For the last several years, Charleston, SC has received a lot of attention as a top travel destination in, not only the country, but the world. And the hype is real. This charming little Southern city located along the coast of South Carolina–just two hours south of Myrtle Beach and an hour and a half north of Savannah, GA–has its own very unique culture, architecture and culinary scene. If you’re planning on visiting the area, then you’re probably going to be looking for some Charleston, SC rentals for the perfect place to stay during your trip. Visiting a new destination can be tough, though, because you’re not really familiar with the city. To help you determine which part of Charleston is perfect for you and your family’s next trip, we’ve compiled this handy guide to all of the different areas of Charleston, and we even broke up each one of the downtown neighborhoods.

Where to Stay in Charleston, SC

Downtown Charleston

Depending on the type of vacation you’re looking to take, downtown Charleston might be the perfect place for you. For locals, this is the area that everyone wants to live in because it’s at the heart of the city. Many college students and young professionals live in the downtown area, though, there is also a large community of families and middle-aged people as well. The homes downtown tend to be very expensive because of the demand, so the more well-to-do people tend to flock to downtown as well. If you’re just heading to the area for a visit, staying downtown will give you the opportunity to be within walking distance to nearly any of the downtown attractions like Rainbow Row and Waterfront Park, as well as all of the bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, there is no beach downtown, so you will need to head towards Mount Pleasant or James Island if you want to spend some time in the sun. Staying downtown will give you more of a city experience than a beach trip.

James Island

James Island is just a short 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown. This is where you’ll find Folly Beach, but you need to drive all the way to the end of James Island before you arrive on Folly. James Island is a pretty residential part of Charleston with many families and young professionals living on the island. Over the years, an increasing number of new restaurants and bars have opened here, but there isn’t much in the way of attractions and sightseeing unless you plan on driving to Folly Beach or downtown. You may be able to find a good deal on a vacation rental here, but keep in mind that you will probably be driving to your activities for the day.

James Island, SC photo courtesy of Donnie Whitaker

Folly Beach

Part of James Island, Folly Beach is one of three different beaches in the Charleston area. The houses here are super cute and more bohemian than some of the beach homes in Mount Pleasant, which gives Folly Beach a very unique and laid-back atmosphere. Staying in a Folly Beach rental is ideal for any travelers who want to spend the majority of their vacation relaxing on the beach. Folly stretches for more than six miles, providing visitors and locals with plenty of room to explore.

When you first arrive on Folly, you’ll notice there is a pier that extends into the water right behind Center Street (the main road leading into Folly). This is the most populated area of the beach, so if you want some privacy, take a left turn at the end of Center Street and follow the road down for a while. If you take this road all the way until it ends, you can park and walk out to an area of the beach known as the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. Here, you’ll see unique graffiti that decorates the walkway leading to the beach, and once you’ve arrived on the sand, you’ll notice large driftwood trees decorating the beach with people typically lounging from them in hammocks. In the distance, you can spot the Morris Island Lighthouse.

Aside from proximity to the beach, Folly Beach rentals offer you the chance to stay near some of the best restaurants on Folly. Though there are far fewer restaurants here than in the downtown area, there’s still plenty to experience. Jack of Cups is a hole-in-the-wall establishment right on Center Street that serves up a unique menu of Indian-Asian fusion and even sometimes Italian-inspired dishes. They change the menu every season, but one of the most popular dishes that keeps making its way back on the menu is the red curry mac and cheese. You can also grab a drink or a bite to eat at Snapper Jacks or Rita’s. If you’re looking for a funky bar on Folly, check out Surf Bar, a local favorite.

Isle of Palms

Another beach area, Isle of Palms is located in Mount Pleasant, which is the town on the other side of the impressive suspension bridge from downtown, known as the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge. Mount Pleasant is home to residential areas and many families, but there are two major beaches in this town where visitors enjoy staying for the weekend. Isle of Palms is the beach furthest from downtown, but if you’re not planning on going anywhere but the beach, this could be the perfect place for you to stay during your trip. Though you do have to travel the longest distance to get downtown, it still is only a 20- to 30-minute drive.

