Downtown Charleston has a lot for visitors to see and do. Besides the historic churches, buildings, and landmarks, there are plenty of opportunities for shopping. Visitors find that Downtown is a convenient starting point for getting to know Charleston as it is a vibrant combination of old and new, offering diverse attractions suitable for just about anyone.
The Historic District is the oldest part of town and a lot of the buildings and houses have been preserved. Tours are available, like the
Founded in 1680 and located to the East of Charleston, Mount Pleasant is known for its fine dining. Whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner, you will find that this area is packed with all different types of eateries. Mount Pleasant is also the home of one of the biggest naval & maritime museums in the world,
North Charleston is the main business and transportation location for the southern half of South Carolina. Both the International Airport and Amtrak Station are located here. Adding to the bustle of North Charleston is the 14,000-seat
Charleston's eclectic character makes dining downtown a fascinating and memorable experience. With its historical charm and Southern grace as its backdrop, the city is home to a variety of eating establishments offering local and global fare with choices abound for almost every taste. For a unique Southern flavor, you can order salmon and grits from Hyman's Seafood Company or enjoy “imaginative American cuisine with a Southern flair” at The Library at Vendue Inn. Station 22 is the oldest continuously operating restaurant on Sullivan's Island. It offers a gallery of nostalgic black and white photographs of the island's history. Whether you are looking for the ambiance of an old Southern town or the excitement that greets the senses when sampling foods from around the world, Charleston delivers.
How barren would an attractive waterfront be if you were unable to find good seafood? A.W. Shuck's offers she-crab soup, raw bar and stuffed shrimp. Anson, which is only open for dinner, also serves up she-crab soup along with light entrees. For a different taste, try their shrimp and grits or their cashew-encrusted grouper. Boathouse and California Dreaming boast an excellent surf and turf selection and waterfront dining. The Wreck is a cash-only restaurant overlooking Shem Creek, serving Low Country seafood. Fans of the film Forrest Gump will want to stop by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Market Street.
Close your eyes for a moment and you may be able to hear the carriages clopping through the streets of the old town. The aura of the city's former wealth can be experienced in the richness of its present. For a taste of upscale Southern cuisine there is Charleston Chops, where you can listen to live piano music while savoring steak, seafood and wine. The Charleston Grill on Main Street is the place to go for local game, seafood and produce. There you can sample some baked grits or Vidalia hash pie. Southern cooking is an art at Magnolia's with shrimp sausage and grits, down-south egg roll and veal meatloaf. Poogan's Porch is highly acclaimed and many celebrities have sampled their upscale Lowcountry cuisine. For local ingredients and a good, modestly priced wine, try The Old Post Office Restaurant, out in Edisto Island. Peninsula Grill serves more conventional items and boasts an award-winning wine list. Spirit of Carolina offers a dinner cruise through Charleston Harbor. Cypress is an upscale restaurant without the upscale prices. It is housed in a building constructed in the 1830s and jackets are required downstairs.
If the taste of city life is not for you, you can escape without traveling too far. More classic, Low-Country meals can be found at places like Hominy Grill, which serves shrimp with brown gravy and fried green tomatoes. Charleston's Café, formally known as The Bookstore Café, provides country cooking for breakfast and lunch as well as catering services in its new Mount Pleasant location. Jestine's Kitchen is another excellent place to go for an old-fashioned meal at affordable prices, while Rosebank Farms Café offers something more eclectic.
Even with its regional character, Charleston remains cosmopolitan as evidenced by the international flavor found in its eateries. 39 Rue de Jean is an authentic French Bistro and has been described as “being in Paris.” A Taste of India serves North Indian dishes for lunch and dinner. You will feel like a Polka after sampling the Wiener Schnitzel at Max & Moritz Restaurant. Come to Athens Restaurant & Grill for a wide selection of Greek fare. Tommy Condon's Irish Pub and Seafood Restaurant is a family place owned by true Irish. Charleston has several fine Italian restaurants; some of the best are Capriccio Restaurant and Fulton Five. Wasabi Japanese Restaurant, Sushi Hiro, and Tsunami are good places to go should you feel like sushi or other Japanese fare.
Want to stop for a cold one? 82 Queen is a favorite watering hole for the Broad Street business professionals. Dine outside or just hang out with friends. Blind Tiger Pub takes you across the Atlantic to an English style establishment, while Cumberlands entertains a younger crowd with a diverse selection of live music.
These are just a few of Charleston's favorite places to eat and drink. There is something for everyone and you do not have to be a native Southerner to appreciate it, though you may feel like one when you leave.
