Looking for hidden gems in Charleston, SC? Charleston is a place bursting with sweet southern charm and gorgeous natural scenery. Combined with its complex historical roots and bustling modern food and drink industry, the Holy City boasts several locales that both residents and tourists can visit to experience the unique vibe of this Lowcountry coastal town.
Whether you are moving to the area or just planning a vacation, you’ll want to visit popular Charleston spots like the Fort Sumter National Monument or the downtown historic district. However, to get a true feel for the city, take some time to visit the lesser-known attractions.
Discover 13 hidden gems in Charleston, South Carolina to add to your list of places to check out when you are in this historic port town.
1. Cypress Gardens
When planning what to do in Charleston, SC, Cypress Gardens should definitely make your list. About 42 minutes northwest of downtown Charleston, this gorgeous location has featured several famous films such as The Notebook, Cold Mountain and Swamp Thing. The gardens are best known for offering small guided boat tours that carry you across the water in the midst of centuries-old cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss.
Cypress Gardens opened to the public in 1932 and remains one of the best-hidden gems in the Charleston area. Tickets are under $10 per person, and the gardens are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can partake in a boat tour or stroll through the miles of well-manicured gardens and walking trails when you visit. You can also visit the on-site butterfly house to witness different stages of the butterfly life cycle.
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2. The Grocery
Located at 4 Cannon Street in downtown Charleston, The Grocery is not so much a hidden gem as a sparkling diamond among locales in the area. The restaurant was opened in 2011 by Kevin and Susan Johnson to fulfill their lifelong dream of celebrating local cuisine in the Holy City. The establishment is well known for its charcuterie boards featuring fresh, locally grown fare and exciting twists on traditional cocktails and wines.
Chef Kevin has been nominated for several James Beard awards for the innovative dishes offered at The Grocery. Locals appreciate options like the Dirty Green Tomato and Apple Bark cocktails and dishes like the Lowcountry Seafood Pilau and fried oysters.
Whether you come on your vacation or just after you move to the area, The Grocery is a definite hidden gem to those who haven’t been in the Charleston area for long.
3. Magnolia Plantation
The Magnolia Plantation is a well-known attraction about 23 minutes west of Charleston. Thousands of tourists visit the 345-year-old plantation each year; however, most of them go during the middle hours of the day. The real hidden gem of the Magnolia Plantation is when you visit the location as soon as it opens at 9 a.m. on a weekday — getting there before the crowds allows you to experience the stunning gardens in solitude and gain an unfettered look at the natural landscape.
The plantation was built in 1676, and the owners take a hands-off approach to many of the older parts of the garden. These unrestored portions are some of the oldest pieces of landscaping in America and are worth the early arrival.
Many visitors focus on the plantation tour, horticulture maze, and zoo. However, you get a true feel for the area’s history when you come early and seek out the unrestored, ancient sections of the Magnolia Plantation gardens, especially during the springtime peak blooming season.
4. Pitt Street Bridge
Pitt Street Bridge is a hidden gem with a long-standing history. The bridge was originally constructed before the Revolutionary War and was made of wooden planks that sat atop barrels. It connected Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island and, by 1898, had grown into a trolley bridge to allow traffic from Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It became Pitt Street Bridge in 1927, as it evolved into a structure for newly popular automobiles.
Over the years, the bridge fell out of use and is now a coastal passage covered in grass and wildlife. Visiting Pitt Street Bridge is exciting for history buffs and those who enjoy fishing. The pier at the end of the structure allows for trout and crab fishing, and the history and architecture of the bridge make it well worth the trip.
5. Morris Island Lighthouse
The Morris Island Lighthouse is a one-of-a-kind nautical landmark located on James Island. The structure was built just after the American Civil War and began operating in 1876. It is built in the same location as four previous iterations of lighthouses, dating back to the 1673 record of a primitive type of guiding light just after the founding of the Charles Towne settlement.
The lighthouse has played a significant role in the history of James Island. It is now owned by Save the Light, a preservation organization with a mission to protect the lighthouse from being lost to natural disaster, erosion, or collapse.
How far is Charleston from the beach? Folly Beach, located on James Island, is only about 15 to 20 minutes away from Charleston. To visit Morris Island Lighthouse, walk north on Folly Beach to gain a clear view of the candy-cane structure, and snap a few pictures.
There are no tours of the lighthouse structure; however, you can get closer to the lighthouse by traveling on a boat or kayak, although it is advised to go with a group tour rather than attempting this yourself.
6. Charleston Tea Garden
The Charleston Tea Garden is a must-see for anyone who loves tea. The garden is about 35 minutes southwest of downtown Charleston and boasts a fascinating horticultural history. Previously a potato farm, the property began transporting tea plants from the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in 1963 to create an American-grown tea.
Tea connoisseur William Barclay Hall purchased the property in the late 1980s and has since succeeded in producing the world’s only tea brand grown completely in the U.S.
