexican, upscale Italian, seafood, pizza, American, breakfast fare, and everyday comfort foods.
Hands down the best burger on IOP can be found at Smugglers Island Eats Rum Shack (1122 Ocean Blvd). Their namesake Smashburger is the definition of an awesome and satisfying burger. Two perfectly seasoned all beef patties stacked amid pickles and white American cheese with a slather of their homemade Smuggler sauce. Teeming with flavor and just the right amount of juiciness to require a few more napkins. Lucky enough to be on IOP on Monday, than the Smashburger is half priced.
From Beach Bites (appetizers) to Handheld Bounty (entrees) Smugglers offer hearty bites from $8-$16, including a Corndog ($6) served with crinkle cut fries for the little ones. A plethora of options at Smugglers among them chicken or shrimp wraps, fried seafood baskets, and a traditional Po'Boy. Over 21, wash down your incredible edible with your favorite beer or wine, any of their Pirated Punches, or signature Rum Nation concoctions.
Smugglers' overall open air beachside vibe puts the chill in a hot summer day. Enjoy weekday happy hour 4-7pm with $2 off Rum Nation drinks and $5 appetizers. Find them at the doorstep to the preferred beach entryway. https://smugglersiop.com/
At Smugglers you can chill, and at Papi's Taqueria you can relax! Practically next door Papi's Taqueria is hailed as the 'best tacos in Charleston'. They are easily the unheralded gem on IOP. Located at 1012 Ocean Blvd. they are the definition of tasty meets affordability. Papi's focuses on what they do best, serving up Mexican appetizers alongside signature tacos that go well with their cocktails.
Five signature tacos including the Juan Corleone (clever name), a corn tortilla shell layered in chorizo meatballs, charred poblano peppers, chile tomatoes under queso chihauhau. You guessed right. It's zesty and a perfect complement to one of their eight authentic Mexican beers. Their Fishin' in the Dark (blackened local fish) and the Sesame Seared Tuna tacos undeniably satisfy seafood lovers. Maybe sip on a Papi-rita, mimosa, glass of wine or throw back some Mexican tequilas. Ask regulars and they'll tell you, Papi's is known for tacos and frozen margaritas.
Inside their quaint seaside home enjoy rooftop dining with a view, or even better reserve the 800 sq ft. Arriba Room for your next corporate outing, bridal shower, or wedding rehearsal dinner. It accommodates 25 comfortably has a private bar and restroom and access to the rooftop deck. Ideal on a moonlit night. Yes they have a kids menu including the go to chicken fingers for the fussy little one in your party. Everything at Papi's Taquiera locally sourced and crafted with love. Learn more at https://www.papisiop.com
Just across from Papi's technically on JC Long is The Dinghy Tap Room & Kitchen. As the name suggests they focus on handheld seafood, sandwiches, and such. The Dinghy carries an eclectic national menu with an overall Key West vibe. Listed on their everyday sandwich menu is a Philly Cheese Steak, a Panini Pressed Cuban, Buffalo Chicken, their namesake Dinghy Cheeseburger as well as a Club (cheddar, ham, Swiss, turkey, bacon, roast beef, lettuce, tomato, and mayo piled between two thick slices of white bread).
The Dinghy is known for their Alligator Bites and Dirty Elvis Fries (simply sweet potato fries topped w/ warm peanut butter, crispy bacon & fried plantains). This pop in your mouth appetizer will leave your taste buds 'all shook up' and would make the King of Rock proud. Their Seafood Platter has it all, a sumptuous serving of fried clams strips, oysters, flounder, shrimp, cole slaw, and fries. Worth every bit of $26.
Live music almost daily, weekday happy hour from 4-7pm, and a little tykes menu under $7. The Dinghy is bringing a little bit of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville to Charleston's preferred beachside community. Enjoy a little laid back pirate adventure at https://www.dinghyiop.com/
Across the way you'll find the super cute Sea Biscuit Cafe, IOP's premier breakfast, brunch, and light lunch spot. Open 7:30 until 1pm seven days a week, Sea Biscuit Cafe serve up hellacious biscuits, small plates, soups, salad, sandwiches, and daily specials that include eight signature omelets as well as five unique servings of Eggs Benedict served up with your choice of home fries or grits with toast or a biscuit.
