Looking for holiday attractions in Charleston? Let’s face it, this city is charming all year round, but the holidays add something special to the air. With the city’s historic homes decorated in all their holiday finery and dazzling light shows illuminating the entire peninsula, the Holy City is a truly magical place to be this time of year.
Best of all, there are nonstop winter activities and festive gatherings that the whole family can enjoy. From Historic downtown Charleston to James Island, you’ll have no trouble finding fun things to do to get the family into the holiday spirit.
Ready to make your trip to Charleston unforgettable? Here are a few holiday events that you won’t want to miss:
Historic Downtown Charleston
Holiday parades, sweet treats and crafts — oh my! Downtown Charleston always has some of the best holiday happenings in the Holy City. Here are a few of our annual favorites:
Holiday Market in Marion Square
For the first three weeks of December, the Charleston Farmers Market transforms into the Holiday Market. Along with your favorite vendors, you’ll also find seasonal vendors marketing their wares.
The Holiday Market also promises live music, caroling and fun activities for the kids. Best of all, there are free visits and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Come out to support the arts with this family-friendly event. On December 2 and 3, the Gaillard Center will welcome hundreds of families with cookies and hot chocolate, photos with Santa, activities for the kids and a special performance by Charlton Singleton & Friends.
Although the event is free to attend, consider giving a small donation. The proceeds go to the Charleston Gaillard Center’s Education Initiative, which focuses on providing in-school art workshops, camps, community events and other educational opportunities for kids.
City of Charleston Holiday Parade
A beloved Lowcountry event, the City of Charleston Holiday Parade delights families year after year with its spectacular floats, lively music and candy tossed to the little ones in the crowd.
Hosted by the Charleston Fire Department, the parade is free to watch and starts at 3:00 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2018. The parade commences on Broad Street, travels north on King Street and ends at Calhoun and Meeting streets.
A Christmas Carol
Back by popular demand! Last year, the Charleston Stage’s musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” sold out and received widespread acclaim.
This year, the holiday classic returns to wow audiences a second time. If you haven’t seen the production, be sure to grab your tickets before they’re gone!
Cigar Bazaar Holiday Market
The Charleston area isn’t short on holiday markets, but this one should be high on your list of must-visit markets. Set in the historic Cigar Factory, the Holiday Cigar Bazaar features eclectic wares from local artisans that make for truly one-of-a-kind gifts.
With a wide range of local and regional vendors, you’re sure to find a unique gift or holiday décor to bring home. Plus, it’s always nice to support local businesses — especially during the holiday season.
Located just a short drive from Downtown Charleston, James Island offers plenty of holiday fun for families of all ages. From it’s captivating lightshow to its family-friendly market, here are a couple of holiday events worth attending this year:
Holiday Festival of Lights
Without a doubt, the biggest holiday event on James Island is the Holiday Festival of Lights. Now in its 29th year, this spectacular lightshow features about two million dazzling lights spanning three miles.
Each year, families from all over the country make their way to James Island to partake in this exciting event. Along the three-mile drive, visitors can park the car and experience family train rides, marshmallow roasting and interactive lakeside lights, as well as myriad shopping and dining opportunities.
The big event will be open nightly until just after the New Year.
James Island Holiday Market and Movie
Starting December 7, say goodbye to the James Island Fall Festival Market and hello to the Holiday Market! This year, your favorite holiday vendors will bring a variety of local crafts, produce and more.
The kids will have a blast partaking in holiday workshops, bouncy castles, crafts and food. At dusk, “Polar Express” will play on the big screen.
With its small-town charm and lively celebrations, Mount Pleasant, S.C. is the perfect place to usher in the holidays. Make your way across Ravenel Bridge from Downtown Charleston and discover lit-up trees, boat parades, local holiday shopping and other festivities in this fast-growing suburb.
On December 8, be sure to catch all the boats decked out in their festive décor and lights as they sail from the Cooper River through the Charleston Harbor and into the Ashley River. This annual event ends with a spectacular display of fireworks over the harbor.
This Lowcountry holiday tradition is not to be missed! The event kicks off at 5:00 p.m. and is completely free to watch. For prime viewing of the holiday boat parade, check out Mount Pleasant’s Waterfront Park or the South Carolina Aquarium.
Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade
December 9, don’t miss the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at Moultrie Middle School in Mount Pleasant, followed by a dazzling display of fireworks. Immediately following the tree lighting, get ready to take in the festive Christmas parade.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., more than 100 festive floats will make their way down Coleman Boulevard and through the intersection of Patriots Point Road and W. Coleman Boulevard. The kids will adore catching a glimpse of Santa and experiencing the lively marching bands that make their way past.
If you’re staying in the West Ashley area, you’re in luck. Located relatively close to the West Ashley area are two of Charleston’s most stunning plantations: Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
Both plantations are worth a visit anytime, but they are especially inviting during the holiday season. Decorated in holiday finery and featuring plenty of kid-friendly holiday activities, the two historic plantations host spectacular events the entire family will enjoy.
Family Yuletide at Middleton Place
Each year, families all over Charleston flock to Middleton Place for its annual Family Yuletide in the Stable Yards. This event encourages families to create their own nature-inspired holiday décor around warm fires as blacksmiths, potters and seamstresses work their trades by candle-light.
There will also be a live nativity scene that features a few animals from the stable yards at Middleton Place. With actors in period dress and old-fashioned décor, the kids will get an opportunity to see what life was like in the 18th century.
Children’s Village at Magnolia Plantation
Bring the entire family — including the dog — to Magnolia Plantation for its annual Children’s Village. Starting in December, this yearly event is centered around exciting holiday activities for the little ones.
Kids can wander down Candy Cane Lane and visit Santa’s workshop, the Candy Factory, Gingerbread House, the Elf Bunk House and other fun stops. Each weekend, the Holiday Children’s Village adds a special theme to enhance the event’s charm.
North Charleston may be somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Charleston. But make no mistake — this fast-growing neighborhood boasts its own lively dining scene and exciting events.
If you’re in the North Charleston area for the holidays, be sure to check out the following events:
Christmas Tree and Lights in the Circle
Don’t mIss the Christmas tree and festive lights on the front lawn of the Felix C. Davis Community Center. Every year, the mayor lights the spectacular 40-foot tree to kickstart the holiday season.
After the ceremony, stroll around Park Circle to catch a 360 view of the tree and take in other stunning light displays.
North Charleston Christmas Parade and Festival
The Christmas Parade and Festival is one of North Charleston’s best holiday events. December 8, the Christmas Parade kicks off at 5:00 p.m. at the corner of East Montague and Mixson avenues. In previous parades, live music and DJs warmed up the crowd before the parade sets off.
After the parade, kids can enjoy activities such as bouncy castles, petting zoos and hay rides. There will also be caroling and visits with Santa.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for a live performance, that is. On December 19, bring the entire family to see this musical rendition of one of America’s most beloved television specials.
Held at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, the production will highlight everyone’s favorite characters, including Hermey the Elf, Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snow Monster. Get your tickets now and treat the entire family to a show that everyone is bound to enjoy.
Isle of Palms
Isle of Palms — or IOP to those in the know — is the perfect place for families to escape from the cold. Although it’s bordered by pristine beaches, IOP offers visitors far more than a relaxing beach getaway.
Check out the following IOP holiday events that are guaranteed to liven up your seaside vacation:
Holiday Street Festival
The Isle of Palms annual Holiday Street Festival promises a good time for locals and visitors alike. Full of carnival rides, bouncy castles, face painting, local music and food, the Holiday Street Festival is sure to get the grumpiest of grinches into the holiday spirit.
The fun starts December 1 at 2:00 p.m. and runs until 7:00 p.m. Don’t forget to stick around for the special Christmas tree lighting that happens on Front Beach at 5:30!
Happy Holidays from Dunes Properties!
Whether you call Charleston home or you’re simply visiting for the holidays, the city never fails to make this season special. With its many tree lighting ceremonies, shopping opportunities and family-friendly activities, there is something for the entire family to enjoy in Charleston.
If you need help finding a place to stay in Charleston, get in touch with us! We’ll help you find the right accommodations to make your holiday vacation truly spectacular.
