I have been fortunate to live in two distinctly different tourist destinations. For ten years I lived in the remote and romantic Martha’s Vineyard. The Vineyard was hard to reach and therefore attracted people from all over the world to enjoy its distinctive small towns, architecture, and pristine beaches.
15 years ago, I moved from an island reachable only by ferry or plane, to one with two bridges – Johns Island. Both places are rich with scenery and even richer with great food! It’s great fun sharing such treasures, so expect a lot of company. Family and old friends around the country will always remember that you live in Charleston.
Having company means learning to entertain for your guests’ particular interests. My sister is not an adventurous eater, so when she comes, I make sure to suggest restaurants with widely varied menus and not those with 5 highly curated entrees – saving those for my foodie friends. I also like to avoid the extremely popular tourist offerings and seek out locations where everyone can enjoy a great meal, hopefully sit outside, and get a taste of the Lowcountry topography – it’s what makes us special.
Because our beaches are so unique, it can be important to know what your visitors love about going to the beach. I want to sit in the shade beside the Kiawah dunes with a good book. Others may prefer the fun and funky atmosphere of Folly or lively atmosphere of Isle of Palms. When people come, I want to give them a sample of more than one. The best part is, you can enjoy them through most of the year!
Guided and self-guided tours must work for their personal mobility as well as their interests. Temperature and time of day are always factors in our hot and humid climate. Don’t forget to add in free and low cost activities when you can. And, remember that everyone in the party doesn’t have to do the same things. Splitting up and doing separate activities makes for lively conversation when everyone returns.
We live and die by our tourist economy and most of us really want to share everything that is great about Charleston. There is one thing, however that happens when you find yourself among people on vacation. You begin to realize that perfectly reasonable people who are high functioning in their regular lives, tend to lose their minds a little on holiday. Smart people step into the street without looking, no parking signs become optional, and one – way streets can confuse the best of us. But, with a little patience and a recognition that I might be that person when I leave the Lowcountry, we can continue to encourage people to fall in love with Charleston.
One of the most desirable vacation destinations in the U.S., Charleston, SC, has so much to offer both visitors and residents. Located along the coast of South Carolina in the area known as the Lowcountry, this charming little city was originally part of one of the first 13 colonies, making its historical background rich and interesting. If you’re thinking about moving to a new area, check out some of the Charleston Historic homes for sale and make new memories in one of the uniquely Charleston-style properties.
When you move to the Holy City, you’ll have access to dozens of outdoor activities you can do all year long because of the mild climate. History buffs will love delving into the area’s unique story and foodies can spend years exploring all the top-notch restaurants in the area. Find out more about some of the best attractions in Charleston and plan to visit the city for yourself.
With so much history surrounding the area, it’s no wonder history buffs flock to Charleston. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, this city had a major role in the early days of America. In fact, the state of South Carolina was actually where more Revolutionary battles took place than any other area of the country during that time. If you’re interested in this part of history, you can visit Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson or Middleton Place amongst other sites.
For Civil War enthusiasts, there are dozens of sites to visit and learn more about Charleston’s role. The first shots of the Civil War were actually shot from the tip of the peninsula, known as The Battery, towards a Union ship that was delivering supplies to Fort Sumter. Though these are the two most notable roles Charleston had in U.S. history, there is much more to be explored.
Places to Visit:
- Fort Sumter National Monument: A major landmark in the Civil War, Fort Sumter was originally a Union-held stronghold, but after the state of South Carolina seceded, the governor and Confederate general demanded the fort be surrendered. Over the course of several months, the Confederates attempted to regain control over Fort Sumter until April 12, 1860 when they opened fire on the fort, eventually leading to the Union surrendering and what is often credited as sparking the Civil War.
To visit one of the most historic Civil War sites in the country, you can take a beautiful ferry ride across the harbor to the man-made island where the fort still stands to this day. A national park ranger will guide you through some of the areas and let you explore on your own time. This is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in history.
- Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum: Located just across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, less than 15 minutes from downtown, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum can actually be found in the retired aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown. This is one of the most unique settings for a maritime museum as the building itself is an artifact. You’ll be able to see the inside of the ship as well as a number of historic aircrafts. With general admission, you can also explore the USS Laffey destroyer and the USS Clamagore And on the way out, history buffs will definitely want to swing by the Vietnam Experience exhibit spanning three acres.
- The Charleston Museum: To really learn the full scope of Charleston history, you may want to spend an afternoon at the Charleston Museum located on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. Here, you’ll be able to get an up-close look at artifacts dating back to pre-colonial times when Native Americans inhabited the area––as well as natural history items, such as fossils and specimens and, of course, historic items like Civil War artifacts. The museum also welcomes a rotating list of visiting exhibits to explore new, interesting topics surrounding Charleston and its history.
- Rainbow Row: One of the most photographed places in Charleston, Rainbow Row is known for the pastel-colored houses that line the street. Just around the corner from The Battery, this area’s history mostly surrounds the architecture of the properties and many Charleston-specific features preserved as a testament to the history of the Holy City. If you’re interested in a traditional Holy City property, check out some of the Charleston Historic homes for sale right now.
- Historic Charleston City Market: Now a bustling shopping area, the Historic Charleston City Market was first given to the city in 1788 by General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Pinckney specified the area must forever be used as a public market for the enslaved people. Although many people mistakenly believe this area was the slave market prior to the Civil War, this is actually untrue. It was a beef market for many years until it burned in a fire and was reconstructed as a city market, which it has remained since 1807. Now, you can peruse vendor stands and pop into local stores for a bite to eat or a cold beer.
Over the last decade, Charleston has become a pinnacle of Southern cuisine. When you visit or move to the area, you’ll discover hundreds of restaurants spread out through the city and surrounding areas. Though traditional Southern dishes reign supreme, many chefs are coming to the city to bring more eclectic offerings, like Vietnamese and Pakistani food. We couldn’t possibly name all the restaurants you need to try, but we’ve rounded up a few classics.
Places to Try:
- Rodney Scott’s BBQ: It wouldn’t be the South without real South Carolina barbecue. Rodney Scott spent much of his childhood in Hemingway, South Carolina, learning how to roast whole hog barbecue from his dad. But, after 25 years of helping his dad run his business, Rodney Scott partnered with Nick Pihakis and brought his style of barbecue to the Holy City. Now, this pitmaster has received the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Chef Southeast and opened an additional two restaurants in Birmingham, AL, and Atlanta, GA. If you’re going to try barbecue anywhere in Charleston, be sure this is at the top of your list.
- The Ordinary: Seafood lovers looking for a fancy dining experience should head to The Ordinary, an upscale restaurant located inside an old bank. The decor is unique and the food is phenomenal, highlighting local catches and adding new specials to their menu on a regular basis. If you’re headed out to eat with a big group of people, be sure to order the seafood tower to get a little taste of everything.
