Charleston

Bounded by the Ashley River to the west, the Cooper River to the east, the Battery to the south, and Calhoun Street to the north, the city's historic heart is a fairly compact area of 800 acres that contains nearly 2,000 historic homes and buildings. The peninsula is divided up into several neighborhoods, starting from the south and moving north, including the Battery, South of Broad, the Market area, and Upper King Street, ending near the "Crosstown," where U.S. 17 connects downtown to Mount Pleasant and West Ashley.

You'll see no skyscrapers in the downtown area, because building heights are strictly regulated to maintain the city's historic setting. In the 1970s, most department stores decamped for suburban malls, turning King Street buildings into rows of (architecturally significant) empty shells. Soon, preservation-conscious groups began to save these beauties, and by the mid-1980s the shopping district was revived with the addition of the Omni Hotel (now Belmond Charleston Place). Big-name retailers quickly saw the opportunity in this attractive city and settled in as well. Lower King thrives and Upper King is booming, with many new businesses—hip bars and restaurants in particular—targeting the city's young, socially active population. Look up at the old-timey tile work at the entrances; inevitably it will have the names of the original businesses.

Beyond downtown, the Ashley River hugs the west side of the peninsula; the region on the far shore is called West Ashley. The Cooper River runs along the east side of the peninsula, with Mount Pleasant on the opposite side and Charleston Harbor in between. Lastly, there are outlying sea islands: James Island with its Folly Beach, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Isle of Palms, and Sullivan's Island. Each has its own appealing attractions, though Johns and Wadmalaw have farms instead of beaches. Everything that entails crossing the bridges is best explored by car or bus.

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  • 1. Charles Towne Landing

    West Ashley | Zoo/Aquarium

    This off-the-radar gem of a park (and zoo) marks the site of the original 1670 settlement of Charles Towne, the first permanent European settlement...Read More

  • 2. Cypress Gardens

    Garden

    Explore the inky swamp waters of this natural area in a flat-bottom boat, or walk along paths lined with moss-draped cypress trees, azaleas...Read More

  • 3. Edisto Beach State Park

    Beach

    This 1,255-acre park includes a 1½-mile-long beachfront with some of the area's best shelling, marshland, and tidal rivers as well as a lush...Read More

  • 4. Middleton Place

    West Ashley | Historic District/Site

    Established in the 1730s, Middleton Place was at the center of the Middleton family’s empire of rice plantations, where they enslaved 3,500...Read More

  • 5. Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary

    Nature Preserve/Wildlife Refuge

    Boardwalks and hiking, biking, and canoe trails weave through this lovely 600-acre park lorded over by ancient cypress and tupelo trees. One...Read More

  • 6. Francis Marion National Forest

    Forest

    Pack a picnic and your fishing poles, or hit the hiking, biking, horseback-riding, and motorbike trails in 260,000 acres of swamps, lakes, oaks...Read More

  • 7. Mount Pleasant Palmetto Islands County Park

    City Park

    With an observation tower, paved nature trails, and boardwalks extending over the marshes, this 943-acre park offers a day full of family fun...Read More

  • 8. Old Santee Canal Park

    City Park

    Four miles of boardwalks and unpaved paths take you through Biggin Swamp and along the last portion of the country's first true canal, constructed...Read More

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