Get ready for another Charleston Restaurant Week – January 10-21, 2018! The event, carried out by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, Inc (GCRA), is one of the most highly anticipated culinary events here in the Charleston area. It is a fantastic opportunity to try some of the best cuisine the Lowcountry has to offer. Participating restaurants offer prix fixe lunch and dinner menus throughout the area. Here is a “taste” of some of the participating restaurants:
Ink and Ivy – Downtown Charleston
This eclectic restaurant offers delectable American cuisine, from raw and fresh seafood, to seared certified angus steak. Start your meal with a cool cocktail or choose from a variety of craft beers with both local and international appeal. Whether your looking for an edgy date night or just a late night drink, you’ll find that they have something for everyone. For restaurant week, Ink and Ivy is offering 4 courses for $35
492 – Downtown Charleston
History buffs will appreciate the extensive renovation of this charming restaurant. The building dates back to the early 1800s and sat abandoned since Hurricane Hugo. During renovations, spearheaded by local architect Reggie Gibson, as much of the original building was left intact as possible. The interior features a contemporary dining room downstairs, a romantic space upstairs, and a picturesque courtyard overlooking King Street. At 492, enjoy executive Chef Josh Keeler’s award-winning cuisine from lamb to swordfish, just be sure to save room for one of their scrumptious desserts!
Coast Bar and Grill – Downtown Charleston
For those of you looking for some fresh catch, Coast Bar and Grill might just be the place for you. Their chefs meet every day with local farmers and fishermen to purchase the freshest seafood and produce in the area. Local favorites include a selection of wood-grilled fresh fish, seared tuna, fish tacos and the full raw bar. For restaurant week, Coast will be serving 3 courses for $30
Stella’s – Downtown Charleston
If you are looking for something different from the typical Lowcountry cuisine, try Stella’s. This classy throwback diner offers traditional Greek dishes and shareable meze (happy hour with small pates and drink specials) along with a special Mediterranean style Sunday brunch. Special for Resaturant Week is $10 Apps/Meze and $20 Entrees/Main.
Looking to nosh outside of the downtown Peninsula? There are plenty of participating restaurants in Charleston’s surrounding communities too!
The Granary – Mt. Pleasant
Enjoy a Lowcountry inspired menu in the heart of Mt. Pleasant. The Granary’s menu focuses on the seasonal ingredients from the region that are sourced from local farms. The menu boasts a selection of Southern staples including baked oysters, fried chicken, and duck pot pie. Top it off with their signature seasonal punch, that they conveniently keep on tap. For restaurant week, The Granary is offering a number of 3 course options for $30.
Al Di La – West Ashley
Al Di La, a small West Ashley gem, is home to a lively bar and some of the most delicious homemade pastas this side of the Atlantic. They are also known for crafting amazing specialty drinks. The cozy dining room is a popular spot, especially during Restaurant Week when they offer an extensive menu with more choices than some other participating spots. You cannot go wrong with their Duck Confit Tagliatelle and their Fettucine Bolognese is pretty special. Offering: 3 for $25, 3 for $33, or 4 for $42
Tomasso at Turtle Point – Kiawah Island
Yes, Charleston Restaurant Week spreads all the way out to Kiawah Island! Enjoy authentic Italian dishes from Chef Derick Wade while overlooking the Turtle Point Golf Course. Start any meal off with a bowl of warm tomato basil bisque. For restaurant week, Tomasso will be serving 3 courses for $30.
There are so many terrific choices to dine in and around Charleston. For the full list of participating restaurants and their featured menus, check out the Restaurant Week page.
It’s been another exceptional year for Charleston. Voted the No. 1 City in the U.S. for the fifth consecutive year, it seems that the Holy City is like fine wine—it only gets better with age. If you’re already making plans next year, here is a list of 2018 Charleston Events you won’t want to miss. The city’s best events and favorite traditions are set to be bigger and better than ever, from Lowcountry oyster roasts to the highly anticipated Spoleto Festival.
Best of all, each season brings something new and exciting for visitors and locals. With so many great activities, festivals, and 2018 Charleston events, how can you possibly choose which ones are worth attending? To make things easier for you, we’ve rounded up a list!
Charleston Winter Events
Whether you live in Charleston or you’re here to escape the biting cold in a cozy beach rental, there are plenty of fun events happening in the winter. The Holy City has something for everyone.
Charleston Restaurant Week
Jan. 10 – 21, 2018
Each year, locals and tourists alike look forward to Charleston Restaurant Week. For 11 days, participating restaurants in the Holy City delight diners by offering great food at amazing prices. With some of the top culinary establishments participating in this event, food lovers can’t miss this opportunity. This is your chance to sample cuisine from the Holy City’s most talented chefs, all for unbeatable prices!
Charleston Jazz Festival
Jan. 18 – 21, 2018
Are you a fan of jazz? You won’t be disappointed with the performances at the Charleston Jazz Festival. Now in its fourth year, this year’s festival is back with an impressive lineup of musicians. Along with Charleston’s most celebrated home-grown talent, some of the world’s best-known jazz musicians will give performances, including Kenny G and Carmen Bradford. Expect to see a bit of everything here, from Gullah contemporary to Disney-meets-jazz performances.
Lowcountry Oyster Festival
Jan. 28, 2018
Each year in January, locals and tourists flock to Boone Hall Plantation for the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival. As the world’s largest oyster festival, this legendary event is one of the most highly anticipated bivalve festivals in the South. Celebrating its 35th year, the festival is always a great way to start the new year. Live music, wine and craft beer, scrumptious oysters and eating contests await you at this fun-filled event. Get your tickets now to secure your spot!
2018 Carolina Challenge Cup
Feb. 17 – 21, 2018
Football may be the dominant sport in the South, but soccer fans are alive and well in Charleston. The 2018 Carolina Challenge Cup will take place in February, and the Charleston Battery is thrilled to host. This year, the four-team event will see Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United, Columbus Crew SC, Charleston Battery, and Minnesota United FC battling it out for the Challenge Cup. Opening the tournament will be Atlanta against Columbia Crew on February 17th. Mark your calendars, soccer fans!
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE)
Feb. 16 – 18, 2018
If you love animals and nature, the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (SEWE) is for you. This three-day celebration of wildlife and land is the largest of its kind in the country, jam-packed with fun for all ages. Taking place in downtown Charleston at multiple venues, attendees will enjoy food and drink as they view fine art, listen to wildlife experts, witness sporting demonstrations, and share a collective love of animals with fellow guests. This event sells out quickly, as do hotel rooms in the downtown Charleston area. Book your tickets and rooms in advance to avoid missing out!
Charleston Spring Events
There is arguably no better time to visit Charleston than in the spring. The azaleas and dogwoods are in bloom, temperatures are mild, and the season brings some of the Holy City’s most highly anticipated events.
Charleston Wine + Food Festival
February 28 – March 4, 2018
If you consider yourself a foodie, attending the Charleston Wine + Food Festival is a must. Each year, top chefs, winemakers, food enthusiasts, and artisans celebrate their passion for food in this five-day event at Marion Square. Consisting of over 100 events, the festival has something for everyone. Our advice is to come hungry and be prepared to sample some of the finest flavors of the Lowcountry!
Charleston Antiques Show
March 16 – March 18, 2018
Whether you consider yourself an antique enthusiast or simply enjoy browsing the fine art and furnishings, the Charleston Antiques Show is sure to delight. Each year, antique collectors and enthusiasts flock to the Holy City to take part in this three-day event. Come marvel at the beautiful furnishings, jewelry, and art spanning from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Lectures and tours will give attendants the chance to learn about the history behind these antiques, along with how to incorporate them into modern-day décor.
Spoleto Festival USA
May 25 – June 18, 2018
This wouldn’t be a proper list of events without the much-loved Spoleto Festival. Each year, the world’s most talented and engaging performers descend upon Charleston’s historic theatres, music halls, churches, and outdoor spaces to delight audiences in this charming coastal city. In our Insider’s Guide to Spoleto, we talked about the superb lineup of artists and which performances were worth seeing in last year’s festival. The festival was so successful that it sold more than 61,000 tickets and generated $3.1 million in ticket sales! It’s hard to imagine how Spoleto Festival 2018 can possibly top last year’s performances, but the performing arts festival only seems to get better each year. Also, don’t forget to attend the Piccolo Spoleto Festival! This celebration showcases local artists in the Southeast region and features events that take place all around the Holy City.
