friends cheering beers at a charleston bar, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at night

21 of the Most Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

evening over the charleston marina, a visit here is one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightThere’s no beating around the bush: Charleston, South Carolina, has a strong connection to alcohol and dining. Most lists of fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night often feature food and booze at the top of the list.
But there are lot more options for evening activities in Charleston. Sometimes you just need to do a little extra brainstorming.
The other option is to come back to this list (ie: bookmark it). This list started when brainstorming an evening when no one involved felt like spending money on an expensive night on the town. And everyone’s livers needed a break.

Charleston Evening Activities

While drinking is the first thing on this list, there actually are a lot of other evening activities in Charleston.

Downtown Charleston Bars and Nightlife

friends cheering beers at a charleston bar, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightYes, there is a lot of drinking that goes on here. Day drinking is a regional pastime. But the number of options for just bars in downtown Charleston, SC, feel almost limitless. A few personal favorites are mostly great dive bars in downtown Charleston, strung along King Street:
  1. Burns Alley
  2. Upper Deck Tavern
  3. Recovery Room

Charleston Movie Theaters

popcorn at a charleston movie theater, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightI am a big fan of movies, especially in theatres. A few of my personal favorite movie theatres in the Charleston area include (ordered by uniqueness):

The Terrace Theatre

This place is one of those old-fashioned feeling movie theatres. It’s small, but kind of quaint. When I mean small, it really is: the hallways to theatres are so narrow, you have to wait to be called into the actual theatre so as not to block the way. But you can see pretty standard movies at the Terrace Theatre, while still feeling quaint.

Citadel Mall Stadium

The Citadel Mall Stadium is a standard movie theatre, out by the Citadel Mall in West Ashley.

Regal Cinemas Palmetto Grand

This other chain movie theatre is out in Mount Pleasant. Located in Mount Pleasant Town Centre, I prefer Regal Palmetto Grand over the other movie theaters in Mount Pleasant.


God, I can’t stand Cinebarre. And it’s for the very thing that makes them unique. Servers travel around during the movies serving food and drinks. While some people love it for how convenient it is, I find it horribly distracting. And all that food makes for a messier movie theatre. I don’t blame them for having a harder time keeping it all clean. Although they have a pretty sweet movie deal on Tuesdays ($5 tickets).

Bowling in Charleston

bowling pins and a bowling ball at a charleston bowling alley, one of the best fun things to do in charleston sc at nightBowling is one of those things people don’t think of immediately. But it can be fun, with or without food. The bowling alley in Mount Pleasant closed and was replaced by an Aldi. But there are still two options for bowling in Charleston, South Carolina:

The Alley

A bar, arcade, and bowling alley all rolled into one. The bowling isn’t cheap, but when you’re the only game in town, you make your own rules. It’s still fun, and the Alley is within an easy walk of all that Upper King Street has to offer.

Ashley Lanes Tavern

I have never been to this bowling alley in West Ashley, only driven-by. As far as I’m aware, though, these are your two options now. So, I’d be remiss in not mentioning them both. That said, I’m told this one is a little run-down.

Charleston Sporting Events

RiverDogs Baseball Game

A minor league baseball game at the Joseph P Riley, Jr. Park can be a pleasant afternoon or evening activity in the warmer months. While certain levels are more suitable for an outing with friends, seats closer to the field are better for a romantic date. Be sure to see one of the fireworks displays after a Friday night home game.

soccer ball on the pitch at a charleston battery soccer game, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightCharleston Battery Soccer Game

For such a small city, Charleston, South Carolina, has a great soccer team. Their stadium on Daniel Island is quite nice (though a little buggy in the evenings, close to the swamp). And the Charleston Battery has an ardent group of supporters that belch yellow smoke out at the end of the game. Whether you’re a soccer fan or no, this is a fun evening activity.

Mini-golf at Blackbeard’s Cove

Speaking of buggy, be sure to bring bugspray during warm months if you head out to Mount Pleasant to play mini-golf. Blackbeard’s Cove is now called Charleston Fun Park. But it’s the same thing. While this is more targeted towards children, mini-golf is fun for all ages. The course is a little run-down though. But come on, you’re not looking to play the Masters! Also, you can get a bucket of beer to cart along with you through the courses. Not bad, no?

Hipster Charleston Concert Venues

No list of hipster things to do at night anywhere would be complete without a list of places for live music. I’m not a huge fan of live music at bars and restaurants. I come to eat, drink, and socialize. I prefer to go to an actual concert venue for live music. The exceptions are when I go to a bar for the music (like Royal American or Pour House, below).

Music Farm

concert at a charleston concert venue, one of the most fun things to do in charleston sc at nightMusic Farm is a concert venue downtown between the Charleston Visitors Center and King Street. Some big names perform here, check out their events calendar to see who’s performing soon.

Royal American

This place on North Morrison Drive is the epitome of hipster cool in Charleston. And they get awesome bands and performers from throughout the States (especially the South) that perform on the little stage next to the bar. Royal American has a decor someone once described to me as a “New Orleans bar at Christmas-time”. But this bar has a lot going for it:
  1. The beer’s great
  2. The food’s even better
  3. The atmosphere is relaxed
And this is usually the place to go to see some pretty good bands before they start performing at Music Farm. Some of those bands continue to perform here even after they get bigger.

Pour House

This is a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating on James Island. The Pour House is also an awesome concert venue, with great bands and artists coming regularly. Plus tickets and covers are never too expensive, regardless of who’s performing.

Charleston Night Tours

Night is the appropriate time to take a Charleston ghost tour, of course. But you can also take evening carriage rides or historic walking tours. The plus is that it’s usually cooler at night in the summer months.

Charleston Ghost Tours

evening ghost tour, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightAnother personal evening favorite of mine is taking one of the best ghost tours in Charleston. Bulldog Tours from Anson Street near the Charleston City Market is a top tour provider in Charleston. Their Graveyard Tours or Old City Jail Tours are worth the time and money to get to spook your kids a bit.

Evening Carriage Rides

Though limited in number, there are some night carriage ride opportunities. Old South Carriage Company offers romantic evening carriage rides through downtown Charleston. They also offer less intimate evening carriage rides through historic Charleston for larger groups.

Charleston Sites and Attractions to Visit at Night

A lot of Charleston tourist attractions are best experienced at night: cooler temperatures, lighting isn’t as harsh, and you usually have the place to yourself.

Rainbow Row

As I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t list Rainbow Row as my absolute favorite downtown Charleston attraction. But the street lamps along Rainbow Row and the interplaying shadows are quite pretty on the walls at night. You can head down from either Waterfront Park or Broad Street to Rainbow Row, then continue on to the Battery.

The Battery and White Point Gardens

The Battery and White Point Gardens are also gorgeous at night. Visitors can stand where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet and look back at the city to see Charleston at night. To quote late Pat Conroy in his novel, South of Broad, all Charleston is “the Mansion on the River”. The city and its bejeweled mansions are lit up along the Battery and Murray Boulevard. Meanwhile street lamps light up the live oaks and promenades of White Point Gardens.

Ravenel Bridge

This is an even better place to see the lit up city spread out before you. The only drawback is that the portion of the peninsula closest to the view from the Ravenel Bridge is the port. Which isn’t gorgeous, but neither is the line of luxury high-rise condos on the Mount Pleasant side. But the harbor is lovely, and historic downtown Charleston is laid-out beyond the port. And the highway that crosses the bridge is usually much quieter at night.

Fun Things to Do at Night in Charleston, SC, for Couples

romantic lights, exploring them is one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightThere are few things better than a night on the town with your boo in Charleston. The many options for romantic things to do in Charleston at night are guaranteed to please.

Enjoy a Show at the Dock Street Theatre

The historic Dock Street Theatre has existed for four centuries in the French Quarter neighborhood. Built on the corner of Church and Dock Streets (now Queen Street), the first performance at the Dock Street Theatre opened on February 12, 1736. Take your date out to dinner at one of the fantastic nearby restaurants, then meander through the French Quarter. Bring your date up to the romantic ironwork of the Dock Street theatre with your pre-ordered tickets, and your night will be set.

Charleston Waterfront Park

While a fantastic free attraction during the day, Charleston’s Waterfront Park takes on a distinctly romantic tone at night. Wander under the live oaks, or sit on a swinging bench on the pier. You can also sit or lie on a bench next to the water and stare at the moon. Unless the mosquitos are out in full force, of course.

College of Charleston Campus

The central and oldest part of the College of Charleston campus has been beautifully restored and worth exploring. The lights and Spanish moss dripping from the limbs of the giant live oaks make nighttime at the Cistern a magical experience.

Hampton Park

60 acres large, Hampton Park is the prettiest and most relaxing park in Charleston, in this writer’s humble opinion. The circular drive around the park is well-lit at night. The major thoroughfares have old-fashioned lamps, and the central pond’s fountains run all night. That said, don’t tempt fate and wander in here after about 11 pm. Central Park’s not safe that late at night, either.

Romantic Places to Eat in Charleston, SC

Seriously, a list of things to do at night in Charleston, South Carolina, would be embarrassingly lacking if it didn’t mention the food here. There are a ton of options:
  1. wine glasses at a restaurant, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightCheck out our list of high-end fine dining restaurants in downtown Charleston for special romantic evenings.
  2. There are also plenty of choices as far as seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston as well.
  3. I also personally think there are more than a few romantic choices from our list of casual restaurants in Charleston, SC.

Fun Free Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

I’ll be honest: fun and free evening activities in Charleston, South Carolina, are rather lacking. But here are two, depending on when you’re looking:

French Quarter Art Walk

The French Quarter Art Walk is the first Friday of every month. Art galleries in the French Quarter stay open later and offer refreshments to those wandering through. Wine is offered in many of the art galleries, fair warning.

Spoleto Spoleto Festival Events

Spoleto is the free version of Charleston’s world renowned arts festival, Piccolo. Free events to the public are scattered all over Charleston. Be sure to check the Piccolo Spoleto calendar of events for free evening activities.

All of the Best Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

And there you have it: regardless of the evening, you’re sure to have a few options to choose from off this list. Let me know of any you think need to be on here! And for the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina, anytime, check out our list.
docent standing at the entrance to the old exchange and provost dungeon facing easy bay street in historic downtown charleston sc

Don’t Miss a Visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

the front of the old exchange and provost dungeon, as seen from broad street

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of the oldest buildings in Charleston.
It prides itself as the birthplace of South Carolina.
If that sounds boring, that’s because it can be.
But you can’t blame the people who work at the Old Exchange and Provost from trying to make it interesting.
Plus, the ghosts stories are kind of cool. I am a bit of a history nerd myself, so I decided to write about it.

Where to Find the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

This particular attraction is a major snooze-fest for some. For those with any interest in American history (or ghosts), this will undoubtedly be one of the top things to do in Charleston, SC, on your next visit.
The Old Exchange Building is situated in the historic downtown Charleston district. More specifically, it’s on East Bay Street at the start of Broad Street. The building is a masonry building of two stories, and is roofed with a hipped roof and fixed on an elevated brick basement. The primary facade faces west and has a three-bay triangular section at the center. The flanking walls also have a Palladian window situated on a brick base with a low railing or balustrade.

History of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Exchange building was built over a four year period from 1767 to 1771 by the provincial government of South Carolina. It was used in the 18th century for different civic functions, including:
  1. custom house
  2. public market
  3. public meeting place
  4. jailhouse
During the American Revolution, confiscated tea was stored in the building in 1774. Revolutionary leadership held councils within its halls throughout the war. After the capture of the city by the British in 1780, it became a barracks to house troops. The basement was converted into a military prison, fitting for the historic use as a dungeon. An investigation held in 2012 documented that at least 120 people were held as prisoners in the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

The Old Exchange and Provost Building in Early America

The Exchange Building was the venue which hosted the South Carolina convention which ratified the U.S Constitution in the 17th century. George Washington even hosted banquets in the Great Hall when he visited the city. The building remained an Exchange until it became a post office in the 19th Century.
During the American Civil War, the building continued as a post office of the Confederate States. It was abandoned after suffering damage from Union shells.

