Charleston, South Carolina
Heading to Charleston, South Carolina and not sure where to focus your time? Check our list of the 10 must-see things to make the most of your visit.
If you’d like to see how all 10 things can easily be done in 3 days, click to read about the full trip.
Number 1: Take a Stroll Through Historic Downtown
This could take a day since it’s a large “top thing to do”.
While it could be broken down into specific things to see, this would be difficult since so many historic homes are currently residences, not museums.
The majority of historic Charleston lays between Liberty and East Bay Streets, beginning at the cross street of Market.
The Barbados Influence
As you walk, you’ll notice the influence of Barbados and there’s a reason. “Charles Towne” was originally considered a colony of a colony.
Barbados was a colony of England known for its sugar industry. The English settlers of Barbados wanted more land to expand and thus the colony of Carolina and the city of “Charles Towne” were born.
As a result, Barbados architecture can be found throughout Charleston from the cobblestone streets to the brightly colored colonial buildings.
Neighborhoods to visit
The French Quarter
The French Quarter with its cobblestone streets and small neighborhood parks is stunning. There’s even a parking lot with a unique design in the brick wall.
The wall is historic and protected, but so is the Live Oak Tree that was destroying a section of it. As only Charleston could do, compromise for minimal impact was designed which saved both. Take a look.
Rainbow Row, a row of colonial homes, proudly shines as an homage to Charleston’s Barbados roots with their pink, purple, green, blue and yellow exteriors. Be sure to round the corner and see how far back the homes extend
The beige home on the end of Rainbow Row is extensive. There’s a red brick building that appears to be its own home, but it’s actually part of the building.
Broad and Church Streets
While downtown, take a walk down Broad Street to see a big, small town. It’s reminiscent of Bridgetowne, the main city in Barbados. Lined with businesses in quaint, bright, colonial structures, the effect is professional and unique.
Be sure to look for the hat man. He was painted in 1892 to advertise a haberdashery. He’s actually made up of 16 hats, if you look closely you can see them.
Before leaving, head down Church Street for a neighborhood stroll. There are some small, local shops and stately homes lining the street.
Number 2: Enjoy the Waterfront
The waterfront area is a long section on the south and east side of Charleston. Start at White Point Garden at the southernmost tip of the city.
The 5.7 acre park has a well-photographed gazebo, beautiful old oak trees, and a display of Civil War cannons. It’s also home to numerous memorials and a few statues.
White Point Garden is the southern terminus for the Battery, a defensive seawall and now promenade. Climb up the short stairs to the Battery and follow it up for beautiful water views.
When it ends, keep going on East Bay Street and take any of the side streets towards the water to continue on Concord Street. Stop and enjoy the quiet when you reach Waterfront Park.
Besides being a nice place to sit and enjoy the water and watch the cruise ships dock, Waterfront Park is known for the famous Pineapple Fountain.
The pineapple is the symbol of hospitality and the fountain is popular for photos and selfies.
Number 3: Enjoy a tour of Alleys and Hidden Passages with Lowcountry Walking Tours
Narrow Little Alleys
Charleston has little alleys that are actually public and have street names. They don’t show on most maps and you’ll need a local guide to find some of them.
Lowcountry walking tours has a unique tour that takes you through these hidden (yet public) spaces. It’s a fun way to tour the city.
One of my favorites was Stoll’s alley, but it’s incredibly difficult to locate. Even after the tour, I wasn’t able to find it on my own again.
The alley is only about five feet wide. You can reach out your arms and touch the walls on both ends.
Behind the Historic Homes
If you wonder where many people park, this tour will answer that question. While there are parking lots, most homes have driveways and garages accessed through small alleys.
We walked down these areas were rewarded to insider access and knowledge as well as less crowded areas to admire and see these historic homes.
Our guide also took us to some of the more common sites and shared information and history you would have to dive deep into books to find on your own.
The other advantage was the excitement and passion of the stories and history.
Number 4: Scare Yourself a Little with a Ghost Tour from Old Charleston Walking Tours
Meet Mike Brown
Mike Brown knows his stuff when it comes to the supernatural.
He’s been featured on local, national and international media including HGTV and BBC. Besides running Old Charleston Walking Tours with the Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tour, he also has a podcast.
