Charleston is where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together and form the Atlantic Ocean, or so that's what the locals say. Charlestonians know this Southern city is special, and it doesn't take long for visitors to recognize that as well. Founded in 1670, Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the United States and the heart of what is called the South Carolina Low Country -- coastal lands that include marshes and barrier islands.
There's an air of civility and privilege that almost drips from the Spanish moss on the oak trees. Exquisitely preserved architecture in an extraordinary setting and exuding Southern charm and grace, the genteel town is as much about its people as it is about history and the sights to see. Complete strangers will smile and say hello and, more than likely, they can recite their entire pedigree, because Charlestonians take as much pride in their own history as they do their city's. You will know you are in a unique place from the minute you arrive on "The Peninsula."
From the slow southern drawl of the residents to the laidback atmosphere, there's nothing about Charleston that's in a hurry. Residents hold fast to tradition and rushing anyone just wouldn't be polite.
Its reputation for civility dates back more than 300 years when King Charles II of England first named this port Charles Towne. Evidence of the city's importance in the early development of the United States is seen throughout the historic district and, while Charleston's role has diminished over the centuries, its beauty hasn't faded.
Through wars, hurricanes, and yes, even an earthquake in 1886, it's amazing just how much of the architecture has been preserved. Cobble-stoned streets in some neighborhoods only add to the ambience. The tip of the peninsula is fortified with a seawall called the Battery, which overlooks the harbor and the island of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. The Battery -- its surrounding homes and colorful buildings known as Rainbow Row -- and the Old City Market have become symbols of not just Charleston, but the South in general.
While the city identifies best with its historic areas, there's far more to see and do. The South Carolina Aquarium and numerous gardens, marinas, and plantations are just some, to name a few. For those willing to venture across a bridge or two to the coastal communities or islands, you'll find beautiful beaches to explore.
Charleston is also home to the internationally acclaimed Spoleto Festival, which highlights all forms of the arts, including opera, classical music, and dance.
Fast Facts & Info
Fast Facts & Info
Geography and landscape: The coastal lands of South Carolina are called the Low Country because for as far as the eye can see, the terrain is completely flat. Charleston itself is on a peninsula facing south to a large harbor that leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Flanked to the south by the Ashley River and the Cooper River to the north, there's marshland all around and many of its suburbs and neighboring towns are actually on barrier islands.
The Cooper River is the wider of the two rivers and the home to Charleston's port. You can get a good view of the river as you take the 2.7-mile journey cross it on the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge to the town of Mount Pleasant. The mouth of the harbor is very wide, and if you face southeast, you can see the island of Fort Sumter and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Sullivan's Islands are at the northern end of the mouth of the harbor and James Island is to the south.
South Carolina is called the Palmetto State because the entire landscape is dotted with palmetto trees and stately oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
General orientation: If you keep in mind that you're on a peninsula, it's relatively difficult to get lost for long in Charleston. The peninsula points directly south from the inland areas and almost every direction is given in relation to the Cooper River to the east, the Ashley River to the west, or The Battery, which is the southern tip of town overlooking the harbor. The main travel artery from any place inland, including the Charleston Airport, is Interstate 26, which dead-ends at the main coastal road, Highway 17.
Highway 17 works its way along the entire South Carolina coast and crosses the Cooper River, the Charleston Peninsula, then the Ashley River and into Charleston's western suburbs (often referred to as "west of the Ashley). On the peninsula itself, Highway 17 is almost a dividing line for the inland suburbs and the Historic District, which lies directly south of it.
With the exception of East Bay Street, which skirts the eastern edge of the city, Charleston streets are on a grid system and because most of them are narrow, you'll run into a lot of one-way streets, especially as you get closer to The Battery.
The one street that runs the length of the city is Meeting Street and it's a benchmark for directions. Other key north-south roads are King Street (the main shopping street and parallel to Meeting Street), Rutledge (a one-way street going south), and Ashley (a one-way street going north). The key streets south of Highway 17 are Calhoun and Broad streets.
Safety: Charlestonians take great care to make sure their visitors are safe and protected, just like residents of other major cities. That said, a city this old has some neighborhoods that aren't as updated or maintained as others. Some of these neighborhoods are located directly on either side of Highway 17 and you may have to drive through them to get to Charleston's Historic District area. It's best to drive rather than walk through them.
As with any tourism location, there are people who prey on tourists, but luckily those incidents are rare. Still, it's always best to exercise caution no matter where you are in the city.
Population : Almost 107,000 people live in Charleston proper, but three counties; Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley; come together in the area and most residents of these counties consider themselves Charlestonians. If you consider that point of view, then the true population of the Charleston area is closer to 600,000 people.
Climate/weather: You can't escape the coastal location and the humidity that comes with visiting Charleston. While summer temperatures are usually in the upper 80s or low 90s, it can feel much hotter because of the high humidity. Luckily, coastal breezes come into play and you'll fair better in Charleston than you would inland.
The area is legendary for its summer thunderstorms, which seem to pop up out of nowhere in the late afternoon, drench the city, then disappear. Although rare, hurricanes also have targeted the town, most notably, Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Fall temperatures stay warm until late November. Winters are usually relatively mild with temperatures averaging in the 50s and it rarely gets below freezing. January's average temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but it's a damp cold, so you could find yourself bundling up a bit more to keep the chill out of your bones. Spring shows up in March, but doesn't last long as the mercury starts edging up rapidly, with the average temperature in July about 75.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
Summer may be a favorite time for visitors, but to avoid the heat and crowds and enjoy the colorful azaleas, the best time to visit Charleston is late March or early April.
Charleston is a great city to explore by bike or foot, partially because the geography is so flat. However, there are plenty of other ways to navigate the city. Keep reading to learn more about how to get around Charleston.
In Charleston, everything moves at a slower pace -- including the traffic. While visiting Charleston, get used to taking your time and enjoying the ride. Here are some tips on how to get around the city:
From the Airport
The Charleston International Airport (5500 Charleston Blvd) is located about 10 miles north of downtown Charleston and is easily accessed from Airport Boulevard off of Interstate 26. The airport has two concourses and is very easy to navigate. With more than 100 flights daily, it also has general aviation facilities, which you can check on at the airport's Web site.
Rental car: Several rental car companies; including Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty; have their own designated section not far from the airport's baggage claims area. The company car lots are just outside the terminal so you can easily walk to your car. When exiting the airport, just follow the signs to Interstate 26 east and to downtown Charleston. It's less than a mile and a fairly straight shot.
Interstate 26 is mostly elevated and you'll be able to see the rivers in the distance on both sides well before they start narrowing down toward the city proper.
Public transportation: The Charleston Area Rapid Transportation Authority or CARTA serves the airport with the No. 11 bus that leaves almost every 30 minutes. The bus will take you from the airport to Rivers Avenue, which becomes Meeting Street and goes directly into the heart of downtown Charleston. The 50-minute ride has five scheduled stops along the way and the trip will cost just $1.25.