- Bowen’s Island Restaurant: Charleston without seafood is like toast without butter. And, while there are tons of great seafood restaurants to choose from, nothing offers an experience like Bowen’s Island Restaurant. Don’t expect anything fancy from this joint though. Bowen’s Island Restaurant is a no-frills fish shack that doesn’t rely on fancy interior design or culinary experimentation. They stick to what they know—and they do it well. The menu consists of only a few basic items, including classics like oysters, fried fish, fried shrimp and frogmore stew. The restaurant has been passed down through the family since 1946 and they have perfected serving up these Southern classics. Head there around dinner time to catch one of the most beautiful sunsets on their outdoor patio.
- Oak Steakhouse: If you’re looking for a place to celebrate something special, Oak Steakhouse is an excellent choice. The ambiance and the service are top-notch, while the menu offerings boast some of the finest cuts of meat in the city, along with a vegetarian option and several seafood dishes like jumbo crab cakes, lobster tail and pan-seared scallops.
- Neon Tiger: A new addition to the Charleston food scene, Neon Tiger is only one of two all-vegan restaurants in the city—the other being a breakfast and lunch joint called Gnome Cafe. For anyone visiting the city looking for an upscale vegan/vegetarian restaurant, this is the place to go. Famous vegan chef Doug McNish collaborated with local restaurateur John Adamson to create a vegan cocktail bar that serves an extensive menu of vegan options, from pizzas and fried “shrimp” to pastas and burgers.
One of Charleston’s greatest attractions, the beaches in the area are gorgeous and offer plenty of activities for people of all ages. Whether you’re looking to stay near the water like in one of these gorgeous Folly Beach, SC rentals, or you want to be a bit closer to the city, you’ll still have easy access to the three beaches in Charleston or make a quick day trip to Kiawah or Seabrook islands.
Places to Visit:
- Folly Beach: Heading southwest from downtown Charleston, you’ll find Folly Beach on James Island. This shoreline of this beautiful part of the South Carolina barrier islands stretches six miles, providing plenty of space for visitors and residents. The beach area near the pier is usually the most crowded, but if you take a left at the end of Center Street, you can follow the road all the way to the end to visit the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, a private stretch of beach with an unparalleled view of the Morris Island Lighthouse.
- Sullivan’s Island: Heading the opposite direction of Folly Beach from downtown Charleston, you’ll first find the beach on Sullivan’s Island. You could spend the day grabbing lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes in the area, or lay on the sand for a few hours before heading to Dunleavy’s Irish bar for a post-beach beer. From this beach, you’ll be able to see the Sullivan’s Island lighthouse as well as a unique view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the colorful houses of downtown, depending on where you decide to set up camp.
- Isle of Palms: If you drive a bit farther into Mount Pleasant, you’ll reach Isle of Palms, another one of the beautiful beaches in the area. This beach tends to attract more of a family crowd, but there is a good mix of people of all ages. In the summer, the Windjammer is one of the most popular places on the Isle of Palms to hang out as they host live music and beach volleyball games all season long. Restaurants and stores line the street leading to the beach, so you can spend some time dining and shopping before or after you catch some rays and take a dip in the ocean. Keep an eye out for dolphins as it’s not usual to spot a pod of them swimming by!
- Kiawah Island: Only a 45-minute drive from downtown Charleston, Kiawah Island is the perfect place for a quick day trip. Kiawah is a gated community, but you can easily gain access to the island if you’re planning to visit the beach or play one of the five championship golf courses on the island. Spend the day lounging on the shore line or visit the Kiawah River to do some birdwatching and other wildlife viewing.
Come Home to Charleston
With so much to do in the area, Charleston should be at the top of your list for places to visit—or relocate! Between the gorgeous architecture, rich history, hoppin’ bar scene, outstanding restaurants and beautiful beaches, what else could you ask for? No matter what you’re looking for, there’s the perfect property waiting for you in Charleston. Those looking to take it slow can find property on Kiawah Island, while beach bums can look to Isle of Palms or Folly Beach. Mount Pleasant is the perfect place to raise a family, and the downtown area offers tons of attractions for those looking for a more lively place to live. Check out the Folly Beach, SC, rentals to visit the area and scope out places where you’d like to move before looking for your new dream home.
Working in downtown Charleston, the carriages and tour groups on foot are ubiquitous. dunes properties is located on the first floor of a famous former bordello so you can guarantee the tour guides are certain to point it out every time they pass.
If you however, are looking for something more Uniquely Charleston, I know just the guy for the job. Paul Garbarini’s Uniquely Charleston tours are walking tours customized to your party’s interests. Limited to no more than six people, he can take time to answer all of your questions and focus on the elements that pique your particular interest. “I’m old enough to only do things that are fun, and more than six people on a tour is not fun! The regular walking tours max out at 20,” Paul explains. He also works on your schedule to accommodate the stamina and needs on an individual basis planning shady walks, bathroom breaks, and water along the way. And, if you want or need a driving tour, he’ll do that as well. In his eighth year now doing downtown tours, Paul is also an interpreter at McCloud Plantation Historic Site.
Word of mouth and reviews on Tripadvisor are virtually his only advertising. He has a website, but the business is built on the delighted customers who praise his knowledge and enthusiasm. Paul’s very particular charm and verve will entertain even the soberest tourist. When asked about the cost he declared “I base it on price per person and it’s 90 minutes long unless we are having too much fun or we’re all excited.”
Self – taught over 20 years, his independent research means no one else tells the stories he does. Rather than focus on the rich people who owned the buildings or the statues of military leaders, he explains who built the city, how they lived, and worked. In the 21st century, the concepts of labor and work can be troublesome to process let alone an understanding of what enslavement has meant for our country. According to Paul “It’s an opportunity to raise awareness – I am a ‘brick geek’ – I know both the people who made the bricks and the people who owned them. Their descendants asked me to tell the whole story.”
When asked who his clients were, he replied, “The universe has sent me philosophically compatible people.” One in particular was Dr. Ysaye Barnwell. She traveled from her home in New York to Charleston to make a presentation for the Avery Institute of African American History and Culture at her grandfather’s church – Central Baptist on Radcliffe Street. Because her family was originally from Charleston, she wanted a custom tour. Paul set about researching her genealogy and found that her grandfather, who died in 1907, was one of the richest African American men in town. Originally an enslaved person, Paul even found the original bill of sale from when he was sold in the public records. He went on to learn Dr. Barnwell’s grandfather, William James Parker, was known as the Tinsmith of Tradd Street. Church and census records showed he was also a founding member of Central Baptist Church, and that he donated the labor to put the tin roof on the new church and erect the metal steeple tower. On her personal tour, Paul not only toured the church, but also two of the homes in which he had lived on Tradd. Paul was acquainted with the owner of 12 Tradd who welcomed her inside. Grateful and overwhelming was how she described her experience.
I’m pretty sure that was a tour no one else has ever given. Truly unique.
For more information, or to schedule your own Uniquely Charleston Tour, visit https://uniquelycharleston.tours/.
You’ll find no shortages of answers to this question: What is there to do in Charleston, SC? Located along the coast of South Carolina just two hours south of Myrtle Beach and two hours north of Savannah, GA, this charming little city has something to offer every kind of traveler–from world-class cuisine to outdoor adventures. When visiting the area, most people like to rent beach houses in Charleston, SC, because the weather is moderate year-round and the three different beaches in the area are absolutely beautiful. Although there have been huge changes to the city and there are differing attitudes toward tourism development in Charleston, there are still plenty of things locals love to do. Before making your trip to Charleston, check out some of these non-touristy ideas to help you experience the city on a deeper level.
