The Best of Charelston SC
Updated: Jan 17
Updated: July 2021
Note: This guide is based on four trips to the low country with the very best recommendation to ensure you spend your time and money in the best way.
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Preparing for your trip to Charleston, SC
Planning what to pack & things to do
Getting ready for a trip is half the fun. Where will you go? What will you wear? What will you do, see, and experience? Are there any can’t-miss restaurants in the area? After pouring through all the travel blog recommendations and reviews, it's time to set a wish list with points of interest and get ready to enjoy a great time.
Perhaps you’ll treat yourself to an indulgent meal at a new exclusive restaurant or splurge on an irresistible excursion you're determined to check off your bucket list. These opportunities are great to take advantage of on a trip and may make planning the rest of your stay a little simpler. Many top restaurants and attractions will require strict reservations. Once you’re booked, set those on your itinerary and plan everything around those time blocks.
I find this method combines the best of two popular travel styles, the spontaneous non-planner, and the militant agenda crammer. Having a reservation or two will give just enough rigidity and accountability to your touring without taking away the ability to shuffle the schedule due to weather or new priorities you may discover on your journey.
Check the weather, always, but for all but about four months of the year, you can bet on it being hot in Charleston with a good chance of rain.
Ladies, get out your dresses, skirts, shorts, and tanks. You'll want to dress in layers because the A/C will feel extra cool against the heat outdoors. But you probably won't want any tight or heavy fabrics. Think linen and seersucker. Patterns and fabrics that camouflage sweat will also be your friend. Inevitably, you will sweat. It's just a fact we all have to live with. In addition to your usual toiletries, Lydia Mansel has a few great must-have items on her list for all Charelston travelers.
Pack your sunscreen, bug spray, and an umbrella. - Lydia Mansel, Travel+ Leisure
I would also recommend a nice hat. Whether walking, on a carriage tour, or taking in the sites from the water, the sun is hot and strong, so it is nice to keep it off your face. Of course, sunglasses are always nice to have too.
A few of our favorite things to bring:
A classy sun hat
Bug spray - that works, made from essential oils
Sunscreen - Buy the kind you want to wear even if it's pricy.
An Umbrella - I prefer the ones with a brighter underside. It brightens the day!
A favorite matching set - I wear these pieces all the time!
There seem to be two prominent styles in Charleston. Beach bum and Sunday's Best. It's difficult to say who is local or a fellow tourist, but these styles seem most popular. Charleston is still a college town and by the beach, so there is a lot of casual beachwear. Graphic tee and swim shorts for the guys, tanks with jean shorts or bathing suit coverup dresses for the girls. The second prominent style is more refined and put together. Think Lilly Pulitzer and Southern Tide walking around.
Take away - dress comfortably and for the occasion. Pack some more casual clothes and some clothes that would make a nice photo at any of the dozens of insta-worthy locations around town. Who knows, you may even decide to enjoy a nice meal out. Did you know several Charleston restaurants rank among the top ten in the country? Better get those reservations made ASAP!
Historic Downtown Charleston
Ladies, bring your grandma heals and sandals, these cobblestone and slate sidewalks will eat your heals for breakfast, and ask for seconds. The Charleston shuffle is no joke, be careful. But do get out and walk. The best way to take in all the historic building markers and gorgeous architecture is just to walk it. Yes, it's going to be hot and you're going to sweat but so is everyone else. Plus it makes a refreshing cool beverage all the more enjoyable later.
Charleston History Museum
Address: 360 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403
Phone: (843) 722-2996
I think this museum is a great starting point but it is a lot to take in. Take a good look at the museum map and focus on one or two periods to really absorb.
You can read everything but you probably won't remember anything. Focus on one or two topics.
The museum will lay the groundwork for all the additional history you will encounter on your visit. Whether you take a trip out to Middleton Place, Boone Hall, or Fort Sumter, many of the same family names will pop up again and again. I love Charleston for its tightly woven fabric of prominent families throughout generations. Can you believe there are still 15 and 16th generation families residing on the Charleston peninsula?
When buying tickets a the museum you will also have the opportunity to purchase a combination ticket that permits entry to the Joseph Manigault House and Hayward Washington. I highly recommend the combination ticket for the history and architecture buffs out there. The guides are fantastic and you’re sure to learn a lot. More about those homes further down.
Joseph Manigault House
Address: 350 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403
Phone: +1 (843) 723-2926
After two visits to the house, I believe that your enjoyment will be largely swayed by how you connect with the guide and the questions you ask.
Visiting after going through the history museum will likely help you ask better-informed questions about the museum. It is also a convenient walk across the street from the museum too.
The home features dozens of historic pictures through the years and pieces of gorgeous period furniture. The home even has some interesting World War II history I found surprising and unexpected. Expect to spend 30-40 minutes on the tour.
Gibbs Museum of Art
Address: 135 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 722-2706
One thing that makes the Gibbs worth a visit, beyond the great permanent collection on display and rotating features, is the investment they have made in their preservation and archive department visible through a glass window on the third floor. Another cannot miss feature is the beautiful second-floor rotunda. Prepare to be bathed in light from the colored glass-domed ceiling and large windows as you enjoy the stunning marble statues around the room.