If you want to use CARTA or the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) during your stay in Charleston, you can buy an all-day pass for $4 or a three-day pass for $9. You may purchase the pass on any CARTA bus.
Taxi: Taxi passengers from the airport can expect to pay about $25 to $29 for a trip to the heart of downtown Charleston. The cost is $2.15 per loaded mile for the first two passengers, and each passenger after the original two will be charged a flat rate of $12 per person per trip. Taxi drivers aren't allowed to charge for babies being carried.
Public transportation: A shuttle leaves every 15 minutes from the airport to the peninsula, and the cost is a flat rate of $12 per person. It's a shared ride and can make several stops along the way depending on its number of passengers. The fixed rate for a ride to anyplace in the airport vicinity is $9 per person and can't exceed $27 per trip.
Most people driving into Charleston will arrive by Interstate 26 from the northwest, which dead-ends right at Highway 17. Those arriving from the north or south will rely on Highway 17, otherwise known as Kings Highway or more recently Septema Clark Highway. Anyway you come, the closer you get, the more marsh and water you will cross.
Once you cross Highway 17, depending on where you are staying, you will need to take either East Bay Street on the eastern edge or Lockwood Drive along the western side or, if you prefer, take Meeting Street through the heart of the city.
Rush hour: Rush hour is a relative term because no one rushes in Charleston. The biggest traffic slowdowns happen on the bridges coming across the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers as people from the suburbs make their way in or out of the city. Backup traffic across the Cooper River has diminished considerably since the Arthur Ravenel Bridge was opened in 2005 to replace two older bridges.
Traffic slowdowns also occur from drivers filtering in and out of Interstate 26, but the biggest traffic jam can occur on Highway 17, where all arteries converge. You'll need your patience from 8 am until just past 9 am, and then again from 4:30 pm until about 5:30 pm.
Another factor to expect is heavy pedestrian traffic when you're driving around downtown Charleston. The University of South Carolina Medical School and the College of Charleston are both located in the city's Historic District area. The thoroughfares of Ashley and Rutledge Streets can become quite busy with pedestrian traffic when students are walking to class throughout the day.
Rules of the road: For the most part, the locals drive slowly, so it's best to bring your patience and go with the flow. There are a lot of one-way streets and right on red is allowed. Pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalks.
Public transportation, fares: The Charleston Area Rapid Transit Authority or CARTA serves Charleston and its outlying areas from the Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, to the Isles of Palms in the east, and James Island in the west.
If you want to take a ride on CARTA or the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) during your stay in Charleston, fares cost $1.25 a ride. You may want to purchase an all-day pass for $4 or a three-day pass for $9. You may purchase the pass on any CARTA bus. Senior citizens fare is 60 cents per ride Monday through Friday in the downtown Charleston area.
Taxis, on foot, or by bike: Charleston isn't like New York, where you can stand on a street corner and hail a cab. Taxis in Charleston need to be summoned. Taxi fares are $2.15 per loaded miles, so expect to pay about $3 to $4 for a trip somewhere in the city. A trip to or from the Charleston International Airport averages about $25 to $29 for two people. Each passenger after the original two will be charged a flat rate of $12 per person per ride. Taxi drivers aren't allowed to charge for babies being carried.
Pedicabs are bicycles with a dual seated carriage on the back, which are used as a taxi in Charleston. They are a good way to see the city while traveling short distances, and usually can be used with set rates for specific locations in the city's Historic District.
If you want to walk or bike ride around town, thank goodness it's called the Low Country. This is about the flattest city you could choose to explore by bike or by foot. The downside is that it's such an old city that the streets are barely wide enough in some places for a car, much less a bike. Toss in the fact that some of the most interesting streets are cobblestone and you have a true adventure on your hands.
Still, bike riding is a great way to take in the surroundings. A proposal is presently under consideration that would create a series of bike paths throughout the city. The East Bay Street bike path is the centerpiece of the plan and would link the Charleston Historic District to the bike path across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge and across the Cooper River. For some maps on the best bike routes in and around Charleston, check out the Coastal Cyclists Bicycle Club Web site.
Charleston is a blend of old and new, and a visit to the city enables you to enjoy the best of both. On the next page, read about some of Charleston's special events and attractions, including the Old City Market and the region's Low Country Oyster Roasts.
Charleston Special Events & Attractions
A visit to Charleston is about history and culture. Yes, its surrounding communities have wonderful beaches and there are numerous water activities, but this city is truly unique and getting to know her is a must. Two cultures meld together in this city. One is a gentle old Southern culture and other is the culture of the descendants of former slaves called Gullah, which has its own language that's a blend of English and various tribal dialects. You can often hear it if you listen closely to locals, especially at Old City Market (Market and Church Sts). This is the site where vendors have swapped wares for centuries, such as handmade sweetgrass baskets and fresh pralines.
Wander around the Old City Market, or walk along The Battery and its surrounding neighborhoods. You're more likely to hear the clop-clop of horses' hooves from carriage tours than traffic noises. It's easy to spot the locals, because they're the ones politely smiling as they watch visitors snapping pictures and pointing at events and sights like you'll find nowhere else in the world.
You'll marvel at how beneath all the history, Charleston is still very much a modern city with a strong economy based on its role as a port and the home of various naval commands. It's easy to fall into the relaxed way of life here while you soak up history and eat fresh seafood or traditional Southern cooking.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Charleston
Insider's Guide: The Best of Special Events & Attractions in Charleston
For something uniquely Low Country, go to the Old City Market (Market Street at Church) and watch the basket weavers. Most are women who have passed the tradition down through their families for generations in a technique that dates back to when slaves first came from Africa in the 1700s. The weavers use a sweet grass gathered from the marshes and their baskets are considered works of art.
To avoid parking problems, go one street north of Market, on Hayne Street just off of Meeting Street, where there's a parking deck that will save you search time and relieve worries about expired meters. Another option is valet parking at Charleston Place, directly across from the Market.
New England may have its clambakes, but the Low Country has its Oyster Roasts. Between September and mid-April, you can find an oyster roast at many of the seafood restaurants on the Islands, and in late January, Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd) plays host to an annual Low Country Oyster Roast. Amid a carnival atmosphere, 65,000 pounds of oysters are steamed, shucked, and consumed to raise money for local charities. Those unfamiliar with oyster roasts would definitely want to experience this event.
The Hunley Submarine is worth any visit. This amazing sub was privately built in 1863 and was the first submarine to ever engage and sink a battleship. The Hunley sank just after the encounter and was recovered from Charleston Harbor in 2000. It's been a fascinating archeological find and has been well documented. The display includes a fascinating presentation about what happened during the sinking and the retrieval. You can obtain tickets to view the Hunley Submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center (1250 Supply St, Building 255, Former Charleston Navy Base, North Charleston, SC).