Visit the Angel Oak Tree
Perhaps one of the most unique natural sites in the Charleston area, the Angel Oak Tree is located on Johns Island, about a 30-minute drive from downtown. But, believe us, the short journey is worth the drive. This oak tree is said to be one of the oldest live oaks in the entire country and considered the oldest living tree east of the Mississippi, with most experts estimating its age at around 500 years old. Supported by large, wooden beams, the tree’s limbs extend to cover roughly 17,000 square feet of land. There’s no doubt when you visit this site that it has an ethereal atmosphere that only something that old can seem to possess.
Take Yourself on a Brewery Tour
Charleston has an impressive number of breweries for a city of its size, with more than 30 breweries as of 2020. Plus, the use of renewable energy sources in breweries allow you and them to keep everyone’s thumbs green while still drinking delicious beer. You don’t need a tour guide to experience a taste of the Lowcountry’s best brews. Simply create your own map and start checking places off your list! Start with the downtown area and grab a drink from the rooftop at Revelry before moving on to Fatty’s Beer Works for a game of corn hole and a cold one. Downtown is also home to breweries like Holy City Brewing at Baker and Brewer, Palmetto Brewing Co. and Edmund’s Oast Brewing. Head off the peninsula to try other great options like Tradesman and Holy City Brewing.
Drive Out to the Mepkin Abbey Monastery
This unique place to visit is appropriately located in Moncks Corner, which is about an hour from downtown Charleston. Although it takes a bit of a ride to get out here, you’ll see why people make the trek. Most locals haven’t even visited this corner of their community, so you’ll surely be able to skip the crowd of tourists on this one. Formerly a plantation, the land at Mepkin Abbey was donated and converted into a Trappist Monastery in 1949. Now, the monks still live and work on the land, but open it to the public during certain hours.
Visitors can walk around the truly enchanting grounds that make you feel as though you’ve stepped through Alice’s looking glass yourself. The most intriguing part about this monastery? The monks procure and sell their own mushrooms that are grown on the property. Known as Mepkin Abbey mushrooms, you’ll find some of these delectable little fungi on menus throughout Charleston.
Go for a Hike Through the Francis Marion National Forest
Charleston itself is known for being unusually flat, which ordinarily is not ideal for hiking, but the nearby Francis Marion National Forest offers plenty of opportunities for you to explore the Lowcountry’s unique marsh landscape. There are dozens of miles of hiking trails, including part of the Palmetto Trail that stretches for 500 miles from Charleston all the way through the Upstate into North Carolina. Currently, only 350 miles have been completed, but the project is working to complete the last 150 miles.
Float the Edisto River
The next time you find yourself wondering what there is to do in Charleston, SC, look no further than the Edisto River. This is a great activity locals love during the summer (and even the beginning of fall) because it’s an easy way to enjoy the area’s local beauty and take some time for yourself to just relax. Pick up your own tube on the way or rent one once you get there. There are several different routes you can take if you’re going to venture out there on your own, but most people park at Givhans Ferry State Park and float the three miles down river to end at Messervy or Boat Landing Road. When the river is high, this entire trip takes about four hours, but expect it to be closer to six when the water is low.
Spend Time with Animals
Although historic Charleston, SC, itself is a bustling city, the surrounding areas can be rather rural, giving you the opportunity to visit animals and explore some farms. If you want to have some truly unusual experiences during your trip, you should make time to visit Bee City located in Cottageville, SC. About an hour from downtown Charleston, Bee City is a great place for children and adults of all ages with an adorable petting zoo and animal sanctuary featuring unusual species like lemurs, porcupines, sloths and capybaras.
Visit the Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Another great way to learn more about the Lowcountry landscape and the many species of animals that are native here, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center is just 30 minutes from downtown. Here, you’ll be able to explore the many walking trails and raised boardwalks through the gorgeous marshlands. Bird watchers will love keeping an eye out for swallow-tailed kites, warblers, osprey and more.
Check Out the Parks
There are dozens of beautiful parks throughout the Charleston area. If you’re spending time downtown, you can head to Hampton Park, a large outdoor area designed for people to walk, exercise or just relax by the pond. There are also plenty of beautiful, shady spots here where you can enjoy a picnic. Although many of the parks in the area are worth the visit, Melton Peter Demetre Park, also known as Sunrise Park, on James Island is definitely one of our favorites. From here, you’ll get one of the most unique views of downtown Charleston with both the mansions at the tip of the peninsula visible alongside the iconic Cooper River Bridge. Walk around the park or bring a few towels and set up on the sandy shore here.
Walk the Bridge
Although every tourist who has ever passed through Charleston undoubtedly has a picture of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge on their phone, actually walking over the bridge is a very local thing to do. If you’re starting from the downtown side, park in the public lot on East Bay Street and then cross at the crosswalk to get to the entrance to the walking and biking path on the bridge. The entire bridge stretches 2.6 miles to Mount Pleasant, so be prepared for the walk back if you want to make it all the way to the opposite side. (Don’t be fooled—the climb from the Mount Pleasant side towards downtown is more strenuous than the other way.) Most people walk to the middle, admire the aerial view of the water and head back down.
Tour the H.L. Hunley Submarine
The history behind the H.L. Hunley is still one shrouded in mystery. The submarine was launched in February of 1864 with the mission of destroying the USS Housatonic during the Civil War. Interestingly enough, the Hunley completed its mission, making it the first submarine ever to be used in battle. But immediately after the attack, the Hunley went missing—and would remain missing for more than 100 years. The last known location of the Hunley was just off the coast of historic Charleston, SC, but after years and years of extensive searching, the submarine was never recovered. That is, until 1995 when Clive Cussler, a New York Times bestselling author, found it. Now, you can head to North Charleston to see the real submarine and learn more about its mysterious past.
Explore the Bridge to Nowhere
If you’re looking for more things to do outside, you should check out what locals have dubbed the Bridge to Nowhere. In the Wagener Terrace area of downtown Charleston, you’ll find a bridge at the end of Petty Street that seemingly leads to, well, nowhere. The bridge itself was originally built in an attempt to connect the peninsula to an area of private land known as the Magnolia property, but when the project fell through and the property declared bankruptcy, the unfinished bridge remained. It’s become a symbolic place for local Charlestonians and you’ll find people here riding bikes, walking or simply enjoying the view.
Take a Day Trip to Botany Bay
Getting to Botany Bay will take about an hour from downtown Charleston, and while Charleston itself has three gorgeous beaches, none are quite the same as this one. Located at the Botany Bay Plantation, this stretch of beach is known for its truly unique landscape of washed up driftwood. You can spend the day exploring the landscape or just catching some rays, but before you head out there, double-check the tides as the beach is inaccessible during high tide.
