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. Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

    Garden/Arboretum

    A drive through a ½-mile-long live-oak alley draped in Spanish moss introduces you to this still-functioning plantation, the oldest of its kind...Read More

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  • 2. Charles Towne Landing

    Park (National/State/Provincial)

    There's plenty to see and do in this park marking the original 1670 settlement of Charles Towne, the first permanent European settlement in...Read More

  • 3. Edisto Beach State Park

    Beach–Sight

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

  • 4. Folly Beach

    Folly Beach | Beach–Sight

    Anchored by the Folly Beach Pier, this is the Lowcountry's most iconic summer playground. Head out early to avoid traffic if you're visiting...Read More

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  • 5. Fort Sumter National Monument

    Archaeological Site/Ruins

    Set on a man-made island in Charleston's harbor, this is the hallowed spot where the Civil War began. On April 12, 1861, the first shot of the...Read More

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  • 6. Kiawah Beachwalker Park

    Beach–Sight

    This county park about 28 miles southwest of Charleston has a wide beach at low tide, often ranked among the country's best. Stunningly beautiful...Read More

  • 7. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

    West Ashley | Garden/Arboretum

    Sprawling, beautiful Magnolia Plantation was established in the 1670s by Thomas Drayton after he moved from Barbados. The extensive garden—the...Read More

  • 8. Middleton Place

    West Ashley | Garden/Arboretum

    Established in the 1730s, Middleton Place was at the center of the Middleton family’s empire of rice plantations, which consisted of 63,000...Read More

  • 9. Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park

    Park/Playground

    Sprawling beneath the Ravenel Bridge, this beautifully landscaped green space invites lounging on the grass with views of Charleston Harbor...Read More

  • 10. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    Climb aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier—which contains the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum—as well as the destroyer USS Laffey...Read More

  • 11. South Carolina Aquarium

    Ansonborough | Zoo/Aquarium

    Get up close and personal with more than 5,000 creatures at this waterfront attraction, where exhibits invite you to journey through distinctive...Read More

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  • 12. The Battery

    South of Broad | Park/Playground

    During the Civil War, the Confederate army mounted cannons in the Battery, at the southernmost point of Charleston's peninsula, to fortify the...Read More

  • 13. Deep Water Vineyard & Firefly Distillery

    Wadmalaw Island | Winery/Brewery/Distillery

    Located in idyllic countryside 40 minutes from downtown Charleston, Deep Water's 48-acre property grows native muscadine grapes on Wadmalaw...Read More

  • 14. Drayton Hall

    West Ashley | House/Mansion/Villa

    Considered the nation's finest example of Palladian-inspired architecture, Drayton Hall is the only plantation house on the Ashley River to...Read More

  • 15. Edisto Beach

    Beach–Sight

    Edisto's south edge has 4 miles of public beach. At its western end, the beach faces St. Helena Sound and has smaller waves. There is beach...Read More

  • 16. Edmondston-Alston House

    South of Broad | House/Mansion/Villa

    In 1825, Charles Edmondston built this house in the Federal style on Charleston's High Battery. About 13 years later, second owner Charles Alston...Read More

  • 17. Folly Beach County Park

    Folly Beach | Beach–Sight

    The Folly River, the Stono River, and the Atlantic Ocean form the peninsula that comprises this palmetto-fringed park, 12 miles southwest of...Read More

  • 18. Fort Moultrie

    Museum/Gallery

    A part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, this is the site where Colonel William Moultrie's South Carolinians repelled a British assault...Read More

  • 19. 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

  • 20. Front Beach at Isle of Palms

    Beach–Sight

    If you want a singles scene and beach bars with live music and bikini contests, then this stretch of Isle of Palms is for you. Its string of...Read More

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