What Is Charleston, SC Known for? 14 Must-See Attractions
One of the most desirable vacation destinations in the U.S., Charleston, SC, has so much to offer both visitors and residents. Located along the coast of South Carolina in the area known as the Lowcountry, this charming little city was originally part of one of the first 13 colonies, making its historical background rich and interesting. If you’re thinking about moving to a new area, check out some of the Charleston Historic homes for sale and make new memories in one of the uniquely Charleston-style properties.
When you move to the Holy City, you’ll have access to dozens of outdoor activities you can do all year long because of the mild climate. History buffs will love delving into the area’s unique story and foodies can spend years exploring all the top-notch restaurants in the area. Find out more about some of the best attractions in Charleston and plan to visit the city for yourself.
With so much history surrounding the area, it’s no wonder history buffs flock to Charleston. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, this city had a major role in the early days of America. In fact, the state of South Carolina was actually where more Revolutionary battles took place than any other area of the country during that time. If you’re interested in this part of history, you can visit Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson or Middleton Place amongst other sites.
For Civil War enthusiasts, there are dozens of sites to visit and learn more about Charleston’s role. The first shots of the Civil War were actually shot from the tip of the peninsula, known as The Battery, towards a Union ship that was delivering supplies to Fort Sumter. Though these are the two most notable roles Charleston had in U.S. history, there is much more to be explored.
Places to Visit:
- Fort Sumter National Monument: A major landmark in the Civil War, Fort Sumter was originally a Union-held stronghold, but after the state of South Carolina seceded, the governor and Confederate general demanded the fort be surrendered. Over the course of several months, the Confederates attempted to regain control over Fort Sumter until April 12, 1860 when they opened fire on the fort, eventually leading to the Union surrendering and what is often credited as sparking the Civil War.
To visit one of the most historic Civil War sites in the country, you can take a beautiful ferry ride across the harbor to the man-made island where the fort still stands to this day. A national park ranger will guide you through some of the areas and let you explore on your own time. This is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in history.
- Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum: Located just across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, less than 15 minutes from downtown, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum can actually be found in the retired aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown. This is one of the most unique settings for a maritime museum as the building itself is an artifact. You’ll be able to see the inside of the ship as well as a number of historic aircrafts. With general admission, you can also explore the USS Laffey destroyer and the USS Clamagore And on the way out, history buffs will definitely want to swing by the Vietnam Experience exhibit spanning three acres.
- The Charleston Museum: To really learn the full scope of Charleston history, you may want to spend an afternoon at the Charleston Museum located on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. Here, you’ll be able to get an up-close look at artifacts dating back to pre-colonial times when Native Americans inhabited the area––as well as natural history items, such as fossils and specimens and, of course, historic items like Civil War artifacts. The museum also welcomes a rotating list of visiting exhibits to explore new, interesting topics surrounding Charleston and its history.
- Rainbow Row: One of the most photographed places in Charleston, Rainbow Row is known for the pastel-colored houses that line the street. Just around the corner from The Battery, this area’s history mostly surrounds the architecture of the properties and many Charleston-specific features preserved as a testament to the history of the Holy City. If you’re interested in a traditional Holy City property, check out some of the Charleston Historic homes for sale right now.
- Historic Charleston City Market: Now a bustling shopping area, the Historic Charleston City Market was first given to the city in 1788 by General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Pinckney specified the area must forever be used as a public market for the enslaved people. Although many people mistakenly believe this area was the slave market prior to the Civil War, this is actually untrue. It was a beef market for many years until it burned in a fire and was reconstructed as a city market, which it has remained since 1807. Now, you can peruse vendor stands and pop into local stores for a bite to eat or a cold beer.
Over the last decade, Charleston has become a pinnacle of Southern cuisine. When you visit or move to the area, you’ll discover hundreds of restaurants spread out through the city and surrounding areas. Though traditional Southern dishes reign supreme, many chefs are coming to the city to bring more eclectic offerings, like Vietnamese and Pakistani food. We couldn’t possibly name all the restaurants you need to try, but we’ve rounded up a few classics.
Places to Try:
- Rodney Scott’s BBQ: It wouldn’t be the South without real South Carolina barbecue. Rodney Scott spent much of his childhood in Hemingway, South Carolina, learning how to roast whole hog barbecue from his dad. But, after 25 years of helping his dad run his business, Rodney Scott partnered with Nick Pihakis and brought his style of barbecue to the Holy City. Now, this pitmaster has received the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Chef Southeast and opened an additional two restaurants in Birmingham, AL, and Atlanta, GA. If you’re going to try barbecue anywhere in Charleston, be sure this is at the top of your list.