Get Out on the Water
One of the greatest aspects of renting one of the beach houses in Charleston, SC, is your proximity to all the amazing water activities. Paddleboarding and kayaking are regular activities enjoyed by locals to help avoid tourist crowds and experience Charleston by water. You can choose to rent kayaks or SUP on Shem Creek and then stop for a bite to eat or a drink on the water afterwards. You can also head out to Bowens Island (just off Folly Road on James Island) to have some fun in the water, followed by the meal of a lifetime at the Bowens Island Restaurant.
Check Out the Art Exhibits at Redux
An art gallery with a true passion for its surrounding community, Redux is one of the best places to visit for artists. While there are certainly other art galleries and museums in town, Redux has built a reputation for itself as the place for the local art community, which means you’ll get a unique view into this world. Check out what exhibits they have going on while you’re in town and keep an eye out for other art-related events here.
Tour the Historic Cemeteries
With so much history behind the city, Charleston has an unusually long list of ghost tales, which is why so many people that visit flock to the ghost tours. Although ghost tours may be kind of touristy, they can be informative and entertaining. But, if you’re looking to skip the tour altogether, you can simply visit some of the alleged haunted cemeteries in town to see if you experience anything paranormal. Even if you’re not interested in ghost stories, a visit to the city’s oldest cemeteries is a unique way to see the city’s beauty and experience its history. One of our personal favorites is the cemetery behind the Unitarian Church on Archdale Street.
Spend the Day at the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve
With Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island at your disposal, you’ll find plenty of gorgeous beach areas to spend your time. But, if you’re looking for a more unusual shoreline to explore, you should check out the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve located all the way at the end of Folly Beach. This area tends to be more secluded and free of tourists, but you do have to make a short walk from the street through a graffitied area before you’ll reach the ocean. Here, you’ll find eerily beautiful driftwood decorating the beach and an unparalleled view of the Morris Island Lighthouse.
Explore Charleston Like a Local
Whether you are an actual local or you’re just renting one of the beach houses in Charleston, SC, and you’re looking for a unique experience, we’ve got a whole list of great ideas for you. With such a unique landscape, the Holy City has a nearly endless list of outdoor activities available–from water sports and hiking to animal petting zoos and historic sites.
Many people who are looking to take a weekend getaway seek out coastal areas near beautiful beaches to enjoy the unlimited access to the ocean and water activities. Right now, one of the most popular coastal cities to visit is Charleston, SC because of its rich history, unique architecture, and, of course, the beaches.
If you’ve got Charleston n mind, there are dozens of great areas to explore. Folly Beach real estate is particularly popular for vacation rentals and those who want to be as close to the beach as possible, but, because Charleston is a relatively small city, it’s easy to visit some of the other great beaches and attractions in the area as well.
So, How Far Is Charleston from the Beach?
The short answer: not far. In fact, there are beaches in almost every direction from the downtown peninsula. If you head east toward the town of Mount Pleasant, you’ll find two popular beaches—Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. Sullivan’s Island is only about a 20-minute drive from downtown, while Isle of Palms is a bit deeper into Mount Pleasant, making your trip from the peninsula to the beach about 30-minutes long.
Folly Beach is a favorite place for locals and visitors to frequent as well. Head west to James Island during a quick 15-to-20-minute ride out to Folly, where you’ll find a beach town with plenty of restaurants and shops.
Beaches in the Area
• Folly Beach
Known as “The Edge of America,” Folly Beach is known to have a bit more of a bohemian vibe, with many surfers heading here to a spot known as The Washout to catch some waves. Folly stretches for six miles, giving beachgoers plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the sun.
If you want to stick close to Center Street, the road that takes you right into Folly, you can check out some of the restaurants like Snapper Jack’s or Jack of Cups, or sip a cocktail while looking out over the ocean at the Tides’ Blu Beach Bar and Grill. Don’t forget to take a walk down the pier and maybe stop for another cocktail on your way back at Pier 101.
If you’re looking for a more private area of the beach, you should turn left at the end of Center Street and follow the road until the end. Here, you’ll discover a path that has been decorated in colorful graffiti over the years and which leads to an area of the beach known as the Lighthouse Inlet Preserve. You can relax among the beach’s driftwood trees and get a peek of the Morris Island Lighthouse from the shore.
• Sullivan’s Island
When you arrive at Sullivan’s Island, you’ll be greeted by a row of great restaurants and bars with outdoor patios, giving visitors plenty of options for places to stop for happy hour or a post-beach meal. Park near Station 18 if you want the chance to admire the beach’s unique, triangular lighthouse that has been in operation since 1962. The lighthouse was initially created as a replacement for the Morris Island Lighthouse because the former was at risk of suffering damage from the island’s erosion.
To get to a more private area of the beach, head down to Station 10, but be sure to check the tides first as sometimes the sand is covered by the ocean during high tide.
• Isle of Palms
Although Isle of Palms is the furthest beach from downtown Charleston, there are dozens of beautiful vacation rentals along the beach and other areas nearby. A favorite activity for those visiting the Isle of Palms beach is to head to the Windjammer, where they regularly hold live music shows and beach volleyball games.
The Isle of Palms tends to attract more of a family crowd, though it’s the perfect beach for any kind of traveler. Wild Dunes rentals are the perfect places to stay for a beach getaway because you have easy access to the beach as well as all the amenities in the gated neighborhood such as tennis courts and a pool.
Other Nearby Beaches
• Edisto Beach and Botany Bay
While Charleston county has three beautiful beaches to offer, there are a few other great beaches nearby that you can visit for the day. Edisto Beach is about an hour south of Charleston, but it has more of a sleepy, small-town vibe with a few great restaurants and cute stores.
If you decide to make the trip out to Edisto Beach, you absolutely must spend some time at Botany Bay. This nearby plantation has a gorgeous driving route that takes guests through avenues of live oaks before bringing you to a parking area for the Botany Bay Beach, which is truly one of the most unique beaches in the country. The sand stretches for nearly three miles and is covered in huge remains of driftwood trees. On any given day, you’ll see beachgoers posing for pictures on these beautiful beach decorations.
• Kiawah Island
Also about an hour from Charleston, Kiawah Island is one of the top destinations for golfers. You can spend the day on the beaches of Kiawah sunbathing and looking out for coastal creatures that dwell in these areas like dolphins and a variety of seabirds.
If you need a break from the ocean and sand, you can spend a day teeing off on one of the five professionally designed championship courses. Taking a day trip to Kiawah Island is the perfect way to explore more areas of the South Carolina coast while getting the chance to golf and still return back to enjoy all the city has to offer.
How to Find a Charleston Vacation Rental
Because the Holy City is such a hot travel destination right now, the options for Charleston, SC vacation rentals are abundant. While there are plenty of hotels in the area, most people prefer to stay in a vacation rental during their trip to Charleston because these types of properties provide more space, are closer to the beach, and give you the option to cook up your own delicious meal right where you’re staying.
If you’re looking for a vacation rental in the area, here are tips to keep in mind:
• Consider What Your Group Needs
The type of vacation rental you decide to book will have a lot to do with what kind of group you’re traveling with. If you’re taking a couple’s getaway, you won’t need as much space as an extensive group of friends or a family gathering would, so you might want to opt for something a bit more cozy and intimate.