Address: 87 Church St, Charleston, SC 29403
Phone: +1 (843) 722-0354
This historic home has it all and then some—mystique, beauty, character, and unique historic structures significant to the period of the original home. Guides take you through two floors of the home, discussing artifacts and the families that had a prominent impact on the structure through the years. As a bonus, this home is air-conditioned, so if you find yourself visiting during a hot summer month, it will provide a nice respite.
One of the funniest moments of our trip was on a tour of this home. The guide was retelling the history of family china and furniture on display. He mentioned that they were fortunate to have a rotating display of artifacts featured and that the museum had a set of rare china of great significance that sounded particularly interesting and worth seeing. He mentioned that the china was at another home in charleston a few blocks away at that time. When we asked which house, assuming it was another museum, the guide casually mentioned that it was actually in the family's private residence and we wouldn’t likely see it without an invitation. We laughed a little... How do we get an invite?
I'm not sure they would appreciate me referring to them this way, but as a part of living history, I wish these families would be available for questions from the public. Joking, of course. But really, how cool is that? Can you imagine what it would be like to know your direct ancestry since the establishment of the first colonies in the 1600s? Incredible.
The Battery & White Point Gardens
Address: 2 Murray Blvd, Charleston, SC 29401
Rest your feet and enjoy the breeze on a park bench under the shade of trees overlooking the sea. Several historic markers detail the history of the park and its defense of the city. There are also gorgeous mansions that line the bordering streets. Any amateur or architectural enthusiast will be delighted by the details and varied styles of the homes.
Address: 83-107 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (803) 528-8317
What once was an eyesore is now a colorfully iconic symbol of Charleston. These restored Georgian row homes serve both a historic and architecturally significant landmark of the cities history. Plan to walk past these homes for a great photo backdrop on your way to or from The Battery & White Point Gardens.
Address: 1 Vendue Range, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 724-5003
Prepare to be tempted. On a nice warm day, the area surrounding the Pineapple Fountain has children cooling off and splashing in the other nearby fountains. It looks so fun and refreshing! My inner kid was definitely wishing I didn’t care about showing up to dinner soaked and would just jump in.
If you happen to be traveling with little ones this is a great way for everyone to take a little break from walking around. Did I mention it's free? You get a few moments of piece watching your little ones splash In the pool while you relax on one of the nearby benches.
Excursions Around Town
With hundreds of historic landmarks and over ten historic homes available for touring there is enough to keep you occupied in town for the entirety of your visit. But if time and transportation allow there are some spectacular day trips to enjoy outside this historic seaside town.
Boone Hall Plantation
Address: 1235 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Phone: +1 (843) 884-4371
I will be frank and say I had my reservations. Their website is impressive and I started to get the impression that this place had been marketed to the hilt and would be a veritable Disney Land of the south. I am thrilled to report that it is exceptionally well done but did not come across as a disingenuous over-dramatization of history. The Boone Hall guides were so helpful and informative, it was easy to navigate the property and know when activities began.
We were able to tour the house, see the gardens, enjoy the Gullah presentation, tour the barn, take the tractor trolly around the property and eat lunch in just under four hours without rushing. We also sat in on two separate talks given by guides. One covered the history of the crops and industry on the plantation. The second discussed the lives of slaves on the plantation leading up to the emancipation and their lives afterward.
The entire experience was exceptionally informative and fun. Where a museum provides information in a very structured and confined way a plantation tour delivered information at your pace with varied experiences and plenty of opportunity for breaks so you don’t lose focus or interest.
There are activities for little ones, but I would recommend the plantation for guests 8+ who are interested in history and can enjoy the various talks and presentations given.
Charleston Tea Plantation
Address: 6617 Maybank Hwy, Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
Phone: +1 (843) 559-0383
Such a unique and informative experience. Go in the mid-morning and bring a picnic to enjoy under one of their pavilions. Dine surrounded by hundreds of lush tea plants and the tranquil sounds of leaves rustling and birds chirping. It is so quiet out on the island you almost forget you're only a few minutes from town.
There is so much to know about tea. I am so excited to have had an opportunity to enrich my knowledge of a drink I've loved for so much of my life. It's hard not to spout all of the fun facts we learned from the tour. Like, did you know there are roughly 30 tea leaves in every tea bag? Or that five lbs of green leaves only make 1lb of finished tea? These are just two of the dozens of interesting facts you'll learn by
taking the free factory tour or paying to take the farm tour, which I strongly recommend. As a bonus, they have tea available to sample while you visit.
Bonus Stop: Angel Oak
Address: 3688 Angel Oak Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455
Folly Beach, Mt. Pleasant, or the Isle of Palm
Within a fifteen to twenty-minute drive from Historic Downtown Charleston, you can have your toes in the soft white sand of the region's beautiful beaches. Covering the beaches is a whole article on its own so for a full overview check out this article on Charleston SC Beaches.
While we were in the area we headed down to folly beach after a kayaking tour. I will warn you, as a first-timer, finding parking was very intimidating but we managed. The water was warm and the waves were rolling in enough to make it fun.
