Best bets for beach access

If you're thinking about a day-trip to the beach this July Fourth holiday weekend, the Grand Strand or Charleston areas might be your best bets.

The Myrtle Beach area provides about two-thirds of the more than 600 public paths to the seashore in South Carolina, according to a 2006 Clemson University report and data compiled by The State.

Charleston-area beaches provide much of the rest.

Public walkways and street ends can be found every few blocks in places such as Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Garden City, Folly Beach and Isle of Palms.

Parking can be a problem anywhere, but statistics show more than 3,000 parking spaces for beach access on the Grand Strand and more than 1,700 spaces at Folly Beach, Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms.

That's important to people who live inland but who don't choose to spend a week at the beach, experts say.

Linda Tucker, the city administrator at Isle of Palms, said she expects a busy Independence Day as Charleston-area residents and others pour into the resort town this morning.

"We get a huge impact from day-trippers," she said. "You can certainly see that when a thunderstorm comes along. The exodus from town is pretty incredible."

Public access to the seashore is more problematic in other places.

Private resorts dominate the oceanfront at Hilton Head Island, leaving only six public beach access points available on the oceanfront. Seabrook Island, Debordieu Beach and Fripp Island are among the gated communities that provide no public access to the public beach.

Kiawah Island restricts access to property owners and paying guests, but it does have a county beach park outside the guard gates, research shows.

Grant Cunningham, a professor at Clemson University, said towns with plenty of beach walkways fill a need for day visitors and folks not staying on the oceanfront. But the presence of day trippers also helps the local economy, he said.

Day visitors took more than 600,000 trips to the coast last year and spent more than $200 million, according to the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

"They have proven to be somewhat of the lifeblood of some of these communities," said Cunningham, who compiled the 2006 beach access survey.