Attend a tour of the Fort Sumter National Monument (Liberty Square at Aquarium Wharf) located on a small manmade island in Charleston Harbor. There you can view historic homes nestled among trees that line the Battery (the tip of the peninsula) where South Carolina troops of the Confederacy fired upon the Union-occupied fort in what became the opening confrontation of the Civil War. The tours last about two hours and tickets can be purchased on the Cooper River in downtown Charleston or at the Patriots Point Maritime Museum (40 Patriot Point Dr, Mount Pleasant).
Step back in time to an 18th-century estate by visiting Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Rd). This property belonged to Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and includes the country's oldest landscaped gardens, stableyard, and a museum house. Craftsmen will demonstrate the skills needed to work on a plantation at that time, and you can tour the main house and grounds for an additional fee.
If you're curious about the Civil War, you may want to plan a trip in November when Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd) also hosts a re-enactment known as the Battle of Sessionville. The three-day event includes living history presentations describing encampments, uniforms, and weaponry. Other activities include a "Ladies Social," a dance (hoop skirts optional) and even an old-fashioned church service on Sunday morning.
Charleston Museum (360 Meeting St) has a rich collection of all things Charleston, but interprets them in such a way that visitors feel engaged and interested. George Washington's christening cup, chairs that delegates sat in while signing South Carolina's Ordinance of Session, and firearms used in the Civil War are just some of the exhibit pieces. Having opened in 1824, this museum claims status as America's oldest museum.
The South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf) has more than 10,000 fish, snakes, river otters, sharks, jellyfish, and more to see. Most of its exhibits focus on the Appalachian Watershed -- the mountains, piedmont, coastal plain, coast, and ocean. You can also enjoy expansive views of Charleston Harbor.
Your visit won't be complete without seeing hundreds of colorful flowers and exotic flowering shrubs that give Charleston some of its beauty and charm. The Audubon Swamp Garden (3550 Ashley River Rd) is a 60-acre blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp accessible to guests. This is a good place to safely see the local wildlife, including alligators, while strolling boardwalks, bridges, and dikes surrounded by gorgeous plants.
Angel Oak is 1,500 years old and is considered the oldest living tree east of the Rockies. Located on Johns Island, 15 minutes from downtown Charleston, it's worth a detour to see this beautiful oak tree.
With such a rich maritime history, it's only fitting that one of the best festivals to bring kids of all ages is the annual Charleston Maritime Festival. It usually takes place just prior to the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in May and encompasses everything from wooden boat races to visits from tall ships.
Charleston has a rich history of arts and culture. We'll explore this scene on the next page.
Charleston Arts & Culture
Charleston has a rich cultural history that dates back its first settlers. In its early days, Charleston was one of the premier cities in the United States and, as such, was a centerpiece for the arts. The 250-year-old site of the Dock Street Theatre is home of the first building ever constructed for primary use as a theater in all of the Americas and it's still in use as a site for theatrical performances.
Numerous galleries and performance venues are available throughout the city and they all come together in the late spring each year for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, which is a 17-day event that encompasses opera, music, dance, and theater and brings in artists from throughout the world.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Charleston
Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Charleston
The city of Charleston plays an important role by keeping a calendar of the exhibits and performances that come to town. For an updated list, check out the city's Web site.
The Piccolo Spoleto Festival, hosted in late May to early June in various theaters, churches, parks, storefronts, and streets throughout the city, is considered the creme de la creme when it comes to the arts. Since it began in 1977, the festival has grown to be an internationally acclaimed celebration of music, opera, theater, and dance. Performers from all over the world vie to be a part of the celebration. The schedules are usually announced each January, so it's wise to check the Web site and book early to get good seats.
The Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St) features an eclectic collection of Japanese woodblock prints, portraits of famous South Carolinians like Benjamin West, and a gallery showcasing local artists responsible for the city's cultural renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. One fascinating ongoing exhibit showcases paintings highlighting the history of the Low Country, from its beginning as a British colony to the American Revolution to the Civil War to today.
The City Hall Art Gallery (80 Broad St) features John Trumbell's portrait of President George Washington and Samuel F.B. Morse's portrait of President James Monroe. The building's second floor art gallery grew out of a custom of commissioning artists to paint famous visitors. If you ask, a guide can give you a tour and answer questions.
You can also hear performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (14 George St), or watch cultural dances at the North Charleston Coliseum Performing Arts Center (5001 Coliseum Dr, North Charleston).
The Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St) presents numerous productions of the Charleston Stage Company. This is the site of the original building constructed in 1736, the very first building in America made specifically for theatrical productions.
When it comes to the arts in general, a good resource to tap is the College of Charleston (205 Calhoun St). It's one of the first colleges in the United States known for its School of the Arts, its theater company, and its ballet. The buildings are right in the heart of the city's Historic District, including the beautiful Sottile Theatre. The School of the Arts often has its own exhibitions, so it's worth checking its schedule at the Web site.
Dozens of art galleries are located in the heart of Charleston on Market, Church, and King streets. Carolina Galleries (188 King St) features art of the Charleston Renaissance period, and the Church Street Inn Gallery (177 Church St) displays oil paintings and watercolors from artists of local and international fame.
Several plantation estates are open for tours to give visitors a glimpse into how Charleston's culture evolved. Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd) and Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashly River Road) each feature buildings, furnishings, and more of their pre-American Revolution roots.
With more than 3,000 historic buildings, Charleston's entire downtown area is a National Historic Landmark. Go to the next page to learn more about Charleston's architecture and landmarks.
Charleston Architecture & Landmarks
Charleston is all about various architecture like Georgian, Greek Revival, and Classic Revival styles, and just the mention of its names conjures images of its distinctive stately homes and classic buildings, which have stood the test of time, wars, hurricanes, and even an earthquake in 1886. More than 3,000 buildings in the city are labeled as "historic."
The whole downtown area is noted as a National Historic Landmark, as are many of the individual buildings. It's easy to see why many people who come to visit Charleston are happy just taking in the architectural wonders of the city.
Charlestonians of the past learned to cope with the heat by insisting their homes have porches. One of the unique features of a true Charleston-style house is the placement of its porches. From the front, the house looks like its entrance is a door to the left or the right. But if you look to the side of the house where that door is, you realize the door actually leads to the porch itself and the true front door is on the porch. Porches on a Charleston house are generally on both levels of the home.
The city is also known as the City of Spires because of all of the church steeples that dot the skyline. There are 13 historic churches and a temple in a less than mile radius of downtown. The oldest of which is St. Michael's Episcopal Church (14 St Michael's Alley), which dates back to 1752.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston
Insider's Guide: The Best of Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston
The best way to see the ins and outs of the historical homes of Charleston is to attend the Festival of Homes and Gardens (40 E Bay St) each spring. During the festival, many private homes, not normally open to visitors, are accessible.