Spring Festival of Houses and Gardens
March 15 – April 21, 2018
For history and architecture buffs, the Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens needs to be on the bucket list. Presented by the Historic Charleston Foundation, this 5-week event gives festival-goers the chance to tour the homes and gardens of some of the Holy City’s most beautiful residences. This isn’t your everyday tour by carriage down the South of Broad in Historic Charleston. During the 71st Annual Festival of Houses and Gardens, you get to see a side of Charleston that few ever experience. Enchanting gardens, magnificent doorways, and renowned architecture await you at this can’t-miss event!
Charleston Fashion Week
March 13 – 17, 2018
If you have a passion for fashion, be sure to catch Charleston’s premier fashion week held in Marion Square. Featuring Charleston’s most fashionable designers, boutiques, models, and trend-setters, this five-night event includes runway shows, shopping, trendy after-parties and more. Ready to get glam in 2018? Find out more about Charleston Fashion Week on their website and purchase your tickets in advance.
Charleston Summer Events
Sure, it can get hot in the Holy City in the summer. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself at one of Charleston’s summertime events!
Bands, Burgers, and Brews Burger Throwdown
If you’re located in the Mount Pleasant area, you can’t miss the fourth annual Bands, Burgers, and Brews Burger Throwdown.Hosted at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, watch as your favorite Lowcountry chefs battle it out for their chance to compete in the World Food Championship 2018.
Charleston Carifest 2018
June 21 – 24, 2018
Attend this Caribbean carnival event and make fond memories with the kids! Each June, the Charleston Carifest is a four-day event filled with food, music, fun, and costumes that will delight audiences of all ages. Held in honor of Caribbean American Heritage Month, Charleston Carifest is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Caribbean culture and see the artistic talents of the Caribbean people. The festival ends on Saturday with a Carnival Day Parade!
Fourth of July Fireworks at Patriots Point
4th of July, TBA
If you’re going to take in the stunning fireworks display in Charleston, there is no better place to do it than onboard the USS Yorktown. Located on the Charleston Harbor at Patriots Point, guests can watch the fireworks while enjoying live music, barbeque, and complimentary drinks. Tickets sell out quickly, so be sure to plan accordingly. If you’d rather not pay to watch aboard the USS Yorktown, you can always view the display for from the grassy area near the shore.
Who wouldn’t want to spend their summer sampling some of the finest margaritas in the Lowcountry? The 2nd annual Margarita Festival was one of the most popular cocktail events of 2017, and we’re already looking forward to sampling some delicious margaritas in 2018. To no one’s surprise, last year’s event sold out. With Charleston’s hottest bars creating the finest margaritas in the Lowcountry, the festival was bound to be a wild success. Mex 1 Coastal Cantina was the winner of the 2017 margarita competition, but who will take the title in 2018?
Sweet Tea Festival
Third Thursday in September
Minutes from Charleston, the town of Summerville will host its seventh annual Sweet Tea Festival in 2018. Featuring live music, sweet tea vendors, and savory eats, this festival is fun for the entire family. The event is held on the third Thursday in September, easing folks into the fall season. That should mean that it won’t be unbearably hot as you explore the many unique shops in downtown Summerville, while sipping your sweet tea and enjoying the diverse musical talents of local Lowcountry artists.
Charleston Fall Events
Saying goodbye to summer is sad, in a way, but the fall season in Charleston brings exciting festivals and events. Here are the ones that you can’t miss:
MOJA Arts Festival
September 27-Oct 7
In 2018, the 35th annual MOJA Arts Festival will usher in the changing of Charleston’s seasons with a celebration of African-American and Caribbean Arts. Music, art, theatre, dance, and other performance arts promise to wow audiences in an exciting lineup. MOJA, which means, “one” in Swahili, symbolizes the harmony of one community. Join in the fun and enjoy ethnic food, traditional crafts, children’s events, jazz, poetry readings, and much more!
Taste of Charleston
After forgoing the fall festival last year for the first time in 36 years, Taste of Charleston food festival is finally returning in 2018. What can we expect from this year’s lineup? Hosted by the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association (GCRA), the event is usually held at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. This year, the location has yet to be announced. Our guess is that we can expect the usual culinary delights from the Lowcountry’s favorite casual and fine dining establishments. However, there has been interest in adding Charleston food trucks to the event to attract extra people this year. Regardless of the location, Taste of Charleston is one of the city’s best annual events. Check the GCRA’s website for the latest news and get ready to mark this event on your calendar!
Annual Oktoberfest on Daniel island
Attending the Annual Oktoberfest on Daniel Island is another great way to kick off harvest season. Grab the entire family and enjoy live music, seasonal beers, special German foods, and a host of Oktoberfest activities. Play a game of cornhole with the kids or show your competitive side by participating in the popular Bavarian Games, where adults compete for the title of Oktoberfest. With each year, the festival adds more attractions and just keeps getting better.
Annual Harvest Festival
Nov. 2018, TBA
Back in the days of early settlement in Charleston, farming families would gather to celebrate the bountiful fall harvest and give thanks. To keep this wonderful tradition alive, the Annual Harvest Festival was born. Held on scenic Johns Island, the festival is a joyous event for the entire family. You can always count on the Harvest Festival for live music from local musicians, hay rides, pumpkin decorating, crafts, and delicious Southern food.
If you know a bookworm, you should check out YALLFest. This popular book festival features more than 70 young adult authors who give keynote talks at Blue Bicycle Books on King Street and connect with their audience through panels and book signings. Last year’s festival was a huge success, with special appearances by some of the hottest names in YA fiction, including Veronica Roth, Cora Carmack, Cassandra Clare and David Levithan. Put this in the calendar and come out for the weekend to celebrate reading and writing!
As the new year approaches, we’re looking ahead to see what’s in store for Charleston in 2018. One thing is for certain. Whether you are a fortunate resident or planning a visit in the coming year, you’ll find plenty of fun events to attend year-round in this charming Southern town.
The holidays in historic Charleston are full of festive parades, Christmas lights, and holiday art performances! If you’re planning to visit Charleston during the holidays, you’ve made the right choice.
Visiting Charleston in the winter is a great way to escape the cold, and there is no shortage of fun holiday activities for the entire family to enjoy. Whether you want to relax in a beach vacation rental and sip hot cider or explore historic Charleston and take part in the seasonal festivities, the city is a great place to usher in the magic of the holiday season.
Ready to kick off the holiday season, Holy City-style? Here are some of the best ways to experience the holidays in Historic Charleston:
Charleston Holiday Parades
Craft brews, delicious food, live music, and family-friendly activities can all be found at one of the many holiday parades in Charleston this year. Here are a few that can’t be missed:
City of Charleston Holiday Parade
When: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake, Broad Street, King Street, and concluding at Marion Square
The Holiday Parade is one of Charleston’s best traditions. Hosted by the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department, the parade will feature bands, performers, floats, and other entertainment to celebrate the season and get your family into the holiday spirit.
Holiday Parade of Boats
When: December 9, 2017, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Charleston Harbor
Another beloved Lowcountry tradition, the 36th Annual Holiday Parade of Boats offers a dazzling display of lights as boats decorated for the season sail past the viewing docks.
Part of the fun is attending the parade’s official viewing party! Located at the Charleston Maritime Center, guests can snack on festive foods and listen as their favorite holiday carols fill the air.
Small Town Beach Parades
Are you staying in a cozy beach vacation rental? You’ll want to experience at least one beach town parade during the holiday season.
One that can’t be missed is the annual Christmas Parade on Folly Beach. On December 9th, Santa will parade through the streets of Folly Beach as candy and other goodies are handed out to the kids.
Staying in the Town of Mount Pleasant? Check out their quaint parade. A tree-lighting and fireworks display will kick things off before more than 100 floats parade down Coleman Boulevard, delighting all who attend.
28th Annual Holiday Festival of Lights
There is no doubt about it—Charleston has some of the best festivals in the country. From Spoleto to the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, there is always something to look forward to, and the Holiday Festival of Lights is no exception.
Now in its 28th year, the Annual Holiday Festival of Lights is back and promises to deliver more excitement than ever before. Held at James Island County Park, the event is known for its three miles of stunning, multicolored light displays, and it has been named one of the “10 Best Holiday Light Shows in America” by USA Today.
