If there’s a place in South Carolina that provides the perfect conditions for a laid-back lifestyle amid stunning coastal scenery, then Sullivan’s Island is the place to be. With quiet beaches that stretch for miles, a storied past, and strong community ties, this largely residential island facing the Atlantic expanse is everything retirees dream about as the ideal locale for living the best years of their lives.
Discover what makes Sullivan’s Island a lovely haven for people in the 55+ age bracket, and why a good number of tourists and snowbirds visit then decide to stay here for good.
ABOUT SULLIVAN’S ISLAND
Situated just 10 miles from Downtown Charleston, Sullivan’s Island is all about peaceful island living. Time slows down here, and this is a big contrast to the frenetic energy of its more urban neighbors. New retirees especially appreciate the transition from the hectic day-to-day city life to waking up every morning to the sound of waves gently crashing on the shore. It covers a total area of only 3.4 square miles – but what it lacks in size, Sullivan’s Island makes up for with its unmatched beauty and rich history.
Edgar Allan Poe and Sullivan’s Island
For those curious about the island’s connection with one of the most famous members of the American literati, Sullivan’s Island is home to Fort Moultrie, where the prolific poet Edgar Allan Poe wrote many of his great works. It was said that after Poe left the University of Virginia, he entered the military under an assumed name and got stationed in the said fort. Poe may have hailed from Boston but his writings had a Southern flair in them, apparently due to his time on Sullivan’s Island. You can read more about the myths surrounding the literary genius here.
The heat and humidity in Sullivan’s Island could become quite oppressive, especially at the height of summer in July. Temperatures around this time would have average highs of around 88°F, and humidity is at its muggiest. However, this is balanced by rainfall for most of the year. Moreover, even during the winter season, temps rarely dip beyond 31°F – a welcome change from the more frigid temps usually experienced in the northern parts of the country. It’s this kind of balanced climate that appeals to many senior adults and those from colder regions. Snowfall rarely happens here.
Sullivan’s Island is a closely knit and welcoming community with a little over 2,000 residents. While the island still has its share of visitors, especially during summer, it isn’t as populated with tourists as Charleston’s other barrier islands.
The secret to the island’s serene surroundings is the fact that it is owned by the town council instead of large private corporations who would usually develop the area, build luxury resorts, and bring in a barrage of tourists. With the community itself looking after their shoreline, they also retain the tranquility of the area and keep it perfect for a peaceful lifestyle.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO SULLIVAN ISLAND’S APPEAL AMONG RETIREES
The sea’s healing powers
If you’re a fan of the coastal lifestyle, this is the perfect retirement destination for you. Science proves that living by the ocean can do wonders for your overall physical and mental health. If you want to unwind, dip your toes in the sand, and take in the clean ocean breeze, the beaches of Sullivan’s Island are what your body and mind deserve. It boasts more than three miles of pristine beaches, with great views of local landmarks and historical attractions like Fort Sumter, the Morris Island Lighthouse, and The Battery.
The waters are relatively calm on Sullivan’s Island. The waves generated here don’t have the staying power to hoist surfboards, albeit the waters here are better suited for relaxing dips. If you are looking to take in the natural beauty of the ocean from a quiet spot on the coast, then this is the place for you.
In keeping with the community’s preservation of the island’s beautiful shoreline, there are no beachside commercial establishments here. Most of the island’s shopping and dining hubs are found inland, and there is an ample selection of shops and dining spots to be found here.
Sullivan’s Island public beach access points are called “stations”. The term started when beachgoers used to be transported to the island via electric trolleys. Stations 21, 22, and 22½ have easy access to restaurants if you don’t mind the scenic walk to lunch. These are also the most popular spots on the island and parking may be a bit harder to find around here during the busy summer season.
The homey, small-town lifestyle
With the stretch of off-white beach on Sullivan’s Island not being as densely populated and activity intensive as in other coastal areas, you can easily feel your nerves calm down as you achieve a Zen state of mind. It is this level of serenity that draws people to the island. It is secluded, pristine, and simply romantic – especially when the sun begins to set over Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the historic lighthouse.
Here’s a glimpse of what day-to-day living in Sullivan’s Island, SC looks like.
Fewer crowds. The lack of commercial development is what sets Sullivan’s Island apart from other South Carolina islands. This is an intentional move by the townsfolk themselves through the local town council to maintain the secluded, small-town feel of the island. This might seem inconvenient for some vacationers, but the good news for them is that they can check in at the nearest available hotels in Mount Pleasant which is just approximately 7 miles away from the island.
