The Best Things to See & Do Around Charleston, SC

Charleston, the South Carolina port city founded in 1670, is defined by its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and pastel antebellum houses, particularly in the elegant French Quarter and Battery districts.

The Best Things to See & Do Around Charleston, SC

Charleston, the South Carolina port city founded in 1670, is defined by its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and pastel antebellum houses, particularly in the elegant French Quarter and Battery districts.

Downtown Charleston is a window into colonial America... cobblestone streets, jasmine-scented alleyways, antebellum buildings no taller than the church steeples that dot the city and the relaxed style of the true South.

Farmers Market
Every Saturday, from April through December, Marion Square springs to life with little tents lining its northern and western pathways. As the name suggests, this is a real farmer’s market: In-the-know locals head here for the very freshest in produce, from bundles of asparagus, to heirloom tomatoes and turmeric roots. And if you're looking to sample South Carolina fare, this is the place to do it: Stop by the Lowland Farms booth for a taste of pimento cheese spread, or the strawberry-honeysuckle jam made from fruit that Liza herself picked earlier that week on Ambrose Farm. Dip cubes of bread into cold-smoked local honey or hickory-smoked olive oil at Holy Smoke’s tent, as the owner touts the virtues of a peppery, buttery olive oil that tastes like liquid bacon (but is, somehow, good for you). For keepsakes that'll last longer than lunchtime, pick up a photograph of the Angel Oak mounted on canvas, or one of Barbara Manigault's large, labor-intensive sweetgrass baskets.

High Wire Distilling
Charleston has its fair share of distilleries, but High Wire stands out on multiple counts: (1) it is the first distillery in downtown Charleston since Prohibition; (2) it sources distinctive southern-grown grains, fresh herbs, heirloom corns, and other custom crops for signature spirits; (3) everything is small-batched and experimental, yielding many different types and styles of liquor; and (4) husband-and-wife co-owners Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall have a background in the baking business, so their approach is culinary.

Hangout on a Rooftop Bar
Charleston is home to over 20 rooftop bars, and probably 90% of them are located downtown. There’ everything from bars to restaurants to breweries to nightclubs, but they all have one thing in common: stellar views of Downtown and no ceilings to keep you down.

The Charleston Museum
As museums go, there's nothing stuffy or old-school about this one. The formidable modern structure encircles a restful inner courtyard and great retreat from summer’s heat. In the two-story lobby hangs a suspended whale who swam into Charleston’s harbor in 1880. This museum has been building its collection, with few interruptions, since 1773. Tourists often wander in and swing through it, and amazingly enough, some locals are just discovering it.

Fort Moultrie
This fort doesn’t get as much attention as nearby Fort Sumter, but its history is no less interesting. Built in the early 19th century, the fortification was originally designed to protect Charleston and its harbor from enemy ships. In the run-up to the Civil War, Union troops abandoned Fort Moultrie for Fort Sumter, which they perceived as stronger and easier to defend. Ironically, Fort Sumter was essentially destroyed during the ensuing war, while Moultrie survived with little damage. Even if you’re not a fan of military history, Fort Moultrie offers excellent views of Charleston and the surrounding area.

Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter hosted the opening battle of the Civil War. Though it was devastated during the ensuing four-year conflict, it has been restored (nearly) to its former glory, and is now one of the United States’ most popular historical sites.

Since it’s on an island, Fort Sumter is a bit hard to reach, so you’ll need to plan ahead if visiting is a true priority. It’s also not exactly cheap – Fort Moultrie is a better bargain, though it doesn’t have quite the historic import.

Go to the USS Yorktown and Patriots Point
History buffs will enjoy touring this retired naval aircraft that’s now a floating museum over in Patriot’s Point. The boat is massive, and even though only a portion of it is available for public viewing, you can spend more than a couple of hours walking along its many hallways. Up on the flight deck, you’ll see examples of different aircraft that have landed on it in the past, and also get some pretty fantastic views of the Charleston Harbor.

Preservation Society of Charleston
If you seek an authentic Charleston keepsake, this store has you covered. Think of it as a souvenir shop with taste and soul. Every item they source is locally made, with the exception of books that may have been published elsewhere, and pecans from a farm two hours north. The independent boutique was founded by and is still run by one of Charleston’s prominent preservation groups, thus the name.