The festival is more than just a driving tour; the Holiday Festival of Lights organizers welcome visitors to park their cars and explore the large, decorated walking path, visiting shops and partaking in holiday activities along the way.
The event runs from November 10th to January 1st, giving you ample opportunities to experience a magical evening that will create cherished memories for years to come.
Tree-Lighting Ceremonies in Charleston
Tree-lighting ceremonies mark the beginning of the holiday season for many people, and Charleston kicks things off with multiple tree lightings. From the official Charleston tree lighting to the celebration of Chanukah, the following tree-lighting ceremonies are sure to dazzle and delight the entire family:
Charleston Official Tree Lighting
When: December 3, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
If you thought Charleston’s church steeples were a beautiful sight, imagine a 64-foot lighted tree against Charleston’s skyline. Attend early to experience the festive performances from music and arts organizations in Marion Square, which will culminate the lighting of the 64-foot Holiday Tree of Lights.
Chanukah in the Square
When: December 17, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
This festive party is free and features music, dancing, and, of course, the lighting of the nine-foot Menorah. Charleston’s local Holocaust survivors continue the tradition of lighting the Menorah in this special Jewish celebration.
With special treats, including potato latkes and other traditional Chanukah foods, you will want to bring your appetite to this event!
Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting
When: December 26, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
For more than 40 years, Charleston has kicked off Kwanzaa celebrations with a special lighting of the Kwanzaa Kinara in downtown Charleston at Marion Square. Join the community in the celebrations and enjoy music, dancing, and readings from Lowcountry Kwanzaa leaders.
Light the Lake
When: December 1, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake Park
Stop by one of Charleston’s most popular parks for the Colonial Lake Christmas Tree Lighting! Enjoy food trucks and hot cocoa and a DJ playing your favorite holiday tunes as the famous Charleston Christmas Tree is lit in the middle of the lake, glimmering for all to see.
Holiday Performing Arts
Charleston has boasted a thriving arts scene for years. From improv comedy to musical performances, the Holy City always has fine performances being held in one of its historic venues.
The holidays are the perfect time to catch a festive show with the family. Whether you want a family-friendly musical performance or wish to celebrate the season with your significant other, these shows are sure to be a delight:
Annie – Dec. 1 – 17
For a family-friendly performance, be sure to catch Annie at the Footlight Players Theatre on Queen Street. This musical will warm everyone’s heart with the tale of a little orphan girl’s quest to find her family.
A Christmas Carol – Nov. 29 – Dec. 20
Presented at the historic Dock Street Theatre, the Charleston Stage brings the critically acclaimed musical adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale to life this year. Prepare to be dazzled by colorful costumes, a live orchestra, and a professional cast that will help you ring in the holidays.
A Christmas Story, The Musical – Dec. 22 – 24
Laugh along with the entire family with the hilarious tale of Ralphie Parker’s desperate quest to get an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando, this new Broadway musical will be coming to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center just in time for Christmas.
Holiday Strings – Dec. 13
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra (SCO) string quartet is sure to get you into the holiday spirit with Holiday Strings, a performance featuring your favorite holiday tunes. Held at the historic Charleston Library Society on King Street, don’t miss your chance to mingle with the musicians at the reception following the concert.
Nutcracker – Dec. 2 – 3
This holiday classic has become synonymous with Christmas and is now a treasured holiday tradition for fans of ballet. Take in the magical sights and sounds at the Charleston Gaillard Center this December and witness the adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s famous composition.
Holiday Cabaret, Dec 1-22
Stuffed with your favorite holiday songs, Charleston’s best original Christmas show is bound to get you singing along. Hosted by the Charleston Performing Arts Center, this cheery cabaret brings C-PAC’s signature Reindeer for pure, holiday fun. Check out their “Dinner and a Show” tickets for a mouth-watering 3-course dinner at Edison, followed by the show at the theatre!
Holiday Runs for Charity Organizations
The holidays are a time to partake in charitable giving. What better way to give back than by signing up for a holiday race?Get some healthy exercise and give back this holiday season by participating in one of these holiday runs:
4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K
Presented by Fleet Feet Sports, the 4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K is charitable fun for the entire family. Whether you’re running with your kids in the one-mile kid’s fun run or tackling the 5K, you’ll get a warm feeling inside at the end of the race. Whether this feeling is from the complimentary hot cocoa you get at the finish line or from supporting the Lowcountry Food Bank, we can’t be certain.
27th Annual Reindeer Run – Dec. 2
Run through the lower peninsula of downtown Charleston in this family-oriented, pet-friendly race! Presented by Half-Moon Outfitters, the 5K run/walk starts near the corner of East Bay and Queen Street, taking participants along the beautiful Charleston Battery. Funds generated from the Reindeer Run will help build the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital that will open in 2019.
2017 Jingle Bell Run – Dec. 9
Support the Arthritis Foundation this holiday season by racing in the Jingle Bell Run. This run will help raise awareness and funds for America’s #1 cause of disability.
Held at Riverfront Park, you can run with a team of friends and family or fly solo, with 100 percent of your registration fee going toward a great cause!
Other Holiday Happenings
It’s impossible to list all the fun events during the holidays in historic Charleston. If you’re looking for a few more festive events to do in the Holy City, these are some of our recommendations:
Holiday Market at Marion Square
Take advantage of Charleston’s mild weather and venture through the Holiday Market at Marion Square. In addition to the regulars, holiday vendors will feature festive foods, art, and produce. Listen to the live band, take part in the Christmas carols, and let the kids get free visits and photos with Santa.
Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston-Alston House
On a regular day, stepping inside the Edmondston-Alston House will have you feeling as though you’ve traveled back in time. On Dec. 1 and 8, the historic house will be decorated like it would have been in 1860, allowing you to experience Christmas in Charleston just before the beginning of the Civil War.
For history buffs, this one is a can’t miss. The theatrical performers are adorned in period costumes and shed light on what life would be like before their lives would forever change.
Family Yuletide in the Stableyards
On Saturday, December 15, historic Middleton Place presents “Family Yuletide in the Stableyards,” a holiday favorite for families in Charleston. Gather around a warm fire for a night of storytelling, caroling, and craft demonstrations. The live nativity scene featuring the plantation’s animals is always a favorite feature, along with the delicious hot cider and seasonal refreshments.
Holiday Market and Craft Show
Whimsical crafts, baked goods, and homemade preserves can all be found at the annual Holiday Market & Craft Show at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Pavilion. Stop by on December 9 and find a treasured, holiday keepsake ornament to take home with you from one of the many local craftsmen and artists.
Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation
Looking for a fun date night activity? Buy your tickets to Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall and celebrate the season with delicious food and wine pairings, along with wine and cooking demonstrations by some of the finest chefs in Charleston. The plantation looks stunning with all its holiday decorations, making it a night you’ll always remember.
With its mild weather and lighter crowds, the holidays are the perfect time for you to explore everything that Charleston has to offer. Whether you are a local or simply visiting the Holy City, there are many holiday activities that will bring joy to the entire family.
The temperature is dropping, and you know what that means: oyster season is upon us. It’s time to gather your supplies — shuckers, gloves, towels — and grab your calendar to pencil in a season of oyster roasts. We’re way ahead of you! Can you tell we love oyster season yet? We’ve pinpointed a few spots that have already set a date to dump a steaming pile of delicious shellfish onto tables surrounded by hot sauce-wielding oyster lovers. Here are five spots to get your oyster roast fix this season, from 2017 and into 2018.
McLeod Historic Site
Take in some real history here and get your oyster fix all in one go. The Charleston Horticulture Society started its now-annual oyster roast last year and will return to McLeod Plantation on Sun. Nov. 5 at 3:30 p.m. Proceeds support the society’s educational outreach programs and you can feel good about that as you chow down on chili, hotdogs, and endless oysters, all under the oaks. There will also be live music, games, and kids’ activities.
One of the best places (if not THE best) to get oysters all season long, Bowens Island is holding a roast to benefit The Lowcountry Autism Foundation on Nov 12 complete with live tunes, plenty of bevs, and a silent auction. As with most oyster roasts in town, it’s an all-you-can-eat deal, and plan to stick around, because the relaxed vibe here, aided by the water, sunset, and social aspect of any oyster roast, will make you want to stay a while.
