The beaches closest to I’On are at Sullivan’s Island, a town with an extraordinary history.
Settled in 1670, Sullivan’s Island was named after captain Florence O’Sullivan who was stationed there as a lookout in the defense of Charleston against Spanish invaders, who claimed that any land south of Virginia rightly belonged to Spain. In June of 1776, a battle was fought at the eastern end of the island that was so crucial, its loss would have eradicated any chance of American independence. Colonel William “Danger” Thomson led the patriot forces, and Thomson Park is named in his honor.
Fort Moultrie played an equally important role during the American Revolution and is the one of the few American forts that participated in that war, the Civil War and World Wars I and II. If you are African-American, there is roughly a 50% chance that you have an ancestor who was brought through the island to be sold into slavery. Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie from 1827 to 1828. During this time, he wrote his short story “The Gold Bug,” using the island as its setting. This story earned the author more money than any of his other works, including “The Raven.”
Despite its many points of interest, Sullivan’s Island is only marginally a vacation destination. There are no hotels, the beaches have no lifeguards, and relatively few vacation rental homes are available. The town has some charming restaurants and shops but has no supermarket, major drugstore or municipal parking. There is, however, a small public parking lot next to the elementary school and another next to Fort Moultrie, both of which are free. To enjoy the beaches as a visitor, use one of these lots or compete for street parking, which is actually not on the street but on designated right-of-ways–but note: wheels cannot be on the pavement. The roads are too narrow to allow cars to park on the street.
The lack of commercialization protects the island from crowds and ensures that it remains unspoiled. Happily, all of the beaches are free and open to the public, and the public includes your dog. Pay attention to in-season rules for dogs on the beach; permit tags are a must and can be purchased at the town hall.
Access to the beaches is provided at the ends of numbered roads called “stations.” Around the turn of the last century, trolleys took Charlestonians to the beaches and further to the Isle of Palms, stopping at these stations. Each station’s beach entrance has unique characteristics that make it a scenic walking trail in its own right. Some are surrounded by vast lawns with fine estates; some have long board walks with railings and built in benches; one is interrupted by a large pond in the middle of sand dunes, and another rests beside a house with an olive garden.
At the western end of the island, near Star of the West Street, is the first station. This does not have a beach access path, but on the marsh side there is parking, a dock, and a view of a fishing pier built on remains of a bridge, formerly the Pitt Street Bridge, which once transported vacationers by trolley. My research has not turned up the locations of stations 1 through 7, although I suspect they existed along Pitt Street in Mount Pleasant.
Sta 8 with view of bridge
This station does not have a beach path.
Though not suitable for swimming, this beach is ideal for watching the sunset. It also is the only beach with a swing and affords the best view of Fort Sumter. Walking distance: 200 feet.
Sta 10 Entrance
This station does not have a public beach path.
The beach here is also not suitable for swimming due to deadly currents. What it does have is its own little parking lot and the chance to walk to the beach through the manicured grounds of Fort Moultrie. It’s also a popular fishing spot and has a short walk to the beach. Walking distance: 60 feet.
View towards Fort Sumter
Stations 13 through 15
These stations do not exist since the land is taken up by Fort Moultrie.
The path of Station 16 is lush with abundant tree cover and access to a nature trail. The nature trail loops back and reconnects with the beach, but be forewarned that this trail is not well maintained is a bit more nature than trail. Nonetheless, there are some attractive observation platforms along the way. Beach trail walking distance: 800 feet.
Station 16 Entrance
Lush tree canopy
Entrance to nature trail
Resting spot along the nature trail
Nature trail observation platform
Nature trail rejoins the beach trail
Beach at Station 16
There is no public beach path at this station. The oceanfront is occupied by the private Sand Dunes Club.
Perhaps the most mysterious and magical of the beach walks, Station 18 boasts a cool, dark, tree-covered boardwalk, a strong railing with benches, and a boardwalk that spans over the last dune before the beach. Walking distance: 400 feet.
Station 16 Entrance
Warning sign in Edgar Allan Poe font
Bench is ideal for cleaning sandy feet on the way back
Boardwalk vaults the entire sand dune
Station 16 beach
Plenty of elbow room at the height of the season
But you may resort to some awkward parking spaces
View towards ION street looks like I’On
Station 18 1/2
This station is the closest to the Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, which is maintained jointly by the Coast Guard and National Park Service. Although the lighthouse isn’t open to the public, explanatory markers have been placed which tell an interesting story.
Station 18 1/2 Entrance
View of the lighthouse
The sand and boardwalk path takes you past a wildflower garden.
Station 19 Entrance
Picket fence protecting flower garden
Boardwalk path to packed sand
Grassy sand dunes
No beach entrance exists here since land is occupied by Sullivan’s Island Elementary School, the only elementary school directly on a beach.
Station 21 features a metal hand rail along the entire stretch of the boardwalk and grassy “lawns” growing right on the dunes. This beach is closest to the parking lot on Ion Ave, named after former mayor Jacob Bond I’On.
Sta 21 Entrance
Boardwalk path with railing
Boardwalk path with marker
“Lawns” on the dunes
This station has a wide open view and roadway for emergency vehicles. Sand bars form to provide shallow warm water, perfect for the timid beachgoer.
Sta 22 Entrance
Boardwalk beside road for dune buggies
Beach with sand bar big enough to be another beach
Station 22 1/2
More manicured than others, this station boasts views of fine estate homes and sweeping lawns. If you drive straight after crossing the bridge to the island, this is the beach entry you will get to first.
Sta 22 1/2 Entrance
Straight, unimpeded boardwalk to the beach
View of estate homes, lawn and split rail fence
Raised boardwalk in case of flooding
For wildflowers, fauna, sprawling green space, and views of spectacular beach homes, Station 23 is probably the best choice.
Sta 23 Entrance
Cool grass for hot feet (and paws)
Boardwalk path through the trees
Keep the flip-flops on in the summer. Sand is hot!
Example of an easy scenic walk to the beach. Walking distance: 800 feet.
Sta 24 Entrance
Raised boardwalk path
Tree canopy entrance followed by some twists and turns. Walking distance: 800 feet.
This station is the only one with a wooden railing and three benches. Pass a small olive orchard. Walking distance: 600 feet.
Sta 26 Entrance
Last bench before the beach
Abundant sand, partly due to southern orientation
Station 26 1/2
Enjoy the shade along this partially tree-canopied path. Walking distance: 700 feet.
Sta 26 1/2 Entrance
Straight, hard-packed path
Note lack of snow fences
Beach with sandbars and troughs
This path offers a cool walk in the grass until you are surprised by a large pond directly in front of you. Turn left to get around the pond to get to the beach. Walking distance: 1000 feet (due to the pond detour).
Sta 27 Entrance
Luxurious walk to the beach
Large pond which is too deep for wading.
Follow the trail to the left
Negotiate the dunes…
…until you reach your destination
The variety of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers make Station 28 a worthwhile choice. You should also notice that the walks get shorter the station number increases. Walking distance: 600 feet.
Sta 28 Entrance
Enclosed in nature
Crooked path adds character to the experience
The beach at Sta 28.