Everything on the menu is under $15 including the homemade Basil Chicken Salad on whole wheat, and a Reuben sandwich on marbled rye. Their Tomato Pie is epic as is their Buttermilk Pie. Sea Biscuit Cafe is a picturesque early morning and midday dining destination complete with an outside patio. Enjoy a homemade banana bread or a bagel with your cup of hot joe as you let your day at the beach begin. Wake up to Sea Biscuit Cafe at https://sea-biscuit-cafe.business.site/?utmsource=gmb&utmmedium=referral
Sea Island's neighbor is the very popular Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, an upscale yet casual cantina serving up daily brunch (8-3pm) and dinner (4-10pm) using as much local produce and sustainable seafood as possible. Looking for a hearty meal that will excite the taste buds, look no further than Acme Lowcountry Kitchen. Much like their neighbor Acme offer up ample omelet and eggs benedict servings. Their signature three egg Acme Islander omelet comes teeming with local shrimp & lump crab, and pepperjack cheese. Appropriately priced at $20.
Craving lowcountry favorites than try the IOP Shrimp & Grits crafted with blackened shrimp, smoked sausage, tomatoes & onions over truffle cheese grits or tell your server to bring you a plate of Southern Hospitality aka fried shrimp on top of pimento cheese grits & collards. Both complement a mimosa or a bloody Mary. The dinner menu reflects a few larger portions of the lunch fare, with a host of local favorites, seafood platters, and seven signature shrimp & grits medleys.
The slow cooked Braised Short Ribs with a red wine thyme demi-glace or their or Acme's Crab Cakes will appease a robust appetite or can easily be shared by two. I strongly recommend the Carolina Duo aka short ribs accompanied by succulent pecan fried chicken breast with truffle mac and seasoned collards. It doesn't get much southern than that! At least 10 gluten free options and several vegan friendly including the oversized Acme Salad. Savor the possibilities at http://acmelowcountrykitchen.com/
Luke & Ollies had a long run dishing up sliced pizza on the island, but now the new owners at 1101 Ocean Blvd. have rebranded as IOPizza Co. and are serving up Italian favorites from 11am to 9pm seven days a week. Order any of their four signature pizzas including a supreme and a white pizza, or just build your own. Enjoy a meatball or chicken sub on an authentic artisan Italian hoagie roll. Both teeming with seasoned meat under a layer of mozzarella and zesty marinara.
The House Italian or Caesar Salads are best described as a 'big salad' overflowing with greens and a lots of character. Dine inside or on their patio overlooking the boulevard. Kids menus include spaghetti and chicken tenders. IOPizza offers a small seven seat bar serving up your favorite adult beverages with four large screen TVs where fans can catch up on sporting news. Overall prices range from $7 to $24. An ideal option if you're grabbing something for the beach or your room. https://iopizzaco.com/
Just outside IOPizza is the newest food & drink addition on the IOP. Ideal for the quick and nutritional lite bites as well as refreshing beverages Shaka Shack serves up Acai Bowls, topped with vibrant fresh fruit, alongside espresso drinks and 100% real fruit smoothies. Enjoy vanilla and chocolate creamy soft serve ice cream. For good vibes and good food right on the beach shimmy on over to the Shaka Shack. https://www.shakashackiop.com/
Directly across from IOPizza is Lawrence's Seafood Company, and as their name suggests they focus on seafood baskets alongside your favorite handhelds, including their signature Lawrence's Famous Lobster Roll, basically an oversized butter hoagie roll teeming with fresh chilled lobster salad. Yummy to the max, as is their Bang Bang Shrimp which offers up a nice mix of sweet and lightly tangy fried shrimp complete with a mayo-aioli dipping sauce!
If you have a hankering for a hearty meal than their Lobster Mac-N-Cheese is a sumptuous blend of tender Maine lobster tossed in their homemade mac sauce over cavatappi noodles. Topped with toasted bread crumbs for the perfect crunch! There is no shortage of fried entrees at Lawrence's. Their Fried Green Tomatos with homemade pimento cheese or the Bang Bang Shrimp are two appetizers that eat more like a meal.
