What to eat, drink, and see in this historic South Carolina city.
Charleston, South Carolina is one of the top cities to visit in the South, and this list has everything you need to know about how to have a good time there. From foodie finds to museums and beaches, our ultimate list of things to do in Charleston will leave you full of ideas for your trip to South Carolina.
Eat Boiled Peanuts From Timbo’s
If you visit the Lowcountry and don’t eat boiled peanuts, you’re missing one of the true regional American delicacies. This airstream serving boiled peanuts sits on the road to most of the area’s plantations—Middleton, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia—and its worth a stop on your way. Timbo, much like Madonna, has reached the level of fame that allows one name only and that’s thanks to his 20 years in operation serving plain, Cajun, and ham-flavored boiled peanuts. Wednesday through Sunday, grab yourself a hot and heaping bag and an ice-cold beverage to go for the perfect road trip snack.
Go Bill Murray Spotting at a RiverDogs Game
Not every city can claim a beloved comedian as the owner of their minor-league baseball team. But here in Charleston, Bill Murray co-owns the Charleston RiverDogs. As if that weren’t enough to get people to the games, the Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Stadium, where the team plays, is a first-rate sports venue complete with a large variety of food from hot dogs to ramen, special events, and fireworks every Friday night. The family-friendly games have plenty to entertain all ages with jump castles, games, and the all-important high-five from mascot Charlie the RiverDog.
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Tour the Nathaniel Russell House
If you want to understand the wealth and influence of 19th-century Charleston’s “aristocracy,” a tour of the Nathaniel Russell House is a good place to start. The Federal-style mansion was built in 1803 by Nathaniel Russell, a wealthy shipping merchant. Inside, guests can get an idea of the grandeur his wealth afforded, with Palladian windows and, arguably most impressive, a flying spiral staircase that’s cantilevered and runs to the third floor. The home is a National Historic Landmark and considered “one of America’s most important Neoclassical houses.”
Skip a Carriage Tour and Rent a Bike Instead
Sure you could take a carriage tour of the peninsula with all the other dozens of tourists, but why not see the city the way its citizens love to: by bike. Affordabike on King Street rents bikes for the day and they come with a basket and lock so you can cruise, stop, and shop along the way. Or, if you’d prefer, Charleston also has a bike share program called Holy Spokes. For $8 an hour, you can bike around the city and park your bike at 25 locations across the peninsula. How do you find those spots? A slick app for your phone maps it all out for you.
Visit Fort Sumter, Site of the Start of the Civil War
You don’t have to be a history buff to understand the centrality of the American Civil War to this nation’s history, which is why a visit to Fort Sumter is a must. The flashpoint of the secession crisis and sectional tensions that had built for decades came to a head in Charleston Harbor in April of 1861. After falling into Confederate hands, it would be the site of repeated Federal attempts to regain control of Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter tours take people out to the National Parks site from both Liberty Square next to the S.C. Aquarium as well as Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant. The hour trip on the harbor is matched by an hour informative visit to the fort. It’s a great starting point for any visit to this historic city.
Go Brewery Hopping
As of last count, Charleston is up to 23 working breweries with five more scheduled to open in the next year. Which is to say, there’s no shortage of good brew. And thanks to a handful opening in the “Neck” of the peninsula, brewery hopping can be easily done within one neighborhood with the help of a designated driver or Uber. Start at Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. for a hearty lunch and some cold ones to get you started, then roll on over toMunkle Brewing Co. for some traditional Belgian-style brews. Next up is Fatty’s Beer Works followed by Tradesman. And if you really need more, well Holy City Brewing and COAST are just a little farther up the road.
Tour the Gibbes Museum of Art
Recently reopened after a $13.5 million dollar remodel, one of the nation’s oldest art galleries is a must-visit. While touring exhibits come and go, the Gibbes almost always displays its room of miniatures, tiny portraits that served as tokens of affection during the early 20th century. Some no bigger than a locket, these endearing paintings give a glimpse into courting of the era
Visit Drayton Hall
While many visitors are used to historic sites that “restore” homes, Drayton Hall is a unique example of a preserved structure. Arguably one of the best examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the nation and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this site interprets both the architectural and social history of the home as well as the legacy of the Draytons’ slaves.
Drink Charleston Light Dragoon Punch at Husk Bar
While Husk restaurant gets most of the acclaim, it’s the bar next door that we love. Built in an old brick kitchen house, the two-story bar feels as though you’re imbibing in Charleston’s historic past. Noted for serving Madeiras, Ports, and punches, our favorite is the Charleston Light Dragoon cocktail. Fashioned from an old Charleston recipe, it’ll send you charging into the night.
Eat Oysters at Bowens Island
Charlestonians have been eating oysters since pre-Columbian times and the love of the bivalve has only gotten stronger since then. For a real deal oyster experience, head to Bowens Island. This cult favorite sits at the end of, obviously, an island and packs people in looking for fresh, local seafood. The view over the tidal marshes is only matched by the taste of freshly shucked oysters, but be warned this place gets packed quickly. Give yourself some time as there’s often a wait.
Search for Shark Teeth at Folly Beach
Folly Beach is known as the Edge of America, but the sharpest things you’ll find there are sharks teeth. If you walk slowly and look closely, you might find the tiny grey incisors of the scariest fish in the sea. After a stroll on the beach, head to Pier 101 for burgers and beers.
