Your Guide to Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina is the belle of the ball of southern cities.
Located on the coast of South Carolina, Charleston is a town of under one million people. But don’t worry travelers, there is a lot to see and do in this escape by the ocean.
The best times to go to Charleston are spring and fall. Like many Southern destinations, the summer is brutally hot and muggy. And buggy. Even locals like to escape Charleston during the summer. Or at least hit the beach.
Summer weekends at Folly Beach are a never-ending case of traffic jams and lots of people.
Touring Charleston, South Carolina
Downtown Charleston is full of old homes and churches, grave yards, shopping, and historic sites. There are several tours to take, including horse drawn carriage tours. If the weather is slightly bad or animals aren’t your thing, take a tour in the enclosed buses.
Tours typically last about 90 minutes and are a great way to get the lay of the land and hear some great stories.
Through the Antebellum period, City Market was the Slave Market, where slaves visited to buy food for the plantation. Today, the Market is full of shops and surrounded by art galleries, restaurants, and more shops. You’ll have to visit City Market at least once on a trip to Charleston. It’s a quite typical city market tourist trap, but it does have some cool booths with sweetgrass baskets, artists, and local goods.
Located on East Bay Street between Tradd Street and Elliott Street, Rainbow Row is a series of 13 Georgian style houses painted in bright colors. The bright colors were added to the houses in the 1930s and 1940s during renovations.
Rainbow Row is a popular Instagram spot for tourists.
Eat and Drink Your Way Through Charleston
Some would say that tailgating is about eating and planning your next meal. Well, much like tailgating, Charleston is a foodie’s paradise. And also like tailgating, if you leave Charleston hungry, you are just doing something wrong.
You can literally eat and drink your way through Charleston and never finish. For such a small city, there is an abundance of quality restaurants and bars. Some of my favorites and those of some locals include:
Favorite Rooftop Bar The Rooftop at the Vendue – tasty cocktails and awesome views of the Charleston harbor. What more can you ask for in a trendy, artsy hotel rooftop bar?
Favorite Special Occasion Restaurant Circa 1886 Restaurant – the service was impeccable, food outstanding, and atmosphere was top notch. All made the heavy price tag worth it.
Best Oysters – Off The Beaten Track Bowen’s Island Restaurant – on the way to Folly Beach, this restaurant is tucked back on the creek. During summer, the line is out the door and all the way down the long outdoor ramp. Get a bucket steamed fresh for you. Or go the all-you-can-eat route. You won’t regret it.
Best Oysters – Downtown Leon’s Oyster Shop – take an auto body shop and make it a restaurant. Cool and hip, with a relaxed atmosphere, perfect to stop by after a day of exploring the city. In addition to oysters, the fried chicken and hush puppies are both awesome.
Modern and Southern Favorites So there’s a lot of great modern, Southern restaurants in Charleston. Too many to say “favorite” so here are some more recommendations:
- Slightly North of Broad (SNOBs)
- The Grocery
- The Tattooed Moose
- Wild Olive
Firefly Distillery and Deep Water Vineyard
Take an afternoon drive out to Wadamalaw Island and visit the Firefly Distillery and Deep Water Vineyard. Firefly is best known for its sweet tea vodka (mixes perfectly with lemonade). In addition to their flagship sweet tea vodka, they have added a sweet tea whiskey and bourbon ball whiskey. They also have a variety of moonshines and other ready to drink concoctions. You can visit the Tasting Room and choose a variety of samples for a nominal price.
At the same location, you can visit Deep Water Vineyard and sample muscadine wine. Deep Water is the only domestic winery in Charleston. The tasting room is directly across the courtyard from the Firefly tasting room and in the gift shop. You can’t miss it. To sample all nine of the wines and receive a wine glass, you’ll need to pony up a whole $7.00.
While you can usually get the flagship drinks anywhere, the tasting rooms are the best place to get both Firefly spirits and Deep Water wines. You’ll have the full selection of their offerings right there.
Sports in Charleston
It may not have any major league teams, but Charleston is still a lot of fun for sports fans.
If you are a golfer, take in a round on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort, home of the PGA Championship. When you are finished, stop in at the Ryder Cup Bar for a drink overlooking the 18th hole.
If you are more into watching your sports, check out a RiverDogs minor league baseball game or a Stingrays minor league hockey game. The RiverDogs are a Single A affiliate of the New York Yankees, while the Stingrays are an ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. Like minor league teams across the country, some of the best parts of attending the games are to see future stars as well as the wacky promotions.
The College of Charleston is a public university in downtown Charleston and part of the Colonial Athletic conference. The men’s basketball team made it’s 5th appearance in thee NCAA Tournament in 2018 and has become a popular sporting event in Charleston. The college baseball team plays at The Ballpark at Patriots Point and seats 2,000. The Cougars have a .723 winning percentage in their home ballpark, and the team has made seven trips to the NCAA Baseball Tournament, most recently in 2015.
History in Charleston
Charleston is full of history, waiting for you to explore.
Angel Oak Estimated at between 400 and 500 years old, this Southern live oak has become a popular tourist destination on Johns Island. At over 66 feet tall and the longest branch at 187 feet, the tree produces shade for over 17,000 square feet. Angel Oak is surrounded by a small park maintained by the City of Charleston.
USS Yorktown Patriots Point is home to the USS Yorktown, a World War II and Vietnam era aircraft carrier. Explore the ship, along with aircraft that flew from its decks and exhibits showcasing the battles it fought. The Medal of Honor museum is on-board. You can also explore the USS Laffey, a Cold War era destroyer, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine, while at Patriots Point.
Fort Sumter Fort Sumter sits in Charleston Harbour and is best known for it’s role in the US Civil War. There were two battles during the Civil War, the first when Confederate forces took the Fort from the Union. The second battle laid the Fort to ruins although the Confederate forces maintained control. Access the Fort via private boat or the Ferry from Patriots Point or the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center.
The Battery The Battery is the defensive seawall on the lower shores of the Charleston peninsula. The Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form the Charleston harbor. Today, the Battery is a public space, with Civil War-era artillery and memorials. In addition to the military and defensive importance, the area is also known for the surrounding antebellum houses, including the Louis DeSaussure House pictured here.
Old City Jail The Old City Jail was in operation from 1802 – 1939 and much of the original structure is still in place. The Old City Jail is said to be haunted with the ghosts of some of Charleston’s notorious criminal past, including Lavinia Fisher, a hotel owner from the 1800s that poisoned guests.
RV Camping Spots
Oak Plantation RV Campground Oak Plantation is an RV resort located on Highway 17 just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, on the way to Kiawah Island from downtown. The campground has full hookups for 30 amp and 50 amp service, as well as partial (water/power) hookups. The sites are level and good size. The campground is dog friendly. Oak Plantation is a Good Sam’s member.
James Island County Park James Island County Park is a favorite RV campground for Charleston visitors. It has full hookups and spacious sites. There is a shuttle that takes visitors downtown and to Folly Beach for a small fee per person. The Park is also home to the holiday lights festival and it is best to not stay there during December because of traffic.
What’s Your Favorite Thing to Do in Charleston, South Carolina?
Comment below with your Charleston recommendations!