The Old Exchange and Provost Building in the 1900s

docent standing at the entrance to the old exchange and provost dungeon facing easy bay street in historic downtown charleston scIn World War I, it served as an army headquarter of General Leonard Wood and the Lighthouse Service of the US. In World War II, the exchange building was a USO facility and a canteen for the troops. It was also a Coastal Picket Station for the United States Coast Guard Sixth Naval District.
In the mid-1900s, plans were made to tear-down the Old Exchange and Provost building and build a gas station in its place. A vehement response from locals led to the Daughters of the American Revolution taking it over for preservation. The building has been in their care ever since.
The cupola of the building was first damaged in the 1800s by a hurricane while the second cupola suffered damaged from the Great Earthquake, which occurred in 1886. The third, however, was not affixed until 1981 on the opening of a museum in the building.

The Fun Stuff: History of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is actually almost 100 years older than the building above it, however. The dungeon is actually a part of the old wall that ran around the city of Charleston. The Court of Guard originally sat above it, though it was torn down and replaced by the current building with the expansion of the city.

Stede Bonnet and the Pirates of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

This was the dungeon that held Stede Bonnet, also known as the “Gentleman Pirate” and his crew before their hanging in 1718. Stede Bonnet earned his nickname for being a Barbadian plantation owner before becoming a pirate. He abandoned a life of privilege supposedly because he grew bored with his charmed life. The other theory is he left because he grew tired of his wife’s nagging.
Either way, Stede Bonnet became a pirate known for being relatively classy by pirate standards. He held Charleston hostage in tandem with Blackbeard, which earned him Charleston’s lasting hatred. They held the city hostage in exchange for medicine including mercury, used at the time to treat a certain ailment common among pirates. Afterwards, Bonnet and Blackbeard sailed north from Charleston towards North Carolina.

Capture, Imprisonment, and Hanging

The Charlestonian elite followed the Gentleman pirate to Cape Fear, where they did battle and brought him and his men back in chains. Bennet was initially treated with respect, and even hosted in the home of a local Charlestonian. He was placed in prison with his men after he attempted to escape (supposedly in women’s clothing). A dozen of the men were hung along with them at what is now White Point Gardens. Their bodies were left hanging as a warning to future pirates. Many claim that reminder is why pirates were never again a problem in Charleston and the coastal South.

Plan a Visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Exchange and Provost building now offers some guided tours around the building. Tours teach Charleston’s history to visitors interested in Charleston’s role in the Civil and Revolutionary wars.

The Ghosts of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Docents will tell you stories of the many people, influential or no, who passed through its halls while reenacting the period to make it feel more real. That does sometimes lead to confusion, however. Ghost stories of the Old Exchange and Provost building include visitors not being able to tell the difference between a docent dressed in attire suitable to that time and a ghost. These visitors have reported being mortified to see the docent disappear into thin air when approached.
But the ghosts upstairs don’t compare to the ones down in the dungeon. Prisoners in the old prisoner were often chained to the walls and left to rot. Some would drown when the dungeon flooded (which happened often, as it was below sea level). As such, there are supposedly more than a few unhappy spirits in the dungeon. It is said that the sounds of cries and moans of the prisoners can be heard from the stone walls. Some visitors also report seeing chains used to block traffic being pulled or tugged for no apparent reason. Other visitors to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon claim to have been pushed, and even choked.
To learn the stories of even more ghosts of downtown Charleston, sign-up to enjoy one of the best Charleston, SC, ghost tours.

Places to Eat Near the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

lunch at one of the places to eat near the old exchange and provost dungeon in downtown charleston scLike every other downtown Charleston attraction, there are plenty of restaurants for lunch nearby. Some options a stone’s throw from the Old Exchange and Provost are great casual restaurants in Charleston, SC, for lunch:
  1. Fast and French
  2. Brown Dog Deli
  3. Blind Tiger
For higher-end downtown Charleston fine dining, head up East Bay Street towards Market Street for more choices:
  1. Magnolias
  2. SNOB
  3. Poogan’s Porch
There are even nearby downtown Charleston seafood restaurants. My personal favorites nearby are:
  1. Sushi Blue (try their evening special on weekdays)
  2. Raw 167

Hotels and Places to Stay Near the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

There are plenty of nearby places to stay, including several fantastic boutique hotels. Most of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are within walking distance. The list of boutique hotels and bed and breakfast inns include:
  1. The Vendue Inn
  2. Rutledge House Inn
  3. The Spectator

Visit Even More Historical Attractions in Downtown Charleston

the customs house on east bay street, close to the old exchange and provost dungeonA visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is easy. An added benefit is it’s easily accessible to other downtown Charleston tourist attractions. There are plenty of other fantastic free Charleston attractions to enjoy nearby as well!

1. Ryan’s Mart

Many incorrectly believe the Historic Charleston City Market was where slaves were bought and sold in Charleston. The Old Slave Mart, or Ryan’s Mart, was actually the antebellum slave gallery for auctions, built in 1859. It is believed that this building is the last standing slave facility in South Carolina. It has been registered as a Historic Place on the National Registry.

2. Confederate Museum

The site of the Confederate Museum of Charleston was originally occupied by a MASONIC hall. That hall was destroyed by fire and the market hall was built in its stead. It was made as a copy of the Wingless Victory Temple in Athens.

3. Heyward-Washington House

This house was built in 1772. It housed both Thomas Heyward, who was the owner of the house and source of half of the name. George Washington stayed here when he visited the city and hosted those banquets at the Old Exchange and Provost building. Guess where the Washington part of the name comes from? Today, it is a museum.

4. Dock Street Theatre

This theater is situated in Charleston’s historic French quarter, a block away from St Philip’s church. The Dock Street Theatre is on the site of the first building constructed solely for hosting the performing arts in America. The original building burned down and was replaced by a hotel known as the Planter’s Inn. The site was converted into a theater in the mid-1930s. A show here is one of the best romantic things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

5. Powder Magazine of Charleston

This building stands as the oldest public building in South Carolina. Constructed to store the city’s gunpowder, it features some unique ideas to deal with such an explosive material. Unique features include walls that angle outwards as they increase in height, and a roof with a heavy layer of sand. The wall construction was meant to direct the theoretical blast up and away from the city. The sand on the roof was supposed to quickly fall back down and help blot-out any fires started by the explosion. Neither of these features were ever put to use, however, as the Powder Magazine obviously never exploded. This building is also registered as a historical landmark.

More Charleston, South Carolina, Tourist Attractions for the History Buff

6. Drayton Hall

drayton hall plantation, another charleston tourist attraction of interest to fans of the old exchange and provost dungeonDrayton Hall is an 18th-century Charleston plantation which was designed with architectural sophistication. This building is remarkable for being considered one of the most beautiful of the remaining plantation houses. The building has not been modified for over 200 years. It still has many of the architectural details that made it a landmark example of American architecture. The mansion was built after John Drayton acquired the land in the 1700s. He invested in the highest level of architectural elaboration in constructing the mansion.

7. Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter is most well-known for its role in the first Civil War battle, as it was the first fort fired upon by Civil War soldiers. Supposedly, the first shots were fired by Citadel cadets. This sea fort in South Carolina was reduced to rubble during the War. It was rebuilt to be used as an educational center accessible only by boat.

8. Magnolia Cemetery

This cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in the Charleston area and was founded in 1849. It is sited on the bank of the Cooper River and is also listed as a Historic Place in the National Register. It is the burial place of many generations of Southern leaders, including governors such as:
  1. Thomas Bennett
  2. Horace L. Hunley
  3. Langdon Cheves
  4. Robert Barnwell Rhett
Hundreds of Confederate soldiers are also buried here, some notables include:
  1. James Conner Micah Jenkins
  2. Roswell Ripley
  3. Arthur Manigault
  4. C.H. Stevens
All these attractions like the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon make Charleston perfect for an educational vacation. Whether it’s fun or not depends on what you consider fun.

Photo by JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

the loggerhead turtle at the south carolina aquarium

14 Fantastic Exhibits to See at the South Carolina Aquarium

the loggerhead turtle at the south carolina aquarium

No trip to Charleston, South Carolina, would be complete without visiting the South Carolina Aquarium.
Opened in May of 2000, Charleston’s Aquarium inspires conservation with some spectacular exhibits.
It is home to more than 5000 animals.
This unique facility in historic downtown Charleston is both educational and entertaining for at least a few hours. It’ll keep you busy even longer if you’ve got kids. Be sure to come see why the SC Aquarium has been consistently voted one of the best attractions in Charleston for families!

A Preview of Some of the 60 South Carolina Aquarium Exhibits

South Carolina has some of the most varied ecosystems in the United States. Visitors to Charleston’s Aquarium get to experience the majority of them, as well as some more exotic locales, in the various exhibitions on site. With:
  1. a salt marsh aviary
  2. two-story aquarium tank
  3. touch tanks
  4. educational tours and programs
And much more surrounded by moving views of the Charleston harbor and the Ravenel Bridge. A visit to the South Carolina Aquarium is well-worth the price of admission. Sections of the Aquarium are divided into the major geographic regions of South Carolina:
  1. Mountain Forest
  2. Piedmont
  3. Coastal Plain
  4. Atlantic Coast
  5. Open Ocean off of South Carolina’s coast

1. Shark Shallows

The Shark Shallows is one of the first exhibits visitors to the Aquarium see from the entrance on Liberty Square. The 20,000-gallon tank features a deep end and a shallow end, designed so that visitors can touch the sharks and rays as they pass. Be sure to swing-by the touch tank by the harbor before entering the Aquarium to touch:
  1. bonnethead sharks
  2. stingrays
  3. cow nose rays

2. Touch Tank

This exhibit allows visitors to touch a variety of crabs, whelk, and sea urchins. The professional staff is always on hand to answer any questions you may have.

3. Mountain Forest

The Mountain Forest exhibit displays the natural ecosystem of the Blue Ridge mountain region of South Carolina. This ecosystem centers around Greenville. This exhibit is as close as most visitors will come to visiting an old-growth forest. The Mountain Forest features:
  1. a bald eagle
  2. a variety of different birds from that area
  3. freshwater fish found in the fast-moving streams of the mountains (including brook trout)
  4. North American river otters
A major draw of the SC Aquarium, visitors watch in awe as river otters swirl through the cold waters of their habitat.

4. The Piedmont

The Piedmont region is the foothills in the middle of the state leading to the Blue Ridge mountains. This particular exhibit focuses on the fish and wildlife of that region of the state. It also educates about South Carolina during prehistoric times. Millions of years ago, the coast was at Columbia, while all the Lowcountry was underwater. You can still find megalodon teeth fossils to this day in South Carolina.

5. Coastal Plain

The Coastal Plain exhibit showcases the fish and wildlife of the South Carolina Lowcountry. This exhibit is connected to the Piedmont section of the Aquarium. It features fish, amphibians, and plants found along the Carolina coast and in its freshwater marsh and swamp habitats. The displays even include cypress trees downed by Hurricane Hugo. It also features such reptiles as Alabaster, the albino alligator resident at the SC Aquarium. Several venomous snakes found in the state also hang out here, including the Eastern diamondback and copperhead snake. Visitors may even get to witness a Venus Flytrap in action.

6. Coast

The shallow waters along the coast of South Carolina permit a lot of varied microclimates. It’s sometimes shocking how many different varieties of sealife are found in abundance on the coast of the Lowcountry. With:
  1. shrimp
  2. crabs
  3. stingrays
  4. lobster
  5. flounder
  6. sea turtles
  7. seahorses
  8. invasive species like lionfish and many more
This is a fairly extensive exhibit.

7. Open Ocean

The SC Aquarium continues to add more attractions to this Charleston tourist attraction. Still, the two-story, 385,000 gallon Great Ocean Tank in the Ocean exhibit will likely always remain a major draw. Some of the species that may be encountered in the tank include:
  1. reef fish
  2. sandtiger sharks
  3. black tip reef sharks
  4. barracuda
  5. sea bass
  6. red drum
  7. a 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle named Caretta
  8. and much more!
Other tanks surrounding the Great Ocean Tank include such fish as scorpion fish, moon jellyfish, dog chain fish, eels, and black sea bass.
The divers who clean and maintain the tank are known to entertain aquarium-goers while they’re in the tank. The diver will carry his trumpet around with him in the tank and play it during performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. The Weeki Wachee mermaids have also been known to make an appearance in this giant tank.

