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Folly Beach, South Carolina: The Country's Greatest Fourth of July
This most recent Fourth of July, on a beach in South Carolina, a guy named Freddie handed me a beer after I took his photo in front of his American flag. He'd just done his best Iwo Jima pose, and as I tapped his email address into my phone, promising to send him the pictures very soon, he insisted I take a turn hoisting the stars and stripes. Road trip tip: Do whatever a beer-toting, banner-flying patriot asks on Independence Day and you'll be handsomely rewarded.
Two months ago, I couldn't have guessed where Folly Beach might be. Now, I'm singing its praises to anyone who will listen. I never thought I'd be planning my first trip to South Carolina, but after a short stay in Folly, I'm already thinking about my second.
The stay: I was staying at the Tides at Folly Beach, a converted Holiday Inn that enjoys an enviable position on the sand, right next to the fishing pier at the end of Center Street. Balconies look over the water. The beachfront bar bustles with activity as the sun goes down--a fantastic live act was jamming on July 4, and other combos are frequently on stage.
The crowd: These people are here to have a good time. That doesn't mean getting sloppy drunk--though there's some of that!--but rather that the crowds at Folly have a vacation mindset. Watches aren't necessary, and what kind of appointment would you have anyway? Rita's, an outstanding restaurant across the street from Tides, serves food all day, with the bar open until late. When that closes, head to Surf Bar, a pitch-perfectly themed spot just off Center Street that goes even later.
The vibe: On a scale of one to comatose, Folly is laid back, a step shy of vegetative, even after the morning's hangover has worn off. No shirt? Not a problem. Barefoot treks to the breakfast food truck? Sure. Drinking a beer on the beach? Just keep it in a plastic cup. Riding motorcycles without helmets? Wait, how do you do it where you're from?
The beach: It's enormous, particularly at low tide. On what has to be one of the busiest weekends of the year, I had no problem finding a patch of sand not just for relaxing but for frisbee tossing. The one knock could be that the water approaches bathtub temperatures, but that's actually a plus if you plan to spend all day swimming. (You should plan to spend all day swimming.)
The show: The night of July 4, I grabbed a bunch of sparklers and headed for the beach, where explosives experts were setting up the night's show. The casualness about the fireworks was amazing, as families set up towels and beach chairs right below the blast zone. Before the official show started, we were surprised by random flashes and bangs, as people lit their BYO fireworks.
The departure: Perhaps the best thing about Folly is that it feels so removed from real life--while being just nine miles from Charleston, a city well worth seeing in its own right. That makes the beach accessible but at a small remove, a short drive that lets you mind decompress and switch into surf gear. A couple, fellow hotel guests, told me they could see the bridge back to the mainland from their room. That's not a good thing, they said. It reminds them that the real world is just a few miles away.
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