Tour Historic Houses During the Charleston Tour of Homes
Each spring, Charleston becomes an interior design lover’s dream as local homeowners open their doors for the Charleston Tour of Homes. You’ll get to see numerous houses that are only open to the public once a year.
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Visit the USS Yorktown
The famous “Fighting Lady” of WWII, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum includes the USS Yorktown, destroyer USS Laffey, and a Vietnam-era fire base. The ships host numerous displays ranging from naval aviation, crew life, and a medal of honor museum. Allotting an afternoon is encouraged, as this site large and there’s a lot to take in and appreciate.
Kayak the Intracoastal Waterway
For the best view of the Lowcountry, you can’t beat a kayak trip on the Intracoastal Waterway. March visits filled with seabirds and dolphin spotting make a trip on the water an entertaining way to spend the afternoon.
Run on the Beach at Kiawah’s Beachwalker County Park
Kiawah Island is a private community, but just before the gates, if you take a hard right you’ll end up at Beachwalker, a county beach park. This gorgeous property is a great place to take kids in the summer, as there’s a small portion protected by lifeguards. But we love it in the winter when the visitors are few and the beach is open and perfect for running. There’s no fee to park during the winter, so jog early and jog often.
Eat Fresh-From-the-Dock Fried Seafood at the Wreck of Richard and Charlene
The sea shanty aesthetic of this landmark restaurant may put some diners off. But if you’re looking for straight-from-the-dock seafood without all the pomp and circumstance of downtown establishments, this is the place to go. Think fried shrimp baskets, deviled crab, and stone crab claws. If you plan your timing right, you can watch the shrimp boats come in as the sun sets on Shem Creek.
Taste Gullah Cuisine From Bertha’s Kitchen
Gullah cuisine is the bedrock of Charleston’s culinary prowess, so it’s impossible to truly say you’ve eaten in the Lowcountry without trying some. We suggest you head to Bertha’s for some lunch—and don’t forget the lima beans. This restaurant was recently declared a James Beard American Classic. What more convincing do you need?
Eat the Charleston Nasty for Brunch at Hominy Grill
There’s a reason Chef Robert Stehling won a James Beard and his Big Nasty breakfast sandwich is part of it. This heaping plate of chicken, biscuits, and gravy is enough to fill your tank for the entire day, so plan accordingly. It’s the perfect Sunday brunch bite, but when you show up at 10 to find a line out the door of this local favorite, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Tour Middleton Place
Renowned for its terrace landscape and formal gardens, Middleton Place was a showpiece for its historically important family, the Middletons. Home to both a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a later signer of the Ordinance of Secession, Middleton Place was also home to many slaves and the site highlights the Lowcountry’s role in early national politics. Beyond touring the grounds, stable yards, and gardens, visitors also have the option for a Beyond the Fields tour, which explores the lives of slaves and Black freedmen, and focuses on domestic life, labor, and spirituality.
Go on a Barbecue Tour of the Top Pitmasters in the South
Charleston has plenty of good food, but new to the city is acclaim for our pitmasters. In the past two years, we’ve gained what some have called “the barbecue triangle”, a one-mile radius that’s home to Lewis Barbecue, Home Team BBQ, and Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Each one has its own style, but one thing is the same, they’re all delicious. Wear your eating pants and be sure to add this tour to your list.
Visit the Old Slave Mart Museum
Much of the wealth of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston was the result of a slave-based economy. Charleston played a prominent role in the international and domestic slave trade. This site on Chalmers Street actually operated as a Slave Mart and site of auctions beginning in the 1850s, and inside are many objects from that period. Any study of Charleston’s complex history is not complete without an understanding of this exploitative institution.
Make the Drive out to the Center for Birds of Prey
For the nature lovers, the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw northeast of Charleston up Highway 17 is an exceptional place to go. The center is home to numerous varieties of birds of prey and the knowledgeable staff provide scheduled flight demonstrations that are sure to wow. The center also offers a unique perspective on the Lowcountry ecosystem neighboring Francis Marion Forest.
See the Oldest Tree in the Southeast
Down a dirt road on Johns Island—30 minutes from downtown—sits a 400-year-old tree that is beloved by all who see it. Angel Oak covers 17,200 square feet and stands 66.5 feet tall. It’s considered one of the oldest living things in the United States and it’s completely free to see it.
Buy a Sweetgrass Basket at the Four Corners of Law
One of the enduring legacies of Charleston being the so-called “Ellis Island” of slavery are the traditions of those enslaved people still present today. One such tradition is the craftsmanship of sweetgrass baskets, incredible woven works of art made by men and women who can trace their lineage back to the first slave ships. These baskets are still for sale throughout the market and at Charleston’s “Four Corners of Law” located where Meeting and Broad Streets intersect.
Catch the Sunset at Vendue
For a peninsula, Charleston has surprisingly few waterfront restaurants. That’s why a seat at the Rooftop at Vendue around sunset is a great find. The downtown hotel has a beautiful rooftop bar with vistas that stretch from the Ashley to Cooper rivers and beyond. From this vantage point, take in the Holy City’s namesake steeples as the sun sets over the city.