8. Saltmarsh Aviary

Another semi open-air exhibit, this is one on the top floor of the South Carolina Aquarium. The Saltmarsh Aviary shows-off a lot of coastal birds in the Carolinas including:
  1. herons
  2. egrets
  3. pelicans
It also features:
  1. pufferfish
  2. blue crabs
  3. diamondback terrapins
  4. stingrays
All swimming around in a 6,000-gallon stingray tank. These tanks are surrounded by pretty spectacular views of the Charleston harbor, by the way. You’ll notice that the tanks in the coastal bird habitat are lacking in small fish. All fish small enough to be scooped-up by a pelican bill were hunted-out shortly after the recent introduction of the pelicans. Much to the chagrin of the keepers, pelicans eat a lot in a day. They do appear to be gaining their own following at the SC Aquarium, so it’s not likely they’ll be gone soon.

9. Animal Care Exhibit

As one can imagine the veterinarian of the aquarium is a very important member of the team. You can learn how to treat various animals while using the mock equipment in the Animal Care Exhibit. This exhibit is a big hit for children.

10. Madagascar Journey

The newest exhibit at Charleston’s Aquarium features four unique habitats from the island of Madagascar. Almost all the species at the Madagascar exhibit are endemic to the island. As such, they’re found nowhere else in the world. Be sure to check out:
  1. The red ruffed lemurs
  2. A Nile crocodile
  3. White-spotted bamboo sharks
  4. Tomato frogs
  5. Vasa parrots
  6. Hissing cockroaches (which are actually grosser than palmetto bugs, in this writer’s opinion)
  7. Mini-gascar, a play area for toddlers
This area used to have ring-tailed lemurs, though these guys have since moved on. They were replaced by the red ruffed lemurs. You’ll be very sad if you come to Charleston and don’t see lemurs, just sayin’.

11. 4-D Theater

Other than actually going out and experiencing it in person, there is no more realistic adventure than a movie in the 4-D theater. Sit back and watch a 3-D family-friendly movie and feel as if you are in the show. While watching you will feel the effects such as ocean sprays, wind blowing across your face, even movement under your feet!

12. Carolina Seas

See an array of colorful and fascinatingly beautiful (or not, in one case) fish native to the reefs off the Carolina coast. This exhibit is in a 15,000-gallon tank situated close to the entrance of the Aquarium.

13. Backyard Habitat

This beautifully designed exhibit has plenty of native flowers and other varieties of native plant life. The Backyard Habitat at the entrance to the Aquarium offers native wildlife some shelter in Liberty Square. It also aims to give you an idea on how you can improve your backyard to attract native fauna to your backyard:
  1. native birds
  2. butterflies
  3. other pollinators
  4. insects
  5. and more

14. Sea Turtle Hospital

Pay a little extra to visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program’s Sea Turtle Hospital on site at the SC Aquarium:
  1. $10 for adults
  2. $5 for children 3 to 12
  3. toddlers free
It’s the only facility in South Carolina devoted to the care and treatment of sick and injured sea turtles. Tours are offered daily at noon and 2 pm and usually sell-out quickly.

Visiting the South Carolina Aquarium

South Carolina Aquarium is located at 100 Aquarium Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina 29401. Also known as Liberty Square, this is the wharf from which tour ferries leave for Fort Sumter. The number for the SC Aquarium is: 843-577-3474, while the toll-free number is 800-722-6455. South Carolina Aquarium hours are 9-4 daily. It’s open 9 to noon on Christmas Eve, closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Getting South Carolina Aquarium Tickets

a shark at the south carolina aquariumThough you can pay an entrance fee for one-time visitation, if you would like unlimited access, a membership pays for itself with only two visits. Memberships allow unlimited visits for one full year from the date of purchase. You also get discounts on the Sea Turtle Hospital Tour, cafe, gift shop and more. The 4-D theater is included in your membership. Members receive a membership card and a decal for their car.
Some of the Membership Options Include:
  1. Family Plus – two adults living at the same address as well as any children or grandchildren you list. You also get two guest privileges for a cost of $209.00
  2. Family – two adults living at the same address and all children listed under 18 years of age for an annual fee of $169.00
  3. Grandparent – two adults living at the same address and all listed grandchildren listed under 18 years old for $129.00
  4. Individual Plus – one adult and one guest pass for $109 per year.
  5. Dual – two adults for $109.00
  6. Individual – one adult for $79.00

Daily Rates for SC Aquarium Tickets

A visit to the Aquarium is a great option for families, but it will certainly cost you a pretty penny. After all, all those animals have to eat (especially the pelicans)!
  1. Adult pass – $29.95
  2. Adult aquarium only – $24.95
  3. Children (age 3-12) pass – $22.95
  4. Child aquarium only (age 3-12)- $17.95
Note: Members are allowed unlimited access, these prices do not affect members. Toddlers under 3 are free.

South Carolina Aquarium Parking

The city of Charleston has opened a parking garage at 24 Calhoun street, a short walk from the entrance to the Aquarium. Metered parking is available along Washington and Concord streets.

South Carolina Aquarium Events

The South Carolina Aquarium is a beautiful venue for a wedding and wedding reception. With the Great Ocean Tank or views of the Charleston harbor as a backdrop, there’s no question it’s a pretty fantastic place to hold your wedding. Contact customer service for availability and price.

Places to Stay Near the South Carolina Aquarium

The South Carolina Aquarium is within walking distance of most of the hotels and inns in historic downtown Charleston. A few of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are especially close:

  1. Zero George
  2. The Dewberry

Slightly farther away (though still close) include most of the best places to stay in Charleston, SC:

  1. The Francis Marion Hotel
  2. The Restoration on King

South Carolina Aquarium Jobs and Internships

As is the case with any place as awesome as a zoo or aquarium, jobs at the aquarium are hard to come-by–people who hold positions here rarely want to leave. Plus, there is always a ready supply of people looking to work here when there are openings.
But there is the internship route for young people in the Charleston area who are interested in volunteering. Every year, 10 eleventh grade students are selected to enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity to intern at the South Carolina Aquarium. There are actually quite a few opportunities, check the website for details.

Is There a South Carolina Zoo?

There is a South Carolina Zoo, sort of. The closest thing to a South Carolina Zoo would be the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s about an hour and a half drive away from Charleston. As far as other places to see animals near Charleston (outside of parks), other options are:

1. Riverbanks Zoo

The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a 170-acre zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden on the banks of the Saluda River in Columbia.

2. Charles Towne Landing Zoo

This 22-acre historical animal forest is one of a kind at the site of the first settlement in the Charleston area by the English. This zoo at Charles Towne Landing shows species of animals that lived in the Lowcountry when European settlers arrived. Some of the animals that can be visited here include:
  1. turkeys
  2. white-tailed deer
  3. skunks
  4. bobcats
  5. mountain lions
  6. bison
  7. black bears
  8. more North American river otters!
And farm animals like pigs, sheep and goats.

3. Edisto Island Serpentarium

This unique facility has an indoor area, gift shop and a variety of shows and lectures. It features snakes, sea turtles, alligators, and lizards. Check the Edisto Island Serpentarium website for times, shows. You’ll sometimes find discount ticket prices there, too.

4. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

This is a fantastic child-friendly attraction in Charleston and close to the SC Aquarium. The Charleston Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is a hands-on museum for children 10 and under. They feature a variety of shows and learning adventures.
And once you’ve finished exploring these fantastic kid-friendly attractions in Charleston, SC, be sure to see our list of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina!
rainbow row in charleston sc

Why is Rainbow Row So Famous in Charleston, SC?

rainbow row in charleston sc

I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t understand why Rainbow Row is such a big deal. The line of colored buildings are pretty to look at the first couple times you see them. But there’s no long-term appeal of this historic Charleston tourist attraction.
I actually joked with a friend the other day that I am tempted to dress as a homeless person and hang out at Rainbow Row. I could then force people to pay me not to be in their pictures of the site. But that would go against one of the tenets of Charleston: being one of the friendliest places in the world.
So instead I’ll just write about Rainbow Row and give you a better idea of what to look for while you’re there. As you walk by, slowly. That first visit will be enough. I don’t hate Rainbow Row, I just think it’s not a place to linger for too long. There are so many other attractions around Broad Street to occupy your time, like the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.

Alright, Fine. Add Your Photo to the Pile of Rainbow Row Images

Rainbow Row is arguably iconic Charleston. It is one of the most photographed locations in all Charleston, South Carolina. In my opinion, it is a place to stop and take one photo to put on Instagram to prove you’ve seen it.

Other Nearby Iconic Charleston Points of Interest

the pineapple fountain in waterfront park, near rainbow row in charleston scYou can then continue your walk to nearby attractions like:
  1. The Battery and White Point Gardens

  2. The Edmondston-Alston house

  3. Waterfront Park and the Pineapple Fountain

That said, Rainbow Row is always included in the list of the top 10 things to do in Charleston, SC. It’s consistently right alongside the Charleston City Market, Fort Sumter, and Magnolia Plantation. And checking-out Rainbow Row is one of those few free things to do in Charleston.

Rainbow Row History

Rainbow Row dates back to around 1740. The line of Georgian row houses fronted the Cooper River when they were first built. There are a few local legends on why the houses were first painted such bright colors.

Why is Rainbow Row Painted in Rainbow Colors?

One theory relates to the various stores owned and operated on the street. When the homes were first built, merchants operated shops on the first floors of the houses. They then lived on the upper floors. Different colored homes allowed slaveowners to send illiterate slaves to the correct building for the days’ purchases.
Another theory for the colors of Rainbow Row was to help visiting drunk sailors. Different colors told them which building they were sleeping in when they stumbled back from the taverns.
Still another theory claims that European settlers from Barbados introduced the practice from their home islands of painting their homes bright colors. The practice helps keep the houses cool on the inside in the hot Barbadoan. And the practice seemed to work quite well for Lowcountry summers, as well.
Either way, there was a local tradition of this line of 13 homes on East Bay Street being painted bright colors.

Later History of Rainbow Row

rainbow row in charleston sc as seen from a horse carriage tourThe row of houses fell into disrepair after the Civil War.
They remained in a sorry state until Susan Pringle Frost, founder of the Preservation Society of Charleston, bought six of the houses. Her first purchases were 87 and 91 East Bay in 1920.
Ms. Frost was not capable financially of restoring all the houses. And yet, she did set the precedent for turning-around the neighborhood.
Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge purchased the houses numbered 99 through 101 East Bay Street shortly after. She painted her houses in a colonial Caribbean theme, a practice her new neighbors followed when restoring their homes in the 1930s and ’40s.

Are Any of the Houses on Rainbow Row for Sale?

Today, Rainbow Row real estate is some of the most expensive real estate in Charleston. Condos in these homes, most of which share walls with their neighbors, can be worth millions of dollars.
Personally, I’d rather not spend all that money to have tourists gawk at my house all day, but I’m no fiduciary.

The South of Broad Neighborhood Around Rainbow Row

There is some appeal to living on that little stretch of housing north of Tradd Street and south of Elliot Street, though.
  1. Taking a stroll around the South of Broad neighborhood
  2. Exploring the local art galleries
  3. Meandering up to the Dock Street Theatre across from the Huguenot church
All have a certain appeal. Plus, you’d have the pride in knowing that your home is among one of the most important examples of historic Charleston architecture. That’s big for a city well known for its architectural importance in American history. But still, that’s a lot of money, ignoring the money pit those historic houses are to maintain in their pristine conditions.

The Darker Side of Rainbow Row Charleston’s History

the battery near rainbow row charleston scIf you’re visiting Rainbow Row, Lowndes Grove, or any other attractions in historic downtown Charleston, don’t forget the obvious. Namely, that the wealth and culture of South Carolina was derived from the hard work of thousands of enslaved.
After you get your pictures and see how wealthy folks lived in historic Charleston homes, check out monuments to the former enslaved population. Nearby attractions include Ryan’s Mart, the only former slave-trading site still standing in Charleston.

Keep Exploring More Nearby Charleston Attractions

But be sure to snap your own pictures of Rainbow Row while you’re visiting Charleston, SC. And keep exploring more of the Best of Hipster Charleston for more recommendations on what to do here, like the best shopping in downtown Charleston, SC.