Isle of Palms, SC photo courtesy of Donnie Whitaker

The beach itself on Isle of Palms is very beautiful and tends to attract more of a family crowd than Folly Beach does–but if you’re looking for a great beach party, definitely plan to head to the Windjammer where they regularly host live music, volleyball tournaments and even a weekly bikini contest in the summer. Staying in an Isle of Palms rental will keep you close to all the action, including the other restaurants on the beach like Coconut Joe’s Beach Grill, Binky’s Seaside Oyster and Liquor Bar and Papi’s Taqueria. Whether you’re looking for a more laid-back beach bar kind of scene or a fancy, upscale dinner, you’ll find the right place on Isle of Palms. The Boathouse at Breach Inlet is a classy seafood establishment near the beach that serves up classic Southern dishes like shrimp and grits and fried chicken, alongside other dishes like butter poached lobster tails.

Sullivan’s Island

Another beach area in Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island is closer to downtown and one of the best beaches for delicious food. Although the restaurants are not on the beach itself, it’s just a quick walk from the strip of bars and restaurants to the beach. Sullivan’s Island has a unique triangular-shaped lighthouse that you can plant your chairs near for the day, or you can head farther down the beach for a bit more privacy. Sullivan’s Island beach rentals are great for large groups as they tend to be larger houses and condos, and they’ll keep you close to both the beach and downtown Charleston as it’s just less than 20 minutes away.

The Obstinate Daughter is one of the best restaurants not only on Sullivan’s Island but in the entire city. The inside has a classy but nautical feel with a lot of hues of light blue and knotted rope light fixtures. The menu features a variety of intriguing thin crust pizzas and homemade pastas, along with seafood and oysters. Perhaps the most popular pizza option on the menu is known as the Old Danger, which is a white sauce pizza topped with pancetta, mozzarella, parmesan, black pepper, scallions and a farm egg. If you’re not in the mood for pizza or pasta, try one of their more traditional Southern dishes like the Lowcountry shrimp roll or dirty rice made with chicken. After your meal, you can head downstairs to Beardcat’s Sweet Shop for a tasty ice cream treat or a cup of coffee. While staying on Sullivan’s Island, you’ll also be close to other popular restaurants like Home Team BBQ, Poe’s Tavern (an Edgar Allen Poe-inspired burger restaurant) and Mex1.

West Ashley

To the west of the Ashley River, as the name of this neighborhood suggests, West Ashley is not a part of the downtown area but offers some great attractions and proximity to downtown. West Ashley is mainly residential, but the area known as Avondale, which is less than 10 minutes from downtown, is a popular spot to go out to bars or grab a bite to eat. In this area, you’ll find unusual bars like the Voodoo Tiki Bar as well as great brunch spots like Triangle and dive bars like Gene’s Haufbrau, which is actually the oldest bar in Charleston.

North Charleston

North Charleston is–you guessed it–north of downtown Charleston. While there are some areas of this town that we would suggest bypassing, the neighborhood of Park Circle is a trendy, up-and-coming place to be. Along the main street, E. Montague Ave., you’ll discover great restaurants and bars. This street often shuts down to host events like the St. Patrick’s Day Black Party and the Rockabillaque Car Show and Music Festival. When you’re ready to head downtown, just hop in the car and drive a mere 15 minutes.

Enjoy the Lowcountry in a Vacation Rental

One of the best ways to experience the Holy City is by staying in a Charleston, SC vacation rental because you’ll get the chance to immerse yourself in the culture and the landscape. If you’re the kind of person looking for a beachside getaway, there are plenty of great areas to stay, including Folly Beach, Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island. Each of these locations provides a beach experience while also being close to the downtown Charleston attractions. If you want that real city experience, there are plenty of places to stay downtown. You can also opt to stay in one of the neighborhoods just outside the city–like West Ashley or North Charleston–to create a bit of distance between you and the downtown nightlife. Wherever you choose to stay, you’re sure to have a memorable trip to Charleston.