South carolina’s coast is less a shoreline than a patchwork of low-country islands stitched together by marsh creeks and mudflats. Dozens of islets dot the 150-mile stretch from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head, and each one is a unique habitat: surfers on dawn patrol off Folly, day sailors tacking out from Wadmalaw, and sea kayakers paddling around Capers by moonlight. While the season winds down on the mainland, September water temps average 82 degrees, and islanders wring the last drops from a long summer.
No certification necessary to pilot a 22-foot Catalina sloop on Wadmalaw Island. "Sailing these rigs is easy, with some common sense and a fear of God," says Bohicket Boats owner Bill Whitner. Follow the course of the Rockville Regatta—Bohicket Creek to the North Edisto River—and rent Whitner’s gear to cast-net for white shrimp ($200 per day; bohicketboat.com). At sunset, don your pastels and loafers at the oak-and-brick Jasmine Porch restaurant, downstairs from your room at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort ($396; kiawahresort.com).
Folly Beach is the South’s version of a Hawaiian surf village. The Washout—one of the East Coast’s top surf breaks—is the spot to catch the biggest rights. Nearby Woody’s Pizza is dog-friendly and beer-happy (dowoodyspizza.com), and a few blocks down is McKevlin’s Surf Shop, whose founder Dennis McKevlin championed Folly surfing in the early ’70s, and his son Tim now rents boards and gives directions to any beach bum who asks ($25; mckevlins.com). Head to Charleston for lodging at folksy Harbourview Inn ($209; harbourviewcharleston.com).
Air, the state’s only kiteboard specialist, provides gear for classes on Sullivans Island, a three-mile-long bar with flat white sand and strong Atlantic winds ($349; catchsomeair.us). It’s a perfect practice field, with plenty of space for honing skills. Nearby Shem Creek runs by Red’s Ice House, the local sunset bar scene, and The Wreck of the Richard & Charlene, the locals’ favorite seafood kitchen. Doze off at harbor-front Shem Creek Inn to the chime of halyards on masts ($125; shemcreekinn.com).
Some of South Carolina’s only primitive beach camping is found on bridgeless Capers Island, a three-hour waterway paddle from Isle of Palms Marina ($48; coastalexpeditions.com). Buy a recreational fishing license ($11 for 14 days; dnr.sc.gov) and pull out some saltwater red drum for supper. Exploring is best by the light of a full moon, when night herons and gulls turn up the marsh volume. The creekside Inn at Long Point near historic Boone Hall Plantation is base camp for the tentless ($145; theinnatlongpointbandb.com).