From Sunrise To Sunset: What To Do On Isle Of Palms
Whether you’re day tripping, vacationing, or living on Isle of Palms, this stunning island community offers generous amenities and gorgeous vistas paired with hometown vibes. I’ve been known to while away an easy afternoon on the beach at IOP, but this time I took one for the team and spent a whole day exploring with loved ones, including my adventure-loving rescue dachshund, Rooney. By Margaret Pilarski. Photos by Minette Hand.
7 A.M. SUNRISE ON THE COAST
It’s seven in the morning and I’m already in need of a nap, but there’s no time for that when the sun is creeping up over the Atlantic. One popular spot to catch the sunrise is at the Isle of Palms pier, but let’s be honest – the sun’s going to rise no matter your location. If you’re oceanside already, throw on some flip-flops and wander out to a soft spot in the sand. Overachieving early bird? Lace up those running shoes if it’s low tide and take a lap before the crowds take over.
9 A.M. LIGHTNING BUGZ IN THE DRIVEWAY
Absolutely crucial for a gal on a mission: transportation. Mark Thorn’s Lightning Bugz rentals are low-speed vehicles that are street-legal and delivered upon reservation. While golf carts lack lights for nighttime, slow traffic to a crawl, and aren’t allowed on main roads, Lightning Bugz have lights and go up to 25 mph, giving you legal access to roads with signed speed limits of 35 mph. (They also have seat belts!) While there are a few more distinctions between golf carts and LSVs, both require a valid driver’s license and insurance, and both are great ways to explore the island.
11 A.M. PAWS APLENTY
With caffeine intake at acceptable levels and four hours of the day gone already, it’s time to socialize. For my dog, that is. The IOP Dog Park on 29th Avenue is a magnet for personalities – both four-legged and two-legged. Hounds, retrievers, mutts and tiny fluffballs play, run and sniff at this sociable spot. Regulars to the dog park know each other’s pups and personal lives, but newcomers and visitors are welcomed with open arms and slobbery kisses. (From humans and dogs, respectively, of course.) My rescue dachshund Rooney likes to sniff the entire perimeter before ferociously digging to nowhere, while my significant other, Matthew, catches up with the unofficial human mayor of the dog park, Joe Stubel.
12 P.M. HEAD EAST
With Rooney worn out, it’s time for a new point of view. Take a picnic pack out toward the water and claim a spot before the brunch crowd makes it out. In my experience, a big beach mat ever-so-slightly minimizes the how-did-sand-get-everywhere feeling, plus there are fewer opportunities for scalding-hot sand on toes and paws. A makeshift tent and a pop-up water bowl for Rooney, SPF and sunglasses for the humans and we’re ready to relax, read, and jump in the water when it gets hot. Don’t forget – during the summer dogs must be leashed after 9 a.m., even in the water.
10 A.M. COFFEE, STAT.
Watching a sunrise really takes it out of a woman. Knowing I’ve got a whole day ahead of me, I put the pedal to the metal and cruise over to The Refuge for a to-go coffee to power me through the day’s itinerary. They’ve got coffee, lattes, and signature drinks like their Mexican Mocha, plus bagels and pastries. If you don’t make it for breakfast, bookmark them for lunch.
11:45 A.M. ROUNDING UP BEACH READING
On the way out of the dog park, I let Matthew say goodbyes and untangle the dog leash while I dart over to the IOP Recreation Center’s free library. The library is a collection of books that residents and visitors have donated, and books are loaned out on the honor system. I snag The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to prepare for the new film based on Rebecca Skloot’s true life science tale and find a Bill Bryson classic for Matthew. Want to read stories inspired by the locale? IOP writer Mary Alice Monroe’s Beach House for Rent is set on the island, making it a perfect summer beach read.
3 P.M. CHEERS!
Breezy tables and a gin and tonic put the proper amount of bite into post beach life. After dropping Rooney off in the air conditioning, Matthew and I take the cart over to Morgan Creek Grill to kick off happy hour along the Intracoastal Waterway. The restaurant’s Upper Deck is the perfect spot for to indulge - although any hour along the water with a cocktail is happy. Later in the evening, the restaurant will be filled with the sounds of live music.
1 P.M. SCOPING OUT SHELLS
Getting antsy at the beach? Sitting still and sweating isn’t for everyone. Hop to it and walk the tideline for new finds. Occasionally you’ll come across a sand dollar or a shark’s tooth, but more often you’ll see plentiful whelks, lettered olives, cockles, oyster, conch or clam shells. Put them in a loose pocket and then leave a note for the next beachgoer.
6 P.M. WALK THE BLOCK
The Front Beach area of IOP – Ocean Boulevard between 10th and 14th – is a quick stroll, perfect for peoplewatching and scoping out next stops. There are some gift shops sprinkled throughout, great for souvenirs or beachy necessities that visitors may have forgotten to pack. If you’re feeling frisky, head over to The Windjammer for a game of volleyball or see who’s playing on the deck that evening.
7 P.M. QUICK DIP INTO THE DINGHY
We make a quick detour to The Dinghy right before the sun starts to set. This corner spot has a long bar with plenty of high-top tables, a screened patio where the live music sets up, and an outdoor patio with community tables and games. We choose brews and rustle up some bean bags for a game of cornhole.
5 P.M. CONES FOR THE ROAD
I scream, you scream, everyone screams for ice cream – including my mom, Sylvia. In preparation for a walk around IOP’s Front Beach, I meet Mom and we sidle up to Island Joe’s Ice Cream & Espresso. The tiny outpost has walk-up windows for ordering and tables along its two patio areas in case you order something requiring concentration, like a banana split or a sundae to share. Mom and I keep it simple with Strawberry and Mint Chocolate Chip scoops, so we can walk and talk.
8 P.M. WIND DOWN AT SUNDOWN
As the sunlight starts slipping away, we finish up our beers and walk back toward the ice cream shop where there’s a generous beach access walkway. From here you can make your way to the water and have a full view of the IOP coast. To the left, Wild Dunes and the lush lure of Dewees Island. To the right, beautiful Breach Inlet and Sullivan’s Island. Our next stop? Anyone’s guess. For now, sunset marks a day well spent on Isle of Palms.