For big groups, a beach rental is the perfect accommodation because you’ll have room for everyone, a place for people to hang out and congregate, and quick and easy access to whichever beach you choose to stay near; plus, you’ll have the downtown area within quick driving distance.
• What Activities Are You Planning?
Before you book a rental, determine what you want to spend your vacation doing. If you’re looking to lounge on the beach for days on end, you should stick with a beach rental, but, if you’re planning to spend your time exploring downtown, you may want to pick an area closer to the city and just plan to drive out or grab an Uber to one of the beaches during your trip. There are no shortage of water activities, so consider all the sports you may want to try from kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, to jet-skiing and parasailing.
• Check the Dates First
Although there are tons of great rentals in the Charleston area, these properties do book up quickly, particularly in the spring and summertime, so be sure when you’re searching that you’re entering the dates of your trip. This will give you a better idea of what is still available and prevents you from getting your hopes up when you find a really awesome accommodation, only to learn it has already been booked for your planned time.
If you’re flexible with the dates of your trip, you can try plugging in a few different dates to see how the options for vacation rentals change and then pick the property that’s right for you.
Places to Stop at the Beach
While the beaches of Charleston are beautiful on their own, there are a few local spots you should definitely check out during your beach getaway. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite places to stop when we’re near the water.
● Bert’s Market: This 24-hour local grocery store is a must-stop little shop with everything from freshly made desserts and sandwiches to grocery items like snacks, drinks, and more. If you’re looking to grab a few things before you hit the sand, Bert’s is your place.
● Surf Bar: A very local spot, Surf Bar is just off of Center Street. While it may not have the gorgeous oceanfront views of the Tides hotel, it has a lot of local flavor. Stop in for a drink and sit by the fireplace on the patio or grab some food. The philly cheesesteak is cooked to perfection.
● Wiki Wiki Sandbar: This three-level restaurant and bar is kind of a newbie on Folly Beach, but it’s a great place to grab some fresh Hawaiian-inspired dishes and some fun, beachy cocktails. Head up to the third floor to sit at the fully decked-out tiki bar or on the outdoor patio.
● The Obstinate Daughter: Considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in the Charleston area, the Obstinate Daughter is owned by Chef Jacques Larson, the same owner of Johns Island’s Wild Olive, a highly recommended Italian joint. Pop into the Obstinate Daughter for a classy dinner of dishes like the Old Danger pizza, which features an egg, homemade pastas, and fresh oysters among other tasty options.
● Home Team BBQ: If you’re looking for a good time, Home Team is the place to be. Their barbecue is delicious and their frozen drinks are even better. Throw back just one of their game changers, and you’ll be good for the rest of the day.
● Mex 1 Cantina: Another great place to hit up for happy hour after a long day at the beach, Mex 1 Cantina has outdoor seating and delicious Mexican food and drinks.
● Dunleavy’s: If you’re the kind of person who loves a good dive bar, Dunleavy’s is for you. It’s not the divey-est dive bar, but this Irish pub doesn’t put on frills, with a cool interior covered in old license plates and photos of the staff. If you want a quick bite to eat, they serve up all the simple things like hot dogs, burgers, and fries.
● Poe’s Tavern: Inspired by the American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe, Poe’s Tavern is one of the most popular places to dine while on Sullivan’s Island. Everything on the menu is named after one of Poe’s legendary stories. Select from a variety of burgers, chicken sandwiches, and tacos. And, don’t forget to ask about the time Poe spent in the area while stationed at Fort Moultrie.
● The Co-Op: Before heading out to the water, stop by The Co-Op to pick up a few sandwiches to enjoy in the sun. Don’t forget to order one of their flavored frosé drinks while you wait.
Experience Your Dream Getaway
When you come to Charleston, SC, you’ll be surrounded by the best of everything: beaches, bars, restaurants, and history. If you’re thinking about planning a trip, look for Folly Beach real estate available to rent and stay near the water, or find a vacation rental closer to the city to experience the heart of downtown Charleston while also being just a short drive from three of the best beaches in the state. While you’re in town, consider taking a day trip to one of the other beaches as well, like Kiawah Island or Edisto Beach, and have the vacation of a lifetime.
In the previous installments of this blog on hidden gems, I made it clear these locations are not secrets but rather places that even some long-time Charleston residents have yet to find and explore. Here is one more delightful neighborhood and two surprises hidden in plain sight.
Shellring at St. Thomas Island
Do you love the Daniel Island lifestyle but find it is beyond your budget? Shellring offers the same easy, bikeable access to Daniel Island shops, restaurants, grocery and tennis center but, with lower HOA fees and the added benefit of super quick access to I-526. The neighborhood connects to everything Daniel Island offers via bike or golf cart at a significantly lower cost for home ownership. The charming neighborhood pool, Daniel Island schools, and highly walkable streets make this a great family neighborhood.
Beachwalker County Park
The Travel Channel lists the beach at Kiawah as one of the best beaches on the east coast and I couldn’t agree more. The dunes and the sugary white sand make for a relaxing day at the beach. But, even if you are not staying in a pricey beach house behind the gate at Kiawah Island, the south end of the beach is open to the public at Beachwalker County Park. Our county park system in Charleston is excellent and provides a ton of amenities including charcoal grills and picnic tables, restrooms and showers, food concessions, and my mom enjoyed using their beach wheelchair free of charge. Lifeguards are available, as are umbrellas and chairs for rental. Take your dog (on a leash of course) and watch the dolphins and children play in the surf.
The Island Trail at Grimball Gates
Looking to the southwest from the Limehouse Bridge as you travel to Johns Island, you will see a sandy strip running along the Stono River. A glimpse of this bike/ped/golfcart path disappears under the canopy of trees and you might wonder where it leads. It leads through the marsh, tidal creeks, and along the Intracoastal Waterway in a 1.63 mile loop around the island putting the great beauty of the Lowcountry right at your fingertips. The newly refurbished Grimball Gates community dock is a shady stop on the tour where you can watch the dolphins, alligators, and waterfowl that inhabit the environs and coexist with the boaters that navigate the river. Residents often enjoy their happy hour there, or take in a sunset. The trail itself is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
In Part One and Part Two of this blog on hidden gems, I made it clear these locations are not secrets, but rather places that even some long-time Charleston residents have yet to find and explore. Here are two more delightful neighborhoods and another surprise hidden in plain sight.
Maybe you’ve heard about the Rockville Regatta, maybe you have some vague recollection that Rockville is way out on Wadmalaw Island. But, if you haven’t visited, you are missing a delightful town seemingly floating along the Bohicket Creek. The Regatta is a great big party, but on any other day, Rockville is a sleepy resort village and a lovely spot for a picnic or day of fishing. Their designation as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places has preserved the historic homes and churches. Drive through the canopies of Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss on the Maybank Highway from James Island to Johns Island and keep going across Wadmalaw until you run out of road.