Deeply rooted in history. Since the 17th century, the island has played a number of roles in the growth of our nation. It was (1) one entry point for slaves brought in to North America; (2) a quarantine area for sick crewmen and passengers; (3) a lookout point for any hostile fleet daring to storm Charleston; and (4) a defense outpost used during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Fort Moultrie, a landmark from the Civil War, has stood strong on the island for more than two centuries and still receives tourists daily.
Quiet during the off-season. As mentioned earlier, Sullivan’s Island gets its fair share of visitors during peak travel season but is not as crowded – more so during the off-season which is usually from October through February. Residents get to enjoy their serene beach town to the fullest. It’s much easier to find available parking, favorite restaurants are no longer packed, and the tourist frenzy has died down. On a typical day, you’ll see people out and about, enjoying a casual bike ride or walking the dog. The place is peaceful, and everyone is respectful of the town’s noise ordinance.
Easy access to top-notch medical care
The beaches of Sullivan’s Island are not the only reasons why it’s a great retirement destination. This charming town is also located near award-winning medical facilities, thus, adding to the exemplary quality of life of its residents, especially senior adults.
Here are some of the hospitals and medical facilities located near Sullivan’s Island.
MUSC HEALTH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER
171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston
This medical center in Downtown Charleston is a key component of MUSC Health, the only comprehensive academic health system in South Carolina. It has been a topnotcher among all hospitals in the state for eight consecutive years in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. It specializes particularly in the areas of Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT), as well as Obstetrics and Gynecology. University Medical Center is also an NCI-designated Cancer Center, a Level I Trauma Center, and South Carolina’s only nationally recognized children’s hospital.
316 Calhoun Street, Charleston
This medical facility is known as the first community hospital in the Carolinas, having been established in 1829. It has an outstanding reputation for providing the best personalized care to patients, which is why it’s considered among the top hospitals in South Carolina.
Roper Hospital has first-rate facilities, including
- 24-hour emergency room (the first accredited E.R. department in the region)
- 332 beds
- Heart and vascular center
- Breast care center
- Cancer care
- Roper Rehabilitation Hospital (one of the best physical therapy centers in the country
TRIDENT MEDICAL CENTER
9330 Medical Plaza Drive, Charleston
This medical center has been serving patients and families in the counties of Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester for more than 40 years. It has a total of 321 beds and provides a comprehensive range of services and specialties, including
- 24-hour emergency room
- Level II trauma center
- Heart center
- South Carolina Institute for Robotic Surgery
- Trident Breast Care Center
- Joseph M. Still Burn Clinic (the only outpatient burn clinic in the region serving patients of all ages)
Below are other hospitals within the vicinity of Sullivan’s Island:
- East Cooper Medical Center
- Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital
- MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital
- Trident Health System – Summerville Medical Center
- Roper St. Francis Hospital-Berkeley
- Colleton Medical Center
Amenities and attractions
If you think that living in Sullivan’s Island, SC is boring just because there’s nothing much going on at the beach then you must know that this island still has several fun things to do and sights to see. Here are some of the attractions in and around Sullivan’s Island.
SULLIVAN’S ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
This 140-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the last of its kind to be built in the country. It may be closed to the public but it’s still fully operational and serves as a guide for ships coming in Charleston Harbor. Moreover, its slim structure colored in black and white is very much Instagram-worthy.
The island’s food scene is something that the locals take pride in. That’s because some of Charleston’s best dining spots can be found on Sullivan’s Island. Here, you’ll find a wide array of dining options from upscale restaurants to eclectic taverns.
When you’re on Sullivan’s Island, make sure not to miss the food, brews, and unique ambiance of Poe’s Tavern. This gastropub serves all-American fare and is decorated with all things Poe –from artworks featuring the great writer to recreations of his daguerreotype. It has also gained popularity for its burgers – said to be the best in all of Charleston. The Poe’s Tavern burger was even cited by the Charleston City Paper as “2018’s Best Burger.”
Burgers aren’t the only food items worth checking out on the island. Drop by High Thyme Cuisine for chef-made dishes like fried duck breast with smoked gouda grits. Complement savory meals here with your choice of brew, cocktail, or wine.
Craving some barbecue? Gather your family and friends and bring them to Home Team BBQ for mouthwatering smoked meats and savory sides.
Looking for something gives that distinct Lowcountry vibe? Go to The Obstinate Daughter for sumptuous Southern cuisine with French, Spanish, and Italian influences. The menu changes with the seasons and ingredients are sourced from local farms and fishermen.