- The Ordinary: Seafood lovers looking for a fancy dining experience should head to The Ordinary, an upscale restaurant located inside an old bank. The decor is unique and the food is phenomenal, highlighting local catches and adding new specials to their menu on a regular basis. If you’re headed out to eat with a big group of people, be sure to order the seafood tower to get a little taste of everything.
- Bowen’s Island Restaurant: Charleston without seafood is like toast without butter. And, while there are tons of great seafood restaurants to choose from, nothing offers an experience like Bowen’s Island Restaurant. Don’t expect anything fancy from this joint though. Bowen’s Island Restaurant is a no-frills fish shack that doesn’t rely on fancy interior design or culinary experimentation. They stick to what they know—and they do it well. The menu consists of only a few basic items, including classics like oysters, fried fish, fried shrimp and frogmore stew. The restaurant has been passed down through the family since 1946 and they have perfected serving up these Southern classics. Head there around dinner time to catch one of the most beautiful sunsets on their outdoor patio.
- Oak Steakhouse: If you’re looking for a place to celebrate something special, Oak Steakhouse is an excellent choice. The ambiance and the service are top-notch, while the menu offerings boast some of the finest cuts of meat in the city, along with a vegetarian option and several seafood dishes like jumbo crab cakes, lobster tail and pan-seared scallops.
- Neon Tiger: A new addition to the Charleston food scene, Neon Tiger is only one of two all-vegan restaurants in the city—the other being a breakfast and lunch joint called Gnome Cafe. For anyone visiting the city looking for an upscale vegan/vegetarian restaurant, this is the place to go. Famous vegan chef Doug McNish collaborated with local restaurateur John Adamson to create a vegan cocktail bar that serves an extensive menu of vegan options, from pizzas and fried “shrimp” to pastas and burgers.
One of Charleston’s greatest attractions, the beaches in the area are gorgeous and offer plenty of activities for people of all ages. Whether you’re looking to stay near the water like in one of these gorgeous Folly Beach, SC rentals, or you want to be a bit closer to the city, you’ll still have easy access to the three beaches in Charleston or make a quick day trip to Kiawah or Seabrook islands.
Places to Visit:
- Folly Beach: Heading southwest from downtown Charleston, you’ll find Folly Beach on James Island. This shoreline of this beautiful part of the South Carolina barrier islands stretches six miles, providing plenty of space for visitors and residents. The beach area near the pier is usually the most crowded, but if you take a left at the end of Center Street, you can follow the road all the way to the end to visit the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, a private stretch of beach with an unparalleled view of the Morris Island Lighthouse.
- Sullivan’s Island: Heading the opposite direction of Folly Beach from downtown Charleston, you’ll first find the beach on Sullivan’s Island. You could spend the day grabbing lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes in the area, or lay on the sand for a few hours before heading to Dunleavy’s Irish bar for a post-beach beer. From this beach, you’ll be able to see the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse as well as a unique view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the colorful houses of downtown, depending on where you decide to set up camp.
- Isle of Palms: If you drive a bit farther into Mount Pleasant, you’ll reach Isle of Palms, another one of the beautiful beaches in the area. This beach tends to attract more of a family crowd, but there is a good mix of people of all ages. In the summer, the Windjammer is one of the most popular places on the Isle of Palms to hang out as they host live music and beach volleyball games all season long. Restaurants and stores line the street leading to the beach, so you can spend some time dining and shopping before or after you catch some rays and take a dip in the ocean. Keep an eye out for dolphins as it’s not usual to spot a pod of them swimming by!
- Kiawah Island: Only a 45-minute drive from downtown Charleston, Kiawah Island is the perfect place for a quick day trip. Kiawah is a gated community, but you can easily gain access to the island if you’re planning to visit the beach or play one of the five championship golf courses on the island. Spend the day lounging on the shore line or visit the Kiawah River to do some birdwatching and other wildlife viewing.
Come Home to Charleston
With so much to do in the area, Charleston should be at the top of your list for places to visit—or relocate! Between the gorgeous architecture, rich history, hoppin’ bar scene, outstanding restaurants and beautiful beaches, what else could you ask for? No matter what you’re looking for, there’s the perfect property waiting for you in Charleston. Those looking to take it slow can find property on Kiawah Island, while beach bums can look to Isle of Palms or Folly Beach. Mount Pleasant is the perfect place to raise a family, and the downtown area offers tons of attractions for those looking for a more lively place to live. Check out the Folly Beach, SC, rentals to visit the area and scope out places where you’d like to move before looking for your new dream home.