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
The 17th Century saw a mass migration of colonists and pilgrims from Europe across the Atlantic to the North American continent. Along with Spain and France, Great Britain was a major force in carving out the new frontier that was Colonial America. With a large number of settlers sailing from England, it is not hard to understand why so many settlements were named after British aristocracy.
King Charles II of England granted the Carolina territory to his eight loyal "Lord's Proprietors." The first colonists arrived in 1670 at an attractive harbor off the southeastern edge of the lush, green region. They established themselves on the west bank of the Ashley River in what is now the state of South Carolina. They named the settlement "Charles Towne" after the monarch. These early colonists were unhappy with the location and in 1680 they re-established themselves three miles further down the river onto the peninsula, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers empty into the harbor. The city was re-incorporated in 1722 as "Charles City and Port" and renamed again in 1783 as "Charleston." The original site still exists as Charles Towne Landing.
Merchants in the young city earned a decent living trading pelts supplied by the Native Americans along with lumber, beef, hides and indigo. The soil conditions here made the region a prime area for growing rice and this became a major part of the city's agricultural output for years. Conditions were harsh and the stagnant, marshy surroundings bred disease. This contributed to a high mortality rate.
With the increasing availability of slave labor from Africa and the Caribbean islands, planters continued to expand their agricultural empires. They built mansions in town to avoid disease. Over time, Charleston became the richest town in the colonies. With wealth came position and power, and 18th-century planters were hungry for a more refined image than that of their recent settler descendants. They began to cultivate as much of a British way of life as they could.
If they impressed each other, they certainly did not impress the British soldiers, who occupied the city from 1780 to 1782. They were particularly harsh on colonial sympathizers. In America, the joke is, "George Washington slept here." America's first president did live up to that legend at least once by staying in a Charleston hotel owned by Thomas Heyward, who was jailed for supporting independence. The hotel is now known as the Heyward-Washington House and is a tourist attraction.
Maintaining the Southern way of life was one of driving issues of the mid-19th Century, as South Carolina became the focal point of a secessionist movement. South Carolina voted to secede from the Union in 1860. Local militia began to seize federal forts in Charleston Harbor. By the spring of 1861 only Fort Sumter remained in federal hands. Outgoing president James Buchanan had tried to supply the fort before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration, but the supply ship turned back. From the city, one had a very good view of the fort on April 12, 1861, when southern militia leader General Pierre G.T. Beauregard attacked it. Under-supplied and over-matched, the fort fell to the Confederate forces two days later.
Charleston's coastal location leaves it vulnerable to storms off the Atlantic Ocean. After the Civil War, the city was hit hard by hurricanes in 1885 and 1893. The bad luck with storms continued in the 20th Century which decimated the rice industry. The Great Earthquake compounded the misfortune in 1886. Some homes are still displaced as much as two inches from the shaking.
In the late 19th Century, work in the harbor created a deepwater passage, and a naval base was established in 1901. Throughout the two World Wars and into the Cold War, much of the city's economy relied on the U.S. Naval Defense industry. Charleston was temporarily hurt in 1993 by the closing of naval bases and shipyards.
After World War II, the port saw an increase in trade and now is a focal point for paper, metalworking, rubber and textile trade, as well as auto parts, chemicals and electrical equipment. Tourism also plays a major role in Charleston's 21st-century economy.
Charleston's heritage can be seen among the many plantations in the area including Boone Hall, Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Charleston's early military tradition can be experienced at Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, and at The Citadel. To see artifacts of Charleston's past, one can visit the Charleston Museum. Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum is the nation's oldest. Charleston's Historic District has several sections. Most of the city's remaining cobblestone streets can be found in the Walled City. The Business District is home to the City Market. Included among Charleston's architectural beauty is the Governor's House Inn (a national landmark) and the Joseph Manigault House.
Charleston's eclectic character makes dining downtown a memorable experience. The city is home to a variety of eating establishments offering local and global fare. 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 the 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. Charleston's waterfront is where you should go if you are in the mood for seafood. A.W. Shuck's offers 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. California Dreaming boasts an excellent surf and turf selection and waterfront dining. The Wreck is a cash-only restaurant overlooking Shem Creek, seafood. Fans of the film Forrest Gump will want to stop by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on Market Street. 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 cuisine. For local ingredients and a good, modestly priced wine, try The Old Post Office Restaurant on 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 Southern 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 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. 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 the Athens Restaurant & Grill for a wide selection of Greek fare. 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, and the Blind Tiger Pub takes you across the Atlantic to an English-style establishment. There is something for everyone to eat in Charleston, 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 options appear below, although it represents a very small selection of available 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 concert series. 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.
Museums and Exhibits
The Karpeles Manuscript Museum is one of seven Karpeles museums in the country. Charleston's 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. For the aquatic lover, there is the South Carolina Aquarium.
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. The downtown Charleston Market 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.
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 Rays in the South Atlantic League.
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 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.