Rainbow Row (79-107 E Bay St) is a series of private homes numbering 79 to 107. These townhouses were constructed in the mid-1700s are all painted different colors and have become a symbol of Charleston. Merchants who owned these buildings lived on the upper floors and used the ground floors for counting rooms and shops, but these places now are private residences.
The Edmondston-Alston House (21 E Battery) is a building made in 1825 and remodeled in a Greek-Revival style in 1838. This building showcases documents, original furnishings, elaborate woodwork, and an uninterrupted view of the Charleston Harbor.
The Heyward-Washington House (87 Church St) was built in 1772 during the Revolutionary era, and President George Washington stayed here during a weeklong visit to the city in 1791. The property still has its carriage shed, a 1740s kitchen building, and a handsome collection of Charleston-made furniture.
The Nathaniel Russell House (51 Meeting St) is a neoclassical building with lavish plasterwork, oval drawing rooms and a free-flying staircase made in 1808. Period antiques and artworks are used to furnish the home and give visitors a flavor of life in Charleston in the 1800s.
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (122 E Bay St) was built in 1771 and was designed primarily to accommodate heavy export-import trade and a place to conduct business and confine prisoners, pirates, and slaves. This Georgian-style building also hosted a grand ball in 1791 that President George Washington attended.
One usual, yet interesting, place in Charleston is a set of wrought iron gates featuring two horizontal swords joining at the center of a broadsword to form a cross. The Sword Gates (32 Legare St) were made around 1838 by a Charleston ironsmith and relocated to the site about 10 years later as a decoration and to discourage slaves from escaping the property.
Several churches with historic significance should be placed on your must-see list. St. Mary's Church (89 Hassell St) was built in 1839 and is a wonderful example of Classical Revival Style, featuring galleries on three sides of the sanctuary, oil paintings dating back to the 1800s, and tombstones with French writing in its churchyard. St. John's Lutheran Church (5 Clifford St) was built in 1818 and features Federal and Baroque architecture and an Italianate steeple added in 1859. St. Michael's Episcopal Church (14 St Michael's Alley) features an 186-foot-tall white steeple and bells dating back to 1764.
Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd) is one of the oldest surviving pre-American Revolution plantation homes. Its Georgian Palladian house is surrounded by live oaks and is maintained in virtually its original condition. Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Rd) was built in 1741 and features ornamental butterfly lakes, sweeping terraces, and one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States.
Of course, there's more to Charleston than history and architecture. If you're hoping to do a bit of shopping while visiting the city, go to the next page for our guide.
Charleston began in the early 1700s as a port city, and it has remained a thriving place to buy goods every since. Any shopper will be pleased with the selection of upscale stores in the heart of downtown, antique shops and jewelry boutiques on King Street, and eclectic and one-of-a-kind stores in Old Market Place that make up the shopping scene in this city.
The best things to buy in Charleston are connected to its history. They range from actual antiques to art to souvenirs that depict historical scenes, such as Rainbow Row, found at area museum shops. It may sound cliche, but the best bargains and the best selections remain down in the stalls of the Old City Market (Market Street at Church). One special item you'll find down there is the South Carolina state flag depicting the Palmetto tree and a crescent moon on everything from coffee mugs to flip-flops to T-shirts. You won't find these special items outside of the state.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Shopping in Charleston
For a wide selection of upscale stores, visit the Shops at Charleston Place and the Riviera (130 Market St). Numerous world-class famous stores like Chico's, Tommy Bahama, Gucci, and more can be found here, an ideal place for serious shoppers with chic and designer labels in mind.
Old Market Place (near Market Place at Church St in the heart of downtown) features a good variety of one-of-a-kind shops and quality boutiques that will keep you wanting to hunt for that special something. Miostile (346 King St) has cutting-edge clothing from Ya-Ya and Rachel Pally. Market Street Munchies (1722 Ashley River Rd) has gift baskets filled with Low County condiments, Southern beverages, and popcorn that can be a specialized treat for yourself or someone special in your life. Gullah Gourmet (95 Tall Oak St) has 30 food products, aprons, and T-shirts celebrating the culture created by former slaves in this region.
For creatively fashionable handbags, visit Moo Roo Handbags (316 King St). They have styles for all preferences, including leather, stain, wool tweed, and flowers.
If you're looking for antiques, try George C. Birlant and Co (191 King St) for every type of antique imaginable. Otherwise, it's best to get away from the Historic District where prices are sometimes inflated. Yes, they may have a better selection, but better prices and items that originated in the area are more likely found in the antique stores like in Mount Pleasant, Folly Beach, James Island, or West Ashley.
To that end, a favorite place to poke around is the 15,000-square-foot Roumillat's Antique Mall & Auction (2241 Savannah Highway on Highway 17 South). The inventory is constantly changing and you can find just about anything here.
After a day of shopping, you may want to hit the town. Keep reading to learn about Charleston's evening haunts, where you can listen to jazz or dance the night away.
Charleston Nightlife & Entertainment
Charleston isn't known for its raging nightlife, but there are numerous places to hear quality jazz or enjoy some dancing. At the very least, Charleston provides some of the most spectacular views around, ideal for having a cocktail while admiring the skyline and the stars. Evenings also offer a good opportunity to explore the barrier islands and see what nightlife they have to offer.
It's worth noting that South Carolina still has some Blue Laws in effect. It's been only recently that you could drink alcohol in a restaurant on a Sunday in Charleston. There are no liquor stores open on Sunday and hard liquor store sales stop at 7 pm each night.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston
Insider's Guide: The Best of Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston
Music lovers will have several places to choose from, including jazz on Fridays and Tuesdays at Atlanticville (2063 Middle St); saxophone at Diana's (151 Meeting St, Charleston); bluegrass on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at Cumberland's (26 Cumberland St, Charleston); and a variety of live music at Dunleary's Pub (2213-B Middle St on Sullivan's Island). You'll also find a quality jazz bar at Satchmo's (1909 Highway 17 North, Suite K, Mount Pleasant) and can enjoy live beach music at Banana Cabana (1130 Ocean Boulevard, Isle of the Palms).
For Southern-style dancing, try kicking up your heels at JB Pivot's Shag Club (1662 Savannah Highway) or the Trio Club (139 Calhoun St). To watch dueling pianos, check out Pluto Rocks (479 King St).
The Folly Beach Pier at Folly Beach County Park (1010 W Ashley Ave) hosts a series of "Moonlight Mixers" from May through September, bringing back the oldies and what locals refer to as "Beach Music." No, this isn't the Beach Boys, it's more of an old Motown style and dancers will be doing something called the "Carolina Shag," which is a sort of slow jitterbug step.
