Throughout the year, Folly Beach is a tale of two islands sharing space on a six-mile sliver of land. Visit in February and you'll encounter wide open beaches (at low tide, at least) where nobody is likely to utter a word of complaint if you throw a Frisbee for your unleashed dog while sipping a Pluff Mud Porter (although both of those things are still against the law, mind you).
Try to pull that off in June, and you'll likely be slapped with a hefty fine.
It all starts around April. On the first sunny weekend, when the mercury climbs into the 80s, the beach transforms overnight from a sleepy backwater to a hub of activity where even getting a table to eat requires a half hour wait.
This guide is designed for you, the summer visitor. But don't forget that in addition to the restaurants, bars, and beach culture, there is still an amazing island to explore, from sunset at the county park to the growing stretch of sand along Lighthouse Inlet. And if your opinion of Folly Beach — whether favorable or utter disgust — is based around the two hours you spent in traffic to sit in the sand amidst thousands of others before returning to a parking ticket on your car, do us a favor and come again some time other than the Fourth of July. Put this guide in your glove box and pull it out in November. Then take a drive back out to the Edge of America and experience a warm local welcome (with no wait for a table).
202 E. Ashley Ave.
Bert's Market may in fact be the longest running culinary destination on the island, thanks to their oft-noted 75 cent hot dogs, available 24 hours a day. They've stepped up their game over the winter, however, installing a gourmet deli and soup bar dubbed The Wooden Spoon. For a quick but quality bite on the way on or off the island, the combo of an Applegate Farms turkey sub and Baja chicken enchilada soup for $7.99 is a solid bet. And did we mention the growler station? Average main: $8.
122 E. Ashley Ave.
Just when Folly sorely needed a solid locals' spot, former Queen Street Grocery proprietor Hank Weed launched this island-style hangout in the outdoor courtyard across from Bert's. Everything on the simple menu is good — fish tacos, goat curry, rice and beans, and the Wu-Tang Bowl (an array that includes ramen noodles, steak, sprouts, and a soft-boiled egg). If the weather's nice, pull up a chair at the open-air bar, order a Two Hearted Ale from Charlie the bartender, and dream about moving to Folly forever. Average main: $10.
Drop In Deli
32-B Center St.
After five years in business, this hangout on Center Street has earned its keep. As well as their creative sandwiches and wraps (the Redneck — a pile of chicken, Cheese Whiz, bacon, jalapeños, and ranch on a hoagie — is a Folly rite of passage), the addition of a smoker out back has expanded their daily specials to include pork tacos that wash down perfectly with a $2.50 draft PBR. And they'll deliver anywhere on the island for free. Average main: $8.
Jack of Cups Saloon
34 Center St.
Occupying the tiny space formerly held by the Folly Beach Brew Pub, this cozy new bar often spills out onto the sidewalk seating area when they host live music around the tarot card-covered bar. Owners Nick Della Penna and Lesley Caroll (of Tin Roof fame) have successfully kept the location's reputation alive as the craft beer headquarters of Folly Beach. Average beer: $5.
123 West Ashley Ave.
This sprawling indoor/outdoor bar and grill — still referred to by old-timers as "The Pelican" — deserves credit for keeping Folly's music scene alive through the winter. Weekends bring double bookings on both the indoor and outdoor stages, with the laid-back party fueled by plenty of draft beer and a solid (if predictable) menu of burgers, wraps, and seafood. Average main: $10.
103 W. Cooper Ave.
This Folly mainstay has survived two ownership changes since it opened, thanks to the rustic, laid-back character of the environs and the relaxed vibe it conveys. Live music is a fixture, as are the baskets of wings, wood-grilled burgers, and surf videos playing on the flat screens. Average main: $9.
15 Center St.
Seven years ago, Taco Boy changed Folly Beach. Before it landed on Center Street, the idea of paying $4 for a taco on the beach seemed ludicrous, but with the helpful nudge of a trendy remodel, a likeable mascot, and a decent margarita, all within stumbling distance of the beach, it quickly became a part of Folly's fabric. Our go-to is still the Taco Boy Salad, a generous pile of mixed greens, roasted peppers, and hearty salsa. Average main: $10.