While Mike doesn’t push his belief on you, he does give you a look into a different side of Charleston’s history and why some areas may be haunted. He also has some photos and you can decide for yourself if they’re real.
I won’t steal Mike’s thunder, but wandering through Charleston at night, with not a lot of light, listening to his stories is a lot of fun, and just a little bit scary.
Here are some of the things you’ll encounter.
Learn about the potential connection between a ghost and Edgar Allan Poe.
Find out if the first woman executed for murder in the United States is haunting a graveyard.
Did you know there’s a private library in Charleston? Did you even know there are such things as private libraries?
Well, this one is home to the blood book. The story and bloodstain are enough to make you think twice about whether you believe in ghosts or not.
Before you leave the tour, be sure to ask Mike about the Ouija Board. You don’t want to miss that story.
Number 5: Walk Across the Ravenel Bridge
The Ravenel Bridge connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It’s easy to get to and drive across.
On the Mount Pleasant side, stop at the first exit and pull into the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park and Pier. From here you can pick up a walking and biking trail that takes you across the bridge.
The dedicated walking and biking path is approximately 2 miles each way with overlooks at each of the bridge towers.
As you walk, there are many places to stop and get great photos of Patriot’s Point and downtown Charleston. Be ready for the wind though, it’s pretty powerful up there.
If you have time, the pier itself is also a nice walk with great views. There’s a little shop and café about halfway down. Many Mount Pleasant locals appear to come here and enjoy a day out.
Number 6: Walk across Pitt Street Bridge
This is the original connection between Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island. The bridge was replaced in 1945, and most of it burned in a fire later.
It’s now a park with a promenade walk. Locals come to walk their dogs, stretch their legs, fish, and just enjoy the sunset.
Throughout its life, the bridge has had many iterations. It’s fitting this final stage is a park for people to enjoy.
Standing on the promenade, looking out over the water was one of the best sunset views I have ever experienced.
You can walk all the way to the end where what’s left of the pilings can be seen, almost as if they’re still falling into the water.
Number 7: Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum
This is an all-day adventure, especially if you have a military buff in the family. There are so many things to see here.
The museum is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, the USS Laffey Destroyer, the USS Clamagore Submarine, multiple military aircraft, the Vietnam Experience Exhibit and the Medal of Honor Museum.
It’s reasonably priced considering everything that’s there to see and that you’ll be entertained all day.
Number 8: The Charleston Tea Plantation
The Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island is the oldest operational tea plantation in the United States. It’s currently owned by Bigelow teas.
There’s a cute shop with several tea samples out and some local crafts for sale. They have a self-guided tour that starts every 30 minutes and lasts about 12 minutes.
I was lucky as they were processing tea when I went through the tour and could watch at each step.
If you have time, there’s also a trolley tour that takes you through the plantation.
You’re welcome to wander around the grounds and enjoy the area. It’s beautiful and quite peaceful.
While it doesn’t take long to explore, you could make a half a day of the visit by bringing lunch and enjoying the picnic table or gazebo.
Number 9: Angel Oak Tree
Angel Oak Tree is on Johns Island and is a great thing to see on the way to or from Charleston Tea Plantation.
This Live Oak Tree is estimated to be around 400 to 500-years old. While not the oldest tree on the East Coast, it is large and has withstood a lot in its time.
The tree is 66.5 feet tall, with a width of 28 feet, provides 17,200 square feet of shade, and its longest branch is 187 feet. To say it’s large is an understatement.
Angel Oak took a hit with Hurricane Hugo in 1989 but has recovered.
There’s something about this tree continuing to stand tall and grow through everything that’s inspiring.
You won’t need a lot of time here, maybe 20 minutes. It’s definitely worth it though.
Number 10: Firefly Distillery
Firefly Distillery was on Wadmalaw Island but is moving to North Charleston. Wherever they go, definitely seek them out.
These guys know their stuff. Not only is the head distiller brilliant, but they can help you understand whiskey vs bourbon vs scotch.
Not really a bourbon drinker? That’s okay, they have a chocolate pecan whiskey to help ease you into the genre.
While you’re there, try the peach moonshine and the Ruby Red Vodka. Looking for a dessert drink? They have a coconut cake liqueur.
You can sample 6 of their products for $6 and you get to keep the shot glass. They’re good about not over pouring so you can drive home.
The only issue you’ll have is narrowing down your purchases.