Address: 186 Concord St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 722-8100
Fleet landing has become a regular stop on our visits to Charleston. Their service and food have been consistently wonderful even years between visits. A few of my menu favorites include the Seafood Pasta & Key Lime Pie.
Most of Historic Charleston is quite crowded and finding parking can be overwhelming if you’re all walked out for the day. Fleet Landing has A large parking lot with an attendant next door which is a huge plus especially if it might be raining.
This restaurant boasts a casual to snappy casual atmosphere with a great bar and indoor or outdoor seating with views over the water. However, they stay swamped so I recommend making a reservation.
But if the reservations are booked, you may be in luck to snag a table day of by getting on the evening waiting list. It’s not a guarantee but the restaurant starts making their waiting list at 3 pm. Get your name on the list by stopping by the restaurant. You won’t be able to get your name on the waiting list by calling, unfortunately.
Address: 5 Cumberland St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 952-7565
We happened to come across Bumpas by chance on our most recent visit. Nestled on an unassuming side street found this awesome pub with a unique selection of burgers, sandwiches, and more.
One thing we really liked was the seating and decor of this restaurant. It has great large tables that can easily accommodate groups of 6 or possibly more. On a busy evening, I imagine the tables become more community-style as you would expect in a typical Irish pub. The food was great and the atmosphere created by the waitstaff was equally enjoyable.
60 Bull Cafe
Address: 60 Bull St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 718-3145
For quality comfort food when you may or may not have overindulged the night previous. Grilled ham and cheese sandwich with french fries. A bit pile of gooey greasy delight. Need I say more? We were there for lunch but I got the impression they have an impressive dinner offering and great wine selection. I would be curious to go back for dinner.
Address: 155 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 534-0043
ALL the biscuits please! Traditionally known as breakfast diner with legendary mimosas, Toast has menu items that will keep you coming back any time of day. Did I mention their biscuits are amazing? And they’re giant. Just in case you slept in or overslept, don't worry, they serve breakfast all day, but expect a wait. Some other great menu items we’ve enjoyed include a variety of salads.
After a few days of rich food, it's always nice to feast on a bowl full of fresh veggies. Their salads are perfectly crisp and generous. Be sure to check them out. Toast is just up the street from the Gibbs. Delicious breakfast and art sound like a great way to start the day to me!
This is what having a fitness regimen at home is all about, letting loose on vacation! We don't just indulge on meals we go all out for dessert too. Usually, we will have two and if an exceptionally tempting opportunity presents itself we will even have three treats in one day.
Now just because I'm on vacation doesn't mean I forget the number of calories in dessert, so it better be worth it. Here are our favorite places for sweet treats that are always worth their calories.
Mora Ice Cream
Address: 346 King St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 277-0069
truly quality ice cream just like they say
Made in special small batches with fresh ingredients. The first bite says it all. They have a great space for enjoying your treat in the a/c where it won't melt quite as fast and you can also catch a break from a day full of sightseeing.
Off Track Ice Cream
Address: 6 Beaufain St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 203-6997
Another side street find! Off the track has a full list of fresh-made flavors sure to soothe any sweet tooth. The shop's decor is great with lots of natural light and plenty of seating for cooling off and enjoying your treat.
Address: 62 Queen St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 718-3626
Have the avocado coffee cake, without question.
I probably wouldn't have tried it had it not been for the recommendation from the lovely ladies at Anglin Smith Fine Art. I was shocked by how good it was, to say the least. We had to go back a second time, and maybe a third during our visit. I wouldn't imagine avocado being an enjoyable flavor in cake and you don't notice it. The Avocado just adds to the decadent texture. Aside from the delicious fare, the interior is enough to make anyone want to stay awhile. Cozy seating areas, old woodwork, and beautifully tiled fireplaces.
Address: 333 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: +1 (843) 722-5588
This place is celebrating 40 years and counting in Charleston. Their baked good selections are deliciously overwhelming. We went in the afternoon, and it was rather picked over, and by that, I mean there were still 20 plus options to choose from. I think I would have gone into overload if I had been presented with all the options available in the morning. They have a great dining room both indoors and out, which is great since it is a little off the main drag you can relax and enjoy lunch, a sweet, and some excellent coffee before continuing your adventures.
until we meet again
Did you get some ideas? I sure hope so. Maybe you’re feeling more prepared or excited about the things you’ll do during your visit. Do you have any burning questions left unanswered? Ask away in the comment section below! We want you to have the best time on vacation.
Whenever we travel, we’re always sad to leave but glad to get home. The nice thing about having limited time to explore everything you want to do on vacation is that you leave with a reason to return and things to look forward to. After several jam-packed visits, I still have a list of things I cannot wait to do on the next trip, and I have a feeling you will too. Charleston is one of those cities you can revisit again and again, enjoying each experience differently.
Hopefully, you’re feeling more at ease and prepared for your trip. Travelers know the value of experience and love to exchange tips. The same goes here. Tell us all about how your visit goes. We would love to hear about your experience simply living happy, while traveling.