Love animals and oysters? Get your ticket for the Charleston Animal Society’s Chili Cook-off and Oyster Roast set for Sun. Nov. 18 at Riverfront Park. Sample the best chili in town from over 100 competitors that draws a crowd annually of nearly 10,000, around 25 of whom go home with a new furry best friend.
Boone Hall Plantation
The Lowcountry Oyster Festival is easily the most popular celebration of the beloved Atlantic delicacy — we’re talking 80,000 pounds of the stuff. We’re talking literally the world’s largest oyster festival, named one of the Top 20 events by the Southern Tourism Society. It comes complete with oyster shucking and oyster eating contests plus live music and a children’s area. The next one is set for Jan. 28, 2018. Knives and gloves will be provided.
Visitor Center Bus Shed
Back to this year, head downtown on Nov. 3 for the 13th Annual Oyster Roast and Silent Auction put on by Friends of the Hunley. Not just an oyster extravaganza, they’ll also be serving up barbecue (all you can eat). The silent action, which includes weekend getaways, Lowcountry arts, gift certificates, and more, is always popular, and its proceeds benefit Friends of the Hunley.
What’s your favorite place for shucking oysters?
Allow a guide to take you through the cobblestone streets and historic neighborhoods, taste award-winning Lowcountry cuisine and brewpubs, or experience the chills of Charleston’s historic buildings reputed to be haunted by infamous ghosts. No matter what adventure you seek, the Holy City has a walking tour that will help you experience it. Lace up your walking shoes and prepare to be dazzled by this enchanting town.
Here is your insider’s guide to Charleston’s best walking tours.
Take a Stroll Through Charleston’s History
The best history walking tours will give you a healthy mix of traditional site and treasures that are slightly off the beaten path. Consider these tours to best immerse yourself in the Holy City’s past and present.
Charleston Footprints Walking Tour
If you’re a fan of architecture and history, you will enjoy going on this 2-hour walking adventure through historic downtown Charleston. The tour is led by Michael Trouche, a seventh-generation Charlestonian, who is extremely knowledgeable in all things related to the Holy City.
As you explore the cobblestone streets, quaint alleyways, and historic buildings, Trouche will tell you all about the various architectural styles of Charleston’s most significant buildings, from Greek Revival to Georgian styled structures, in addition to the city’s rich history.
Charleston’s Alleys and Hidden Passages
Few cities can boast as long and narrow alleyways and passages as the Holy City. Why not explore them further with a tour dedicated to these romantic, and often hidden, paths?
From Lowcountry Walking Tours, the Charleston’s Alleys and Hidden Passages tour offers visitors the opportunity to see a different side of Charleston—one that can’t be accessed any other way than by foot. It’s also one that tourists frequently overlook.
Exploring Charleston’s hidden passageways is a chance for history buffs to feel as though they have stepped back in time. But, for those who also wish to see the more iconic Charleston sites, don’t worry—this tour will lead you to points of interest including Rainbow Row, the Heyward-Washington House museum, and more.
Charleston Pirate Tours
Was the infamous Blackbeard really born in the Charleston area? Why did he blockade Charleston? You can find these answers by taking a Charleston Pirate Tour.
The Charleston Pirate Tour is an absolute blast for the entire family. Led by guides dressed in pirate garb and live parrots, this tour takes you to historical sites while delving deep into Charleston’s piratical past. If you’re staying in a beach vacation rental, you will have a newfound appreciation of Charleston’s calm waters and pristine beaches.
Explore Charleston’s Thriving Food Scene
Do you consider yourself a foodie? If so, then you are in for a treat. From traditional Lowcountry fare to innovative cuisine from award-winning restaurants, the Holy City’s rich culinary offerings are sure to delight your taste buds. With so many choices, it’s hard to pick the right one. Here are some top recommendations to get you started.
Charleston Culinary Tours
This local tour company is one of the best for foodies and offers five unique tours: Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour, Upper King Street Culinary Tour, Chefs’ Kitchen Tour, Farm-to-Table Experience, and Mixology Tour.
Each tour provides elements of Charleston’s rich history while highlighting local cuisine and cocktails. Whether this is a family outing or a date, you will have a blast sampling the broad range of Charleston’s cuisine.
Consider taking the Farm-to-Table Experience tour, which walks you through the Charleston farmer’s market to pick out fresh ingredients and provide you with a multi-course meal using ingredients just purchased at the market.
The Original Pub Tour of Charleston
Up for a pub crawl? Pub Tour Charleston offers two walking pub tours that take guests to some of Charleston’s finest drinking establishments.
The Original Pub Tour will take you to Charleston’s most historic pubs and taverns, in addition to some newer, trendy places. Your guide will entertain you with tales of the Lowcountry as you sip on Southern cocktails and visit local microbreweries.
Savor the Flavors of Charleston
Bulldog Tours offers excursions that are great for first-time visitors to Charleston who want to try traditional Charleston cuisine and a few favorite local restaurants. If this is your second visit to the Holy City, the Upper King Street tour showcases the innovative and ever-changing culinary scene of Charleston.
Named the Savor the Flavor of Upper King Street, this tour explores a different area of Charleston, but the pub scene is just as exciting and delicious. This tour is ideal for those who want to experience the city’s trendier and more modern taverns and pubs.
Discover Charleston’s Haunted History
With Charleston’s long and occasionally violent history, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Holy City is full of places that are reportedly haunted. If you enjoy hearing the frightening tales of restless spirits, then a Charleston ghost tour will be right up your alley.
Ashley on the Cooper Walking Tours
Are you up for solving a Charleston murder? Take the Murder Walk Tour, and you and your group will retrace the steps of a killer through the Holy City to solve the crime. If you are visiting family or friends in Charleston, this is a tour that natives and tourists can enjoy together.
Ashley on the Cooper also offers a Macabre Ghost Tour that is fun for both kids and adults. Your tour guides will take you through hauntingly beautiful places in Charleston, all the while telling you about the fascinating and sometimes creepy events that have taken place on the gas-lit streets of Charleston.
These tales aren’t stories made up by the tour guides; they are actual events that have taken place in Charleston. Though you won’t be scared silly, the tour guides don’t leave out the gore and horror that pervade Charleston’s long history.
Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tour
Provided by Old Charleston Tours, the Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tours is Charleston’s most acclaimed ghost tour. This tour is led by Mike Brown, an experienced guide who knows his historical information and is excellent at bringing his stories to life. Brown also mixes in some of his own experiences, giving a native’s perspective on Charleston’s haunted places.
The Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tour is roughly 90 minutes long and, while you may not be able to go inside these haunted places, Mike Brown brings props and an iPad full of pictures to make you feel as though you are actually inside these ghostly haunts.
Ghosts & Dungeons Tour
Wind your way through the cobbled streets and back alleyways of the Holy City as you listen to eerie tales of Charleston’s ghosts and Lowcountry superstitions on the Ghosts & Dungeons Tour. Also provided by Bulldog Tours, this tour will take you to several haunted city spots and stop to tell you about creepy cemeteries and historic buildings.
You will also get the chance to explore the Provost Dungeon, a pre-Revolutionary War dungeon that most tourists only get to see during the day. Again, you won’t be scared silly with these tours, but they do provide a fascinating look into a different side of Charleston.
Miscellaneous Walking Tours
If none of the tours listed above appeal to you, there are plenty of other walking tours that might interest you. Whether you are trying to be budget-conscious or simply want a tour that is slightly different than the ordinary tourist excursion, the following tours are worth considering as well.
Southern Rendezvous Walking Tour in Charleston
This is the tour for those who don’t want a history lecture, nor do they want to hear the chilling tales of Charleston’s ghosts. Instead, the Southern Rendezvous Walking Tour offers guests a fun adventure through Charleston that showcases the city’s undeniable southern charm.
You will hear more about the unique history of the Holy City and tour guides will cover a broad range of topics that other tours won’t cover. Plus, you will get insider tips from locals that will help set the tone for the rest of your vacation.
Low-Budget Walking Tours
Free Tours by Foot tours that allow guests access the value of the tour with a gratuity. Take the Historic Charleston Tour to see the city’s most iconic sites, including Rainbow Row, Fort Sumter, and the Charleston City Market.