Do you want the benefits of newer construction, the charm of ancient oaks, views of the Ashley River, and you want it all downtown? Longborough has it all. You may not have driven by it because it is tucked away behind Wagener Terrace at the north end of the peninsula. This charming neighborhood was designed for a downtown vibe and is walking distance to Hampton Park, the Citadel and has some of the best new restaurants in town! I love the community waterfront park, walking trails, and dock.
Fast and French
How can a long-established restaurant on Broad Street be a hidden gem? Charlestonians have long enjoyed the Fast and French Gaulart & Maliclet communal tables and cozy atmosphere. You may not know however, that they recently changed their service model to a tip-free patronage. That’s right, no tipping and even the tax is included in the price. Your very French, Seafood Normandy listed for just $21 will cost you exactly $21 out the door. My favorite is the $5 traditional ham and brie on baguette from the express menu. You’d be hard pressed to find a better downtown lunch for the money! Grab one of the eight $5 sandwiches and enjoy it while taking the garden tour I described in the first part of this series. That’s totally free.
Whether you’re planning on visiting Charleston, S.C. or you’ve made the decision to move here permanently, you should be prepared to spend a lot of time outside. Located along the coast of South Carolina, Charleston is a quaint and charming city that experiences sunshine almost every day of the year, making it the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Though the area is relatively free of mountains, there are dozens of other great outdoor activities visitors and locals can participate in all year long, especially water-related sports. Find out more about everything you need to know to enjoy the Lowcountry outdoors.
Charleston Has the Ideal Climate
In the last decade, Charleston has experienced a huge influx of people moving to the area from more northern states. Aside from the world-class cuisine, great bar scene and beautiful landscape, the most enticing aspect of the city to these newcomers is most likely the climate. Charleston’s location on the coast can mean an increased chance of humidity, but it also provides some relief from the summer heat as an occasional breeze from the ocean can cool things down.
July and August are the hottest months of the year with temperatures regularly surpassing 90 degrees F. Though the summers can be sweltering, there are plenty of ways to seek relief from the heat, and the rest of the year offers beautiful temperatures allowing you to take advantage of the outdoors. In the winter, the average temperatures fall between the mid-40s and 60 degrees F. These winter temperatures are very mild compared to other parts of the country and many Charlestonians take advantage of the warm winters by heading out on the harbor in boats or even making a December trip to the beach, though you will still want to throw a sweatshirt on for this activity.
Take Advantage of Lowcountry Outdoor Living
With such beautiful year-round weather and gorgeous Lowcountry scenery, it would be crazy not to indulge in all of the exciting outdoor activities Charleston has to offer. If you’re coming to the area for a vacation, you can find beachfront rentals throughout the area to stay close to the water. For visitors, the spring is the most popular time of the year to visit as the summer heat hasn’t quite set in yet, but the flowers are all in bloom. If you don’t want to visit during a time when a lot of other travelers are in the area, try booking a trip for fall or winter and get a more authentic feel for Charleston. Summer brings in a lot of travelers as well, but some people avoid the area during this season because of the hotter temperatures. During your stay, here are the top outdoor activities you should plan to participate in.
Golf Courses Galore
Charleston is a hotspot for those who love golf. Not only are there several nearby golf courses, but Charleston is also less than two hours away from Hilton Head Island, where you’ll find even more world-class courses. In Charleston, you can spend a day on the green at the public City of Charleston Municipal Golf Course or frequent one of the private courses like Patriots Point Links or Shadowmoss Plantation Golf Club. Many of the most serious golfers will take the 40-minute drive to Kiawah Island for access to some of the best courses in the entire country. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers five beautiful courses that have been designed by top professionals like Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye. Each course integrates the natural landscape of the nearby ocean and marshes.
Hit the Beach All Year Long
With winter temperatures rarely dipping below the 50s and 60s, it’s possible to enjoy the beach during every season. Charleston is surrounded by three fantastic beaches—Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. When you drive about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston to James Island, you’ll reach Folly Beach. This area has a bohemian vibe with great restaurants like Jack of Cups Saloon, which offers a killer red curry mac and cheese, and Rita’s, where you need to order the surprisingly refreshing watermelon tuna nachos. You can enjoy a drink on the back deck of the Tides hotel while overlooking the ocean or grab a seat on the pier and take in the view.
If you head all the way to the end of Folly, you’ll find the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve. To get to this hidden part of the beach, you’ll have to park your car and walk down a stretch of deserted road covered in unique graffiti. After about half a mile, you’ll see the beach, which is covered by large pieces of driftwood that people use to hang hammocks. In the not-so-far distance, you’ll also be able to see the old Morris Island Lighthouse, which is no longer in operation but still makes for a unique landmark.
If you head in the opposite direction of James Island from downtown, you’ll discover two more beaches in Mount Pleasant. Sullivan’s Island has a more upscale vibe with fancy restaurants like The Obstinate Daughter and more casual eateries like Hometeam BBQ or Mex-1. After a filling meal, hit the beach and find a spot near the lighthouse. Traveling a bit further into Mount Pleasant, you’ll reach Isle of Palms, which tends to have a bit more of a family vibe. For young people, there’s still plenty to do like catch some live music at the Windjammer beach bar or round up people to play a game of beach volleyball on the bar’s courts. Isle of Palms is also the perfect location if you’re looking for beachfront vacation rentals.
A Fishing Enthusiast’s Dream
There are plenty of areas throughout the Lowcountry for fishers to spend the day trying to reel in a big catch. For shoreline fishing, you can cast a line off one of the fishing piers in Mount Pleasant or Folly Beach. Many fishers will also head to specific areas of the beach to participate in some shark fishing, which often turns up small sharks that can be as large at three feet long. As a visitor, you can charter a boat and take it out to some of the best spots in the marshes or out on the ocean to catch some local fish species. Before heading out on the water, be sure to educate yourself on local fishing laws to ensure that you’re not breaking any guidelines or disturbing the natural ecosystem.
With so many bodies of water surrounding Charleston, there’s plenty of opportunities to go boating, whether you want to spend the day fishing or cruising through the harbor. Drive beneath the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge for one of the best views from the water and cruise past the Battery to get a unique look at the mansions that line this street. Throughout the area, you’ll discover many sand bar areas where other boaters anchor to spend some time drinking, chatting and taking a dip in the Atlantic. If you’re moving to Charleston, you may want to consider investing in your own boat as there’s ample opportunities to get out on the water. Some locals even head out on a Christmas Day ride. For those visiting, you can look into one of the many charter options available.
Other Water Activities
Charlestonians love their water activities. From kayaking and paddleboarding to surfing and parasailing, you’ll find it all here. Maybe you want to explore the ocean atop a jet ski or learn how to balance on a standup paddleboard. If you head to Bowen’s Island and rent kayaks from this location, you can explore the waterways surrounded by gorgeous marshlands. Then, after turning in your kayaks, head to the Bowen’s Island Restaurant for a taste of the freshest fish in the city. Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant is another great area for water activities as you can paddle through the waterway, which is surrounded on either side by popular outdoor bars. Afterwards, be sure to stop at Saltwater Cowboys or Red’s Ice House for a drink and an appetizer.