106 W. Hudson St.
Billed as a pizza and sandwich shop, this unassuming nook tucked well off of Center Street is known by locals as one of the only places on the island for truly inspired fare. Chef Jeff Butler isn't afraid to get weird with fermented tofu or his homegrown peppers that leave customers in tears over their noodle bowls. Despite limited, odd hours, the mom-and-pop operation has blossomed into Folly's culinary masterpiece, yet still remains relatively off-the-radar. Average main: $10.
39 Center St.
This stalwart pizzeria manages to pull off catering to hordes of tourist families while still maintaining a loyal local clientele. Maybe it's the smiling faces of Jessica and Kelly behind the bar, the reliable Anchor Steam on tap, or the dispensers of honey at every table to make pizza crust go down easy. A recent renovation opened up the bar to the patio, adding to this classic's appeal. Average main: $8.
Atlantic Breeze Charters
66 9th St W.
Fishing is a year-round activity in Charleston's waters, and this Folly-based charter company goes where the fish are, whether that's to a reef just offshore to target mackerel and barracuda, or to hot spots along the Folly River for redfish and trout. Based out of the Sunset Cay Marina, it's a perfect excuse to reel in a few big ones and then end the day with a sunset cocktail over the water.
Charleston SUP Safaris
83 Center St.
Stand-up paddleboards are as ubiquitous around Folly as kayaks these days, and that's thanks in part to "Big Jon" Ory, who opened his tour and rental company in 2010 after discovering the sport in New Zealand. He's earned a reputation as the paddleboard guy around town, hosting two annual races on the Folly River and leading daily tours throughout the summer on the Folly River.
Flipper Finders Boat and Sea Kayak Company
83 Center St.
There's no better way to explore the marshes and creeks around Folly than in a kayak — they move faster than a SUP and are stealthier for wildlife sightings than a boat with a motor — and this company's fleet includes rentals and guided tours with local naturalist experts. But if you're looking to visit Morris Island, Flipper Finder's Captain Dicky has that covered too, with reasonable daily tours to the lighthouse (bring a bike for a full day excursion).
105 E. Huron Ave.
The best way to get around Folly Beach is via bicycle, and you never have to worry about getting a parking ticket (although remember to have a light if riding after dark). Cool Breeze has been in the bike rental business for years, and their rates are cheap enough to justify renting a fleet for the whole family.
Folly Beach Adventures
112 East Indian Ave.
For visitors who want to try a little bit of everything, this one-stop shop next to the post office rents everything from kayaks to bicycles and mopeds to Bellyaks (which are surfing kayaks ridden face first). They also have more basic beach gear like chairs and umbrellas, plus guided tours (including an overnight excursion).
Folly Beach Farmers Market
41 Center St.
Every Wednesday evening on Center Street from 5 to 9 p.m., in the tidy parking lot next to The Grill and Island Bar, local farmers and culinary artisans gather for what's become one of Charleston's coolest little markets, including live music and draft beer sold out of the Grill. It's more of a gathering spot than anything, with the advantage of heading home with a solid batch of collards and a fresh bag of corn and tomatoes.
McKevlin's Surf Shop
8 Center St.
The original surf shop on the island still earns their reputation for supporting local riders and board shapers. They've also got a huge selection of rental bodyboards and surfboards, at rates that might beat what you paid on your last Central American vacation. Best of all, their staff includes some of the most experienced instructors on the island, priced at reasonable rates, so it's worth getting an hour of instruction.
103 E. Cooper Ave.
You'd be hard-pressed to find someone with more passion for the salt marsh ecosystems around Folly Beach than Captain Anton DuMars, whose Tideline Tour company takes guests on adventures that include learning to throw a cast net, catching blue crabs, or just sipping a cold one on a sunset cruise.
Beachside Bed & Breakfast
107 E. Erie Ave.
Quirky yet upscale, these four cozy, brightly colored bungalows offer a genuine Folly experience in themed rooms, including a '70s retro space and a bed constructed from fallen trees on the island.