Lawrence's really pride themselves on a broad-ranging menu. Southern favorites include the Nashville Hot Po'Boy drenched in Music City's famous sauce. Seafood lovers might opt for a double dose of their Crab Cake Steak drizzled in lemon herb butter or stone-ground cheesy grits blanketed under a mix of slow cooked shrimp, sausage, onions, and peppers in a creamy sauce. Both are southern classics. Much like The Windjammer, Lawrence's Seafood has direct access to the beach. Cast your net at https://www.lawrencesseafood.com/
Sitting directly above Lawrence's is Coda del Pesce, easily one of the most authentic Italian ristorantes in greater Charleston and the best trattoria on the island. Owned and operated by Executive Chef Ken Vedrinski Code del Pesce (Italian for tail of the fish) is well worth hanging around the Isle of Palms late in the day, combining unique pasta dishes and ocean favorites with Italian accent paired with hand selected Italian wines.
No need to labor over the menu because Ken offers up about eight to ten signature dishes aside from a daily special using fresh, locally or sustainably caught seafood. His Ricotta Gnudi (naked cheese filled ravioli), cloaked under summer mushrooms, guanciale (cured pork), and vacche rosse (exotic European cheese) is simply to die for. The Scallopini (naturally raised veal) dish served with an eggplant & mushroom Agro Dolce (simply a sweet & sour Italian glaze), under aged & smoked ricotta cheese is superb.
Their oceanfront view is magnificent, including an outside deck accommodating 18 guests who prefer a intimate experience, with and architecturally designed interior adorned with reclaimed woods reflecting blue & grey hues allowing an overall beach vibe. Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday beginning from 5:30 pm. Coda Del Pesce is by all accounts a five star establishment, so forgo beach attire and make reservations preferably. For a fresh perspective and a menu that will tempt the palate visit https://codadelpesce.com/
Serving up fun since 1997, Coconut Joe's (directly behind Smuggler's) is a favorite hangout on the IOP featuring a rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean. Their menu runs the gamut including everything from Fried Pickles and Wings, to signature salads, seafood baskets, and burgers. A nice beer selection including local brews, and their own Coconut Joe's Lager on draft.
Thursday's are Ladies Night at Coconut Joe's where the ladies enjoy specialty cocktails for only $5 from 6:30-9:30 with karaoke from DJ Luna. Drop in for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10AM-2PM, and savor Pina Colada French Toast, Cinnamon Apple Waffle or BBQ Salmon Shrimp & Grits, all with your favorite cocktails. Live music most weekends during the summer. Visit the 'friendliest place on the beach' at https://www.coconutjoesbeachgrill.com/
Need some suntan lotion, a new pair of shades, flip flops, beach towel, or maybe something tropical or nautical than Island Surf Company and their sister store Island Mermaid carry a plethora of items for your shopping pleasure. Need a nice souvenir, they sell Isle of Palms logo apparel alongside great brands like Roxie, Oneill, Billabong, Dakine and Reef. The ladies might look nice wearing Charleston Gate Theme necklaces and rings. They even rent surfboards! Lots to choose from. Surfs up at https://islandsurfcoiop.com/
Slightly off front beach:
Does Isle of Palms have more to offer than just the front beach? Absolutely! On the gateway to the island, just on the left off the IOP connector from Mount Pleasant is the Island Shopping Center which is home to the only supermarket on IOP. Straddled around Harris Teeter is a couple of eateries locals swarm to on regular occasion.
The Refuge as their website suggests is a retreat from the hustle and bustle of surburbia. Family owned and operated The Refuge provide a dining experience like no other. Whether it's low tide or high tide The Refuge is open. Serving breakfast and lunch from 8am until 2pm, and a more upscale tide menu from 5-9pm.
Early risers may fancy their Monte Cristo Sandwich (brioche French toast layered w/country ham, provolone with slather or mustard & mayo). Heartier appetites can feast on the Refuge Steak & Eggs, perfectly seared 6oz USDA angus hangar steak, two eggs served your way, complete with toast and home-fries.
The dinner menu includes Seared Scallops, Chicken Parmigiani, and your choice of angus steaks (filet, ribeye, NY strip) served with bleu cheese mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus with a mushroom demi glaze. Enjoy a bevy of daily evening specials including Steakhouse Tuesday, Live Music Wednesday and Prime Rib Thursday Night.
