Folly Beach has become a hotspot for weddings, engagements, bachelorette parties, anniversaries, and all things matrimonial
by Jenny Peterson | Contributing Writer
It’s a regular scene on Folly Beach: rows of chairs arranged on the beach facing the ocean and a simple altar as couples choose to say “I do” on the sand.
With Charleston now firmly a top wedding destination in the U.S., Folly Beach is getting a slice of the wedding cake. And it’s a bigger slice every year.
“We do over 100 weddings in a year; the most we like to do in a day is two to three ceremonies to give everyone enough space and make brides feels special,” said Samantha Dehner, group sales manager at Tides Folly Beach. “It’s definitely getting bigger and better known that this is an awesome place to have a wedding.”
Beach weddings have become a significant trend in the bridal world, with thousands of couples each year tying the knot seaside on the thousands of miles of coastline. Conde Nast traveler recently named Charleston as the most “Instagram-worthy wedding destination” in the country.
As the press about Charleston continues to roll in, more and more couples are choosing to wed on Folly Beach.
So far, there are 125 weddings planned on the beach through December, according to data from the City of Folly Beach. That number peaked last year with 175 beach weddings in 2018. These were just for ceremonies, not wedding receptions, which are held at venues and on private property. About 10 percent of these weddings were at the Folly River Park and the Folly Beach Community Center.
The City of Folly Beach doesn’t charge a permit for couples to gather their loved ones on the sand to witness the act of matrimony. The city even provides beach wheelchairs if requested, free of charge.
The city asks that people who are planning weddings to let officials know in order to get an idea of safety if there are more than 25 guests at an event on the beach or at a city-run facility.
“Most people know to notify the city through property management companies, by searching the web, and word of mouth,” said Colleen Jolley, community coordinator with the City of Folly Beach.
At private venues such as the Regatta Inn on 9th Street West, overlooking the Folly River, there have been 15 weddings in just the first five months of 2019 – roughly one a week.
That’s compared to 22 total weddings in all of 2018 at the site, according to Lynn Oliver, general manager of CDI Homes, which manages the Regatta Inn as well as Water’s Edge Inn. Couples have booked dates at the Regatta Inn well into 2020, Oliver said.
At the Pelican Watch Pavilion at Folly Beach County Park, run by Charleston County Parks, there were 41 weddings in 2017, according to Renee Dickinson, Marketing Manager for the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. There were 37 weddings in 2018 and so far in 2019, there have been 21 weddings.
By far, the most wedding action is at Folly’s beachfront Tides Hotel, which handles multiple weddings in a day during the popular spring and fall season. A ballroom overlooks the ocean, and many brides opt to get married right on the beach.
Weddings in the Lowcountry are so popular, the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau publishes its own Charleston Wedding Guide to promote the industry. It mails the guide to future brides all over the world who request one.
A section devoted to getting married on the water lists Tides Folly Beach, Pelican Watch, Avocet Properties and Fred Holland Realty, which offers short-term rental houses on Folly Beach that could hold a small celebratory gathering.
Big Business beyond ‘I do’
Weddings bring big business from the moment someone says “yes” to marrying on Folly Beach. Excluding the nuptials, there’s wedding-related activities, including engagement photo shoots, bachelorette parties, and out-of-town guests needing accommodations. Weddings bring new and often large groups of people to Folly Beach.
Weekend bachelor and bachelorette parties on Folly Beach bring future brides and grooms looking to celebrate their ending “singlehood” and upcoming nuptials with friends one last time. Folly Beach has every type of activity for partygoers. Paddle boarding, kayak dolphin tours, yoga, and more accommodate these groups.
Another business getting into the wedding market is Folly Beach Golf Cart Rentals.
Owner David Chandler said he created a website specifically for Charleston weddings and wedding-related events.
His fleet includes three 8-seater golf carts and 14 six-seater carts and several low-speed vehicles that can be driven legally after dark.
“They often want people to drive them around like a limousine,” said Chandler. “I’m definitely looking to expand to that area.”
Two Folly bars, Snapper Jack’s and St. James Gate, turn up the late-night partying with DJs on the weekend, which often draws wedding parties. Generally, on any given Friday or Saturday this time of year, a bride in a white sash can be seen gyrating on the dance floor surrounded by girlfriends.
Dehner said Tides gives brides a handwritten list of businesses on Folly Beach for places to go after the wedding and suggestions for other activities.
“We recommend massage places, and we always try to suggest places around Folly so they don’t have to go too far or even leave the island,” she said.
Melora Morgan, who owns and runs Serenity Tree Yoga, has built a niche offering beach yoga sessions for bachelorette parties. She said many of these out-of-town guests are exploring beach yoga for the first time. In 2013, she created a website and had two brides. Now, the business has become its own destination activity and is featured in several magazines and online sites.
“You have all this beautiful energy and all this life and it’s beautiful because it’s open and freeing to practice in a space where you can breathe in the fresh air and connect to life,” she said.
While the popular times of the year to get married on Folly Beach are from April through June (a month marked by Juno the Roman goddess of love and marriage) and in the fall, wedding-related activities are a year-round event on Folly Beach.
“If not every day, we see a bridal party every other day walking into our back patio with a sash on to get drink a drink and go out to the beach,” said Dehner at the Tides.