For an upscale martini and wine bar, you can order anything from the menu at Club Habana (177 Meeting St). Or, you can choose from more than 20 microbrews and more than 100 bottled beers are on the menu at Charleston Beer Works (468 King St).
Those more interested in laughs than drinking and dancing should check out the comedians at Have Nots Comedy Improv (280 Meeting Place) or The Comedy Zone (54 N Market St).
Movie lovers can choose from Imax Theater (360 Concorde St), Garden Theater (371 King St), and South Windmere Cinemas (94 Folly Rd Blvd).
With its slow pace and laidback attitude, Charleston is a perfect place to kick up your feet and take a break from it all. On the next page, we'll look at the best spots in Charleston to relax and unwind.
Relaxing and Unwinding in Charleston
With its laidback atmosphere, Charleston is definitely a place to relax and unwind. In fact, you can't help but relax amid the Spanish moss laden oak trees and historic setting. And breathing in the salt air from the ocean will infuse a sense of calm without you even realizing it.
Within the city itself there are world-class spas from which to partake and world-class golf courses and tennis courts are only minutes away. Charleston also is home to several quality parks that feature breathtaking landscapes, serene waters, and interesting walking paths to help you get lost in it all.
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Charleston
Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in Charleston
Stroll through a 16th-century maze, an 18th-century herb garden, and nature trails on 50 acres of beautiful landscaped grounds at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). You'll also can use the designated picnic areas or enjoy bike riding or canoeing.
Admire the gardens and rest under the live oaks and palmettos at White Point Gardens (Murray Boulevard and E Bay St), toward the tip of the peninsula. You'll find a breathtaking view in watching the Ashley and Coopers rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean as you take in the ocean breezes.
Cypress Gardens (3030 Cypress Garden Rd) features 163 acres of luxuriant dogwoods, azaleas, camelias, and daffodils. You can wander along four miles of walking trails, paddle a flat-bottomed boat on the water, or explore a freshwater aquarium on the property.
Enjoy fishing or a relaxing day in the sun at Folly Beach County Park (1010 W Ashley Ave). This location has 4,000 feet of ocean frontage, a 600-foot beach, and a 1,045-foot fishing pier on the six-mile barrier island of the same name. Just a few miles south of Charleston, this beach community is like stepping back in time. With a history dating back to the 1600s, this is where George Gershwin hung out when he wrote his musical "Porgy and Bess." Get there by Crossing the Ashley River Bridge (Route 30) and follow Route 171 or Folly Beach Road.
Local Day Spa Urban Nirvana has locations in Mount Pleasant (636 D Long Point Rd) and West of the Ashley (8 Windermere Blvd). The name says it all, you can spend a whole day here taking a variety treatments including "menage a trios," a massage in which two masseuses work on you at once.
Charleston operates 60 public tennis courts in areas throughout the metro region. The largest, with 15 hard courts, is simply called The Tennis Center (19 Farmfield Ave, in West Ashley). Other centers include the Maybank Tennis Center (1880 Houghton Dr) with eight lighted hard courts and three clay courts, and the six lighted courts at Moultrie Tennis Center (corner of Broad & Ashley Aves).
If golf is your game you have about a dozen golf courses to choose from in the Charleston area. Check out the Golf Club at Wescott Plantation (5000 Wescott Club Dr, North Charleston) or the Shadowmoss Golf Course (20 Dunvegan Dr, Charleston). In nearby Mount Pleasant, you can go to the Charleston National Country Club (1360 National Drive) or Patriots Point Golf Links (100 LO Bud Darby Blvd). The Charleston Municipal Golf Course (2110 Maybank Highway) is a public course and, as they like to say, has the lowest priced golf balls of any place in Charleston.
Beaches on Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms are located north of Charleston on the islands next to Mount Pleasant. Sullivan's Island is more of a beach community, but both offer wide Atlantic beaches. Take Highway 17 across the Cooper River and make a right on Coleman Boulevard through downtown Mount Pleasant and the follow the signs to Sullivan's Island.
If you'd rather not strike out on your own in Charleston, an organized tour might be just the thing.
Go to the next page for our guide to organized tours in Charleston.
Charleston Organized Tours Overview
Charlestonians love to show off their city and they've been creative in many ways in which to do it, offering everything from carriages to pedicabs to boat tours. They also offer every genre you can imagine, from basic history to the specialized tours highlighting the towns ghost history, African-American heritage, or pirate-filled past.
Given Charleston's narrow streets, the two most popular and effective ways to get around on the tours are by foot and by carriage. The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau (375 Meeting St) provides a good list of what's available as well as special offerings.
Old South Carriage Tours and Classic Carriage Tours are the classic way to start at the Old City Market and receive a tour of Charleston's Historic District.
Charleston Harbor Tours provide 90-minute tours of the city and its harbor, including circling Castle Pinckney Island, across to Patriots Point and back.
Sandlapper Tours offer sunset, nature and ghost tours on a 45-foot catamaran and even offer charters for groups that include a touch of Low Country with an oyster roast or a crab boil on the beach of a Barrier Island.
Charleston's Finest Tours will take you on a bus through several plantations along Ashley River Road.
Charleston Walks offers a wide variety of tour themes, including strolling through historic homes to walking through several former slave sites. Charleston Peninsula Tours lets you design your own tour based on your interests in the town's history.
The Charleston Tea Party Tour (843-577-5896) is a two-hour walking tour through the city's Historic District that ends with a spot of tea at King's Courtyard Inn (198 King St).
Bulldog Tours are walking tours in the evening and at night aimed at making your hair stand on end. They offer several options including cemetery walks, haunted jail tours, and dungeon tours at historic buildings.
Accommodations in Charleston include historic bed and breakfasts as well as more traditional hotels. Keep reading for our guide to Charleston hotels and lodging.
Charleston Hotels Guide
Charleston's historical setting lends itself to some wonderful bed and breakfast opportunities. It's hard to imagine from their size that many of these inns were originally family homes. For those who feel more comfortable staying in a regular hotel, the accommodations are almost all designed to fit in with their historical surroundings and even their decor play to the city's sense of its history.
The Mobil Three-Star Wentworth Mansion (141 Wentworth St) is difficult to beat when it comes to Bed and Breakfast options. The Inn includes a spa and a fabulous restaurant, and is a great place for those who want to be romantic during their stay in Charleston. Movie buffs will be interested in knowing that actress Reese Witherspoon spent her honeymoon here.
Another great inn is the John Rutledge House Inn (116 Broad St), which offers just 19 rooms, but it's beautifully decorated in antiques and convenient to shopping on King Street. A favorite room is the first one on the left as you come in the door because it's the largest.
For location, you can't beat Two Meeting Street Inn (2 Meeting St) right on the Battery (the tip of the peninsula). The beautiful Queen-Anne mansion includes large porches and was completed in 1892. It's a favorite stop for carriage tours.
