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Charleston SC Travel Guide

Charleston, South Carolina, has quite a reputation. From a rich history dating back to the early 1700s, impeccable architecture seemingly untouched by time, beautiful sandy beaches, and world-class cuisine, Charleston seems to have it all. In 2016 Travel + Leisure voted Charleston the number one city in the world! In  2020 Charleston was voted the Best City in the U.S for the 8th straight year by Travel + Leisure magazine. 

Charleston has an unforgettable charm ingrained in its culture through its southern hospitality, breathtaking scenery nestled in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and its picturesque downtown with cobblestone streets and colonial houses. It is easy to get lost wandering the famous “Rainbow Row” of colonial-style houses lining the waterfront. Visitors from all over the world come here to experience a taste of southern living at its finest. 

Charleston SC Top Activities

Charleston is in the perfect location for water activities on or around the beach or in the city and has several popular beaches such as Folly Beach located on James Island, Sullivans Island Beach, or Isle of Palms situated on Mount Pleasant. Time to enjoy the southern culture where the pace is slower, and there is time to enjoy the simpler things. 

Visit Rainbow Row

houses
Rainbow Row, Charleston, SC

Rainbow Row is the most photogenic part of Charleston. Rainbow Row is a long street lined with beautiful and brightly colored homes dating back to the mid-1700s. These homes are located South of Broad Street and feature 14 historical residences , all lining the waterfront area known as “The Battery.” Several houses are open to the public for tours of the incredibly preserved furniture, floors, and interior design that looks the same as it did hundreds of years ago. 

The Charleston City Market

This historic market has been around for hundreds of years, formerly used for purchasing and selling slaves. This market is open every day of the year and features a variety of handmade items from paintings, pottery, snacks you can only find in the south, handcrafted jewelry, and so much more! The highlight of this market is the signature ‘sweetgrass baskets’ handwoven by locals who have been handed down this craft by their ancestors. 

Exploring King Street

King Street is home to class shopping. From high-end designers to small locally run boutiques, it’s impossible to leave here without something new. If window shopping isn’t of interest, simply enjoy the view on King Street, or hop into one of the many cafes, ice cream shops, or restaurants and grab a bite.

Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens

Boone Hall is home to a rich history, including some of the darkest times in American slavery The long driveway is covered by beautiful trees with the signature Spanish Moss hanging down. Visiting Boone Hall Plantation is something everyone should do when visiting Charleston as it has been around for over 300 years, and has even been featured in hit movies like The Notebook. Visitors can embark on a tour that will take you back in time and learn about its history involving slavery, the crops it still produces 300 years later, and how it ties into Charleston’s extensive history.

Charleston Ghost Tours

Visitors can take a variety of walking ghost tours offered all around the city. From visiting graveyards to hearing tales of mothers who still visit their child’s grave at night, or visiting the Charleston City Jail and hearing the moans of prisoners who still haunt the grounds, Charleston’s haunted history is something that everyone should experience. 

Rent a bicycle

Take in downtown Charleston by bike and explore the city at your own pace. Bicycles are available for rent all around the city by simply logging into an app and paying by the hour. Explore Rainbow Row, the Battery, the Pineapple Fountain, the French Quarter, and King Street all on your own and see the beauty that Charleston has to offer.

Where to Eat and Drink in Charleston 

Breakfast & Coffee

Clerks: Located inside hotel Emmeline downtown right across from the Charleston City Market. The perfect place to grab a cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich before shopping or exploring downtown. 

The Daily: Located conveniently on King Street and known for its breakfast sandwiches, lunch wraps, and incredible coffee selection. 

HarkenA local gem located in the French Quarter of downtown charleston. Featuring a beautifully historic interior,delicious baked goods, strong coffee, and a perfect location to begin a day’s worth of exploring in downtown Charleston.

Callies Hot Little Biscuit: There is no better place to find out what southern food is all about. This tiny shop offers various breakfast biscuits that can feed 2-3 people and features signature southern staples like grits and pimento cheese. This restaurant has two locations, one on King Street and the other inside the Charleston Market. This restaurant is so popular there are often lines out the door late at night around 1 am and when it opens, each day at 10 am. 

The Obstinate Daughter: Located on Sullivans Island this Southern restaurant is influenced by Spanish, Italian, and French foods. This restaurant offers an incredible selection of brunch, lunch, and dinner options 

Lunch

High Thyme: A hidden oasis is located right off the main road in Mount Pleasant. This restaurant offers outdoor seating with a garden, a local shop for souvenirs, and genuine southern hospitality from its staff. This is the perfect place to enjoy lunch with all local ingredients carefully crafted with a southern twist.

Co-op Sullivans: On the main road on Sullivans Island is a vibrant restaurant that features its signature froze. With salads, wraps, sandwiches, and more this restaurant has everything necessary fora day on the beach. The Co-op also offers to-go froze, froze flights, and more! It’s a must while visiting Sullivans Island beach.

Graze: A casual dining experience in Mount Pleasant with a variety of creative options for brunch, lunch, and dinner. 

Butcher & Bee: Located in downtown Charleston this restaurant offers brunch, lunch, and dinner. Its menu is crafted with all local ingredients and the staff is very passionate about its wine selection. For wine lovers looking to sample incredible wine at a great cost, Butcher & Bee is a must.