Photo courtesy: John Hoey/Flickr

a room in one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC

9 of the Best Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC

lobby at one of the best boutique hotels in downtown charleston scSome have started to draw comparisons between downtown Charleston, South Carolina, and Venice. Both are slowly sinking into the sea, both flood at the drop of a hat, and both are starting to have a bit of liveability problem.
There is no question that historic downtown Charleston, SC, is beautiful. It is now a major tourist attraction after all the work lead by former Mayor Joe Reilly to make it so. It sometimes feels possible to find one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, on every other block.
Unfortunately, some could argue that the push has gone a little too far. We’re currently down to two grocery stores (with a third, a Publix being built on Spring Street by the bridge to West Ashley). And it seems like the Post & Courier is reporting an old store closing, its real estate getting sold to a developer, at least once a month.
But that’s progress here in Charleston.
But I digress.
On the plus side, the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are all within walking distance of each other. They’re also an easy walk to many of the best things to do in downtown Charleston, SC. And most of them have pretty fantastic bars, which is sometimes this writer’s only way of getting inside.

What is the Best Area to Stay in Charleston, SC?

a plate at an expensive restaurant at one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SCIf you’re looking at hotels in this list, you’re looking for luxury or boutique hotels. Those are all clustered in a few (pricey) neighborhoods in historic downtown Charleston:
  1. The French Quarter
  2. Harleston Village
  3. Ansonborough
  4. King Street
But there are hotels scattered all over the peninsula, suiting various tastes and budgets. Check out the best places to stay in Charleston, SC, for more recommendations. And yet, the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are going to remain in the above neighborhoods.

What to Expect at Any of the Best Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

Keep in mind that all the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, offer similar amenities. Some of which include:
  1. Friendly, professional, and attentive staff
  2. Great locations
  3. Evening aperitif with some cheese or some other small bites
  4. Plush, luxurious amenities in your accommodations
And most also feature spas, pools, and fitness centers, though some are limited by their historic structure or location. Check their websites for specifics I haven’t covered. I recommend always booking direct with the business for the best available rates. Several are likely advertising on this website, which helps cover the costs of maintaining this blog.

3 Cool Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC

The following are my favorites on this list. They’re trendy and just plain cool. They’re also perfect for a drink any night of the week, depending on the vibe you’re looking for. More than a few of these are on my list of the best bars in downtown Charleston, SC. I swear I’m not as big of a lush as I am making myself sound.

The Vendue Hotel

The Vendue Hotel is on the corner of East Bay and Vendue Range, which leads straight to Waterfront Park. This hotel has two cool things going for it:
  1. a rotating display of art on the first floor
  2. a rooftop bar with the best view of the sunset in downtown Charleston
waterfront park, near vendue hotel on vendue range, one of the best boutique hotels in downtown charleston scThe building is a collection of historic warehouses, some of which date from the 1780s. That said, the historic nature of the building does require some lowered expectations for the accommodations. The rooms can be on the small side. That said, the food at their restaurant, Drawing Room, and the service in general is fantastic. And it’s an easy walk to many of the best Charleston, South Carolina, points of interest:
  1. Waterfront Park
  2. Rainbow Row
  3. Historic Charleston City Market

The Spectator Hotel

Another of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, is only a few blocks away from the Vendue Hotel. It’s also just as close to all the same attractions. Some of the rooms and balconies have views of the Historic Charleston City Market, for example. The Spectator Hotel is one of the newest hotels constructed in downtown Charleston. It’s set in a 1920s art deco building on State Street.
The rooms here are big with comfortable beds, though cleanliness could be improved. Having grown-up working at a bed and breakfast in Greenwich, Connecticut, I know a thing or two about cleanliness in hospitality.
That said, this place is fancy: amenities are all high-end, with bathrooms graced with marble. Staff is friendly and professional, even when this writer stood confused in the lobby looking for the bar. They made a point of not matching my subconscious feeling that it was obvious I had no right to be there.
The decor of the bar and lounge is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. It’s great for an aperitif before taking advantage of half-price sushi night. Sushi Blue, one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC, is right next door.

The Grand Bohemian

Again, the Grand Bohemian is a short walk from the other two boutique hotels on this list. This luxury boutique hotel has a funky decor. While the Vendue Hotel displays art for art’s sake, the selection here is intended to be somewhat off-putting to the casual visitor. The retro decor of the common areas pervades into rooms, which are plush with the standard amenities of a boutique hotel.
romantic luxury spa amenities at one of the best boutique hotels in downtown charleston scThis lodging establishment is also pet friendly. Though I personally wouldn’t want to stay in a hotel room after someone’s pet, no offense.
The Grand Bohemian has more available on the premises than the Spectator:
  1. Art gallery
  2. Fitness center
  3. Wine bar
But my favorite feature is obviously the rooftop bar. The drinks are a little pricey, and the view of Meeting Street isn’t exactly impressive. But it’s still a pleasant, funky place to see and be seen.

Restoration on King

I’ll be honest, the Restoration on King is more my style if I were looking for a place to stay in Charleston. All accommodations are suites, and most have high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and great views of the city. That said, I can’t afford it. Accommodations like these extensively restored ones right on King Street don’t come cheap.
Restoration on King describes itself as uniting classic elegance with a natural and easy going Southern touch. And that style pervades the decor, service, and amenities:
  • Breakfast is included in the rate, and delivered in picnic baskets
  • Evening wine and cheese receptions
  • Free bike rentals for guests
  • Free access to a nearby fitness club
  • Rooftop terrace
As far as I’m aware, the rooftop terrace appears accessible only to guests and their guests. That said, the view looks great when I spy on it from the rooftop bar at the Vendue.

2 New Hip Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC

The next two boutique hotels on the list are a little further away from the others.

Zero George

I have followed the luxury boutique hotel Zero George since it opened in 2014. On the corner of George Street and East Bay (hence the name), Zero George is made-up of five restored buildings from the early 1800s.
The style of Zero George is elegantly simple, with a mix of period and contemporary decor. The landscaped central courtyard is quite pretty. Amenities include:
  • Zero Restaurant & Bar
  • Daily breakfast
  • Free use of bicycles
  • Evening wine and cheese pairing
Spa at one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SCCooking classes at the Kitchen Carriage House at Zero George are among the most romantic things to do in Charleston, SC.
This is still a great location. It’s across the street from the Gaillard Auditorium, but also an easy walk to the South Carolina Aquarium and King Street. The hordes of tourists and cars have fewer reasons to be here. It’s also around the corner from the Harris Teeter, if you’re into that.

The Dewberry

This is likely the newest luxury boutique hotel on this list. The Dewberry is on Meeting Street, overlooking Marion Square. This renovation made a marked improvement over the dilapidated Federal building that hunkered there before. And the rooms are gorgeous with a contemporary decor. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer fantastic views of downtown. And the location is just as good as the others. The Dewberry is an easy walk to:
  1. The Charleston Museum
  2. King Street
The Dewberry’s original plans included a rooftop bar. This detail they neglected to mention to the Board of Architectural Review. When they opened the bar, the BAR immediately shut it down. After that, the neighbors fought it tooth and nail. Last I heard, the rooftop bar remains closed. But the first floor bar’s still quite nice.

4 More of the Best Luxury Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC

None of the rest of this list are places I’ve personally stayed. I do snoop when people visiting me decide to take advantage of these accommodations.

Wentworth Mansion

The cupola that graces the top of Wentworth Mansion is hard to miss from much of downtown Charleston. The Wentworth Mansion is a Gilded Age mansion close to Colonial Lake. Today, it’s a family-owned 5-star luxury hotel. Besides typical amenities like breakfast, this luxury boutique hotel also features to its guests:
  1. Spa
  2. Circa 1886 Restaurant
  3. Afternoon hors d’oeuvres and wine
  4. Housemade chocolates with turn-down service
  5. Evening port, sherry, or brandy
Many of the inn’s rooms and suites feature touches like sunrooms and original fireplaces. Some rooms are pet friendly. And none of these rooms are within my personal budget.

French Quarter Inn

towels displayed tastefully at one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SCBack to the area near the Historic Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park is the French Quarter Inn. The French Quarter Inn touts itself as the most awarded hotel in Charleston, as well as one of the most luxurious retreats. It also describes the building it’s in as, “striking”. I believe that translates to late-20th Century modern and inappropriate for its location. But who’s counting?
That said, their awards from Conde Nast Traveler, TripAdvisor, and Travel + Leisure are impressive.
Besides many amenities that are standard for the best luxury boutique hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC, are some unique ones:
  1. Champagne at check-in
  2. Fresh baked cookies and milk each evening
  3. In-room spa services
And their inn is in a fantastic location, to boot.

Planters Inn

At the corner of Market and East Bay Street sits the Planters Inn. This Relais & Chateaux property faces the Historic Charleston City Market. It prides itself for being a well-preserved architectural gem with hushed elegance and a refined Southern style. The writers at Travel + Leisure describe a stay at this property as, “akin to an overnight with well-to-do friends in their old Charleston mansion.
The romantic side courtyard alone makes for a pleasant entrance to the Planters Inn. But the photos on their site do a splendid job of displaying their rooms.

Belmond Charleston Place

The city of Charleston sold the Omni Hotel chain a prime location on Market Street between King Street and Meeting Street in 1986. The hope was that it would turn-around a dilapidated area. Connecting the more-visited Market Street to the dying King Street shopping districts breathed new life into the area. Many more luxury hotels began to plan competitors in the area, which snowballed to today.
The fact that you’re reading an article with a list of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, is testament to the success of that plan.
Today, the now called Belmond Charleston Place is the standard in luxury for Charleston. The rooms are beautiful and elegant, and most have fantastic views of the surrounding city. The rooftop pool has a gorgeous view, and is near the spa and fitness center. The first floor of the Belmond is a small indoor mall full of luxury boutique stores. The shops at Belmond Place contain such options for high-end shopping in Charleston, SC, as:
  1. Louis Vuitton
  2. White House / Black Market
  3. Godiva Chocolatier
It also hosts one of the most high-end fine dining restaurants in downtown Charleston: Charleston Grill.
a room in one of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SCThe second floor will host events accessible to the public, including art exhibitions for SEWE, or the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.
The Spa at Belmond Place, while expensive, is considered one of the most romantic things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Best Luxury Boutique Hotels in Downtown Charleston, SC, for Multiple Stays

And there you have it, my personal favorites of the many options for boutique hotels in Charleston, South Carolina. I like them for their unique and elegant Southern-based styles they each exude. I also appreciate their proximity to the best restaurants, attractions, activities, and things to do in downtown Charleston, SC.
splashpad at waterfront park charleston sc looking towards vendue range and st philips church

Loving Waterfront Park in Charleston SC is Not a Cliche

vendue wharf on the water at waterfront park charleston scThere are a couple places that stand out to me as some of the best places in Charleston:

  • the Cistern at the College of Charleston
  • Anson Street
  • Hampton Park

All make the list, but Waterfront Park is one of my favorite places in Charleston, South Carolina.


One of my first nights on the town as an adult, this was the second site I visited after the Cistern (and a bar). And I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this most iconic of the Charleston points of interest has left its mark on many other people.


How could a little 12-acre park on the Cooper River be all that special? Read on to learn about this beautiful park and the fountains for which it’s famous.

History of Charleston Waterfront Park

Most people don’t care about history. But if you’re coming to Charleston, you’ll be surrounded by a lot of people who do. So for the time you’re here, fake it until you make it.


Anyway, the area that is now Waterfront Park of Charleston, SC, spent most of its history underwater. The Charleston harbor used to reach as far as what is now East Bay Street.

Colonial History of Waterfront Park in Charleston, SC

As the city of Charleston filled-in the peninsula to create more land, the area to the west of what is now the Charleston Waterfront Park was used for storerooms and merchant homes. Many of these merchants were members of the French Huguenots. This area was the location of many of the city’s early markets, easily accessible from the water:

  • Vendue Range was the fish market
  • South Adger’s Wharf was a produce market

The markets all shifted to the Centre Market (what is now the Historic Charleston City Market) in the late 18th Century. And yet, the area they left behind remained important for Charleston’s maritime trade.

Charleston Waterfront Park in the 19th & Early 20th Century

Fast forward several hundred years, and what is now Waterfront Park suffered an extended period of decline.


azalea at waterfront park charleston scCharleston steadily lost importance in America’s shipping industry after the Revolutionary War. The decline actually started before the War Between the States. It was partly caused by the harsh restrictions placed on non-enslaved African-American sailors. Merchants often chose to ship their goods elsewhere rather than deal with onerous quarantines on freed sailors. After the War, the collapse of the local economy drove the Charleston harbor and port even further into decline.