The premier place to stay in Charleston is the Mobil Four-Star Charleston Place (205 Meeting St). Directly across from the Old City Market, this beautiful hotel also includes a shopping mall and an amazing spa, complete with an indoor pool. Its Mobil Four-Star Charleston Grill Restaurant is considered one of the finest in the city.
Created from a waterfront warehouse, each room at the Ansonborough Inn (21 Hasell St) is different from the next, some even including fireplaces. With its beautiful atrium and great hotel bar, it's a fun place to just hang out and enjoy the view of the water and the nearby market.
When it comes to dining, Charleston is a great place to enjoy seafood and what locals call "Low Country Cuisine." Go to the next page for our suggestions on where to eat in Charleston.
Charleston Restaurants Guide
Charlestonians love their food. You'll find a great mix with a heavy leaning toward seafood because of its location on the ocean. There's a unique style of cooking called "Low Country Cuisine" that harkens back to dishes that have been cooked in the region for centuries based on the vegetables and meats available. While here, you should have a plate of shrimp and grits or Hop N' John (rice, black-eyed peas, onions, and ham).
Robert's (182 East Bay St) is like no other restaurant around and requires planning ahead. The restaurant provides just one seating a night at 7:30 pm and Chef Robert Dickson will serenade you as your enjoy the delectable five-course meal.
The Mobil Three-Star Cypress A Low Country Grille (167 East Bay St) is a little easier to get in with reservations, but also is one of the local favorites. Part of the fun here is enjoying some of their tableside creations like the garlic and herb rubbed rack of lamb.
For a bit of a Parisian experience in the heart of historic Charleston, try Rue de Jean (30 John St). You can't go wrong with anything on the menu, but if you are a fan of mussels, they have six different ways to prepare them.
The best contemporary Low Country Cuisine is at the Mobil Four-Star Charleston Grill (224 King St). Try the tradition Frogmore Stew, which includes shrimp, sausage, and corn and is an updated version of a traditional Low Country dish.
For some of the most creative seafood dishes on the Peninsula, try Coast Bar and Grill (39 D John St). Items like buffalo shrimp tacos or Carolina Lump Crab Cakes make for some excellent eating while live music plays.
For fresh seafood, venture over to Shem Creek Bar and Grill (508 Mill St, Mount Pleasant). You can just sit on the deck and watch people catch crabs, so you know the seafood you get here will be fresh.
No matter where you choose to dine, be aware that the average tipping rate is 15 percent. Parties of six or more are charged an 18 percent gratuity.
With so much to see in Charleston, how can you ensure that you do everything? Keep reading -- on the next page, we'll provide several suggested itineraries to help you hit the landmarks and locations that are most interesting to you.
Suggested Itineraries for Visiting Charleston
You've learned about all of the things to do in Charleston, from visiting historic plantations and one-of-a-kind shops to listening to great jazz and eating Low Country Cuisine. But how do you fit everything into your trip? We've put together some suggested itineraries that focus on specific areas of interest -- use them to make sure you do everything you want while visiting Charleston.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Charleston
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Special Events & Attractions in Charleston
The must-see attractions in Charleston include the Old City Market, history museums, and plantations that are open to the public. Here are some suggested itineraries to consider:
1 day: If you have just one day in the city, make the most of it by taking a carriage tour starting at the Old City Market (Market Street at Church). That way, you can get some of the history associated with the buildings you pass by. When you are through with the tour, walk through the City Market itself and watch the basket weavers work their magic on their sweet grass creations.
Grab a quick bite at one of the nearby cafes and head over to Liberty Square and catch a boat ride out to Fort Sumter (Liberty Square at Aquarium Wharf). Just as the day gets hottest, cool off with a visit to one of the best aquariums around, the South Carolina Aquarium (100 Aquarium Wharf). Finish the day off with drinks and American cuisine with a Charleston flare at the Library Restaurant on the roof of the Vendue Inn (19 Vendue Range). The view of the harbor isn't what it used to be, but you'll still get a great skyline view of the city and Charleston Historic District.
2 days: Start the day off at Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston Harbor (40 Patriots Point Rd, Mount Pleasant), one of the largest naval and maritime museums in the world. The centerpiece of the museum is the celebrated World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. The museum includes the Destroyer -- Laffey (DD-724), the Clamagore (SS-343) submarine and the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham (WHEC-35), as well as 25 aircrafts and weaponry. Patriot's Point is directly across the Cooper River from downtown Charleston.
When you've finished, head out to Highway 17 and go north to Boone Hall Plantation (1235 Long Point Rd). With its mile-long, oak tree lined driveway, you'll recognize one of the most photographed plantation sites in the South. The house is less than one century old, but the plantation also has a slave cabin avenue that dates back to the 1700s and hundreds of acres of farmland still in use.
On your way back to Charleston, take Highway 17 and stop at Mount Pleasant in a section of town called Shem Creek, known for its cluster of restaurants along the docks where you can watch all the shrimp boats come in (so you know the fish of the day will be fresh!). R.B.'s Seafood Restaurant (97 Church St) is one of the most established restaurants and close to the water. Try the coconut shrimp or Low Country crab cakes. For those who aren't seafood lovers, sample the chicken breast with peppercorn brandy cream over rice and asparagus.
3 days: Start the day off with a trip to see the Hunley Submarine at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at the Charleston Naval Center in North Charleston. Built in 1863, this was the first submarine to ever engage and sink a battleship.
It would be a shame not to take in the beach, especially when you're this close. When you're through at the Hunley Submarine, head south to Folly Beach and the Pier Area. Take Sam Rittenburg Boulevard from the Naval Center and head south on Route 171 or Folly Beach Road. The drive alone is beautiful as you cross through the marshes. When you get to the barrier island, you'll understand why its nickname is "the Edge of the World" because straight out is the Atlantic Ocean, for as far as the eye can see.
Stroll the beach and explore the neighborhoods that inspired George Gershwin's music and you may want to stick around for sunset. Even though the sun sets in back of the island, the pinks on the horizon are simply beautiful. End the day back in Charleston as a SNOB, having dinner at the Mobil Two-Star Slightly North of Broad (192 East Bay St), a unique Charleston restaurant with some fine Low Country dining. The menu changes with the seasons, but look for the salmon in creamy sauce, shrimp and grits (unlike you've ever had before), or the soft shell crab sandwich as must-try dishes.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Charleston
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Arts & Culture in Charleston
Soaking up the rich Charleston culture can keep you busy for days. Organize your precious time by using these suggested itineraries.
1 day: For a day of adventure searching for the best artworks that Charleston has to offer, you'll need to check out the numerous art galleries that are actually located in the heart of Charleston, where you'll find a wide variety of pieces that center around the South in general and Charleston in particular. The downtown galleries are enough to keep you occupied for more than a day, so start out early in the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) area and go up and down Market before you head over to Church, and then King Street.
