Visiting coastal South Carolina has been on our bucket list for years. So we were super excited to snag a TrustedHousesitters assignment in Folly Beach this summer. Folly Beach is a quintessential funky beach town, situated just ten miles from Charleston in South Carolina.
Our housesit, located on a peaceful tidal creek, was the perfect jumping-off spot to explore Folly Beach, Charleston and other surrounding towns in the area.
We’re pretty picky about the housesits we apply for these days. When choosing an assignment, we prefer a place with easy access to fun things to do but also a cozy home base for that much-needed travel downtime.
This sit nailed it on both accounts. We could’ve easily spent the majority of the trip staring out at the Lowcountry views from the screened-in patio. But it was also just a five-minute drive to the beach and an easy 20-minute journey to Charleston.
Eating and Exploring: Folly Beach, Charleston and Sullivan’s Island
We stayed for five full days, and since we had vacation days to burn, we were completely off work – a rare treat. It was, however, August, and the South is really quite hot in the dead of summer. Go figure. So our activity was mainly focused on cooling off at the beach and, of course, fully exploring the food scene from Folly to Charleston and back again. Here’s a look at our Tasty Escape in coastal South Carolina!
What To Do in Folly Beach
Folly Beach is the kind of town that has you immediately scrolling through real estate listings on your phone because you can just see yourself living there. Locals refer to it as ‘The Edge of America” and it certainly feels that way as you walk along the 1,000+ foot long pier that serves as the town’s centerpiece.
With as hot as it was, the beach was irresistible and we made our way there as often as we could. We had access to plenty of beach equipment through our housesit (yet another perk to the housesitting lifestyle).
When we were able to pull ourselves away from the surf and sand, we were rewarded by a vibrant downtown full of cute shops and delicious restaurants. Don’t miss Bert’s Market for groceries, takeaway food and delicious ice cream.
Dolphin Eco-tour with Charleston Outdoor Adventures
Charleston’s salty marshes are the ideal home for dolphins, and I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to hop on a boat to see such beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Charleston Outdoor Adventures was right around the corner from our housesit, so it was a no-brainer to book their Dolphin eco-tour.
We boarded the Carolina Skiff in the late afternoon, and our friendly and knowledgeable captain kept us entertained from start to finish.
We saw upwards of 50 dolphins and enjoyed hanging out with the captain and the other guests on the tour. The ride was BYOB, and a couple of cans of rosé certainly didn’t hurt the experience either.
We purposely chose a later tour in hopes of catching a sunset over the marsh, and dang if it didn’t deliver. I would definitely recommend booking this tour if you want a laid-back outdoor activity on the water.
What to Eat + Drink in Folly Beach
Now, let’s get real. The main focus of this trip (and almost every trip we take) was eating our way through as much local cuisine we could find. As our bartender at Wiki Wiki Sandbar so eloquently stated:
You just sit somewhere else and eat and drink, that’s what vacation is…
Amen to that! If that’s the definition of a good vacation, we crushed it. Here’s a look at all the great food we ate in Folly Beach.
Lost Dog Cafe
Going to Folly without visiting Lost Dog Cafe would be a sin and probably a violation of several South Carolina laws. As their website says, Lost Dog is to Folly what a biscuit is to gravy.
We stopped in for breakfast on our first day in town. This charming all-day breakfast spot is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. There will almost always be a wait, but you can spend it in the lush community garden/patio. Our wait was less than 10 minutes before we snagged two seats at the bar counter.
I tend to order really boring at breakfast spots because I know they’ll do it well. I had eggs and grits, half of a fresh blueberry bagel and lots and lots of their very good coffee. Tom did it up big with the day’s special, a seafood benedict with a crab cake and a shrimp cake topped with perfectly poached eggs.
Jack of Cups Saloon
There are few things I enjoy more in this life than a chill, divey bar that also happens to serve killer food. Jack of Cups is exactly that. This was our spot for local beers and snacky goodness, like black bean hummus and red curry mac and cheese. The menu changes often and features seasonal ingredients, which is unexpected and welcome. If I lived in Folly, I would be at Jack of Cups pretty much all of the time.
Wiki Wiki Sandbar
Wiki Wiki Sandbar is the ideal place for a drink and a nosh after a day at the beach. This tropical bar pays tribute to the commonalities between Folly Beach and Hawaii, which means all the fun and colorful vibes. This place is huge and offers a variety of indoor and outdoor seating. We preferred to sit at the bar, with partial views of the water and that sweet ocean breeze floating in through the open window.