Charleston offers a splendid mix of events and activities to stimulate the mind, body and spirit. Some of the more interesting ones appear below though it represents barely a drop in a vast ocean of activities.
Music and Theater
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra is conducted by music director David Stahl and is the largest year-round performing arts organization in South Carolina. The orchestra performs a wide spectrum of music for adults and children through its five concert series: Masterworks, Sotille Chamber Orchestra Series, Charleston Pops, Saturdays in Town and Small Fry. The Spoleto Festival is an annual event bringing together artists from all musical spectrums--from opera to spiritual.
Under the klieg lights, The Charleston Stage Company performs plays and musicals at the historic Dock Street Theatre.
There are approximately 10,000 objects to view at The Gibbes Museum of Art. The museum focuses on American artifacts from a Charleston perspective. The collections include paintings from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, sculptures and photographs. Thomas Kincaide's work is the focus of The Planters Inn Signature Gallery. The gallery houses one of the largest collections of works by “The Painter of Light” in the country. The Verner Gallery is the oldest fine arts gallery in Charleston and presents the works of many of Charleston's Renaissance artists.
Museums and Exhibits
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum is one of seven Karpeles museums in the country. Charleston's low-country African-American heritage is preserved at the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture. Papers, photographs, oral histories and other materials are maintained in the archives. The Jewish Heritage Collection of the College of Charleston's Robert Scott Small Library recounts the Jewish experience in South Carolina from colonial times to the present. The United Daughters of the Confederacy display Charleston's Southern Pride with a collection of Confederate artifacts. Charleston's contributions during the Cold War are displayed at the Cold War Submarine Memorial Foundation.
For the aquatic lover, there is the South Carolina Aquarium. You will have to catch the Dolphins in the Cooper River, however, since South Carolina prohibits keeping Dolphins in captivity. A bonus: next door you will find Ship Shapes Maritime Arts & History Center, a lovely place to learn about all things maritime, and even do some shopping, as they sell nautical-themed antiques and model boats.
Blink! is one of Charleston's unique stores offering a selection of ceramics and jewelry from a variety of artists. Boomer's Books and Collectibles is Charleston's biggest used books store with over 35,000 pre-owned titles. Charleston Market downtown offers a wide selection of art, jewelry, clothing books and collectibles. Century House Antiques has collections of Chinese and English porcelain from the 18th and 19th centuries. Chapter II Books places the spotlight on books about Charleston and books by Charleston-based authors.
Sports Charleston is home to several sports teams. The South Carolina Sting Rays, a Buffalo Sabres affiliate, were in the playoffs each of their first eight years of existence beginning in 1993. The Charleston Swamp Foxes have seen less success in their young history, but provide the city with a local Arena League-2 football team. The Charleston River Dogs baseball club is a Class-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the South Atlantic League.
The Harbor And what would a large body of water be without boats? Charleston Harbor has several opportunities for fun boating. The Ocean Sailing Academy provides U.S. Sailing Certification courses from the Charleston Harbor Marina and Bohicket Marina. For experienced sailors, the academy also charters boats as large as 46 feet.
If you like to fish, Fin Stalker Charters boasts year-round fishing with Charleston native Captain Chris Chavis. Captain Chris is a 20-year veteran fishing in Charleston's waters. Captain J.R. Waits, of Fish Call Charters, is another experienced guide, who will take the experienced and the novice on light tackle and fly-fishing excursions.
For quieter times, Charleston Waterfront Park has 12 acres of shrubbery, trees and benches overlooking the water. The park includes a 400-foot long wharf and fishing pier. Nearby Beachwalker Park furnishes sandy beaches and 450 feet of designated swimming area. Lifeguards are on duty seasonally. Folly Beach is located near Charleston and has a nice selection of seafood restaurants. Isle of Palms is known for its sandwich shops as well as its waterfront.
Charleston provides many ways to experience the city through tours of the town and surrounding areas both on land and water.
The company The Original Charleston Walks provides a series of different tours for a myriad of tastes. It includes its basic, The original Charleston Walk, which shows you the old and the new as you stroll through Charleston's history from its days as a young colony, through the American Revolution and Civil War. Charleston works to preserve its past as one can see when they visit the city's oldest church, the harbor, Fort Sumter, John C. Calhoun's grave and more. Charleston has endured much and its tenaciousness and longevity is apparent.
Charleston's Pirates & Buccaneers, subtitled “The War Against The Pirates,” will take you back in time to the earliest decades of the 18th century, when the still-adolescent Charleston not only faced the specter of war with the Native Americans on the land, but also from fierce scavengers on the sea. The excursion introduces the tourist to Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Anne Bonny as you rediscover The Walled City, Pirate Tavern and buried treasure.