Though there are traditional malls in Charleston, outdoor shopping is definitely the more popular option. Both locals and visitors tend to prefer spending as much time outside as possible in Charleston because of the beautiful weather. The downtown shopping district runs from the intersection of King Street and Calhoun Street until King hits Market Street. Explore the many local boutiques or pop into bigger name stores like Urban Outfitters and H&M. You can also check out the open-air market on Market Street, which offers unique, handmade products from local artisans.
For even more outdoor shopping, you can explore the Tanger Outlets in North Charleston. Here, you’ll find great prices from major brands like Nike and Lucky Brand. The entire outlet area is set up like an outdoor mall so you can enjoy the mild temperatures while walking from shop to shop. Mount Pleasant’s Town Center is another outdoor mall with a combination of small boutique shops and big-name department stores like Belk.
Angel Oak on Johns Island
The Angel Oak tree on Johns Island is undoubtedly one of the top outdoor attractions in the Holy City. When visiting Charleston, S.C., a trip out to one of the oldest trees in the world is well worth the drive. This live oak is so large that many of its limbs need to be supported by thick wooden stakes. When you arrive at the Angel Oak, you’ll be in awe of the tree’s sheer size and beauty, and you may even notice an almost mystical ambiance that surrounds the entire area. While out on Johns Island, check out one of the area’s best restaurants before heading back into the city. The Wild Olive is a highly praised Italian restaurant run by chef Jacques Larson of Sullivan’s Island’s The Obstinate Daughter. The Fat Hen is another great option on Johns Island for either brunch or dinner.
Drinking, eating and being outside are three of Charlestonians’ favorite pastimes, and locals will try to combine these activities into one as often as possible, which is why so many rooftop bars dot the downtown area. The Watch, a bar atop The Restoration Hotel, may offer one of the best views of the sunset along with craft cocktails and light plates. The rooftop bar at the new Hotel Bennet overlooks Marion Square and faces out towards the harbor. From here, you can spot several of the dozens of churches that make up the Charleston skyline. Stars is another popular restaurant and bar on King Street that offers a rooftop experience and delicious dishes like Truffle Lobster Fettuccine.
If you’re looking for more ways to enjoy the Lowcountry while also learning more about the area, try taking a trip to one of the many historical sites. From Fort Sumter and Patriot’s Point to Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row, the entire city is entrenched in an intriguing history. Learn about the city’s role in the Revolutionary and Civil wars or head to the Patriot’s Point Maritime Museum atop the USS Yorktown, where you can explore this retired aircraft carrier and even climb aboard some old military planes on the hangar deck. Head out to Fort Sumter to witness the location where the Civil War began or spend the day hanging out in one of the many historical parks in the area. You can sign up for a walking historical tour or hear legends of the city’s past on a late-night ghost tour.
Whether you’re just visiting Charleston, S.C. or relocating to the area permanently, you’ll quickly realize how much outdoor living is a part of the city’s culture. You can spend your days on one of the nearby professionally designed golf courses, hit the beach any day of the year or simply enjoy the many outdoor spaces and historical areas. No matter what outdoor activities you choose to participate in, you’ll be amazed by the unparalleled natural beauty of the Lowcountry.
In part one of four, I made it clear these locations are not “secrets,” but rather places that even some long-time Charleston residents have yet to find and explore. Here are two more delightful neighborhoods and another great activity hidden in plain sight.
Kiawah River Estates
Do you love the Kiawah Island (KI) lifestyle but find it a bit too exclusive? Kiawah River Estates (KRE) is a great alternative with many of the same great features KI offers at a premium. This gated community is less than 5 miles from the front gate at KI and prices are significantly lower for its executive homes. KRE has tennis, a community pool, tennis courts, pickle ball tournaments, and party house where I’m told they hold one of the area’s top notch Kentucky Derby Parties! The newly redesigned golf course at KRE is managed by the Kiawah Island Club. There is also a picnic area near the community dock and you’ll see more golf carts than cars on the quiet streets. Perhaps the best feature is that Beachwalker County Park is less than 5 miles away and is open to the public. The county park is connected to the beach behind the gate and features the same white sand, dunes and dolphins! At KRE you can enjoy one of the finest beaches in the country and live where the homeowner’s costs are thousands less per year.
Looking for a bargain near historic downtown Charleston? The Bourdeleaux condominiums are located in Wagener Terrace on the banks of the Ashley River. This delightful neighborhood on the north end of the peninsula is walking distance to Hampton Park, the Citadel and some of the best new restaurants in town! The condos share a pool and fabulous views of the river. Walk the dog, or bike through the lightly traveled streets. The tidy homes in this older Charleston neighborhood are hot properties, so if you haven’t been to Wagener Terrace lately, you are in for a treat. If you are looking for a real sense of neighborhood, a downtown bargain, and the convenience of a condo, Bordeleaux might be right for you.
For years I watched people fishing and shrimping off the edge of the Ashley River under the bridge that links West Ashley to North Charleston via Cosgrove Avenue. Folks would park precariously along the edge of the road to throw in a line or net while cars whizzed past them in four lanes of traffic over the bridge. A couple of years ago, the City of Charleston developed this de facto fishing pier into a charming municipal park with a proper dock, plenty of parking, and a safe ingress and egress for walkers, bikers, and cars. Other amenities include security cameras, lighting, and restrooms. Put in a kayak, take your fishing pole, pack a picnic, or just sit on a bench and watch the boats and dolphins navigate the waterway at the Northbridge Park. The sunsets are truly spectacular!
One of the hottest travel destinations in the world, Charleston, South Carolina, has so much to offer its visitors, from a top-notch culinary scene to unique historic sites. However, if you’re like most travelers, you’re probably planning to fly into Charleston, leaving you without a vehicle to get around. Luckily, the downtown area of Charleston itself is fairly small, which makes it easy for active visitors to walk from place to place. If you’re traveling with small children or seniors on the other hand, you may want a quicker way to get around. If you’re not interested in renting a car, don’t worry–there are plenty of modes of transportation while staying in Charleston.
Getting Around Charleston Without a Car
Most people who live in downtown Charleston actually prefer not to own a car since it’s easier to get around, and there’s no need to pay for parking. If you’re moving to Charleston, you may want to consider the fact that your car could be a bigger burden than a convenience in the downtown area. However, if you’re moving to another area like James Island or Mount Pleasant, you’ll probably want a car to get around. If you’re just visiting the area and you have a place to stay downtown, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that you are within walking distance of most downtown attractions. Before figuring out which types of transportation you’ll need to use, it’s helpful to plan out all the places and sights you’d like to see. Then, you can determine the best way to hop from place to place.
Charleston Transportation Options
When walking around downtown Charleston, you’ll notice a number of trolley buses cruising through the streets with the words “FREE” painted across the sides. You’re not imagining that—the downtown trolley service is actually free for visitors and locals! This DASH trolley service stops at some of the most popular and frequented places on the peninsula, making it easy for you to see all the sights you want to without needing a car. You can stop by the Charleston Visitor Center to pick up a map and find out more, or simply look for the CARTA signs that line the streets.