Because of the general economic decline of the area, the wharves and piers of the area saw less and less use. The worst calamity was the burning of the Clyde steamship terminal in June 1955. The burnt pilings from that fire remained, with several gravel parking lots, were all that was left of this prime piece of real estate for decades.

Charleston Waterfront Park Becomes an Idea

In the 1970s, a real estate developer planned to turn the 12-acre area into a complex of condos and retail space. Fortunately for the people of Charleston, Mayor Joe Riley had started his first term in office as mayor. He worked for years to get the land from the developer. He even came close to taking it by eminent domain (though he didn’t actually follow-through on the threat).


In the end, the city of Charleston acquired the property and spent 10 years planning and building the Charleston Waterfront Park. At least part of that hold-up was due to the mayor’s personal involvement in the project. Joseph Riley was the decision-maker in minute details. Even the size of the gravel used was not beneath him (Mr. Riley took into consideration high heels on walking paths).


Much of Mr. Riley’s dedication to this project, as was the case with many of his later projects such as:

Was based on his belief that public spaces should be given the highest level of respect in a city. In the case of the Waterfront Park, Riley believed waterfront land should be open to all citizens, not just a privileged few.

The Waterfront Park of Charleston, SC, Becomes a Thing

That said, the park still opened only a week after its initial planned date, on May 11, 1990. And that was despite Hurricane Hugo hitting in September 1989 and inflicting about a million dollars worth of damage on the park. At completion, the Charleston Waterfront Park included:

  • 185 trees
  • 750 azaleas
  • 2,000 boxwoods
  • several thousand annuals and perennials
  • the perfect gravel for high heeled shoes

Mayor Riley’s dedication to Waterfront Park (and dedication to all of Charleston) led to the city renaming the park in his honor. Its official name is the Riley Waterfront Park.

A Virtual Tour of Waterfront Park

view of the arthur ravenel jr bridge from waterfront park charleston scBut there’s so much more here than the gravel. The 12-acres of the park are divided into 4 sections:

  • the wharf
  • the tree-covered walkway
  • the marsh-side walk
  • a less-visited pier off of North Adgers Wharf

The Wharf and Splashpad

Visitors entering the park from Vendue Range first hit a giant fountain. It also serves as a splash pad in hotter months of the year. Walk past the fountain towards the Cooper River to see Vendue Wharf in front of you.


The Vendue Wharf is a wide, wooden pier that extends into the water as far as the burnt pilings of the old steamship terminals. Those burnt pilings are still visible in the water, by the way. The pier features covered swinging benches and fantastic views of the Charleston harbor. Sit on one of the benches on the floating dock at the end and admire the various points of interest of the harbor:

  • the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge
  • the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point
  • Castle Pinckney
  • even Fort Sumter

The Shaded and Water-side Walkways of Waterfront Park

But the majority of the park still remains to be explored. Walk in the direction of the Battery and White Point Gardens into two separate sections that abut each other.


One area is densely planted with oak trees, azaleas, and boxwoods. It features plenty of benches for visitors to sit, relax, and even slouch (all part of Mr. Riley’s plan for the park). An open lawn and esplanade planted with palmettos sits between the shaded area and the water. This setup suits Riley’s initial plan just fine of giving water access to all city dwellers.

The Pineapple Fountain of Charleston, South Carolina

the pineapple fountain of charleston sc, located at waterfront park charleston scIn the center of the lawn sits one of the most photographed sites in Charleston: the famous pineapple fountain of Charleston, SC.


The pineapple is the universal symbol of hospitality in the South.


Did you know that this tradition actually originated in Charleston?


Tradition held that it was improper for women to entertain at home when their husbands were away from home. In a merchant town like Charleston, this happened a lot. When merchants returned home from abroad (many from the West Indies), they’d bring a pineapple with them. Upon arrival, their wives would display the pineapple prominently at the front of their Charleston single home. The pineapple would announce that their home was open and welcome to visitors.


And today, the pineapple has been set in bronze as the symbol of hospitality in Charleston. It is also the second-best fountain to splash around in Waterfront Park (the splash pad off the Vendue Range is better). Before you splash (or just take a picture of the pineapple fountain), feel free to dip into the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. The Charleston Pineapple Fountain sits directly in front of the City Gallery, which is another free Charleston attraction by the way.


If you’re feeling like supporting the arts, you’ll find prints of the pineapple fountain for sale all over Charleston. My favorite print is at Images of Charleston on King Street.

The Quiet and Scenic Pier

Continue walking down towards the southern end of the park, and the pathway will curve back towards Concord Street to match the curve of the coastline of the restored marsh. Where North Adgers Wharf meets the end of the park, a formal line of heavily-pruned trees leads to another pier not as heavily visited as other parts. This particular pier is made of the 17th Century granite that originally graced the pier at its current site. The granite was actually fished out of the harbor to use in the same footprint as its historic appearance. This particular wharf makes for a romantic experience, as it’s not as heavy with tourists as other parts.

The Best Time of Year to Visit Waterfront Park

splashpad at waterfront park charleston sc looking towards vendue range and st philips churchBut it doesn’t matter where in this little park you go, it’s a wonderful place to visit. I recommend giving yourself about 45 minutes to meander through the entire park, especially on a clear day or evening.


Its swinging benches, shady areas with benches and water fountains, and piers overlooking the water make this one of the most romantic spots in Charleston, SC. Any time of year is ideal to show-off your romantic side here. Let’s face it, even those two bad weeks in February aren’t that cold in the grand scheme of things.


Meanwhile, as I learned from experience, the various fountains, the swinging benches, and opportunities to see dolphins make visiting here one of the best things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids. That’s especially true in the summer months. Don’t forget that a parking garage is literally right next door (as well as free bathrooms in the parking garage, easily accessible from Vendue Range). Easy parking and bathrooms make this even better for a quiet summer afternoon with the kids.

Places to Stay Near Waterfront Park

There are a lot of options, actually. Some of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are an easy walk. The list includes:

  1. The Vendue Hotel
  2. The Spectator Hotel
  3. French Quarter Inn
  4. Belmond Charleston
  5. Market Pavilion Hotel

Some other nearby Charleston points of interest include the Historic Charleston City Market, Rainbow Row, the Battery and White Point Gardens, and the various churches of the French Quarter. But seriously, the Waterfront Park of Charleston, SC, is without question one of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Best Shopping in Downtown Charleston, SC: 8 Awesome Stores


clothes on display in the best shopping in downtown charleston scThe best shopping in downtown Charleston, SC, is way behind experiencing other aspects of the Lowcountry to me.
Lowcountry dining and the best attractions and activities in Charleston and nearby distract.
But it’s important for some people.
And there are plenty of choices for Charleston shops throughout the area.
Despite not being a fan of shopping, I’ve been dragged to plenty of stores in my life. Several recent ostensibly social occasions turned into exploring the best shopping in downtown Charleston, SC. But as long as the stores are pretty cool, I don’t mind too much. And the visits don’t last forever.

What’s the Best Shopping Street in Charleston?

The first destination for shoppers is definitely going to be King Street in historic downtown Charleston. The stretch from Broad Street to Calhoun Street features many of the chain stores one would expect to find in a major shopping destination:
  1. J. Crew
  2. Brooks Brothers
  3. Vineyard Vines
  4. Apple
  5. Williams Sonoma

The Best Shopping in Charleston, SC, on King Street

But King Street (including Upper King) has plenty of boutique stores and unique local Charleston shops.

1. Two Cumberland

This shop used to be on Cumberland Street, but has since moved to a spot on the second floor on lower King Street. Two Cumberland is a great place to grab gifts for people from out of town, or hipsters in your life. It touts itself as the most unique retailer in Charleston, and it may be onto something. There’s even a men’s section with cool stuff like a carry-on mixed drink kit and a brand of soap called the Duke Cannon Big Ass Brick of Soap. You’ll also find the more ubiquitous items like the Moscow Mule mugs and Rewined candles.
I’m not huge on jewelry, but they’ve got an extensive collection of Bourbon and Boweties. An entire section of the store is devoted to women’s clothes shopping. That said, I haven’t had much reason to be there other than seeing if my friend that brought me was ready to leave.

2. Preservation Society of Charleston

For those looking for antique shopping in Charleston and are willing to spend a bit, lower King Street is where to go. Options down here include Charleston Battery Bench. My personal favorite is the Preservation Society of Charleston. Their shop at the corner of Queen and King Streets sells books about Charleston. You’ll also find historical maps and pieces salvaged from historic buildings around Charleston.
One of the coolest things I saw there was a table made of cypress wood. The wood had sunk into the Charleston harbor bottom back when cypress lumber was floated down the rivers to market in Charleston. Someone had pulled the wood up and cut a table out of it. The work left the green coloration of the bark and first inch of wood (cypress wood is too dense for water to get in) as well as the imperfections of the tree.

3. Julia Santen Gallery

Like most of the places on this list, I have not bought anything here. I just like looking at all the prints they have for sale. For some reason, most of the times I walk by the Julia Santen Gallery, they’re closed. But when they are open, flipping through prints and original poster art of this art gallery can be a pleasant way to pass the time.

4. The Shops at Belmond Charleston Place

I do not shop here. To be honest, I just use their bathroom a lot.
It’s the fanciest public bathroom on King Street. It matches all the upscale stores and restaurants hosted in Belmond Charleston Place. The marble floors and luxury stores like:
  1. Godiva
  2. Gucci
  3. Luis Vuitton
All match a trend-setter for the best fine dining in downtown Charleston, the Charleston Grill. Tack on one of the most expensive boutique hotels in Charleston, SC, the Belmond. Combined, you will understand why I refer to this as the rich people mall, dear reader.

5. Images of Charleston

This narrow little store is easy to miss, unless you walk close enough to see a few of the pictures on display. All pictures sold at Images of Charleston were taken either by Jen Bennett or her father, Don Bennett. Images are then put on sheets of High Definition metal. Their pictures have intense colors to them and feature images unique to Charleston or unique to their style. This place has been a great source of gifts people actually want to receive.

6. Urban Outfitters and Earthbound

Yes, these are both chains. But Earthbound is fun to poke around and peruse mass-produced coolness. Same thing for Urban Outfitters. Plus the building they’re in is a former theatre and has many of the features held over from that period. They also keep that place like an icebox in the summer, which is a huge bonus on a hot day walking down King Street.

stacks of used books on display the best shopping in downtown charleston sc7. Blue Bicycle Books

This is my favorite of the many used bookstores in Charleston. It is one of my personal favorite stores in Charleston anyway. But I’m a big dork about books, especially the non-technical variety.

8. Affordabike

No list of hipster shopping destinations would be complete without a bike shop. And Affordabike certainly holds the title on King Street of being the one-stop shop for bike needs. You can also rent a bike here for the day.

Downtown Shopping Other Than King Street: Market Street

Market Street, centered on the Charleston City Market, is one big tourist trap. Poke around the Old City Market and buy a sweetgrass basket or two. There are better places to spend your money in Charleston than the chain stores that line Market Street, in my opinion. Do stop in for free praline samples at the sweets shops there, though.

Malls and Outlet Shopping in Charleston

the inside of a store at the best shopping in downtown charleston scMalls are kind of lacking in the Charleston area. The Citadel Mall in West Ashley is the only real mall in the city of Charleston, but it’s kind of creepy. A lot of storefronts are empty.
As a worker at Sesame joked, they call their restaurant there Sesame West Ashley, because no one would go if it was called Sesame Citadel Mall. They’ve got a Target and a Belk, though, aside from the Sesame Burgers restaurant.
A higher end option for a mall near Charleston is the Mount Pleasant Town Center on Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.
The Tanger Outlets in North Charleston is pretty great, though. I’m pretty cheap, so when I have to go clothes shopping, I head here (or Kohl’s in West Ashley).

Alright, I’m Done Shopping. Now What?

Don’t forget there are tons of other activities in Charleston. Once you’ve finished shopping, you can check out any of the amazing casual dining or seafood options. Or you could scope out some more historic attractions near King Street like the Nathaniel Russell House or the South Carolina Aquarium. Or finish the day on one of the beautiful beaches near Charleston, South Carolina.
The choice is yours.