We loved Wiki Wiki’s selection of tasty tiki drinks and fresh seafood, but most of all we enjoyed the awesome bartenders who were all hilarious and offered a lot of advice on what to do in the area.
You might be sensing a theme here. Folly is jam-packed with great bars that also serve great food. We were all about this! Lowlife Bar seemed to be very popular with the locals, and it’s easy to see why. They have dubbed themselves a “chill ass bar” and that is the truth. We stopped in on a rainy afternoon and enjoyed a drink (local IPA for Tom and draft rosé for me) as well as an order of top-notch local fish ceviche.
One of the things I love most about the food in Folly is that none of the restaurants (that we went to, anyway) seem rest on touristy nature of the area. I’ve been to many a beach town where all of the eateries serve the exact same bland, fried food, knowing that people will still eat it because of their cute decor and proximity to the water. That’s definitely not the case in Folly Beach. Case in point, Chico Feo, a funky Caribbean restaurant in a fun, colorful outdoor space that serves seasonal, fresh and healthy cuisine.
Everything on the menu looked incredible, but we were there for the goat curry we’d heard about from several locals. This flavorful dish, loaded with veggies and tender pulled goat, definitely had us in a Caribbean state of mind.
Taco Boy, from what I understand, is the place to see and be seen in Folly Beach. We’d heard mixed reviews from folks around town, and to be honest we almost skipped it altogether. After all, we can always get excellent Mexican food back in OKC. However, our curiously got the better of us and we ventured into Taco Boy for lunch on our last day in town.
Arriving pretty much as soon as they opened their doors for the day, we definitely beat the crowd. We ordered a variety of dishes: chips with chili con queso, the Taco Boy half salad, Mexican street corn, and Baja fish and sauteed shrimp tacos.
Nothing really knocked our socks off, but it was solid. I think this is probably more of a place for a boozy dinner with friends than a lunch spot with iced tea. But maybe we just didn’t order correctly. Taco Boy has two other locations in the area, so it definitely seems like they’re doing something right.
Let’s Go to Charleston!
In between all of our Folly adventures, we made a couple of trips over to Charleston where history and Southern charm abounds.
Due to the heat, we decided to save most of Charleston’s tourist activities for a future visit. But we did enjoy a morning stroll through the French Quarter and a quick (brutally hot) walk along the Charleston Harbor. This city is as every bit as breathtaking as I always imagined, and we will absolutely be back for a more thorough exploration one of these days.
We would also remiss not to point out that Charleston’s history has its dark side, as it was primarily built by enslaved Americans. At one point, as many as 40% of slaves entering the United States arrived first in Charleston. We highly recommend visiting the Old Slave Mart Museum in the French Quarter, where slaves were once held as they were auctioned off at market. The staff of the museum can track their ancestry back to Charleston’s slavery, and the museum gives an important look into this gruesome period in America’s history. I think it’s so important not to overlook these realities when traveling in the south.
What To Eat + Drink in Charleston
Sweet, sweet Southern cuisine. We were definitely excited to taste our way through the city of Charleston, and we hit the ground running. There were hundreds of places we wanted to try, but with limited time we had to narrow it down to a few standouts. Luckily, we ended up enjoying almost every place we went. Let’s get into it!
Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop
My fried chicken obsessed husband’s eyes lit up immediately when I pointed out Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop. Not surprisingly, this was our first stop on our first day in Charleston.
Housed in an old garage in downtown Charleston, Leon’s serves up hot fried chicken, fresh oysters, “lots of kick-ass salads” and a swoon-worthy selection of rosés and grower champagnes. We were in heaven.
Focusing on fried chicken and oysters isn’t just a random mashup of two delicious things, it’s a celebration of how well both of these delicacies pair with sparkling wine. We paired our bubbles with a two-piece chicken plate, a half dozen local oysters and two of their aforementioned kick-ass salads, marinated cucumbers and black-eyed pea. Everything was incredible, the chicken succulent and juicy, the oysters bright and briny. I was also enamored with the black-eyed pea salad and have been craving it ever since.
This was certainly one of our top meals of the trip and we cannot recommend Leon’s enough. It’s a must eat!