History buffs will enjoy the Civil War Charleston tour, while architectural aficionados will be delighted by a tour that covers Charleston’s impressive architecture throughout the years.
Self-Guided Walking Tours
There are significant benefits to taking a tour of Charleston with a professional guide, but not everyone wants to explore Charleston this way. If you would rather experience the Holy City on your own, then there are a few self-guided walking tours that may interest you.
First, stop by the Charleston Visitors Center to grab a few maps and brochures. These will help keep you from getting lost as you explore the three self-guided tours provided by Explore Charleston.
Charleston Museum Mile
If you prefer walking Charleston on your own, then the Museum Mile is a great place to start. This famous, mile-long section beginning on Meeting Street features six museums, five historic homes, four beautiful parks, and a Revolutionary War Powder Magazine.
Along the Museum Mile, you will also see stunning churches and public buildings like the City Market and City Hall. If you have kids, this is a great way for the entire family to learn about the rich history of the Lowcountry. Check out the Museum Mile map to get a better idea how you would like to spend the day.
There is so much to do and see in Charleston. Even the locals haven’t managed to explore every nook and cranny of the Holy City, but a walking tour is a great way to experience the unique flavor and enduring charm of Charleston.
The buzz about Charleston right now is all about the total solar eclipse — the Holy City is in the path of totality, and it’s all happening on the afternoon of Mon. Aug. 21. In fact, Charleston is the last place in the country to see it. Where will you be?
If you care to celebrate somewhere away from home, we have explored some of those options for you below. But no matter where you witness this once-in-a-lifetime event, one thing’s for sure: it will be memorable. Enjoy it, no matter where you are!
1. Riverdogs Game
Joseph P. Riley Park, 360 Fishburne Street
The Riverdogs play the Augusta GreenJackets on the 21st at 4:05 p.m., but the stadium is opening its doors at 1 p.m. so everyone can be in their seats to enjoy the sky go dark at 2:46 p.m. Special guests from NASA will be there as well to talk a little about how the solar system works.
2. MUSC Health Stadium
1990 Daniel Island Drive
Gates open at 11 a.m. at the MUSC Health Stadium on Eclipse Day, where a family-friendly event will take place complete with astronomy-related activities, a science-based kids zone, local food vendors, drinks, entertainment, and more. Tickets are $8 for adults, and kids under 12, first responders, and military personnel get in free. Tickets include solar eclipse glasses!
3. Eclipse on a Warship
USS Yorktown, Mt Pleasant
Eclipse on a Warship lets history and science buffs come together for an all-day event full of presentations from NASA scientists and more as well as space-focused kids’ activities. The first 3,000 people on the ship get a free pair of specialized eclipse glasses. Get your tickets on the day of the event at the ticket window beginning at 9 a.m.
4. Eclipse on the Atlantic
Pier 101, Folly Beach
From 1 to 4 p.m., do the eclipse Folly style at Pier 101 Restaurant & Bar. Local act Band of Brothers will perform, and eclipse glasses will be provided. Considering the overall bohemian nature of Folly Beach, this seems like a great place to do celebrate an occasion so cosmic.
5. Get Eclipsed on IOP
Front Beach, Isle of Palms
Ring in the eclipse with your feet in the sand and your ears tuned into the sounds of DJ Natty Heavy behind the Windjammer. Plane Jane takes the stage following the eclipse, and children’s activities will available at the Isle of Palms County Park. Attendees get eclipse glasses while supplies last, and the event is on from 11:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
6. Free Eclipse Extravaganza
Citadel Mall, West Ashley
Don’t feel like leaving West Ashley? No problem. Head to Citadel Mall for a free celebration from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. in the parking lot by Planet Fitness. Free eclipse glasses go to the first 500 to arrive, and there will be kids’ activities, food trucks, entertainment, and more. Educational materials from NASA will be provided. Any cash donations collected via the inflatable hamster ball maze, sports arena inflatable, and dunk tank will benefit nonprofit Darkness to Light.
7. Dark Side of the Sun
Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, Mt Pleasant
Next door at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina is the Dark Side of the Sun party on Harborside Beach with music from local reggae stars the Dubplates plus concessions, games, and more. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under.
8. Solar Eclipse Festival
Yonderfield, Bowman SC
Head to Bowman, just an hour north of Charleston, to celebrate in the new festival grounds of Yonder Field. The day will include the Great Inflatable Race obstacle course as well as music from Uncle Kracker, Edwin McCain, and Corey Smith. Local food trucks will be onhand, and first-run movie will close the night. The best part? You can camp there, too, between Aug. 20 and Aug. 22.
Where will spend the afternoon of Mon. Aug. 21?
Planning a family vacation in Charleston? You’ve made the right choice. Named No. 1 city in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine, this jewel of a city has become a top tourist destination in the United States.
With its reputation for incredible food, pristine beaches, historic buildings, and beautiful parks, you probably know that there is an unending number of things to see and do in the Holy City, but which family-friendly activities should you consider for your next vacation?
To make things easier, we’ve rounded up a list of the best family activities in Charleston that will make your trip unforgettable. Whether you want to get a taste of Colonial history or splash around in the famous Pineapple Fountain, the Holy City is guaranteed to be a hit with the entire family.
Before your family explores the beautiful city of Charleston, make sure to stop by the Visitor Center downtown and pick up a free passport for the kids. They will have a blast collecting stamps at the most popular attractions in the area!
Beat the Heat at the South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston summers can get hot, but you can escape the heat by visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. Though it may be small, it is well-curated, and you should expect to spend a couple hours here to see everything it offers visitors.
Along with some great educational exhibits that the entire family will enjoy, the aquarium also has fun hands-on exhibits, including a touch tank for kids and knowledgeable staff members around to answer all of their questions.
Highlights of the South Carolina Aquarium are the albino alligator and the sea turtle rehabilitation center. And, fair warning—the price of admission may seem a little steep to some, but it is completely worth it if your kids love aquatic animals.
Explore the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
With nine interactive exhibits, there are plenty of ways to play and learn at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Located in downtown Charleston next to the Visitor’s Center, the museum is another opportunity to cool down during the hot summer days.
Whether your kids want to be a knight or princess in the museum’s two-story Medieval Castle or maybe even a pirate looking for treasure aboard a pirate ship, they are guaranteed to have a blast at the Children’s Museum.
Parents will love watching your children interact with the many hands-on exhibits and see their creative sides blossom in each of the museum’s themed rooms. If you have little ones, this is a nice way to take a break from the more adult activities in Charleston.
Swim and Play at Folly Beach County Park
Charleston is known for its beautiful beaches, and your trip isn’t complete unless you’ve been to at least one of them. It can be hard to know which one suits your particular needs.
If you’re going with the entire family, then Folly Beach is a favorite for good reason. Located on the west end of Folly Island, Folly Beach County Park is a wonderful place to take the kiddos for a fun day at the beach. Consider getting a Folly Beach vacation rental to take in the entire island!
At this park, you can rest easy knowing that seasonal lifeguards are present. Restrooms are also available at the park, which can be a rarity at the beach.
Need to wipe off the sand and sea after a day of fun in the sun? There are also outdoor showers on site to clean everybody up before they get into the car!
Wander Around the Farmer’s Market
There is nothing quite like the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Voted No. 5 Best Farmer’s Market by Travel + Leisure magazine, the Charleston Farmer’s Market brings in roughly a thousand people each Saturday.
The Market is over 20 years old and has changed significantly over the years. As the Holy City’s tourism industry began to boom, the Market eventually expanded to accommodate the many tourists that visit Charleston each year.
While some farmer’s markets only serve produce from local farmers, the Charleston Farmer’s Market features local artisans as well. Held at Marion Square, you will find beautiful arts and crafts in addition to mouthwatering food and produce.
Live music and performances are always present at the Farmer’s Market, and there are a few fun activities for the kids to partake in as well. In addition to tasting some delicious samples from local vendors, you can take the kids to nearby Marion Square Park to relax or play on its expansive greenspace.
Travel Back in Time at Fort Sumter
History buffs from all over the world travel to Charleston for its many historical sites and buildings. When you have children, getting them excited to see some of these historical places can be challenging. Fortunately, visiting Fort Sumter can be an absolute blast for parents and kids alike.