15 of the Best Seafood Restaurants in Downtown Charleston, SC

raw oysters being served at one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown charleston scThere’s a lot Charleston is known for, but all its fame stems from being a historic port city.
And Charleston matches a long list of other global port cities for a lot of similar characteristics:
  1. Barcelona
  2. New Orleans
  3. Marseilles
But one thing that unifies these and many more is featuring damn good, local seafood.
Experiencing Charleston requires at least one meal of fresh seafood from Lowcountry waters. And the best seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston, SC, are here to oblige.
Some typical coastal South Carolina seafood cuisine include:
  1. shrimp and grits
  2. she-crab soup
  3. fresh raw oysters
Personally, the best seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston are too pricey to visit on a regular basis. But let’s face it: seafood ain’t cheap.

Top 10 Seafood Restaurants in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

1. 167 Raw

This diminutive restaurant on East Bay Street, across from Harris Teater, packs a bunch. This little restaurant started as an 8-seat raw seafood bar. It’s now a destination for anyone looking for the best seafood restaurants in Charleston, SC.
This cozy and casual restaurant is fantastic, and my favorite on this list. Be ready for a wait when you come, though, as 167 Raw is everyone else’s favorite, too. And their small size and limited seating (made worse with a recent legal dispute) can get hairy.
Anything from their raw bar (especially including raw oysters) is amazing.

2. The Ordinary

raw oysters on ice at one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown charleston scThis downtown Charleston seafood restaurant is plain hip. Where Cannon Street ends on Upper King sits the Ordinary. The building is a converted 1920s bank. The expansive interior of high ceilings isn’t great for those sensitive to noise levels. But the second floor seating area doesn’t have the same problem. And the bar is absolutely beautiful.
The service here is great, and matches the various, rotating menu of seafood. Pretty much everything here is exceptional seafood, so avoid this place if you or someone in your party prefers other options. Big favorites are the raw oysters and shrimp hushpuppies.

3. Coast Bar and Grill

Coast Bar and Grill was founded in 2002 and redefines fresh with their fantastic menu. The restaurant is designed with inspirations from paintings of various parts of the world. The decorations create an atmosphere like a multifarious beach bar. The chefs procure fresh seafood daily from local fishermen and farmers. Afterwards, the food is prepared on a custom made wood-fired grill. The menu is specially crafted by the chefs and includes such local favorites as seared rare tuna, wood grilled fish, and fish tacos.

4. Fleet Landing Restaurant and Bar

Fleet Landing is a waterfront dining option which serves:
  1. contemporary and classic southern seafood
  2. burgers
  3. regional Lowcountry favorites
  4. salads
The meals are all enjoyed with a view of the beautiful waterfront from the maritime-themed dining room and wrap around deck. Reservations are taken (though not required) to enjoy one of the few Charleston seafood restaurants on the water.

5. Fish Restaurant Charleston

This Upper King Street restaurant mixes French cuisine with Asian cuisine. The combination creates an excellent meal to match the warm and inviting ambience. Fish Restaurant’s Bastille Day Celebration dinner is not to be missed. The event features family-style seating for a prix fixe menu. Entertainment between courses celebrate French culture. As far as seafood restaurants on King Street go, this is one your best options.

6. Fleet Landing Restaurant and Bar

Fleet Landing is a waterfront dining option which serves:
  1. contemporary and classic southern seafood
  2. burgers
  3. regional Lowcountry favorites
  4. salads
The meals are all enjoyed with a view of the beautiful waterfront from the maritime-chic dining room and wrap around deck. Reservations are taken (though not required) to enjoy one of the few Charleston seafood restaurants on the water.

7. Dave’s Carry Out

The nondescript building of this Ellitotborough/Cannonborough stalwart conceals one of Charleston’s best-concealed secrets. Its fantastic fried fish, shrimp, and fried food in general are all big draws. The take out restaurant welcomes guest with the genteel hospitality you come to expect here in Charleston. Dave’s Carry Out also sells fresh and healthy food at prices cheap for historic downtown Charleston. They have a few tables for customers who intend to sit in and eat, but this eatery is focused on take-outs picked-up from the counter.

8. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant

This busy restaurant has been voted as one of the best seafood restaurants in Charleston for years. For fifteen consecutive years, the restaurant has served seafood using local recipes.
Great food (with a lot of butter), grand atmosphere, and impeccable service comes at a price, of course. This is the best seafood option for fine dining in downtown Charleston, SC.

9. Pearlz Oyster Bar

This eclectic oyster bar serves a seafood menu which comprises of Lowcountry recipes of:
  • assorted shellfish
  • local seafood
  • regional favorites
The raw bar of the restaurant offers fresh seasonal shellfish and a variety of oysters. All can be washed-down with their extensive cocktail and beer menu. Pearlz supports the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative and has been voted the place to find the best oysters in Charleston by locals. My personal favorite for raw oysters is later on in the list.

a plate of food at a casual choice for one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown charleston sc10. The Noisy Oyster

The atmosphere of the Noisy Oyster restaurant is relaxed and welcoming. This family owned restaurants is popular with tourists. Its location on Market Street and the Historic Charleston City Market precludes it from being accessible to many locals, though. They serve:
  1. buffalo oysters
  2. hot shrimp and crab dip
  3. fried chicken fingers
  4. fried mozzarella
To go with typical seafood fare. Its sister restaurant is considered one of the best seafood restaurants in North Charleston, SC, as well. Visitors looking to stay close to the Charleston airport can enjoy that option as well.

A Few More Options for Seafood Restaurants in Downtown Charleston, SC

Yes, these didn’t make the top list. But there’s a good reason: they’re not my favorite.

11. Old Towne Grill and Seafood

This seafood restaurant on Lower King Street is one of the longest lasting restaurants in Charleston. This cozy Greek restaurant with a modern look serves gyros and shish kebabs. It also serves more typical American fare such as flame-grilled steaks, chicken. Old Towne Grill and Seafood makes this list for serving all sorts of seafood, be it boiled, steamed, or fried.

12. Charleston Crab House

This casual seafood restaurant is located on Market Street near the Charleston City Market. It features a convivial atmosphere and a spacious outdoor seating area, including rooftop seating. The restaurant serves:
  1. soups and salads
  2. burgers and sandwiches
  3. crab-a-tizers
  4. Southern fried seafood
  5. steak
  6. chicken
  7. crab house specialties
  8. steam pot
  9. raw oyster bar
The Charleston Crab House is also perfect for families, with a children’s menu.

13. Hyman’s Seafood

Hyman’s Seafood has been around for a couple of years as a family restaurant with a fun experience and great food. They serve hush puppies, shrimp, and grits, fried green tomatoes among others. This restaurant is a perennial favorite with tourists for reasons beyond this writer. There’s always a long line in front, though Hyman’s Seafood has earned a bit of a reputation among locals.

2 Great Choices for Sushi Restaurants in Charleston, SC

sushi at one of the best seafood restaurants in downtown charleston scI love sushi. And sushi within walking distance even more. But inexpensive good sushi within walking distance trumps all else.

1. Sushi Blue

This place is awesome.
Major disclaimer: I have never been to Sushi Blue on a Friday or a Saturday. There’s no reason to, as their half priced sushi special is every other night of the week. And it’s not even a happy hour special, it stretches from about 4pm until they close, around 10 pm. And contrary to typical expectations, the sushi is quite good.
I usually grab the unagi roll, spicy tuna roll, and tempura rolls. The tataki is quite good as well.

2. O-Ku

O-Ku Sushi restaurant celebrates the authentic Asian cuisines mixed with a Southern approach. Its menu depends on unique local ingredients and sophisticated arrangements. From sushi specialties to small plates, Chef Thad Stuckey highlights the freshest fish from global locales such as:
  1. Hawaii
  2. Scotland
  3. Norway
  4. New Zealand
  5. Sustainable sources in Charleston
The ambience of this seafood restaurant on Upper King Street and Radcliffe is modern and chic. The decor features exposed brick walls and high ceilings. To experience this downtown Charleston seafood restaurant at a less exorbitant price, O-Ku happy hour is on Mondays and Wednesdays. The happy hour is a fantastic deal with half-priced rolls and unique signature drinks, though getting a table on these evenings can be a bear.
As eating is one of the most popular activities in Charleston, South Carolina, come prepared to loosen your belt a notch or two! But the culinary scene is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night. Check out our list of the best casual restaurants in downtown Charleston for nights you’re looking to keep a budget.

24 of the Best Things to Do in Charleston, SC, with Kids

visiting Sullivan's Island beach is one of the best things to do in Charleston, SC, with kidsThere is no more effective birth control in the world than traveling with kids (except babysitting).

Family-friendly vacations often don’t seem too friendly to all family members. Rigid schedules, finding places to eat with chicken nuggets, and fears of them screaming in public make it difficult. But traveling to Charleston can be pretty breezy with tykes in tow. Lucky for you there are plenty of fun things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids. Here’s a list of this writer’s favorite fun things for kids to do in Charleston, South Carolina, after having dragged young kids around myself.

If you’re in a hurry, my top ten things to do with kids in Charleston are:

  1. Middleton Place
  2. Folly Beach State Park
  3. South Carolina Aquarium
  4. Charleston City Market
  5. Waterfront Park
  6. Fort Sumter
  7. Charles Towne Landing
  8. Magnolia Plantation
  9. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
  10. Patriot’s Point

But there’s obviously a lot more on this list than those top 10. Bookmark and come back when you’ve got more time. Or when the kids stop crying.

What Are the Best Kid-Friendly Hotels in Charleston, SC?

Finding a hotel for the family is pretty important, so this itinerary starts with the best places to stay in Charleston, SC, that are kid-friendly. As far as family hotels go, my favorite is the Town & Country Inn and Suites in West Ashley. It’s a new construction with a decent-sized pool and plenty of parking for the minivan you’ll need to get everybody around. It’s a bit further away from historic downtown Charleston than many other hotels. The rooms are big, the walls are thick, and the staff is friendly (no matter how annoying your kids may be). It’s also a lot less expensive than any of the hotels on the Charleston peninsula or in Mount Pleasant.

You could also look for a vacation rental that would accommodate you, but that depends on how destructive your kids are. After all, not getting your damage deposit back after your Charleston family vacation would be a major bummer.

4 Free Things to Do in Charleston with Kids

Once you’ve got your homebase established, it’s time to get out to explore. After spending a chunk of change on the hotel in Charleston, there will likely be a strong urge to find free things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids. Free is great but free and entertaining is amazing, especially when accompanying wee ones with short attention spans. Two big hits in downtown Charleston are the Charleston City Market and Waterfront Park. These two free Charleston attractions are close to each other and provide some decent amusement. They’re walkable, even for toddlers and babies if you’ve got a stroller.

1. Charleston City Market

The Charleston City Market is free to stroll through (and has public restrooms). It’s four city blocks full of a wide array of vendors. You can find anything from sweetgrass baskets to jewelry to toys to any sort of knickknacks related to Charleston you can think of. While the stuff at the Old City Market can be pricey, looking is free, just try to keep the kids’ hands to themselves as much as possible.

the splashpad at charleston waterfront park is one of the best things to do in charleston sc with kids2. Waterfront Park

After strolling through the Charleston City Market, head down East Bay Street. Turn left onto the Vendue Range and head straight towards the Charleston Waterfront Park. There’s a public restroom to the right before you hit the park in the Charleston city parking garage on the right-hand side. Waterfront Park has great views for older visitors. There are plenty of free activities there for kids too: the splash pad, the Pineapple fountain, the swings, and the wharf. On a hot Charleston summer day (or a warm day if you’re visiting from colder climes), kids can spend hours running around in the splashpad. Same for the Pineapple fountain: children are welcome to wade in the shallow water with a sweeping view of the Charleston harbor behind them. Make sure you take them to other stuff you want to see first. Once they’ve seen the splashpad, it’s all they’ll want to do for the rest of their visit to Charleston.  After splashing around, toddlers and kids will get a kick out of watching boats and dolphins pass in the Charleston harbor from the wharf railing or the swinging benches.

3. Hampton Park

Further up the peninsula and north of the Crosstown is my favorite park in Charleston: Hampton Park. This old racetrack, parade ground and prisoner of war camp during the Civil War next to the Citadel Military College is a big expanse of greenery. It’s the largest park in downtown Charleston, and has plenty of room for the kids to run around. Some of the things you can’t miss include the gazebo, the playground, the avenues lined with live oaks or Crape Myrtle trees, and pond with fountains and ducks.