The Refuge's Coffee Bar has become a sanctuary for those who savor a variety of classic brews including their signature Refuge Roast. Explore an exotic caffeinated trip around the globe with their flavored syrups. Don't let the fact they are housed in a everyday shopping center throw you off, The Refuge truly offers a one of a kind dining experience, and are among a few premier eateries on the Isle of Palms. Your dining sanctuary begins at https://refugeiop.com/restaurant.php
Just across the parking lot is the front door to another Isle of Palms staple. Established in 1986 and renovated in 2012 by restaurateur Michael Proetto and veteran chef Ravi Scher, The Long Island Cafe is one of the lowcountry's hidden gems. Open for lunch 11am-2pm Mon-Sat (Sunday brunch) and for dinner 5pm until, Long Island Cafe serve up Charleston favorites i.e. She Crab Soup and Shrimp & Grits alongside signature omelets, salads, and sandwiches.
Late day diners can feast on a golden brown Parmesan Crusted Salmon, Local Homemade Seafood Pasta, or red meat lovers may opt for their 8oz. Filet Mignon under a demi glaze with shoestring onion rings. All entrees come with twos sides including your choice of a daily vegetable dish or their extra yummy white cheese grits.
LIC's Black Angus Burger is a full half pound with choice of cheddar, swiss or jack cheese. Make no mistake, whether you have seafood, pasta, or chicken, LIC have a wine that will pair with your meal. Eperience elegant cuisine at http://www.longislandcafesc.com/
If fine dining is on the menu for the evening than Acme, Coda del Pesce, The Refuge, and Long Island Cafe offers pleasant options.
Perhaps you're looking for a weekend rental or maybe a ocean front home with five or six bedrooms and a private pool to accommodate an extended family get together. Look no further than Exclusive Properties & Luxury Island Getaways. With an office located at the doorstep to downtown IOP, Exclusive Properties is your best choice for IOP vacations rentals.
In business for over a decade, family owned Exclusive Properties does it all. Think of them as a VIP concierge service. Whether you need to book a harbor tour, make dinner reservations, or better yet hire a personal chef for a night, they can meet and exceed your requests. Want to take the guess work out of your IOP stay, need four bedrooms for a family stay or as many as 10 for a company retreat, than let the staff at Exclusive Properties do the heavy lifting for you. They know the Isle of Palms. Your stay begins at https://www.exclusivepropertiesus.com/
If renting an oversized single home with multiple bedrooms and a private pool with direct beach access is not budget worthy than you do have options. For about $350 per night local and visiting beach goers can stay in the longstanding Sea Cabins adjacent to the Charleston County Park with its own private fishing pier.
Decorated in beach themes, these 500 square feet one bedroom oceanfront condos sleep four comfortably, and come complete with a full sized sleeper sofas, updated decor, and fully equipped kitchens, with 32" flat-screen TVs in living room and in the bedroom. Enjoy private balconies with ocean views, and access to the beach, a community pool, and laundry amenities. Wireless Internet available at no charge. Beachfront for less at https://www.islandrealty.com/sea-cabins
Need to rent a kayak or a paddleboard for a day or a few hours than check out https://www.coastalexpeditions.com/ or for the more adventurous type might wanting to jet-ski or parasail than we suggest https://tidalwavewatersports.com/ (offering free shuttle service from IOP). If your long weekend or stay includes learning how to surf, we recommend https://carolinasaltsurflessons.com/
Just coming out to the Isle of Palms for a day, maybe park in the Charleston County Parks & Recreation facility located just left of the Sea Cabins as you're coming off the IOP Expressway toward the beach. Enjoy clean restrooms, picnic areas with grills, a sand volleyball court, outdoor showers, lifeguards, beach chair, umbrella and boogie board rentals as well as ice cream, drinks, and snacks. Almost everything you need for a family fun day in the sun. Visiting often than purchase a yearly or summer pass. Catch the wave at https://www.ccprc.com/60/Isle-of-Palms-County-Park
Finally if you're the sort that likes to tee it up, than Wild Dunes Resort is home to two of Charleston's premier golf courses including the Harbor Course and the Links Course. Both were designed by Tom Fazio, with one setting along the intracoastal waterway and the other alongside the Atlantic coast. Fore a good time visit https://www.destinationhotels.com/wild-dunes/golf
Excluding the upscale resorts with their private beaches, the Charleston area beaches with easy access remain Folly, Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms. All three have their own character, however IOP is traditionally the beach community that caters to a wide variety of residents, locals, and visitors.
Whether you're a couple looking to get away or friends and family seeking fun in the sun on one of Charleston's more vibrant beaches, a day, weekend, or week on Isle of Palms is well worth it. You'll discover excellent food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as great entertainment and plenty of options to enjoy water sports. For more on the city of the Isle of Palms and upcoming events visit https://www.iop.net/