Angel Oak Tree
The tree is stupefyingly beautiful and formidable. Resurrection fern covering the oak’s branches sits dormant when dry but springs to life after a good rain. The ground yields softly underfoot, a loamy reminder that the tree’s root system extends far beyond the circumference of its branches. Visitors who bring lunch enjoy meals on picnic tables scattered beneath younger oaks (perhaps offshoots of the “mother tree”).

Go to a Riverdogs game
Going into their 26th year, the Riverdogs -- Charleston’s Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees (and owned in part by Bill Murray, FYI) -- aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. This year’s special event nights include Farmers Markets during the game, bring-your-dog nights, Elton John-themed fireworks displays and more! Tickets are usually pretty cheap, and it’s a great way to spend an evening. After all, baseball is America’s pastime for a reason!

Sugar Bakeshop
Everyone needs a little treat now and then (or lots of them!). Sugar Bakeshop is owned by a pair of architects-turned-bakers who traded in New York’s hustle for the pastel houses and live oaks lining Cannon Street. Swing open their door, and breathe in heady aromas of whatever they’re baking at the moment (on my visit, it was ginger molasses cookies). Soft tunes of mellow jazz lower your tension instantly. This place is definitely one-of-a-kind.

Go dancing at The Commodore
The Commodore is the phoenix rising from the ashes of A Touch of Class, a jazz club that was popular back in the day. This new iteration maintains the vintage jazz club feel with live jazz & funk bands, making it basically the closest thing Charleston has to a speakeasy. The $5 cover is totally worth it to enjoy the house band or touring groups, and dance all night to music you’re not likely to hear on the radio anytime soon.

Cool Murals Around Town
Between the Shepard Fairey muralsDavid Boatwright’s restorations, and Patch Whiskey’s many colorful acid monsters, there are a ton of street artists who’ve left their mark in Charleston. You can find colorful street art everywhere from downtown to West Ashley to Mount Pleasant (and even on the trains that run through the port), and the unique artistry makes for a great backdrop for an Instagram post.

Schooner Pride
A mellow and relaxing sail on a reproduction 18th century schooner built to resemble the triple-masted tall ships that once lined Charleston’s harbor. There is no song-and-dance or scripted narrative from the crew, although they do answer questions and converse with you about what you’re seeing. And no music: just an authentic seafarer’s lullaby of waves lapping against the hull, and the steady creaking of ropes and booms.

Fly In Helicopters
The beauty and spontaneity of this operation is that no reservations are required. There are other helicopter companies in town, but none that offer such affordable “quickie” trips. The introductory $35 spin around the harbor takes three exhilarating minutes. Prices increase for longer tours which take you around lighthouses, over salt marshes, and along barrier islands, but the harbor tour itself covers Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, the High Battery, shipyards, the Ravenel Bridge, and the Yorktown, all from close-range above.

Self-Guided Walking Tour
Sure, you could hop on a horse carriage, or into a pedicab, or join an official walking tour, all excellent ways to explore the city. But sometimes you want to explore at will, without the drone of a historical lecture, and the best way to do that is on foot. This is a walking tour that clocks in at just under two miles in length, and it's a must-do for anyone visiting Charleston. Start at Waterfront Park, whose pier juts out into the harbor, to scope out the original Colonial city wall, then make your way to the East Bay, where you might just catch a regatta in progress. Ogle over the live oaks at White Point Gardens, and walk south to north on Legare (pronounced Lah-GREE) for the best vantage points of what are arguably Charleston's most beautiful homes—and make you stop at 14 Legare, the "Pineapple Gates House" for pics. End at Goat.Sheep.Cow, where you can have them arrange a picnic spread that you can take to nearby Washington Square, and feast on expertly curated cheese under the shade of a live oak tree.

Stroll along The Battery
The Battery is the edge of Charleston’s peninsula downtown, and includes a sidewalk (which used to be the walls of the city) that stretches roughly from Tradd Street to Water Street. You’ll get fabulous views of the harbor (if you squint, you can even see Fort Sumter), and the area’s also adjacent to White Point Gardens, a city park

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