4. The Angel Oak

Outside of Charleston on the quieter island of Johns Island is the largest tree east of the Mississippi: the Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak Tree is a massive live oak that makes up for not being too old (only about 600 years) by being big and graceful. The branches seem to spread out from the tree for a wide expanse, requiring wires and supports in many parts. While a tree like this would be a children’s dream play area, scrambling, climbing and rough-play around the tree is verboten. For fear of damaging the tree’s delicate life-balance, people have to be pretty calm and quiet around the tree. That said, there’s an area with picnic benches for the kids to run around. The Angel Oak Tree is a pretty awesome (and free) site to see during your visit to Charleston.

5 Things to Do in Charleston This Weekend With Kids

Speaking of things to do outside of the city, there are plenty of things to do in Charleston, SC, this weekend with your kids. To not pick favorites, in no particular order for kid-friendly weekend activities in Charleston, read on:

1. Fort Sumter

Taking a Fort Sumter tour is pretty fun, more for the ride out to Fort Sumter. This is a great opportunity to cruise the harbor and see the city from a different perspective. Famed Charlestonian writer Pat Conroy described the city as a jewel perched on the harbor, and it’s easier to get that picture from the water. You also get to spot dolphins and ships as the guide points-out other Charleston harbor attractions. The tour on Fort Sumter takes about an hour, and the kids can scramble on the rocks there as long as the guides aren’t looking.

2. Patriots Point

One of the other attractions on the harbor you’ll see on the Fort Sumter tour is Patriots Point. Located in Mount Pleasant, across the harbor from downtown Charleston, Patriots Point has two impressive ships and a submarine for visitors to explore: USS Laffey, USS Yorktown, and USS Clamagore. A visit to Patriots Point will likely take you all afternoon or longer, depending on how interested in war your kids (and you) are. There’s also a Vietnam exhibition I admit I haven’t seen, though a Vietnam Veteran that recently visited thought it was realistic.

The trip over to Patriot’s Point can easier, more fun, and more relaxed for you (no traffic), if you skip the car and take the Charleston water taxi. Downtown departure points are from the marina at the South Carolina Aquarium, and from the pier at Waterfront Park.

the various plantations near charleston sc are some of the best kid friendly attractions in charleston sc3. Charleston Plantations

If military history isn’t your thing (or not the kids’ thing), you can take them all to one of the fantastic Charleston plantations. All are fantastic: Drayton Hall, Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place, or Magnolia Plantation. Of this group, the ones most interesting to children are Boone Hall, Magnolia Plantation, or Middleton Place. These offer more of the “plantation experience”. That means, they have re-enactors, animals, and other things that keep younger visitors entertained. The least expensive of the group would be Boone Hall Plantation. Admission costs $20 for adults, $12 for kids 6-12, and is free for younger children.

4. Charles Towne Landing

If the cost of a real Charleston plantation is too much for you to afford taking the whole family, there are several other kid-friendly weekend activities. One of my favorites is Charles Towne Landing. This is the location of the first European settlement in the Charleston area. The colonists abandoned the settlement and moved to the peninsula, leaving only earthen mounts used as defenses. They established the walled city between what is now the Charleston City Market and the Battery and White Point Gardens. That said, the parks system added replica homes, a replica ship, and a zoo of animals that lived here when the Europeans first arrived. It’s got some of the lamer stuff like turkeys, deer, a skunk, and farm animals, but the Charles Towne Landing zoo also has a black bear, vultures, mountain lions, bison, a bobcat, red wolves, and otters.

5. Blackbeard’s Cove, AKA Charleston Fun Park

As far as I know, the only place to play mini golf or putt putt in the Charleston area is Blackbeard’s Cove. This place is one of those tacky places that will keep kids entertained for a good, long while. Activities include two 18-hole miniature golf courses, a go-cart track, and indoor games and activities. Regardless of the weather, the whole family will enjoy it. I’ve only played miniature golf here (more than I should admit), but it seems the hordes of kids in the indoor gaming area are enjoying themselves any time I’m there. This may be a good activity to lump-in with a visit to Patriots Point or Boone Hall Plantation. Besides Blackbeard’s Cove, there is also a bowling alley in Mount Pleasant with its own arcade games area.

7 Indoor Activities for Kids in Charleston, South Carolina

Speaking of kid-friendly indoor activities in Charleston, SC, there are plenty. I’m more comfortable with what’s available in my neck of the woods, downtown Charleston.

a visit to the old exchange and provost building and dungeon is one of the best things to do in charleston sc with kids1. Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

What little boy or girl doesn’t find ghosts and pirates fascinating? Your family will find a little of both at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Located where Broad Street ends at East Bay Street (close to Rainbow Row), the Old Exchange and Provost building has professional storytellers to share the stories of those who passed through the historic building’s walls. It also has a creepy dungeon where your kids may just see (or feel) a ghost or two.

2. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

The most obvious choice for rainy day things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids would be the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. This place is a dead giveaway for being a fun place to take kids (it’s got Children in the name, for god sakes) and is located in downtown Charleston. Children aged 3 to 10 are welcome to explore the hands-on exhibitions at the museum. Exhibits include a two-story Medieval castle, dedicated art room, and pirate ship. The goal of the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is to help children explore the sciences, arts, and humanities through playing. Kids are sometimes successful at spreading lice here. Beware the dress-up area of the museum.

3. Best Friend of Charleston Train Museum

Just a short walk away from the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is the Best Friend of Charleston Train Museum. This small exhibition features a replica of the Best Friend, the first steam-powered locomotive train built in the United States for revenue service. The first train was built in the West Point Foundry in 1830, and was first used to connect Charleston to inland markets via rail. The boiler of the Best Friend of Charleston exploded six months after it went into use, though other trains replaced it on the growing system. The train marked the start of the revitalization of Charleston in the early 1800s as trade returned back to the port city. Visitors are welcome to check-out the train for free.

4. Charleston Museum

Down the street from the Best Friend of Charleston Train Museum and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is the Charleston Museum. It started as a museum of antiquities collected by the College of Charleston, then spun-off on its own. Today, it features a fascinating collection of Egyptian antiquities, stuffed animals, and older artifacts you’d expect to find in a 1930s museum or an Indiana Jones movie. But it also has a treasure trove of Charleston history, including a pharmacy storefront. All this for $10 a pop, though you can combine it with entrance to two Charleston house tours: the Joseph Manigault House or Heyward-Washington House for $16.

visiting the jellyfish at the south carolina aquarium, one of the best things to do in charleston sc with kids5. South Carolina Aquarium

Head down Meeting Street towards Marion Square, turn left on Calhoun Street and walk towards the Mother Emanuel AME Church.  Continue straight until you reach Liberty Square and the South Carolina Aquarium. Some of the favorite exhibits for kids include the two-story fish tank, stingray and shark touch tanks, river otters (I admit I like otters), the bald eagle, sea turtles of the fish tank and at the Sea Turtle Hospital, and the lemurs. But there are plenty of other things to distract and educate the smallest visitors to Charleston for hours.

6. North Charleston Fire Museum

Close to the Tanger Outlets in North Charleston is the North Charleston Fire Museum, sometimes referred to as the “Fire Truck Museum”. The Fire Museum of North Charleston features antique firefighting vehicles and teaches the history of firefighting. This was important to Charleston, which seemed to disappear under a blanket of fire every few decades if you read enough history books. You’ll still see traces around town of this extended period of history: little decals marking which for-profit fire-fighting company protected individual historic homes and towers constructed to help watchers notice fires before they spread too far. There are also hands-on exhibits intended to teach kids how to get out of burning buildings and the like. Tickets for adults are $10, while admission for children under 12 is free.

7. Frankie’s Fun Park

This is another kids attraction park filled with tacky stuff kids go crazy for (and some adults, I admit):

  1. Mini golf
  2. Go-cart tracks
  3. Batting cage
  4. Arcade games
  5. Bumper boats
  6. Rock wall

Among other activities. Check out their full list of kids activities on their website. I personally prefer Blackbeard’s Cove, as it’s in Mount Pleasant (to avoid North Charleston traffic). Also, Frankie’s Fun Park is a chain. And you know how hipsters feel about chains.

3 Things to Do in Charleston, SC, with Teenagers

Spoken from the experience of being a teenager, traveling with kids has its positive moments, but traveling with teenagers can be the worst. They can be moody or just remind you how not cool you are. Or whatever they say these days.

Usually the best way out of traveling with teenagers is to not to do it. If that’s not an option, Charleston’s got you covered with a few pretty cool things to take them to do while on vacation. Most teenagers do enjoy a day outside. You just have to get them out there in the first place. Check out our list of the most fun outdoor things to do in Charleston, SC, and use a couple ideas to coax your visiting teenagers off the couch.

visiting many of the beaches near charleston sc is one of the best things to do in charleston sc with kids1. Charleston Beaches

First, the beaches. Teenagers love beaches, for no good reason. Kids enjoy them too, but teenagers get to see and be seen by other teenagers there. And pretend they have no interest in doing anything fun there, like swimming, playing in the sand, throw a ball around, or anything else their younger siblings want to do on a beach day. Luckily, there are some fantastic beaches near Charleston, SC, to explore: Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, and Folly Beach are the closest. Isle of Palms is perfect for young families, Sullivan’s Island is a more relaxed location for families looking to keep their teenagers out of trouble, while Folly Beach is college-aged kids central. It’s fun and quirky, but also full of discreet underage drinking.


2. Free Events in Charleston: Second Sunday

Some fun things for teenagers to do in downtown Charleston include checking out Second Sunday and a concert or two at Music Farm. Second Sunday on King Street happens on the second Sunday of each month (hence the name) when the city of Charleston blocks King Street from Calhoun Street to Queen Street from vehicular traffic. King Street becomes a walking mall with restaurants spilling out onto the street as well as street vendors and street performers. If your teenager has been particularly unbearable, you can force him or her to perform an instrument on King Street. That is the only logical reason in my head why I often see teenagers playing during Second Sunday with a parent watching them off to the side.

3. Music Farm

Music Farm is a concert venue downtown between the Charleston Visitors Center and King Street. Some big names perform here, though I wouldn’t recommend leaving teenagers unattended here. Many an alumnus has fond memories of concerts held here through their college years. That is part of the reason for not leaving teenagers alone here.

Cheap and Free Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

As far as free fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night with teenagers, you can take them to the Pour House on James Island. The open-air sitting area in back will often have live performers at no charge. Performances indoors usually have cover fees, but nothing too bad.

1. A Baseball Game at “the Joe”

Another activity that will entertain all afternoon and evening depending on the day is a Riverdogs baseball at the Joseph P Riley, Jr. park. While the baseball is never fantastic, the food is great, there’s lots of extra entertainment to keep spectators of all ages interested. Best of all, there’s cheap beer to keep adults in a good mood around their horde. Evening games through the summer often end with fireworks. What’s not to love?

2. Charleston Ghost Tours

Another personal evening favorite of mine is taking one of the best ghost tours in Charleston. Bulldog Tours from Anson Street near the Charleston City Market is a top tour provider in Charleston. Their Graveyard Tours or Old City Jail Tours are worth the time and money to get to spook your kids a bit.

3. Kid-Friendly Charleston Pirate Tours

Charleston Pirate Tours also offers a tour just for young kids. The Children’s Treasure Hunt Tour guides kids around White Point Gardens and the pirate history of Charleston Harbor. There’s an arts and crafts portion where kids get to make their own pirate flags, and everybody gets a free foam pirate sword and balloon parrot. This is perfect for toddlers and kids. Or teenagers if you have gotten tired of their complaining and want to embarrass the heck out of them.

More Free Information!

You can also find even more recommendations on things to do in Charleston this weekend with your kids at either the Charleston Visitors Center or reading the Charleston City Paper.

The Best Restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina, for Kids

Once the little ones (or bigger ones) are feeling hunger pangs from running all over Charleston, it’s time to find one of the best restaurants in Charleston, SC, to feed them all. That is, unless you got a vacation rental, in which case you should save yourself some money and just cook at home. But at least one meal here is necessary, as the food is fantastic.