Dinner and Drinks

Chez Nous: A historic house located in the French Quarter of downtown Charleston is home to one of the top restaurants in Charleston. This restaurant offers an intimate environment with a menu that changes daily and only offers 6 menu items. The chef handwrites the menu in both French and English for a personal touch and an unforgettable experience..

O-Ku: Another home run restaurant located on King Street with some of the best sushi options in all of Charleston. The interior has a warm and inviting atmosphere with incredible cocktails.

Neon Tiger: A trendy vegan restaurant with handcrafted cocktails and a variety of meal choices that even non-vegans can’t resist. Many visitors simply go to enjoy its Instagram-worthy design and drinks.

Felix: Located on King Street, this french inspired restaurant offers an expansive menu and cocktails made to order. Felix has several options for food, from small, made-to-share plates to larger dinner plates featuring pasta, steaks, and more, all dripping with french flavor.

The Wreck of Richard and Charlene:

Boats
View from The Wreck of Richard and Charlene, Charleston, SC

A favorite of locals and visitors alike, this restaurant is difficult to find due to its hidden location on Mount Pleasant but worth seeking out. This seafood restaurant offers a small menu with significant portions. Locally caught fish, shrimp, oysters, and more. Not to mention the view, where you can watch the shrimping boats docked along Shem Creek. 

Camellias at Hotel Bennett: Charleston’s signature pink champagne bar, Camellias, is located inside Hotel Bennett. Camellias offers the finest selection of champagnes in all of Charleston with an Insta-worthy all-pink room.

Uncork: A relaxing wine bar where you can unwind, enjoy a charcuterie board and taste incredible wine. With a welcoming staff prepared to offer recommendations based on what each individual’s wants, this is a great way to start an evening downtown. The best part is that Uncork is right across the street from O-Ku sushi and a fabulous rooftop bar called The Cocktail Club for an easy way to continue a fun night out downtown.

The Ordinary: A constantly busy restaurant, reservations are always advised because it is one of the most popular seafood and oyster hall restaurants in all of Charleston. The Ordinary offers the highest quality fish and drink menu that has visitors returning time and time again.

Best Beaches in Charleston

Folly Beach: 

Folly beach is known as the edge of America. It’s a popular beach spot for surfers and has maintained its small-town charm for decades. Folly beach is located on James Island, also home to the incredible 400-year-old Angel Oak Tree which is known as the “Lowcountry Treasure.” Folly Beach offers a variety of activities including parasailing, paddleboarding, deep-sea fishing, kayak rentals, and boat rentals. Visitors must cross over the Folly River to get to Folly Beach which also offers a lot of activities.

Sullivans Island Beach

Sullivans Island Beach is a favorite for locals as its location offers a mix of history with Fort Moultrie, delicious local seafood restaurants, and plenty of water activities. There are hotels, Airbnb’s, and beachfront property rentals available year-round making it a popular destination during all seasons. Some favorite local restaurants  include Co-op Sullivans, Poe’s Tavern, and the Obstinate daughter. This beach is also neighbors to Isle of Palms, which is another incredible beach.

Isle of Palms 

Isle of Palms brings visitors who love golf, tennis, fishing, and more. Have a meal with a beachfront view at the Windjammer, or simply soak up the sun. Enjoy local seafood at coastal Provisions and find out what island life is really about.

Kiawah Island

Kiawah Island offers sprawling 10 miles of beaches and mesmerizing sand dunes that seem endless. Kiawah is a residential community that embraces its visitors through a resort and shopping area. Enjoy fine dining at Jasmine Porch or FortyEight Wine Bar. Kiawah’s residents are passionate about maintaining its beauty for generations to come. Kiawah Island also offers outdoor activities like golf, biking, tennis, and water sports. Whether it’s relaxing or adventure, Kiawah Island has the best of both worlds.

Mount Pleasant, SC

 

 Where to Stay in Charleston SC

One of the most important pieces when planning a trip is finding the best place to stay. There are plenty of rentals surrounding the beaches in Charleston, all of which are an easy drive to and from downtown. It’s important to highlight the historic and modern options downtown for those looking to immerse themselves in the city. Downtown is easy to navigate by walking, bikes, or even bike taxis.

Hotel Bennett

Hotel Bennett, located on King Street,has become a very popular choice for visitors who want to be in the heart. This hotel features a famous pink champagne bar and a variety of amenities including an outdoor pool, gym, restaurant, and bar.

Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel

Dating back to the mid-1800s, this gorgeous hotel provides comfort, relaxation, and elegance of  the French Quarter. Making it a convenient location for those looking to explore the beauty of downtown Charleston.

Grand Bohemian

The Grand Bohemian offers both luxury and a modern vibe as its walls are filled with unique artwork. It features a rooftop with a french inspired restaurant and wine bar.

The Dewberry

Modern style with a mid-century twist. The Dewberry is known as one of the top hotel options in the south as it is also home to the popular Citrus Club rooftop bar. The impeccable detail where historic furnishings intertwine with modern artwork creates a breathtaking space.

Words and photos by Samantha Ann Fulmer. Follow her on Instagram.