In December of 1860, Charleston was the site where South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Four months later, Charleston again became a focal point when it witnessed the fall of Fort Sumter in its Harbor in the first battle of The Civil War. In 1863, Charleston hosted the Confederate and Union armies as aggression escalated. The Civil War Walk relives the siege of Charleston. The tour takes about two hours.
The Ghosts & Legends Walk is the first year-round ghost tour of Charleston's Historic District. You can learn about the Gullah Boo Hag or the ghost in City Hall. This 90-minute tour is one of Charleston's most popular walking tours. Or head to Bulldog Tours for another spooky tour. The Bulldog Tours has exclusive access to several infamous sites, including touring a graveyard and a haunted jail.
Charleston was instrumental in the American Revolution. The Patriots of Charleston will show you places and introduce people who helped win America's independence including the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon and “The Swamp Fox,” who was fictionalized by Mel Gibson in The Patriot.
The Historic Homes Walk takes a slow saunter through Charleston's Historic District where you can see some of the most beautiful homes in the south. You can enjoy Charleston's character through its flora and eighteenth century buildings. Along they way you will see the Heyward-Washington House, Edmonston-Alston House and many others.
Charleston was known as the Home of African Slavery yet had the largest Free-Black population by the start of The Civil War. On the Slavery and Freedom Walk, learn about the Charleston black experience as slaves and as a free people. You will learn about Slave Traders, Catfish Row, Slave Revolts and more.
Jack Thomson's Civil War Walking Tour of Charleston combines 188 photographs with actual locations to take the traveler into the past and resurrect the Charleston of the 1860s. You will see the town through the eyes of Confederate Soldier Gus Smythe, whose preserved letters give a first hand account of the siege on the evacuated town in 1864. The tour is swift, but informative as each location is brought into historical context with descriptions of the events they hosted.
Classic Carriage Tours provides one-hour day and twilight tours through the city. Evening tours are available by appointment. Private, group and special occasion tours are also available. The carriages are pulled by award winning Percheron Draft Horses, extending a 300-year-old tradition.
Taylored Tours of Charleston offers four motorized tours of Charleston and one that moves out into Savannah: The General History Tour is a 75-minute, fast-paced tour of the city and covers 110 points of interest including City Market, the Dock Street Theatre, Charleston Battery and the Old Citadel. This is a very popular tour for the general tourist. On the Plantation Tour, you will get round-trip transportation to either Middleton Place or Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. It includes tours of a Low-Country estate and a guided tour of a plantation house museum. During the General History/House Museum Tour, you can see some of Charleston's finest homes. This covers 90 minutes of general history and a 30-minute tour of the Edmonston-Alston House, Heyward-Washington House, Nathaniel Russell House or the Aiken-Rhett House depending on which tour you take. The Savannah Tour will take guests a few hours away to the city of Savannah, Georgia. The tour lasts the whole day, and includes a stop in historic Beaufort, SC, and an hour and a half of free time. Finally, the Special Interest Tour of Charleston takes 90 minutes and can be tailored to specific sites. This is great excursion for history buffs.
Gabriel Manigault studied architecture and designed the Joseph Manigualt House for his brother Joseph. Built in 1803, this estate almost failed to survive the onslaught of surrounding development to be enjoyed. The Charleston Museum maintains the home.
Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation in the United States still open to the public. The house, relatively unchanged in over 250 years, sits on 630 acres and has seen seven generations of family ownership.
Boone Hall Plantation is known in the region as the most photographed plantation in America. It has been the backdrop for Hollywood many times including the acclaimed television mini-series North and South.
Middleton Place is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America, and once housed Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Tourists will want to spend a long time at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which was build in 1676. A wide variety of activities are offered on the grounds. Aside from the plantation house itself, you can also tour the vast grounds via the Nature Train or Nature Boat. You can also tour the Audubon Swamp Garden, not to mention the all various gardens that you will be free to explore on your own.
On The Water
Fort Sumter Tours offers tours from the deck of the Spirit of Carolina. During the Charleston Harbor Tour, you will see the city through a 90-minute tour of the Battery, Cooper River Bridges, Charleston Waterfront Park, Fort Moultrie National Monument and more. Also offered is the Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise, in which you will be served a gourmet dinner while listening to live music and cruising the harbor.
Alongside several vessels, the Yorktown is the main attraction of Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. A keystone of America's role in the Pacific during World War II, the aircraft carrier is a wonderful exhibit of the good and bad fortunes of life on the sea during wartime.