Casual Restaurants for Kids in Charleston

pizza at one of the casual restaurants in charleston, one of the best things to do in charleston sc with kidsKeep in mind that I have no interest in taking kids to high-end restaurants in Charleston, SC. I prefer casual restaurants in Charleston with less-expensive options for the kids. Remember they don’t exactly have the most refined palates, at least in my experience. Most restaurants can whip-up something simple for children (and the vast majority have children’s menus), but I feel more comfortable at casual restaurants, to avoid an awkward scene of food spattered on a woman in a fancy dress. As such, a few of my favorite kid-friendly restaurants in Charleston include:

  1. Five Loaves Cafe has a restaurant in downtown Charleston on Cannon Street as well as Mount Pleasant. Its farm-to-table focus of its dishes still permits it to have child-friendly dining options. And the staff is pretty laid-back about messes (though don’t encourage them, of course).
  2. Fuel is another casual restaurant on Spring Street in downtown Charleston with outdoor seating. The menu is Caribbean-inspired at this former gas station, but there are some great choices for kids.
  3. Brown Dog Deli is down on Broad Street in downtown Charleston. Especially with the closure of the Blind Tiger Pub, this place is a little out of the way from other eating establishments, but its outer seating is nice when paired with their simple but delicious fare. It’s still got Fast & French down the street, anyway.
  4. Fast and French, or Gaulart et Maliclet, is another casual eatery that’s somewhat hidden away from everything on Broad Street, closer to King Street than Brown Dog Deli. This is a casual French restaurant inside of a former historic Charleston home on Broad Street. The menu includes a wide array of French food, including an amazing daily lunch and dinner special. As one recent visitor to Charleston commented, Fast and French feels as if you’ve left Charleston for a neighborhood bistro in Paris.
  5. Home Team is a barbecue joint with a restaurant in West Ashley as well as Sullivan’s Island. After Swig & Swine, this is the best barbecue in Charleston in my humble opinion, and this one is much friendlier to kids, with picnic tables outside for kids (or pets) to make a serious mess with an easy hose-down to clean-up afterwards. The prices are reasonable, though make sure your children like barbecue before you buy them a platter and discover they’re not fans.
  6. Some call Hominy Grill a “tourist trap” in downtown Charleston on Cannon Street, but I still like it. The Sunday brunch is awesome, and they’re welcoming to visitors of any age that stop by. Don’t miss the grits, which according to a massive mural on the side of their establishment is good for you. Not sold on that, but they’re still spectacular.
  7. Tattooed Moose is the ultimate in Charleston dive bars, but they serve some amazing food. And kids are welcome as long as it’s a reasonable (ie: eating) time of day. They even have those food items that will make you reminisce from your childhood: corn dogs being one of the big ones. That will make you order some of these foods and try to force your kids to love them too. They won’t, but on the plus side you’ll get to eat them instead.
  8. The Early Bird Diner is a must-visit for any foodie of any age to Charleston. The Food Network hirlighted the chicken and waffles, but the rest of the menu is great, too.
  9. Fleet Landing has waterfront casual dining just north of Waterfront Park and Vendue Range. The big draw to this downtown Charleston seafood restaurant is not the fried seafood. The views of the Charleston harbor are amazing, that said.
  10. Butcher and Bee is likely more for families with more cosmopolitan or at least adventurous kids, but you’ll be glad you convinced your kids to enjoy something on the menu when you bite into one of their sandwiches. They’re awesome. They even bake the bread there. Early morning walks by the restaurant definitely smell wonderful.
  11. D’Allesandro’s is a classic pizzeria on St. Philip Street in downtown Charleston, close to Upper King Street. It’s friendly staff serve-up fantastic Philly-style pizza with a ton of various toppings and sauces to go with them. It’s the best pizza in Charleston, SC, in this writer’s opinion.

A Few Romantic Things to Do in Charleston, SC

Now that you’ve got an entire visit to Charleston planned for your family, what if you’ve got a quiet night to yourself with your significant other? Well, there are of course plenty of romantic things to do in Charleston, SC, with fun things to do for couples all over the city. Some big draws include any of the romantic restaurants throughout the area like Poogan’s Porch, Slightly North of Broad, or Fast and French; a Palmetto Carriage ride, or see a show at the Dock Street Theatre.

3 Great Things to Do in Charlotte, NC, with Kids

And for those looking to go farther afield, there are more child-friendly attractions throughout the Carolinas. Some things to do in Charlotte, NC, with kids include the Carolinas Aviation Museum, the Green of Charlotte, and the Discovery Place Museum. If you’re planning on hitting both places up on a visit to the Carolinas and are driving through, stop into the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina’s only official zoo (the Charles Towne Landing one doesn’t count).


And there you have it, the ultimate guide to planning a kid-friendly vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. For even more recommendations on things to do in Charleston (many great for kids, some not), be sure to explore the rest of the Best of Hipster Charleston.

sunset over one of the beaches near charleston sc

7 Fantastic Beaches Near Charleston, SC

sunset over one of the beaches near charleston sc

Charleston, South Carolina, is known for its historic homes, its plantations, and its beaches. History or the natural beauty of the Lowcountry may not be your thing. In which case, there are still some fantastic beaches near Charleston, SC, to experience. So read on to find the best places to soak up the sun and enjoy your upcoming beach vacations in Charleston. Visiting any of these beaches is among the top 10 things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

Are There Beaches in Charleston, SC?

Charleston, South Carolina is home to five distinct beach towns. Each of these towns has its own distinctive character. Looking at a map of the beaches near Charleston, SC shows the string of beaches around historic downtown Charleston, South Carolina. From north to south stretch:

  • Isle of Palms
  • Sullivan’s Island
  • Folly Beach
  • Seabrook Island
  • Kiawah Island
  • Edisto Beach

The Best Public Beaches near Charleston, SC 

1. Isle of Palms

family with kids enjoying the sunset at one of the best beaches near charleston sc

One of the more upscale beaches in the Charleston area, Isle of Palms is a top beach resort island with a world class golf course and ocean front. Isle of Palms is one of the best beaches near Charleston for families. The city of Isle of Palms is nestled among the best neighbors nature can offer in the Atlantic Ocean. Sullivan’s Island, the Intra-coastal Waterway, and Breach Inlet border each respective side. Its active and close-knit community complement the beautiful surrounds. Championship golf at the Kiawah Island Golf resort, tennis, endless beaches, marina, local restaurants and the Isle of Palms County Park all provide plenty of activities during a beach vacation. The island  is only 12 miles from downtown Charleston, heading north up Route 17 through Mount Pleasant.

Beachfront hotels on the Isle of Palms include the modern and beautiful Seaside Inn of Isle of Palms.

Isle of Palms Beach Rules for Dogs

Visitors do not need a license but must take note of the periods where a dog can be left off leash. You can bring dogs to the beach, but must keep them on a leash at all times. Signs may be posted about when dogs cannot be on the beach at all. Ensure you take a clean-up bag to the beach to avoid paying a hefty fine (and being exceptionally inconsiderate).

2. Sullivan’s Island

Sullivan’s Island is an inviting combination of water sports, folklore, history, and broad beach. A neighbor to the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island is nestled at the tip of the Charleston Harbor. The island is a few minutes from Charleston, South Carolina, through Mount Pleasant. Sullivan’s Island is a local favorite. It’s one of the quieter beaches while still close to Charleston.

The island is only 3.3 miles, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. Its beachfront environment of dunes and woods are owned and protected by the town under easements. The goal is to preserve the dynamic and beautiful environment treasured by visitors from all over the world. A stroll or drive through the neighborhoods of Sullivan’s Island is quite pleasant on a warm (not too muggy) day. Elegant beach homes, most year-round residences, line the streets. Some great restaurants on Sullivan’s Island include Poe’s Tavern and Home Team BBQ. Poe’s Tavern was named after Edgar Allen Poe, by the way, who served a stint at Fort Moultrie on the island.

Sullivan’s Island Beach Dog Rules

All dogs on the beach must have a dog license issued by the island. The dog license must be worn at all times. The license costs $35 and also requires a certificate from a vet of recent rabies vaccination. Dogs are not permitted on the beach from the first of May to September 30th from 10 am to 6 pm. Sunday mornings are a doggie “free for all” day. Those days, dogs may wander without a leash but must be within voice command of its owner. Clean up bags must be used for pet messes. Clean up after your dog or you risk getting fined.

3. Folly Beach

morris island lighthouse off of folly beach, one of the best beaches near charleston scThis beach is only 15 miles from downtown Charleston through James Island on the appropriately named Folly Road. Folly Beach is a universe in and of itself, offering a laidback environment to tourists and locals alike. Its eclectic beachside neighborhoods and locally-owned restaurants make it an ideal place in which to relax and refresh. It’s also a pretty great place to surf in our area.

Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Folly River, Folly Beach is home to not just a fabulous beach vacation location. It is also home to dolphins, loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, and seabirds, and several more endangered species. Some fun locations around the island to experience nature include the trail to the stretch of secluded beach with views of the Morris Island Lighthouse, and the Folly Beach County Park on the opposite end of the island.

The Tides Hotel of Folly Beach is hard to miss in Folly Beach, as it rises high above the main drag of the island. This is one of the most famous beachfront hotels in Charleston, SC, as it has access directly to the beach besides its own pool. The Tides Hotel is within easy walking distance of all the restaurants in Folly Beach and the Folly Beach Fishing Pier.

Folly Gras is also a major attraction to the Edge of America, as Folly Beach is affectionately known. This weekend before the start of Lent each year is Folly Beach at its best: quirky, unique, and laidback.

Folly Beach Dog Rules

Dogs are allowed on the beach only if they are on a leash, but. From May 1 to Sept. 30 and between 10 am and 5 pm, dogs are not permitted on the beach. Other times of the year, dogs are allowed, but only if they are on a leash. As I got bitten by a particularly vicious tiny (unleashed) dog one time on Folly, I can understand that rule. Leash your damn dogs.

4. Kiawah Island

the folly beach pier at folly beach, one of the best beaches near charleston sc

The public beach of Kiawah Island is consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in America as well as Charleston. The beautiful Kiawah island features ten miles of pristine beaches. It’s just a 21-mile drive through James Island and Johns Island from downtown Charleston. The Island is an oasis of natural beauty for individuals seeking a luxurious beach adventure. Kiawah beaches are among the most dog-friendly beaches near Charleston. Leashed dogs are allowed within beach premises all year-long. Dogs can be off-leash only during the winter. The secluded beaches of Kiawah Island are for the entire family. The island also offers a view of sand dunes, preserved maritime forests, and marshes where whitetail deer, turtles, and seabirds abound.

5. Seabrook Island

Seabrook Island is a welcoming, private, oceanfront community only thirty minutes from Charleston, SC. The island is immersed in natural splendor. This coastal barrier island is home to serene marshes, lush maritime forest, and pristine beaches.

A lively local community thrives within the Island. There’s a fairly lengthy list of activities and locations throughout Seabrook Island to visit and relax. Visitors can easily explore over three miles of bright sandy beaches, go kayaking through the marshes, horseback ride on the beach, or explore the marina. At the end of the day, you can dine overlooking the ocean. Seabrook Island is a unique opportunity to have whatever holiday experience you’re looking for (except mountains).

6. Edisto Beach

grass around a dune fence on one of the beaches near charleston sc

Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is rich in the history of Native America. It’s one of the best oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Island is the least commercial of the island communities near Charleston partly due to its distance. It’s still a good distance for a daytrip or longer-term camping. Edisto Beach provides 38 points of public beach access, some with off-street parking and dune walkovers.

Edisto Beach State Park offers trails for biking and hiking trails. They provide an excellent tour of the park, including some of the tallest palmetto trees in the state and the requisite beautiful live oaks. One of the best trails leads to a 4,000 year old shell midden on a secluded beach on a tidal creek.  The park has an environmental education center which is a “green” building. Inside are exhibits that highlight the history of the Edisto Island and its surrounding ACE Basin. This Edisto public beach is open to tourists and locals.

Edisto Beach Directions from Charleston

From downtown Charleston, take highway 17 SOUTH. Turn to the left on HWY 174 and follow road signs to Edisto Beach. The drive is about an hour.

The Best Beaches near Savannah, GA

Continue down the coast from Edisto and hit the beaches near Beaufort, Hilton Head, and finally Savannah. The closest beaches near Savannah, Georgia, are all on Savannah islands. The Tybee Island Beach is the closest to Savannah, at just a 20-minute drive from downtown. Tybee Island, called “Savannah’s Beach”, offers 5 miles of public-access beach.

Experience One of the Best Free Things to Do in Charleston This Summer!

There’s no question that visiting Lowcountry beaches is one of the best things to do in Charleston. One of the best parts about the beaches here is that they’re all free attractions in Charleston. Our fantastic beaches are yet another reason to visit besides the National Heritage sites and various museums and other activities!


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