Visitors to the Charleston Tea Garden can experience the beauty of Wadmalaw Island, where the attraction is located, along with an educational tea factory tour free of charge. There is also a paid trolley bridge available where you can ride through a guided view of the grounds and see the tea garden’s greenhouse.
If you’re craving a sugar rush, Charleston’s best baked goods can be found at BKeDSHoP on 99 Westedge St, across from Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, home of the RiverDogs. Voted by Food & Wine as baking South Carolina’s top donut, the bakery boasts an ever-changing menu of fluffy brioche donuts, including French Toast Waffle, Cereal & Milk and Mocha Coconut.
The premises also feature a stunning espresso bar and, unusually, a plant store, so you can stock up on a few gorgeous house plants for your new home while picking up a dozen sweet treats.
8. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
When you can’t hit the playground with the kids, there is no better place to beat the heat and humidity of a South Carolina summer than an air-conditioned museum.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry hosts interactive exhibits for children and adults of all ages, including a Pop-up Tinker Shop, Lowcountry Pirate ship and maritime ship racing. The museum also holds seasonal events like the Scooby Doodash Halloween Bash and is available for parties and camps throughout the year.
The museum is accessible for visitors with disabilities, including early opening times from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. every second and fourth Sunday for kids with special needs.
9. Coast Bar and Grill
Housed in a former 40-ft.-high warehouse in the Historic District, Coast Bar and Grill is beloved by locals for its extensive seafood menu, boasting some of South Carolina’s best produce. The chefs meet with local farmers and fishermen every day to source the best ingredients for their mouthwatering dishes, including Coast Crab Soup, Manchego Baked Oysters and Shrimp Ceviche.
Coast is also a pumping live music venue hosting Charleston’s most talented musical acts every Sunday from 7 p.m.
10. Christophe Artisan Chocolatier
Hidden away in an unobtrusive side street off bustling King Street, you’ll find Charleston’s best boutique chocolate shop, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier. The store offers stunning handmade chocolates and sweet treats, ranging from classic Milk Chocolate Almond bars to more adventurous Dark Chocolate Cayenne.
They also produce a collection of chocolate bars inspired by this southern city, including Lowcountry Heat with Pecan and Habanero and Window Box Blooms with white chocolate and flower petals.
If you love getting your hands dirty, you can sign up for chocolate- or pastry-making classes with the chocolate genius himself, Christophe Paume.
11. The French Huguenot Church
With over 400 churches across Charleston, it’s no wonder they call it the Holy City. While there are some incredible places of worship all over the city, one of the best churches to visit is the French Huguenot Church in Charleston’s French Quarter.
Designed in the Gothic Revival style, this is the third version of the Huguenot Church, built in 1865. It is a vast cathedral with towering spires, a vine-covered internal courtyard and a slightly pink exterior that distinguishes it from other churches in the area. The church organizes tours during the spring and fall, and community members are welcome to attend services and events held by the church.
One of the best reasons to browse downtown Charleston houses for sale is that they are near the French Huguenot Church and other historical landmarks. Living next to such history and splendid architecture offers you a lovely atmosphere in which to live.
12. Gibbes Museum of Art
The Gibbes Museum of Art is the only visual arts museum in Charleston. It is located near the city’s historic district at 135 Meeting Street. The attraction features paintings, sculptures, gardens, photography and other forms of art for residents and visitors to the area. The museum’s first floor is free to the public, and there are paid galleries you can view on the second and third levels.
The galleries include art from the American colonial period to the present. Their permanent exhibitions include 18th and 19th century American visual art, pieces from the Charleston Renaissance and contemporary art.
The true hidden gems of the museum are the sculptures by Patrick Dougherty, who uses branches and twigs collected from the Charleston area to create whimsical woodsy sculptures. The Betwixt and Between exhibit is a must-see for locals and visitors to the area.
In addition to the art, there are beautiful gardens you can stroll through behind the main art building. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
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13. Philadelphia Alley
This gem is located in downtown Charleston and is easy to miss since it is only a small alley between Queen and Cumberland Street near the historic Market District. Philadelphia Alley has a long, dramatic history and has survived the American Revolution, the American Civil War, two fires and centuries of change and growth in the city surrounding it.
When you visit the Market District, stop by this small, quiet patch of land in downtown Charleston. Historic houses frame the alley and give it a picturesque appearance that highlights the architecture of the 18th century.
Read the plaque detailing the story of the Philadelphia Alley and immerse yourself in the historical significance of such a place in the history of the town of Charleston.
Settle In Before You See the Sights
Before you experience the hidden gems that Charleston has to offer, you’ll need to find the perfect Charleston property for your stay. Whether you are moving to the area or looking for an upscale vacation rental, Dunes Properties is the premier real estate company in the area.
Source: Maddie Benavent/Shutterstock.comOur agents are experienced in the local markets and are ready to help you buy or rent a property in downtown Charleston or the surrounding coastal towns. Contact our team today to explore property options in Charleston or visit us online to browse our available listings