Charleston's Best Attractions and Activities for Visitors and Locals Alike
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina! We're happy to have you, and whether it's for the week or just the weekend, you'll find that Charleston appeals to every traveler, every mood, and every appetite. The soul of Charleston is defined by its welcoming nature, conveyed in the demeanor of its residents, the warmth of its sunny weather, and the ease in which you can dive into the hometown community, even just for the weekend.
Charleston, South Carolina is the idyllic, historic city you've heard about, with an added bonus: a world-famous collection of entertaining attractions, activities, and culinary spoils that cater to families, couples, and travelers of all kinds. A visit to Charleston guarantees a fantastic vacation, with an unseen variety of options: catch some Carolina sun on Folly Beach, take the kids to the South Carolina Aquarium and Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, or stroll through time with a trip to Fort Sumter or a classic southern plantation at Boone Hall. Charleston's parks, markets, and cobblestone streets give the opportunity for days spent exploring this classic lowcountry city. From historic sites to sandy shores and centuries old fauna, Charleston is yours to explore!
You can't help but be surrounded by Charleston’s rich history, emanating from the antebellum mansions, ancient live oak trees, and gentile local residents. Why not take a step back in time to learn more of Charleston’s story by visiting historic forts or touring a traditional Southern plantation? Don’t worry about seeing it all this time - we know we'll see y’all again soon!
10 Children's Museum of the Lowcountry
The perfect activity for a rainy day, the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry can keep the little ones, from toddlers to age 10, occupied and fascinated at play for hours. Infants and toddlers even have their own special entertainment space with mini-slides and padded mats. Incite their creativity in the Art Room, with materials made from recycled egg cartons to plastic yogurt lids. Here, your kids can become buccaneers aboard the Pirate Ship and dress up as a prince or princess at the Medieval Creativity Castle. The laws of physics make for busy hands at Raceways, as you send golf balls racing down ramps and spiraling through chutes. (843-853-8962)
9 Angel Oak
This impressively massive live oak is believed to be more than 1500 years old, having survived many hurricanes earthquakes. The incredible heights stretch up 65 feet, with a trunk 25 feet in circumference, and twisting, crooked limbs that extend out over 160 feet, and provides shade over more than 17,000 square feet earth. Named for the family who once owned this John's Island property, the Angel Oak now occupies a public park tended by the City of Charleston. The Angel Oak is believed to be the oldest living thing this side of the Rocky Mountains, and is a truly beautiful piece of Charleston's natural history. (843-559-3496)
8 Charleston Farmers Market
The Charleston Farmers Market, held weekly each Saturday from 8am to 2pm April through December in Marion Square, is centrally located close to numerous restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and museums, as well as the College of Charleston. Start your weekend in Charleston off right at the Charleston Farmers Market with breakfast, brunch or lunch alongside live music, farm and gift vendors and local artisans. Parking is available in the Francis Marion Garage or on street, and the Charleston Farmers Market is 100% handicap accessible. What to bring: your camera, your family, the dogs, a reusable bag or two and your appetite! (843-724-7305)
7 Folly Beach
Folly Beach, nicknamed the 'Edge of America', is located on Folly Island, just over 10 miles down the coast from the downtown Charleston peninsula, and adjacent to the popular James Island residential neighborhood of Charleston. A day trip out to Folly Beach from downtown Charleston is a worthwhile excursion for every type of visitor and vacationer. Folly Beach offers the best of water sports activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing and even jet skiing. Those looking for more a relaxation experience can enjoy lounging beachfront, arrange for an ocean fishing charter, or explore the grounds of Folly Beach County Park. ((888) 279-8433)
6 Charleston City Market
The Historic Charleston City Market is perhaps the most visited destination in downtown Charleston. Always bustling with shoppers and sightseers, the City Market is open 365 days a year, and showcases local Charleston vendors, their unique wares and crafts, and casual and fine dining take-away fare. Stop by the Charleston City Market to pick up souvenirs, snack on local goods, or just to leisurely stroll and people watch. Charleston's famous sweet grass basket weavers can be found practicing their craft along the Market's open air stalls. The Market was constructed between 1804 - 1830, and originally used as a meat, vegetable, and seafood marketplace. ((843) 853-8000, (843) 937-0920)
5 Boone Hall Plantation
An iconic row of ancient live oak trees welcomes you to one of America's oldest living and working plantations, and one of the most famous plantations in the Southern states. The majestic Boone Hall Plantation, set on 783 acres and established in 1681, and opened to the public in 1956, has been the filming location for dozens of movies TV series with its historic buildings and old slave cabins still perfectly intact. Boone Hall offers guided tour group tours of the elegant house, a carriage tour of the grounds or self-guided tours through the slave quarters and the extensive gardens. (843-884-4371)
4 Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Located just across the river from downtown in Mt. Pleasant, Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore, all retired WW2 watercrafts now at home and at peace in the Charleston harbor. Open daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Patriot's Point is a unique way to experience life at sea aboard these ships during World War 2, and learn about the history and brave missions of their American crews. Expect sweeping views of the ships themselves, as well as panoramas of the Ravenel Bridge and Charleston peninsula. Spending Fourth of July in Charleston? Bring your folding chairs and flags to watch the fireworks above the USS Yorktown, alongside the harbor and several hundred other revelers. (843-884-2727, 866-831-1720)
3 Battery Park & White Point Gardens
Battery Park is the quintessential image of Charleston for most Holy City locals. Walking along East Bay Street, with the famous Battery mansions to one side, the Charleston harbor to the other, you'll be able to spot Ft. Sumter in the distance, and imagine the first shots of the Civil War that took place here in 1861. Over many centuries, the Battery has seen many wars, such as the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and was even the hanging grounds for famous pirate Stede Bonnet, among others. Here you are completely surrounded by the charms that Charlestonians love the most- antebellum historic homes, a view of the Ravenel Bridge across the harbor, and centuries old oaks alongside stately palmettos. (800-774-0006)
2 South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston's Aquarium brings visitors into the lowcountry coastal environment and its wildlife through touch tanks, two-story wall aquarium tanks, salt march aviaries, and educational tours and programs. Panoramic views of Charleston's harbor and Ravenel Bridge serve as a background to your aquarium visit. Display themes are classified into each of South Carolina's major geographic regions: Mountain Forest, Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and Atlantic Coast. A variety of songbirds, reptiles, like the Albino Alligator, and both salt and freshwater fish are at home in the SC Aquarium. The interactive touch tank and stingray tank invite children to hold horseshoe crabs and starfish, and feed shrimp to the aquarium's stingrays. (843-720-1990)
1 Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter, visible across the harbor from Waterfront Park and the Battery, is the famous site of the first shots of the Civil War. Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in April 1861, and became a Southern stronghold for most of the Civil War, even towards the end of the conflict. Fort Sumter is only accessible by water: daily ferries run informative shuttle trips back and forth, leaving from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square and Patriots Point, year round. Nearby Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, is also worth a visit for its historial value and involvement in the Civil War. The Visitor Education Center, with extensive historical information on both forts, is located at Liberty Square, on Concord Street in downtown Charleston. (843-881-7337, 800-789-3678)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.