Fort Sumter can only be accessed by boat, which means that you will need to purchase a ferry ticket to get there. Tour boats leave from two docks—at Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston and Patriot’s Point on the Mt. Pleasant side. If you leave from Liberty Square, your family can explore the interesting exhibits at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center before you board the ferry.
The boat ride includes a 35-minute narration of the Civil War and Fort Sumter. This may not interest the younger kids much, but they will still enjoy the boat ride nonetheless. If they look closely, they will be able to see local wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, and more.
Fort Sumter has a Junior Ranger program, where kids can pick up an activity booklet onsite and begin an educational adventure to earn their Junior Ranger badge. The knowledgeable staff love getting questions from the kids and will tell you all about the history of South Carolina.
Splash in the Fountains at Waterfront Park
Located in the French Quarter of Downtown Charleston, the Waterfront Park is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. This gorgeous park not only offers some breathtaking views of the Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River, but it’s also the perfect place to snap some photos.
There are plenty of fountains along the palm-tree lined path of Waterfront Park, including the famous Pineapple Fountain where the kids can get wet and get a break from the heat. The Grand Fountain is another one that the kids are sure to enjoy.
When everyone is splashed out, you can settle under the shade of a giant oak tree or find a sheltered swing to enjoy the breeze. Grab a bite to eat or some gelato ice cream from Belgian Gelato, then head out onto the pier to see a few bottle-nose dolphins swimming in the harbor.
The Waterfront Park is one of Charleston’s most visited parks for a reason. This family-friendly park is meticulously maintained, and we promise that you won’t regret visiting here, even if it may be difficult to grab a good parking spot!
Walk Through the USS Yorktown
Even if your kids aren’t old enough to appreciate the history of the USS Yorktown, they will love walking through this historic WWII aircraft carrier, which is also the focal point of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Named after the Battle of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, the USS Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during WWII and is now a National Historic Landmark. While parents will find the backstory of the USS Yorktown fascinating, the kids will have a great time exploring the flight deck, seeing the numerous planes, and participating in the museum’s cutting-edge flight simulators.
While the star of the show is, no doubt, the USS Yorktown, the Medal of Honor Museum inside the ship is a well-curated collection. This museum recognizes Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War up to the present day and tells the stories of the men and women who have received the nation’s highest military honor. As it is the only museum in the nation that honors these esteemed recipients, it is a must-see on your Charleston vacation.
Relax on the Beaches of the Isle of Palms
With miles of beautiful beaches and an endless amount of family-friendly activities, the barrier island of the Isle of Palms is a popular destination for those who want a beach vacation getaway.
Located roughly 12 miles from downtown Charleston, the Isle of Palms is a quaint seaside town that has so much to offer active families. Many choose to get a vacation rental on the Isle of Palms to enjoy the stunning oceanfront views and be close to nearby amenities, including golf courses, tennis courts, biking and walking trails, and more.
Whether your family loves getting out and being active or relaxing on the beach, then you will find no better place to vacation than the Isle of Palms. Here, you can paddleboard on the waterway, enjoy a casual meal or let the kids play on beachfront playground at the county park.
Visit Magnolia Plantation
A trip to one of Charleston’s historical plantations is a staple option for many families. If you’re hesitant to tour a plantation, rest assured that there is plenty of fun available at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
Founded in 1676, the Magnolia Plantation is not only rich with history but also possessed a distinctive beauty. These Romantic-style gardens have flowers that are in bloom year-round so that you are guaranteed to experience the full beauty of Magnolia Plantation.
While you’re there, don’t forget to take the rice field boat tour that glides along Magnolia’s old flooded rice fields. Rice is no longer grown on the premises, but there is plenty of engaging nature to enjoy, including gators, egrets, and frogs.
The children will also love the petting zoo, which has domesticated creatures that are native to the Lowcountry. Their animal adventures don’t have to stop at the petting zoo. The Zoo & Nature Center has numerous exhibits for them to experience, including a reptile house that features snakes, lizards, and even venomous snakes.
Charleston—Fun for the Entire Family!
If you’re looking for a vacation that is jam-packed with family-friendly activities, then Charleston is the place to be. Well-maintained parks, miles of beaches, delicious cuisine, and interactive history exhibits make the Holy City one of the best places to visit any time of the year.
Each spring, thousands visit the city of Charleston to partake in the Spoleto Festival USA, one of America’s biggest performing arts festivals. For 17 days and nights, this festival delights the Holy City with the best artistic performances with more than 150 performers from around the world.
Opera, theater, dance, jazz—the Spoleto Festival USA has it all, and the lineup is more diverse than ever in its 41st year. From highly-anticipated fan favorites to up-and-coming productions, this year promises to be even better than the last, which is incredible, considering that last year’s sales were record-breaking.
If you plan to attend this year’s festivities, then understanding the full vision of the event is essential. Spoleto’s rich history and dedication to the arts are inspiring and allow you to fully appreciate the talented performances that come to town every year.
In this insider’s guide, we will give you the scoop on the history of the Spoleto Festival USA and highlight some of the must-see premieres this year. Whether you are a Charleston local or an out-of-town attendee, consider this your go-to guide for festival this year.
The History of Spoleto Festival USA
Since 1977, the Spoleto Festival USA has been captivating audiences in Charleston and enriching an already vibrant community. First founded by Pulitzer-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the three-week event was originally intended to be an American counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds in the small town of Spoleto, Italy.
The founders wanted a city that would mimic the small-town charm of Spoleto, Italy, while also providing enough theaters and accommodations to host the festival. They found their ideal location in Charleston, a city that is known for its picturesque neighborhoods and historic charm.
The Holy City’s abundance of churches, theaters, and early dedication to the performing arts made it the perfect setting for the festival. In addition, the city’s vibrant community and small-town atmosphere were similar to the small Italian town, which further cemented the founder’s decision to make Charleston the home of the festival.
The Mission of the Spoleto Festival
Since its beginning in 1977, the Spoleto Festival has been committed to showcasing only the best artistic performances and supporting young artists, helping them foster their passion for the arts in all forms. It also brings a significant impact on Charleston’s economy and regularly invests in both local businesses and the community.
Dedication to Young Artists
Spoleto has supported young artists since its inception and encourages them to pair up with more experienced performers so that they can learn new skills. The festival offers many exciting opportunities for blossoming artists to advance their careers, including auditioning for the seat in the Spoleto Festival Orchestra or the Westminster Choir.
Giving Back to the Local Community
Spoleto’s mission also gives back to the city that it has called home for over 40 years. Though the event brings international fame and economic success, the festival also directly invests in the local community.
Spoleto has not only played a key role in preserving historical landmarks, such as the Dock Street Theatre and the Middleton-Pinckney House, but it also continues to educate the local community through programs that help inspire a deeper appreciation for the performing arts. Most notably, their Open Stage Door program distributes complimentary tickets to community-based organizations so that they may be part of the Spoleto experience.
Historical Charleston Theatres, Churches, and Event Spaces
Charleston boasts many elegant theatres and churches that serve as the venues for the 17-day festival. These prominent event spaces not only provide the lowcountry with a place to view world-class performances but, also offer a glimpse into the history of Charleston.
Here is a list of beloved Spoleto venues and some notable performances taking place around town.
Charleston Gaillard Center
The recently renovated Charleston Gaillard Center will once again host Spoleto’s featured opera this year, an extravagant production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Dates for the performance are May 26 and June 1, 4, 8.
The Gaillard Center will also present the Westminster Choir, Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s Great Mass.
Last, don’t miss a special, one-night-only performance by American roots musician Rhiannon Giddens on June 9th at Gaillard Center!
Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul
Conducted by Joe Miller, the Westminster Choir performs at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. This fan favorite is considered one of the most-loved traditions of the festival.
College of Charleston Cistern Yard
Performances at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard this year include Terrance Blanchard, featuring the E-Collective, on June 3rd for a one-night only performance. Multi-Grammy winner Terry Blanchard and the E-Collective create a perfect ensemble that combines jazz, funk, rock, R&B, and blues music.