CARTA Public Transportation
The Charleston CARTA is a larger public transportation system that can be useful if you need to get on or off of the downtown peninsula for any reason. CARTA has routes that run between downtown, North Charleston, James Island, West Ashley and Mount Pleasant. This is a great and affordable way to get to and from the airport, but be sure to catch a bus that leaves well in advance of your flight just in case of unexpected delays. Although CARTA is a great way to get around, it does not have as many stops in neighborhoods aside from downtown, so you have to carefully plan how you will get from your stop to your destination. If you’re looking to visit attractions like the Angel Oak on Johns Island, you may have to opt for a different mode of transportation.
Downtown Charleston has a handful of different bike taxi options. Although these pedicabs will only bring you to locations on the downtown peninsula, this is a fun, cheap and convenient way to get around. Each pedicab can fit two to three people, but you can request multiple bikes if you’re traveling in a large group. These pedicabs will often post up in popular areas to make catching a ride even more convenient, but you can also contact the company directly and have a cab pick you up and drop you off at any desired downtown location.
Always a viable transportation option, taxis are available throughout the Charleston area. However, unlike other larger cities, you won’t often see taxis driving around that you can simply hail down for a ride. Instead, it’s easier to call the company ahead of time and arrange for a ride. While this a great secondary option, there are several more convenient ways to get around Charleston.
Using a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft is a more efficient way to get from place to place over a traditional taxi in Charleston. Uber and Lyft drivers can be found most times of the day and night, with wait times usually being under ten minutes. Ride-sharing services can be more useful than public transportation as they will pick riders up from any destination and bring them exactly where they need to go. When using public transportation, you’re a bit more limited because of the specific stop locations.
When exploring downtown Charleston, you can walk to nearly any attraction easily. The entire downtown area covers about three miles in each direction, meaning you never need to go too far on foot. There are some areas that would be inconvenient or dangerous to walk because of traffic, but for the most part, all of the shops, restaurants and parks are within walking distance. You can even embark on a Historic Walking Tour of the city to learn more about its history and witness the many beautiful neighborhoods.
One of the top ways for locals to get around downtown Charleston is by bicycle. If you’re moving to the area and wondering about transportation options, purchasing a high-quality bike is a great option as you can quickly and easily navigate the streets of downtown without having to stress about parking. For visitors, biking through the city is a great option. Throughout downtown, you’ll find many different Holy Spokes bikeshare stations where you can rent bicycles and pay simply for the time that you’ve been using the bike. Just download the app, enter your payment information and you’re off! You can rent the bikes whenever you’re done at any of the stations around town, but keep in mind that even if you park the bike, you are still being charged for the time. You may want to return your bike at your destination. Then, start another rental period when you want to move on to another area.
Places to Visit by Foot
Waterfront Park is one of the most popular outdoor areas for visitors to walk or bike to. Located off Broad Street near The Vendue hotel, this area features a grassy park where you can sit and enjoy a picnic, as well as a pier that extends out into the harbor. Spend some time looking for dolphins passing by while relaxing on one of the large swings on the pier. If you have kids with you and you’re visiting in the summertime, you can also bring along their bathing suits and let them wade in the two fountains at Waterfront Park! Be sure to snap a picture in front of the Pineapple Fountain before you leave, as this is one of the most recognizable areas in Charleston.
Located on East Bay Street near The Battery, Rainbow Row is a series of thirteen houses that are painted in beautiful, bright colors. This is one of the most photographed areas in the city, and it’s easy to walk to from other popular destinations like The Battery, Waterfront Park and the market. If you’re going to walk to this attraction, try planning a route that will take you to several other nearby sites at the same time. This is also a great area to bike. You can round the corner after viewing the houses, and ride along the water while admiring the mansions that line the Battery.
King Street Shopping District
King Street is the main street that runs through the city and features many of the most popular bars, restaurants and shops. You can easily walk the entire length of the street to view beautiful Charleston-style buildings while shopping and eating to your heart’s content. If you’re in the area on the second Sunday of the month, you can walk here for the King Street Second Sunday celebration when the city closes the lower part of the street to traffic. Restaurants and shops will bring their business out to the sidewalks as visitors and locals walk through the street for a relaxing Sunday outside.
The Charleston City Market
Potentially the most popular tourist attraction, The Charleston City Market is located on Market Street between Meeting and East Bay Street. You can walk here from nearly anywhere on the lower peninsula, but be sure to consider what time and day you’re planning to visit as it can get very busy on weekends. The market itself features dozens of local artisans selling handmade goods, as well as food purveyors and artists. The market runs between South and North Market Street, both of which are also lined with individual shops. This is a great place to go to find unique souvenirs or gifts, and you can pop in to one of the restaurants if you start to feel hungry during your shopping trip.
On the corner of King and Calhoun Street, Marion Square is one of the most popular parks to spend time in. Bring a picnic and eat your lunch right here in this beautiful park or stop in to the Hotel Bennett, which overlooks Marion Square, to have a drink on the rooftop and get one of the most breathtaking views in the city. Between the months of April and November, Marion Square has a farmers market on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can purchase fresh, local produce, browse local art and jewelry and indulge in some of the best food truck food around. Live music and a kids’ play area act as additional entertainment for the whole family.
Before booking a trip to Charleston, be sure to check the city’s schedule of events. Marion Square often hosts some of the most highly anticipated events of the year. Charleston Wine + Food’s annual culinary village is held right in this park, and attendees can walk around trying gourmet food samples, as well as sipping on a variety of wines and local beers. The Spoleto Festival, Charleston Fashion Week and SEWE (Southeastern Wildlife Exposition) are three other major events hosted in this park each year.
White Points Garden
White Points Garden is at the tip of the peninsula, connecting East Bay Street to Murray Boulevard. This is the start of what locals refer to as The Battery. Murray Boulevard runs along the tip of the peninsula with gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean and beautiful multi-million dollar mansions. Hang out in the park and then explore The Battery to witness the exact location where the first shots of the Civil War rang out. This is the perfect place to visit during a bike ride through the city. Start your ride by renting bikes by Colonial Lake and then head towards The Battery. Ride along the water until you reach the park and continue up East Bay Street to see Rainbow Row and visit the Charleston City Market.
College of Charleston Campus
Voted the Most Beautiful College Campus in the U.S. by the readers of Travel + Leisure, the College of Charleston is located in the heart of downtown. If you find yourself exploring the city by foot, you should definitely take some time to walk through the campus, and get a glimpse of the gorgeous live oaks covered with Spanish moss and historic Charleston homes converted to offices. The Cistern is a large, open area where graduation takes place and is filled with beauty and history.
Explore the Best of Charleston
Whether you’re planning on moving to Charleston or just heading down for a vacation, this is one of the greatest cities in the country. If you’re staying downtown, you can easily walk or bike to many of the most exciting areas. You can also hop on and off the free DASH trolley to get to locations like the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park. If you need to travel further distances, you can easily grab an Uber or Lyft from nearly any area in the city–or, for short distances, hop on a bike and enjoy the ride. However you choose to get around Charleston, just be sure to explore the best of the city’s food, history and outdoor activities.