Although the heat was intense, visiting Charleston in the summer does have its perks, namely all the fresh produce. One peak at The Grocery‘s menu and I knew I had to eat there. I love when restaurants put as much focus on fruits and vegetables as they do meat, and The Grocery excels at taking simple produce and turning it into a masterpiece.
This was our big “date night” meal of the trip, as it’s a little on the pricier side. That said, the quality of the food was great and our server was wonderful. As I said, plants were really the star of this dinner, from the heirloom tomato salad with cucumbers and chickpeas to the perfectly ripe peaches topped with Proscuitto and basil to Chef Kevin Johnson’s popular farm egg raviolo.
We also tried the beef short rib but didn’t love it quite as much as the other dishes.
Last but not least, I fulfilled my goal to always eat banana pudding while in the south. This sophisticated version was topped with toasted meringue and it was magical, especially paired with a glass of Sauternes dessert wine.
If you’re looking for a special occasion meal in Charleston, The Grocery is a perfect option. On a budget? They also offer a pretty tempting happy hour menu Sundays through Thursdays.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
Charleston isn’t just about the Southern comfort food. We were surprised and delighted by the availability of cuisines from around the world. We’ve been on a Szechuan kick for a while now, and Xiao Bao Biscuit seemed like an ideal place to get our fix.
Xiao Bao doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared for a wait. We went on the earlier side to beat the crowd, but still waiting around 20 minutes before getting seats at the bar.
Speaking of the bar, you’re going to want to order a cocktail to get things started. We were especially impressed with the Petra, a spicy bourbon, ginger beer and Campari concoction with Thai chili-infused honey. They also have a nice selection of beer, wine and sake available and will even make you a zero-proof cocktail if you ask.
Xiao Bao is known for their okonomiyaki, or cabbage pancake, so that’s where we started. There was so much wonderful flavor and umami packed into this dish.
We also shared the mapo dou fu, a classic mouth-numbing Sichuan pork and tofu dish served with rice. This is one of our all-time favorite foods, and while we did think this version skewed a tad bit salty, we enjoyed every bite.
We couldn’t leave Charleston without one old-school Southern dining experience. Magnolia’s has been serving upscale Southern cuisine for nearly 30 years. It’s a white tablecloth vibe, but not overly stuffy, at least not at lunch.
Magnolia’s wins for the best seafood dishes we ate on this trip. My parmesan-crusted flounder was the ideal combination of decadence and fresh flavors. The fish was cooked to flaky perfection and the parmesan crust added a delicious nutty finish.
Tom went with the shellfish over grits, a delightfully rich assortment of sauteed shrimp and sea scallops over creamy grits and smothered in a lobster butter sauce. This may just be the epitome of Southern cooking.
A Day on Sullivan’s Island
Beside Folly Beach and Charleston, there are dozens of other charming towns and islands to explore in this part of South Carolina. Sullivan’s Island, just three miles outside of Charleston, is a tiny town with mega charm.
Again, our explorations were cut short. First, do to the heat and then a mighty thunderstorm that swept through. We did at least catch a glimpse of the Charleston Light, the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse known for its modern design, before moving on tot he real point of our trip.
Brunch at The Obstinate Daughter
The Obstinate Daughter comes up on pretty much every list of best restaurants in Charleston, and for good reason. The space is absolutely gorgeous, filled to the brim with natural light and nautical vibes. The restaurant pays cheeky homage to Miss Carolina Sullivan, one of the “obstinate daughters of America” during the Revolutionary War. Obstinate Daughter calls itself a Lowcountry “food fort” and draws inspiration from French, Italian and Spanish cuisine. Sign us up. You could close your eyes and point to anything on the menu and I’m sure it would be amazing.
We went straight for that Lowcountry goodness with the Frogmore Chowder, a creamy and comforting bowl of shrimp, sausage and potato.
Sometimes the best things in life are super simple, like these geechee frites, which are basically just fried polenta sticks.
Pay attention to the day’s special. This hamachi crudo was the fresh catch of the day, and it sung with the perfect amount of spice, acidity and salt.
Don’t leave without trying one of their pasta dishes. The buccatini carbonara, only available on the brunch menu, was one of the best dishes we had throughout the entire trip.
Gone to Carolina in My Mind
Our first trip to South Carolina was better than we imagined. From the people and the food to the history and the architecture, and of course, the beach we were swept off our feet by this true Southern charmer. I know we’ll be back time and time again to see more and eat more of what this beautiful destination has to offer. Thanks for following along!
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