Don't forget to stop in the Old City Market itself and see not only the displays of some of the local artists, but the basket weavers. Their centuries-old method of weaving sweet grass into various basket shapes is itself a form of art.
Two galleries you may want to pay special attention to: The Charleston Renaissance Gallery (103 Church St) labels itself as the oldest gallery in the South and only exhibits Southern art. Gallery Chuma (43 St. John St) features entirely African American artists.
In the evening, try to take in a performance at the Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St). There's something to be said about entering a building that still has gas lanterns at the entry and watching a performance in this stately building.
2 days: For true Southern culture, venture south and west to what many call Plantation Road. Along the Ashley River Road, you'll find three distinctly different plantations.
The first is Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd), which was built in 1742 and still occupies 630 acres of land. It's known as the oldest preserved plantation in the United States. It'll give you more of a sense of living history and how the Southern culture developed.
Just up the road is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). This 17th century former rice plantation has an incredible ecosystem with river and woodlands to explore. It also has one of the largest azalea and magnolia collections in the country.
Built in 1741 and the home of Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Road) is more a artistic plantation, featuring terraced gardens, a museum, and the lifestyle of plantation living. You can even end you day here, enjoying a sunset over the Ashley River and having dinner in the beautiful Middleton Place Restaurant. You may need reservations, so check before you go.
3 days: The Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St) is Charleston's premier area of exhibition and you could spend a good portion of your day in its galleries. Located just two blocks south of Market on Meeting Street, its mandate is to, "collect, conserve, and interpret an American fine arts collection with a Charleston perspective." You can spend hours looking at the more than 10,000 pieces in its collection, including some of the best-known Southern artists like Charleston native Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
In the afternoon, schedule a Gullah Tour. Gullah is a language and culture created by the former slaves in the Coastal Carolinas and a Gullah tour will give you not only a different perspective on Charleston's history, but also an insight into the language and customs. Some destinations on the tour include the Old Slave Market, The Whipping House, and Slave Quarters. End your day with quality meats and seafood accompanied with boldly flavored Low Country accents like collard greens, hushpuppies, grits, and black-eyed peas at the elegant Mobil Four-Star Peninsula Grill (112 N Market St).
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Architecture & Landmarks in Charleston
Charleston is filled with historic landmarks; the architecture of the city represents several styles and eras. Here are a few itineraries that will enable you to make the most of your historical sightseeing:
1 day: A walking tour through downtown Charleston could start at just about anywhere, but it's always good to start at the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) and work your way south to the Battery, located at the very tip of the Charleston peninsula, overlooking Charleston Harbor.
The first stop is the Market Hall and Sheds (between North and South Market Streets in historic downtown Charleston), a great example of Greek Revival architecture. Built between 1840-41 on land donated by an Atlanta family, the attraction is conveniently located near a rifled cannon that is said to be the first made in the United States.
Then, make your way over to Church Street, between Meeting and Bay streets, and visit St. Philip's Episcopal Church (146 Church St), home of the oldest congregation in South Carolina. Originally founded in 1681, the current building was built in 1835.
This path also will take you past the 160-year-old French Huguenot Church (44 Queen St), which stands out from other Charleston Churches with its stucco exterior and buttresses, typical of Gothic Revival architecture.
When you get to Broad Street, head over to Bay Street taking in other architectural marvels along the way, like the Farmers and Exchange Bank (141 E Bay St), which is also on the National Historic Registry and is the only Moorish Revival building in Charleston.
When you get down to the Battery, almost every home there has its own wonderful architectural features. One outstanding building is the Edmondston-Alston House (21 East Battery), constructed in 1852 and features a Greek Revival Style. Its porches on all three stories feature a different style of columns on each level; Doric, Ionian, and Corinthian.
After you circle the Battery, make your way up Meeting Street for a host of historic homes, including the National Russell House (51 Meeting St). Completed in 1808, this Federal-style townhouse is considered one of America's most important neoclassical dwellings. End your day with nouveau Southern cuisine at the Mobil Three-Star Magnolia's (185 E Bay St).
2 days: Charleston's plantations have their unique architecture and landscaping that are worth a day's tour. Venture west to Ashley River Road, which is about 14 miles northwest of Highway 61, where you'll find three distinctly different plantations.
The first is Drayton Hall (3380 Ashley River Rd), a Georgian-Palladian house built in 1742 that is the center piece of 630 acres of land. It's the oldest preserved plantation in the United States open to the public and will give you more of a sense of living history and how the Southern culture developed.
Just up the road is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). This 17th century former rice plantation has an incredible ecosystem with river and woodlands to explore. It also has one of the largest azalea and magnolia collections in the country. The current house was brought to this location and reassembled after Sherman burned the prior dwelling. A mixture of Greek revival and Victorian architecture, it's surrounded by porches and has a Victorian water tower, which was added to the home in the late 1800s.
Built in 1741 and the home of Declaration of Independence signer Arthur Middleton, Middleton Place Plantation (4300 Ashley River Rd) is known for its 60 acres of terraced gardens. The main house was damaged in the Civil War and what little remained was destroyed by the 1886 earthquake. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as part of what was then a three building residential complex. You can even end your day here, enjoying a sunset over the Ashley River and having dinner in the estate's beautiful restaurant. You may need reservations, so check before you go.
3 days: The military history of Charleston is worth exploring by visiting the numerous forts and installations. The first stop has to be Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began in 1861. Take a boat ride across Charleston Harbor to visit what is now a National Park. The five-sided brick structure has walls five feet thick and was designed to house 650 men. The fort was built on a sand bar that was built up for defense purposes. The site includes a small museum and gives a real sense of a soldier's life in the 1800s. Tours leave from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or from Patriot's Point in Mount Pleasant.
When you get back to land, make a trip up the Ashley to the Citadel Military College of South Carolina (171 Moultrie St). The college was founded in 1822 and moved to its current location in 1918. Sitting on 300 acres of land, there are 24 main buildings, including four barracks, 10 classroom buildings, a chapel, and a student activities building. At the center is a 10-acre grass parade ground, where you can see the cadets performing drills. You'll find about 1,900 cadets there when class is in session.
Then, head over to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, where South Carolina's nickname "The Palmetto State" originates. The original fort was built of palmetto logs because cannon balls sank into the soft wood. Moultrie is actually a series of forts and there's evidence in your tour of how the installations were updated and modernized from its first uses in the 1700s until its last military uses in World War II.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Shopping in Charleston
Shopping in Charleston centers around the city's rich past, featuring timeless antiques and regional memorabilia. To get your shopping off to the right start, here are some suggested itineraries:
1 day: Whether you just want souvenirs or you're looking for unique clothes, stay in the downtown Charleston area for a wide selection. On either side of the Old City Market (Market Street at Church Street) is a wide selection of shops, ranging from collectables to resort wear to any item possible labeled with a South Carolina state flag. Check out the vendors in the market stalls. Some sell antiques while others sell handmade works of art. Speaking of which, you really shouldn't forget to stop in the market itself and see not only the displays of some of the local artists, but the basket weavers. Their sweet grass baskets are works of art and their technique have been passed down through generations, dating back hundreds of years.
