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The Charlotte Observer published (October 22, 2006) the following article by Sam Bo Ykin. The title of the article, “Upscale beach, downscale budget” discusses how to “enjoy Isle of Palms and nearby Sullivan’s Island.”

Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms — Charleston’s eastern resort communities — are known for upscale golf and tennis developments and extravagant beachfront mansions.

Folks go there to spend money and have fun.

We had fun on our recent trip there — and pinched pennies. Turns out there are plenty of affordable accommodations and things to do.

Where to stay
In the late 19th century, folks began to migrate to the breezy Isle of Palms as a refuge from Charleston’s summer heat and crowds. By the 1970s, real estate and commercial development was booming. Today, the island’s main strip is dotted with restaurants, bars and shops. And there are countless beachfront homes that rent for anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 per week, depending on the season and number of bedrooms.

However, there are also less expensive beachfront villas available, particularly along Ocean Boulevard, the narrow island’s main business district.

We stayed at the aptly named Sea Cabins, which offers simple but nice one-bedroom floor plans with oceanfront views. Sea Cabin villas have a combined living room, dining area and kitchenette, plus a bedroom, full bath and bunk beds built into the hallway.

In addition, each villa has a seaside balcony overlooking the pool and beach. The complex also has its own pool, fishing pier and coin-operated laundry facility. Rates range from $845 to $1,185 per week during summer and $627 to $845 per week during fall, winter and spring. Guests are usually required to stay a minimum of two nights.

Where to go for local flavor
These less-expensive villas are within walking distance to shopping, dining and nightlife.

Coconut Joe’s, for example, is a casual beach bar and restaurant with a spacious outside porch and rooftop bar overlooking the beach. They’ve got simple but tasty sandwiches, pasta and seafood, plus a wide variety of beer and mixed drinks.

We ordered two entrees — fish and chips and chicken and pasta — along with a couple of beers, all for about $30. Right next door is another popular bar/restaurant called One Eyed Parrot.

While a little pricier — entrees range from $10 to $20 — the beachfront joint serves up an eclectic mix of Cuban and Jamaican flavors along with Lowcountry seafood. Specialties of the house include the $12.99 Chicken from Hell, a grilled boneless jerk chicken breast simmered in a cream sauce with hot and spicy sausage and habanero peppers and tossed with fettuccine. To wash it all down, there’s a wide variety of fruity tropical drinks for $5 apiece.

What to do
Instead of shelling out big bucks to play tennis at the Wild Dunes Resort, you can take advantage of the Isle of Palms Recreation Department (www.iop.net/action.lasso?-response=recreation.html), which maintains tennis courts, a volleyball court, soccer field, a public gym (with fitness equipment) and picnic areas — all free.There’s also plenty of offerings for the fishing and water sports enthusiasts at the Isle of Palms Marina (www.isleofpalmsmarina.com), where you can find a full range of reasonably priced charters, sightseeing tours, and equipment rentals.

At Coastal Expeditions (www.coastalexpeditions.com/isle-of-palms.htm), you can take a three-hour sea kayak tour ($58 per person) through the scenic salt marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway. If you’d prefer to strike out on your own for half a day, rent a single kayak for $38, or a tandem kayak for $48.

Another option is the Barrier Island Eco Tours (www.nature-tours.com), which offers wildlife exploration trips to nearby Capers Island. These 3 1/2-hour boat tours cruise along the tidal creeks where you’re likely to spot bottlenose dolphin, osprey, pelicans, herons, egrets and other animals. The trips cost $36; $26 for 12 and younger.

If you’d prefer to stay on land, bicycling is a great and affordable way to see the island. And the area’s flat terrain, wide beaches and paved trails make it easy and safe. You can also cruise along the two-mile long bridge bikeway that connects the island to the mainland. There are several bicycle rental places on the island and in the area. Carolina Beach Cruisers (www.carolinabeachcruisers.com) is based in North Charleston, but they’ll deliver a bike to where you’re staying on Isle of Palms; their two-day bike rental is $22.

Sullivan’s Island

Sullivan’s Island, which is just across the Breach Inlet from Isle of Palms, has very few short-term rentals and no hotels or motels. But its eclectic mix of bars and restaurants is a cool and funky alternative to the Isle of Palms.

We encountered some of the island’s alternative vibe as we drove along the main road and came upon a regal looking castle complete with Gothic arches, towering windows and burning torches. A few years ago, urban planner Vince Graham bought what was once an old church, and using hundreds of tons of granite, turned it into this castle/private residence.

Just down the road from the castle is Poe’s Tavern, a dark and lively spot that pays tribute to former Sullivan’s Island resident Edgar Allan Poe, who was known to enjoy a drink or two.

On the night we were there, a hip and eclectic crowd milled about on the spacious patio and porch. The menu offers salads, burgers, sandwiches and fish tacos, with most entrees under $10. We split a gigantic half-pound burger called “Hog Frog” that was slathered in barbecue sauce, Monterey Jack Cheese and Applewood bacon and served with a mound of hand-cut fries. Priced at $8.25, it was more than enough for two.

Across the street from Poe’s Tavern is Bert’s Bar, a true neighborhood hangout that’s been a fixture for over 30 years. This no-frills beachfront watering hole is a favorite spot among the working-class locals and features (loud!) live music throughout the week.

Situated on the same block is Dunleavy’s Pub, a laid-back spot where everyone from bikers to beach bums kick back and enjoy live music, relax on the patio or watch the game one of the three big screen TVs.
Sullivan’s Island also boasts a relatively quiet and serene three-mile stretch of beach, where the distinctive Sullivan’s Island lighthouse is located. Built in 1962, the 140-foot-tall three-sided building has an elevator instead of the typical spiral staircase. You can’t tour it — this is a working beacon — but photo ops abound.

Our final stop at Sullivan’s Island was Fort Moultrie.

The fort, which at the time was made mostly from palmetto logs, was first used to defend the Charleston harbor when British warships attacked it in 1776. It was named after the commander in the battle, William Moultrie.

The fort evolved with the times through World War II and has since been turned over to the National Park Service and designated the Fort Moultrie National Monument. Now visitors can tour the fort, which has exhibits showing the fort’s different defenses over time, including during the Revolutionary War, Civil War and the Spanish American War.

The entrance fee is just $3; $1 for 62 and older — and free for 16 and younger.

Free Souvenir
Go to the Isle of Palms city Web site, www.iop.net; click “See Complete Calendar,” then “General Info”; scroll down to Free T-Shirt Offer, print out what you see and bring it to the city hall, 1207 Palm Blvd., right downtown. One free IOP T-shirt per family.

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