116 W. Ashley Ave.
1 (800) 792-5270
Old school and classically Folly, the Holliday Inn skirts a lawsuit from their international cousin with the addition of an extra 'L' in their name. It's a charming little spot with rooms that are nicer than the exterior may imply.
1 Center St.
You can't miss this place. The giant building that Center Street dead-ends into wasn't popular with locals when it first opened as a Holiday Inn in 1985, but the behemoth has since hosted countless weddings and out-of-town friends, and its 2010 upgrade into Tides Folly Beach added to the appeal of the beachfront cabana bar and restaurant Blu.
Water's Edge Inn
79 2nd St. West
Folly's best known B&B offers nine rooms plus larger villas for rent. It's tucked away on the quieter west side of the island but still within easy walking distance of Center Street (or catch a ride on the included golf cart shuttle service).
Folly is chock-full of weekly rental houses and cottages. The primary rental companies on the island include MyOceanRental.com, Fred Holland Realty, Dunes Properties, and Avocet.
Live music is a constant on Folly Beach to the delight of many and the distress of a few. Of course, live music can mean many things. The heavy thump of electronic music emanating from the corner of Center Street and Ashley Avenue after dark may soon lead to a renewed effort within City Hall to silence Folly's streets. But that would be at the expense of the many respectful, dedicated musicians who call the island home. A few favorites:
Drop In Deli and Surf Bar
32-B Center St.
The band Bottom Feeder — think hot guitar leads, epic funk jams, and witty banter from the drummer — are frequent headlines here. What could be more Folly?
32 Center St.
Easily turning a smoky barroom into a '90s-style party room, Calhoun's Calling, featuring Nathan Calhoun, has been a stalwart Folly presence for years, This tight group of players wear their Dave Matthews' love on their sleeves.
2 Center St.
Hit or Miss, a band made up of Joel and Ward from Sol Driven Train, has grown from a side project into a consistently solid blend of creative, thoughtful covers that can even get a crowd dancing at Rita's on a Monday night.
Other bands to look out for on Folly:
Howard Dlugasch and Bringers of the Dawn — Ever since landing on Folly from California and Colorado, Howard has built a reputation as a smooth-voiced songwriter with the chops to match.
One Kool Blow — Guitarist Eric Penrod knows how to play the heck out of his guitar, and partnered with vocalist Tim Davis, the duo's take on soul music has serious bite.
Rusty Hook Ramblers — Bluegrass should be fun, and this collection of local pickers doesn't forget that for a second. Listen out for mandolin player Andy Lassiter's Folly-centric revisions to the lyrics of classic tunes.
Yellowknife — The duo of pianist Stephen Jenkins and drummer Stratton Moore manage to pull off a lot of sound with just two instruments, putting on shows that are impressive in the honest depth of their lyrics and paired with banter that's often staggeringly hilarious.
Dangermuffin — These local boys done good spend much of the year traveling the country on tour, but when they're at home, their shows still bring out a big local crowd.
Folly Beach Reggae All-Stars — This side project for a group of Folly locals manages to parody the worst of reggae stereotypes while simultaneously sounding like the very best of classic kink — highly entertaining stuff with a legit groove.
Dogs love Folly Beach — the pup-friendly signature breakfast café on the island is named the Lost Dog Café, after all — but in the steamy summer months, it's a good idea to leave your pal at home when you're day-tripping to Folly. Don't even think about leaving them in your car while you sunbathe.
Between May 1 and September 30, dogs are only allowed on the beach before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Even during those morning and evening hours, dogs must be on a leash, or the owners can face a fine of up to $500.
During the cooler months of October through April, leashed dogs are welcome on the beach at any time, except at the northeast end of the beach where the lighthouse is, which is set aside as a rookery for shorebirds.
Members of the Folly Island Dog Owners Club (FIDO) get unleashed dogs privileges, although only during specific hours at designated parts of the beach. There are no off-leash hours during June, July, and August. For more information, check out follyfido.com
Finally, bring a plastic bag. If your dog takes a dump in the sand and you leave it, fecal coliform bacteria will get into the water and next winter when you gather around an oyster table, you'll eat your dog's poop. And you'd deserve it.