FORT SUMTER AND FORT MOULTRIE
These two forts on the island are silent participants in the story of our nation’s founding. Fort Moultrie was only a palmetto log fort when it prevented British forces from entering and invading Charleston on June 28, 1776. Known as the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the said event is still commemorated to this day. Fort Sumter, meanwhile, saw the beginning of the Civil War when it was fired at by Confederate soldiers on April 12, 1861. Both forts have been converted into parks and are now open to the public, with options for self-guided or ranger-led tours.
EDGAR ALLAN POE/SULLIVAN’S ISLAND LIBRARY
Housed in what used to be a four-gun battery from the Spanish-American War named Battery Gadsden, this library was named after – you guessed it – Edgar Allan Poe. The island became his inspiration for the background setting of his written work, “The Gold Bug.”
This gallery features a mix of masterfully created paintings, beautiful pottery, exquisite jewelry, and many other unique artworks in wood, glass, and metal. It has a sister gallery in Charleston named The Dare Gallery.
Things to do for senior adults
Retirees living in Sullivan’s Island, SC get to enjoy the best years of their lives here, not just because of the amazing scenery and blissful tranquility that made this place a sought-after destination among senior adults but also because it offers various opportunities for them to maintain an active lifestyle.
Here are some of the activities in and around Sullivan’s Island, SC that seniors and retirees can engage in.
WALKING, RUNNING, OR BIKING
You will never miss Leg Day on Sullivan’s Island with the many opportunities for walking, running, and biking here and in neighboring areas. Mount Pleasant, for one, is a 15 to 20-minute drive away from Sullivan’s Island and offers various parks and trails suitable for all fitness levels.
Here are great areas in and around Sullivan’s Island for your fitness goals.
- Sullivan’s Island Bike Path
Explore Sullivan’s Island beaches through the 32-mile bike path that connects these three beaches to Downtown Charleston: from the Folly Beach in the Isle of Palms, then through Sullivan’s Island, to Old Mount Pleasant, and over the Ravenel Bridge. Note that summers in South Carolina can be quite hot so it’s best to take this two-hour bike trip during the winter, fall, or spring months.
- Daniel Island Trail System
This network of trails was developed with the residents’ fitness in mind. This consists of 25 miles of trails on 13 different loops. Get to see some incredible wildlife and witness impressive views of the Wando River while on your walk or ride.
- Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
This is a renowned landmark in Coastal South Carolina that connects Mount Pleasant to Charleston over the Cooper River. The bridge is around 2.5 miles long and allows you to work out with Charleston Harbor as your backdrop.
Golf is a great choice for seniors to stay active physically and mentally. When living in Sullivan’s Island, SC, residents get to enjoy this sport as some of the top golf courses in the Lowcountry are found here. Whether you’re an expert in the sport or new to it, you are guaranteed to find a golf course near the island that matches your skill. These are some of the notable golf courses where you can hone your game.
- Charleston National Golf Club
Located at the heart of Mt. Pleasant, this Rees Jones-designed championship golf course is open to the public all year round. Considered Charleston’s hidden gem, this golf course has a practice facility and driving range where golfers are assisted in their game by a professional staff.
- Daniel Island Club
This is a private, members-only club for Charleston County’s local golf aficionados. Clubhouse amenities include dining and social areas, a ballroom, a golf shop, and separate locker rooms for men and women. Other recreational facilities abound here.
- Rivertowne Country Club
Nestled in the scenic marshland along the Wando River, the golf course here is an 18-hole Arnold Palmer signature course with exceptional year-round playing conditions. The said club often plays host to several LPGA tournaments held in the state.
The best part about living in Sullivan’s Island, SC is the endless water activities available within your reach. From fishing to kayaking, there are water activities for all intensity levels and interests.
- The fishing pier at Memorial Waterfront Park
You don’t need a boat to catch spotted sea trout, red drum, or flounder in this public fishing spot. However, a fishing license or a daily pass is required upon entry. The daily pass can be bought right at the pier. You can also rent rods or buy tackles if you need more equipment.
- Fishing charters in Mount Pleasant
Fishing charters are an excellent option for new anglers or tourists because they usually provide fishing gear and licensing. The Mount Pleasant area has more than 10 fishing charters, which gives retirees the option to try either inshore or deep-sea fishing – or both!
- Shem Creek Park
Kayaking is a relaxing and fun activity for many older adults. At Shem Creek Park, visitors can use the public boat launch to drift their kayaks into calm waters. Rental kayaks are available, as well.
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