When you've had your fill of the Old Market, cut through to the Shops at Charleston Place and the Riviera (130 Market St). Attached to the spectacular Mobil Four-Star Charleston Place Hotel, you'll find dozens of upscale stores featuring everything from Gucci and St. John to Tommy Bahama and Brookstone.
The shops will take you over to King Street, where you'll find a great range of shopping from Saks Fifth Avenue to the eclectic. Some of the best antique jewelry you will ever find is in Croghan's Jewel Box (308 King St).
2 days: Antiquing is a very Charlestonian shopping thing to do and a great place to start is Roumillat's Antique Mall & Auction in West Ashley (2241 Savannah Highway, Highway 17 South). The facility includes 15,000 square feet of antiques and galleries that can keep you busy for several hours. Another great antique shop is Carolopolis Antiques (814-A St. Andrews Blvd, in West Ashley).
And if you still haven't found something to remind you of Charleston, and as long as you're still in West Ashley, why not drop down to the gallery and studio of local artist Jim Booth (1929 Maybank Highway on James Island). Booth is a self-taught artist who has become widely known for his life-like realism, whether he's painting a Civil War scene or a Charleston building like the Morris Island Lighthouse.
3 days: If you're into flea markets, it doesn't get much better than the Coastal Carolina Flea Market in Ladson (about 20 miles west of downtown Charleston on Highway 78, off Exit 203 on Interstate 26). Opened on the weekends only, there are more than 800 stalls, so this is an all-day affair. You'll find everything from antiques and other furniture to arts and crafts.
If you get your fill and want some more traditional shopping, then as you head back to town, stop at Northwoods Mall (off Exit 208 on Interstate 26). Northwoods has more than 135 stores ranging from Belk's and Dillard's to specialty shops like Charlotte Russe and Yankee Candle.
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston
1-, 2-, and 3-Day Suggested Itineraries for Nightlife & Entertainment in Charleston
Jazz lovers will be right at home in Charleston, as will anyone who loves beer, seafood, or both. Here are some suggested itineraries to keep you entertained while visiting Charleston:
1 day: Start you evening off at the rooftop bar at the Mobil Three-Star Market Pavilion Hotel (225 E Bay St). Relatively new and right at the center of town, it's a great place to see the skyline, watch the sun set on the landscape, or people watch.
If you're up for some live music, then take in the Trio Club (139 Calhoun St). There's always a wide range of music from jazz to rock to Latin. There's even a patio if the crowd gets to be too much. You can then head for some dueling pianos at Pluto Rocks (479 King St), then sample a variety of various beers at Charleston Beer Works (468 King St).
2 days: Start the evening out in Mount Pleasant on Shem Creek, facing the water for the sunset. There are several restaurants in the area, but one of the more rustic is Shem Creek Bar and Grill (508 Mill St), where you can even sit and watch people crabbing in the saltwater creek.
After the sun sets, head on over to Sullivan's Island and Bert's Bar (2209 Middle St). The name is as basic as the place itself, but there's generally good live music there. You can also hear a variety of live music at Dunleary's Pub (2213-B Middle St on Sullivan's Island).
3 days: Venture out toward James Island and Folly Beach and drink in the atmosphere of a real old beach community. There are several bars, all frequented by the locals and the occasional tourist. In James Island, the best know in the Charleston Oasis (1409 Folly Rd), otherwise known as the "O." A bit of a dive, there's usually live music playing and the beer is cold and cheap. Or just head straight to the beach and sit out on the deck at the Rolling Thunder Roadhouse (123 West Ashley Ave). When there isn't a band playing, you're close enough to the ocean that you can listen to the waves.
Charleston's slow pace and laidback atmosphere make it the perfect place to take a break from it all. Check out these ways to take it easy in Charleston:
1 day: Start your day with a morning stroll exploring a 16th-century maze, an 18th-century herb garden, and nature trails at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd). Follow it with a relaxing carriage ride through the Battery (the tip of the peninsula). If you don't want the full history recitation from your driver, he'll happily comply and let you soak up the scenery on your own.
After a laidback lunch in a cafe in the Market area and spending a few hours people-watching, book yourself an afternoon massage at the Mobil Four-Star Charleston Place Hotel (205 Meeting St). It's conveniently located right in the heart of downtown and it's one of the best spas around providing fabulous facials that can make you feel 10 years younger to aromatherapy massages to get the kinks out from walking around on the cobblestones.
2 days: Up for a little exercise? Do a bridge walk across the new Arthur Ravenel Bridge. The entire walk is 2.7 miles and it's a busy place in the morning as joggers, walkers, and even cyclists make their way across the span. If that's a little more strenuous than you had planned, then opt for a stroll on the beach on Sullivan's Island.
You may want to consider doing a private boat charter for the afternoon. Sandlapper Tours will take you to areas that the regular tours don't visit and will even pack a picnic lunch for you to enjoy on one of the many barrier islands in the harbor. There's something to be said about cruising up on of the estuaries and feeling like you've discovered a new land.
Then finish the day sitting on the deck of the Shem Creek Bar and Grill (508 Mill St, Mount Pleasant) and enjoy a cocktail or even some good Southern Sweet tea as you watch the sunset and shrimp boats come back to dock.
3 days: Spend a day on the links at any one of a dozen golf courses in the Charleston area. Check out the Golf Club at Wescott Plantation (5000 Wescott Club Dr, North Charleston) or the Shadowmoss Golf Course (20 Dunvegan Dr, Charleston). In nearby Mount Pleasant, you can go to the Charleston National Country Club (1360 National Drive) or Patriots Point Golf Links (100 LO Bud Darby Blvd).
Follow it up with a relaxing late afternoon on Folly Beach or fishing from the 1,045-foot fishing pier. In the evening, you can take a stroll on the 4,000 feet of ocean frontage as you watch the sun go down.
With its rich history, beautiful scenery, regional cuisine, and great jazz, Charleston is the perfect place for a getaway. It's little wonder, then, that this city has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the South.
Janice McDonald grew up in the Low Country of South Carolina and has spent much of her life exploring Charleston. Afer spending 20 years traveling the world as a CNN producer, she now lives in Atlanta. McDonald has logged time in more than 70 countries, on all seven continents, and is now a freelance writer. She writes for a wide variety of travel publications and is a contributing editor for Travelgirl Magazine.