Best Towns 2010: Charleston, South Carolina

Best for Surfing (East)

Folly Beach     Photo: Christopher Shane

POPULATION 659,191
MEDIAN HOME PRICE $217,900
HOMETOWN HERO Ever since founding his eponymous surf shop with his dad in 1965, Tim McKevlin has been a tireless advocate for surfers' rights.

THE LIVING: Water is a way of life for Charlestonians: The city is surrounded on three sides by the Cooper and Ashley rivers and Charleston Harbor. And while some four million people visit each year to experience this graceful, 340-year-old city's sweet- tea hospitality, Charleston is more than a charming southern belle. It's got top-notch restaurants, including three consecutive James Beard Award–winning chefs (the only other town that shares this distinction is New York City), a thriving arts scene in the Design District on King Street, and a robust economy: The unemployment rate is well below the national average, while the cost of living remains surprisingly sane.

THE SURFING: With half a dozen annual contests and a stoked crew of local surfers, the Charleston area, especially Folly Beach, is home to one of the East Coast's most vibrant surf scenes. The water remains warm enough to trunk it for about seven months a year, and though the continental shelf sucks some of the power out of the waves, it's consistently rideable and occasionally epic (like when hurricanes brush the coast). Two of the most popular spots are the Folly Beach Pier, which works on all swells, and the Washout, where the waves break with more power. When it's flat or too windy to surf in town, you can stand-up-paddleboard in the surrounding marshes and sounds.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Folly Beach (pop. 2,412), a six-mile-long barrier island, is the closest beach to downtown Charleston (15-minute drive) and has the best surf. It's also more easygoing—and affordable—than the other nearby island communities.

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