College of Charleston Sottile Theatre
Israeli dance company L-E-V, is set to perform OCD Love at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre on June 2, 3, and 4. Led by choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, the production explores love through the lens of obsessive compulsive disorders.
Monchichi, the duet that blends hip-hop with contemporary dance, will also be performing at Sottile Theatre on May 26-28.
Dock Street Theatre
The historic Dock Street Theatre will host the Druid production of Waiting for Godot, which begins on May 25. It will also host the American premiere of Antonio Vivaldi’s opera Farnace, which begins May 27.
Notable Premieres and Fan Favorites
From the very beginning, Spoleto has encouraged artists from all backgrounds and ages to participate and explore their creativity to its fullest. As a result, each year brings a remarkably diverse lineup that relies on both traditional and contemporary performances to delight audiences.
Those who attend Spoleto regularly will recognize a few reoccurring performances, but there is always excitement surrounding new premieres. If you are attending the event this year, here are the anticipated performances premiering at Spoleto:
New York tapper Ayodele Casel’s world premiere, While I Have the Floor, explores identity, language, communication, and artistic legacy. Casel will also be participating in the popular “Conversations With” program, an intimate conversation with participating artists who open up about their creative processes and the experience at Spoleto.
Cinema and Sound
Fans will welcome back acclaimed pianist Stephen Prutsman, who performs the original scores for the world premiere of Cinema and Sound. The program blends silent film and a live soundtrack for a particularly innovative performance at the Woolfe Street Playhouse.
The U.S. premiere of Antonio Vivaldi’s most popular 18th-century opera, Farnace, is a highly-anticipated performance this year. Produced by Garry Hynes, the mythical Roman war drama will star Anthony Roth Costanzo, a legendary countertenor.
An opera full of dark comedy and seduction, the U.S. premiere of Royal Opera House’s Quartett will be sure to captivate audiences. Composed by Luca Francesconi, conducted by John Kennedy, and directed by John Fulljames, you won’t want to miss this performance at the Memminger Auditorium.
Over the years, many regular attendees of Spoleto have their favorites events that they look forward to attending every year. Last year’s Porgy and Bess was an enormous hit in Charleston and was a signature performance of the 40th anniversary of Spoleto.
Performances aside, there are also activities and events that Spoleto fans love to attend. Here are other favorites that will please all ages and backgrounds:
The “Conversation With” program gives audiences a chance to hear from the visiting artists and get an inside glimpse into their creative thought processes. The artists will be interviewed by CBS correspondent Martha Teichner, and each presentation lasts for approximately an hour. Fans will get to hear from their favorite artists, including director Garry Hynes and pianist Stephen Prutsman.
The sessions are free as long as attendees register in advance.
Fans of Spoleto not only get to watch artistic performances, but they can join in themselves. With the “Master Classes” program, the performing artists teach both experienced and beginners dancers the art of their craft.
This year’s classes are being led by Company Wang Ramirez, L-E-V, Company Class with Gallim Dance, and Hillel Kogan. Get tickets while you can!
Held in the Simons Center Recital Hall at College of Charleston, Jazz Talks gives audiences the chance to listen to an intimate conversation between notable jazz musicians. This year’s discussions will include the following:
Fud at 100: A Centennial Celebration: Charleston mayor John Tecklenburg discusses the legacy of his great-uncle Joseph “Fud” Livingston alongside historian Karen Chandler and music critic Larry Blumenfeld on May 28.
Trumpeting Truth – A Conversation with Terence Blanchard: Larry Blumenfeld will return to discuss arts, advocacy, and social justice issues with Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard.
These events are free if you register in advance.
Spoleto Finale at Middleton Place
Of course, no one should miss Spoleto’s grand finale across the Ashley River at the historic Middleton Place. Attendants will get access to the full lineup of local and regional bands, headlined by breakout band The Revivalists. Additionally, ticket holders will also get to explore the beautiful gardens and refined lodgings of one of Charleston’s treasured National Historic Landmarks.
The Piccolo Spoleto Festival
Charleston’s existing dedication to the performing arts is one of the reasons why Spoleto Festival USA founders chose the city to host this yearly event. It isn’t surprising, then, that the Piccolo Spoleto was created to offer even more cultural opportunities.
What Is Piccolo Spoleto?
In 1979, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. launched the Piccolo Spoleto Festival to highlight Charleston’s local performing artists. While the main venues feature artists on a national and international level, this series gives attention to regional, less known artists. Plus, most of the events are free and family-friendly!
The festival runs concurrently with its parent event, which means that everyone can easily fit some of these popular Piccolo events into their schedule.
Are you in the mood for some improv? This comedy extravaganza is held each year at Theatre 99 on Meeting Street and features top comedic artists with original performances. Although most Piccolo events are family-friendly, this one is more suited toward adults.
Piccolo Fiction Spotlight
Are you a fan of the written word? The Piccolo Fiction Spotlight invites South Carolina writers to submit their brief short stories for a chance to be published in the Charleston City Paper, broadcast on S.C. Public Radio, and be read in the historic Charleston Music Hall.
The Spotlight Concert Series
The 13-performance program features classical arrangements by The Charleston Renaissance Ensemble, Chamber Music Charleston, and the Charleston Piano Trio with violist Miles Hoffman.
The Sundown Poetry Series
One of the oldest Piccolo Festival series, the Sundown Poetry Series offers local and regional poets the opportunity to gather for free evening readings. After the readings, many authors stay for a Q & A sessions to discuss their work. This event traditionally takes place at Dock Street Courtyard on Church Street.
Ready for Spoleto Festival USA?
If you happen to be in Charleston during the festival, then you should definitely explore some of the amazing artistic performances happening in the Holy City this spring. With over 160 ticketed events, there is something for everyone at Spoleto to enjoy.
Looking to hear great live music at the beach? Downtown Charleston may be known for its many venues and bars with music spilling onto King and Market streets, but the islands of the Lowcountry know how to put on a good show, too. From dirty blues at Sullivan’s Island Home Team BBQ to legendary rock shows at the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms, there are several sweet spots nearby — both new and old — with plenty of music you can kick back and sip a beer to. Here are just a few of our favorite venues for live music on Sullivan’s and IOP.
Dunleavy’s Pub | 2213 Middle Street
If you love a good, old-fashioned pub, you’ll love Dunleavy’s, where Guinness lovers have cheers’d their beers for over 20 years. Outside are picnic tables for pints in the sunshine, while inside you can enjoy some of the best Irish folk music in Charleston from well-loved local artists like Carroll Brown.
High Thyme | 2213 Middle Street
At High Thyme, Southern seafood fare is always the catch of the day, but you’ll also love all the live music this restaurant/venue has on the menu. Local Celtic folk favorites the Hungry Monks play here on the reg, as do guys like Moon Dog, Carroll Brown (you really can’t get enough of Carroll!), and the Reckoning, the latter of which is a lovely, local Grateful Dead strings cover band.
Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ | 2209 Middle Street
Known for their BBQ and arguably more so for their wings (best in town, y’all), Home Team has more than good grub — it puts on great live music, too, particularly blues, folk, Americana, and country artists.
On the IOP:
The Windjammer | 1008 Ocean Blvd.
Even most new islanders know about the Windjammer — a Charleston, not just an IOP, institution for over 40 years. Legends like Hootie & the Blowfish, the Blue Dogs, Drivin’ N Cryin’, and Southern Culture on the Skids have performed here for decades, both inside and out — the back features a deck majestically overlooking the beach action and the sea. Inside you’ll find the main stage and an open-air bar perfect for ocean breezes that constantly remind you that life is good.
The Dinghy | 8 J C Long Blvd.
The Dinghy is relatively new to the island, having come on board the scene only three or so years ago. Locals love it for the live music you can consistently catch nightly here. Artists are local and much loved by the regulars, making this special spot a lively, neighborly kind of place. Oh, and FYI their Dirty Elvis Fries are a dream.
Morgan Creek Grill | 80 41st Ave.
Situated on the water with brilliant sea breezes aplenty, Morgan Creek Grill is the definition of chill, particularly when you add live music to the mix. Morgan Creek recently added a recurring event called Wintertide: Songwriters in the Round, featuring local singer-songwriters every week along with an oyster roast. Head to morgancreekgrill.com for more details.
What’s your favorite local music venue on Sullivan’s Island or Isle of Palms?