- Where to eat and drink in Charleston
- Getting to and around Charleston
Founded in 1670, Charleston, South Carolina is one of the oldest cities in the United States. It is also one of the best preserved; Visitors will feel like they have taken a step back in time as they stroll the quaint cobblestone streets and admire the colorful pre-war houses.
Charleston, a consistent winner of Best City in the United States and even Best City in the World, has a lot to offer for such a small city. A delicate balance has been struck between maintaining its historic identity while establishing a modern reputation for its culinary, arts and entertainment scenes. Oh, and don’t forget the beautiful surrounding beaches just a few miles away!
When to Visit Charleston?
There really isn’t a bad time of year to visit Charleston, but there are a few things to consider when choosing travel dates. The ideal travel time mainly comes down to personal preference, depending on how travelers feel about the heat and what activities are on the bucket list.
spring and autumn
From a purely climate perspective, these are perhaps the best times of year to visit Charleston. The weather is warm, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and only a sweater or light jacket is needed at night. Even the sea is a comfortable temperature in spring and fall to jump in and enjoy, but with much thinner crowds on the beach (and much less time sitting in traffic to get there).
Summertime in Charleston is lively and fun, but be warned: it’s muggy during the day. Temperatures are consistently in the 90’s and above, with an even higher heat index due to humidity. If you want to explore the city on foot, you should leave early in the morning or in the evening after sunset. Thankfully, Charleston is literally surrounded by water and there are plenty of places to cool off!
Winter temperatures remain fairly mild and comfortable until around December. January and February are generally the coldest months of the year, but temperatures rarely drop below the 40s at night and daily highs are in the 50s and 60s. Crowds are low and there are plenty of off-season discounts on accommodation and attractions. Winter is also a great time to snag an extended stay vacation rental in one of the surrounding beach communities. Monthly deals can often be worked out with owners or property managers at a huge discount.
Avoid College of Charleston graduation weekend (May) or the Cooper River Bridge Run weekend (April) unless you are actively participating in either. Traffic is severely hampered and overnight rates are high.
What to do in Charleston
Walking through historic downtown Charleston is an attraction in itself. Visitors can shop ’til they drop in the endless rows of art galleries and boutiques that line Lower King Street and the surrounding side streets. Here are a few other notable shopping suggestions:
- Charleston City Market: Spanning several city blocks, the historic market dates back centuries and is one of the premier local attractions. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m
- Charleston night market: Friday and Saturday evenings from March to December, over 100 talented artists selected through the application process will present their creations. All items are local and handmade.
- Charleston Farmers Market: The Marion Square Farmers’ Market in the heart of downtown Charleston offers fresh local produce, ready meals, art, textiles and more. Runs every Saturday from April to November, plus the first three weekends in December as a holiday market.
Charleston is also known for its thriving music and arts scene. There are several venues that host both up-and-coming local artists and well-known headliners. Research online and buy tickets in advance as venues are small and often sell out.
- music farm: Located downtown, an intimate spot that often attracts big names across many genres.
- Charleston Gießhaus: laid-back local favorite on James Island.
- Charleston Music Hall: A historic downtown building that hosts concerts, theater and dance in a formal setting.
- Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina at Patriot’s Point: a fun sand bar by the water; Catch the happy hour concert series every Friday from May to July.
Brush up on some history
The first shot of the Civil War was fired from Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, so the city is steeped in history. There are tons of informative walking tours (make sure you choose a licensed guide), or you can opt to hear your history lesson on a horse-drawn carriage. Visitors should also consider visiting at least one of the historic plantations to view the homes and gardens while learning about African American history and slavery.
Take advantage of Charleston’s beautiful weather
With its mild climate and close proximity to the water, Charleston is a wonderful place to enjoy the great outdoors year-round.
- Get on a boat: Since the city is surrounded by so much water, exploring by boat is a great option. The Charleston Sailing School offers hourly and daily yacht charters and powerboat rentals; Check out the colorful historic homes as you cruise through the harbor or cruise to Shem Creek and drop anchor at one of the many waterfront bars.
- Watch a baseball game: Charleston is home to its own popular minor league baseball team called the Charleston Riverdogs. The season runs from April to September and offers cheap beers and lots of fun. Bill Murray co-owns the team and often shows up at home games.
- go to the beach: There are three main Charleston beaches, each with its own unique vibe and personality. Explore the offshore islands of Isle of Palms, Sullivans Island and Folly Beach and decide which is your favorite!
Where to eat and drink in Charleston
This entire article could easily be dedicated to Charleston’s incredible culinary scene, as the city has long been a foodie’s paradise. Eating and drinking are a staple of any Charleston vacation. While there’s far too much to even scratch the surface, below are a few top picks for different tastes and budgets that have stood the test of time. Oh, and make sure to go to a local oyster fry if you’re visiting during oyster season (September to April)!
Classic upscale staples
- Hall’s Chophouse: a local institution known for its top-notch steaks.
- COWARDLY: Southern dining with a twist in an upscale setting by a James Beard Award-winning chef.
- muse: Cozy Italian restaurant and wine bar in a historic Charleston home.
- Peel: rotating menu of Fine Southern cuisine in a restored Victorian house.
- The Ordinary: A former bank provides a dramatic backdrop to this high-end seafood restaurant
Hip and trending
- Xiao construction biscuit: Asian fusion cuisine in a converted gas station.
- Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop: award winning and affordable kitchen in a converted garage.
- 167 raw: New England style oyster bar in the historic district.
- Barsa: Spanish tapas in a stylish lounge atmosphere.
- warehouse: Industrial-chic cocktail bar with changing menus made from fresh, local ingredients.
Favorite local dives
- recovery room: quintessential dive with the unusual title of world best-selling PBR beer.
- Moe’s Crosstown Tavern: Located downtown but north of the ‘Crosstown’, Moe’s is a local favorite, especially on half-price burger nights (Tuesdays).
- AC’s: cheap drinks and cheap food served late at night and early for brunch.
- The griffin: English pub style dive in the French Quarter. Loved by locals and tourists alike.
- Salty Mikes: Located on the waterfront of the Charleston City Marina, this pub has a great view!
Getting to and around Charleston
Charleston International Airport (CHS) is about 20 minutes from downtown, so flying is a convenient option. The city is also served by Amtrak, with trains arriving in North Charleston. Passengers can easily access downtown Charleston via ridesharing, taxis, or local buses.
If you are driving to Charleston, be sure to inquire about parking at the condo or hotel in advance. Space isn’t always available, and like any city, downtown parking can be a problem. Charleston is full of one-way streets, so read the signs carefully before turning. Rickshaws and pedicabs are cheap and efficient ways to get around the city. The guys (and gals) who drive them are a great source of local insight too!
Finally, watch out for floods. Because Charleston is a peninsula and barely above sea level, the city’s streets are often flooded at high tide, even on sunny days. If it rains, it can get even heavier. The locals are used to this scenario – follow their lead and don’t stress and definitely don’t drive. The water will recede pretty quickly, so just grab a drink and relax!