With springtime just a few short weeks away, this is a perfect time to think about booking a trip to Charleston, SC. Cause let me tell ya, if you’ve been putting off vacationing here, you need to think twice because there is SO much to do (and see) in Charleston! And, to be really transparent, there’s so much a taste in Charleston too! If you’ve been following my city guides on Instagram for awhile now, you know that I’m a foodie, and one of the first things I do when preparing to visit a new location is research the local food scene. And of course, shopping and beaches. Naturally, I’ve had a lot of people ask me to write a Charleston SC city guide. So let’s dive into all the things you can discover and do in Charleston, because whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, it’s a place you’re definitely gonna want to re-visit often!
Charleston SC What To Do
So let’s start with the obvious, and that’s the historic areas in Charleston that are a must-see. From cobblestone streets, to horse-drawn carriages, to old southern mansions, you’ll find yourself drawn to this city’s charm. It was originally settled by Europeans in 1670, making it one of the oldest cities on the eastern coast, and you can views some of the earliest built homes south of Broad Street.
Charleston SC City Guide
Before I dive into what to do in Charleston, SC it’s important you know that Charleston itself is pretty small compared to other cities, and can be explored in as little as one day, but I recommend staying for at least 3 days to really take it all in. Aside from the city itself, the area’s around Charleston, SC — Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach, are all worth a trip to as well! So if you can, try to visit in the spring, summer or fall and stay for a long weekend (or a week if possible) in order to explore all of surrounding beaches and islands too!
South of Broad
OK, so let’s chat about South of Broad, because this is a neighborhood in Charleston SC that you don’t want to miss! I personally walk through this neighborhood everyday, and can honestly say I’ve never taken the same route! It’s a neighborhood south of Broad Street that is bursting with old southern mansions, immaculate European gardens, horse-drawn carriages, colorful homes, cobblestone streets and wrought-iron fences. It’s not to be missed, and you can travel through this neighborhood by taking a horse-drawn carriage, by foot, or bicycle if you’re staying at any of the Inn’s south of Broad Street. There’s plenty of parking along East Battery Street and throughout the streets south of Broad Street. Just be prepared and bring a camera because the garden views and architecture you’ll see are captivating! In fact, you’ll likely see 2-3 professional photoshoots happening throughout these streets as well as tv and film crews, it’s really a charming location!
Battery Park (also known as White Point Garden) is a very popular park located at the tip of Charleston, on the Ashely river. It filled with beautiful angle oak trees, park benches and antique street lights, making it a very popular spot (again) for sunset photoshoots and casual picnics. You’ll probably also see some cute dogs roaming around and may even spot some dolphins splashing around in the water from the boardwalk if you’re lucky!
Rainbow row is an area just south of Broad Street on East Battery Street. Walking by you’ll see historic townhomes painted in an assortment of colors, from pink to purple to everything in between! It kind of reminds me of the colorful bungalows you’d see in Key West, FL, but much more elegant and understated. Rainbow Row is just a short walk from the Pineapple Fountain, which is a gorgeous fountain shaped like, you guessed it — a pineapple! It sits along the Ashley river inside Joe Riley Waterfront Park, another tree lined park with views of Ashley river, John’s Island and Mount Pleasant in the distance.
Charleston SC — King Street
Now, if you love shopping, a trip to Charleston SC would not be complete without spending an afternoon shopping along King Street! There you’ll find a mix of boutiques, brand name stores and antique shops nestled among some of Charleston’s favorite restaurants. One thing I will say is that if you plan to eat at any of the restaurants while you shop on King Street, make a reservation because they are some of the most popular dining spots in the city and book up fast. But as far as Charleston SC shopping goes, King Street is a must-see, and considering there aren’t any traditional malls in the area, you’ll find pretty much everything you’re looking for there — along with a lot of unique items at the charming boutiques and antique stores!
Charleston SC Restaurants — Downtown
OK so this Charleston SC city guide would not be complete without a list of restaurants to try while you visit! And if you’re a foodie like me, Charleston SC restaurants downtown are some of the hottest in the nation. Again, get reservations because they book quick.
- Butcher & Bee — This is a very popular Middle Eastern-influenced lunch and dinner spot with fresh, local produce, southern dishes, pastries, and mouth-watering apps.
- The Darling Oyster Bar — A King Street favorite, seafood lovers can sit and watch local shuckers prepare thousands of East Coast oysters every day, and the craft cocktail’s are insanely good too.
- Clerks — If you’re in the mood for coffee, Clerks is a go-to! Plus, they have fresh-baked pastries, biscuits and a variety of tasty breakfast dishes.
- Poogan’s Porch — This local favorite is located in an old home built in 1891 and is named after a sweet dog the residents left behind, so his name lives on forever inside this insanely delicious restaurant which happens to serve food that’s the closest many of us will ever get to having a southern grandma who’s a great cook. Think fried green tomatoes and blackened catfish.
- Poogan’s Smokehouse — From slow-smoked BBQ to the BEST MAC N CHEESE you’ll ever taste, Poogan’s smoky dishes are undisputedly southern and not to be missed.
- Miller’s All Day — A must-try breakfast spot on King Street. No matter the time of day (but before 3pm)!
- Vicious Biscuit — This should honestly be a top priority tbh! There are a few other biscuit spots in Charleston, but this on is by far the best (and most popular) so get there early or get comfortable waiting in line — but trust me, the wait is flippin’ worth it 😋 The biscuits are insanely delicious.
- Basic Kitchen — One of my fave’s for clean eats! This bright and airy spot is very popular for crave-worthy clean eats and cocktails galore. 🥂
- Husk — This is one of Charleston’s most iconic restaurants downtown, and became one of the South’s most buzzed-about restaurants after it was featured on Season 6 of Chef’s Table. It’s a must-try and has other locations in Nashville, Savannah, and Greenville! This location is the OG and is housed in a white mansion on Queen Street. The dishes are Southern-focused and crafted around ingredients sourced exclusively from the south.
- Leon’s Oyster Shop — No trip to Charleston is complete without a stop at Leon’s Oyster Shop. The beer is cheap, the vibe is chill, the champagne is fancy and locals LOVE it. You’ll obviously wanna go for the oyster’s, but the fried chicken is also some of the best in the city.
- 167 Raw — Everything at 167 Raw is so delicious and fresh, and it’s easily one of the best seafood restaurants in Charleston! It’s a sister location to the original 167 Raw in Nantucket, so it’s close to home for me and I can’t recommend it enough! It’s located on East Bay Street and serves lobster rolls, tuna burgers, sea-scallops, po’boys and more! Don’t miss it, especially if you’re visiting from New England!
- F.I.G. — Whose name is an abbreviation for “Food Is Good”, is hands down one of the best fine dining restaurant in Charleston. This James Beard Award-winning restaurant is so popular that you should probably stop reading and go make a reservation right now.
- The Obstinate Daughter — Located at Sullivan’s Island just a short drive from downtown Charleston, here you’ll find delicious wood-fired pizza, oysters on the half shell, gnocchi with short rib rage, heaps of pasta, fresh seafood, and crave-worthy cocktails in the cutest nautical-themed dining room. It’s open for brunch, lunch and dinner.
- Grace & Grit — Located a short drive from downtown Charleston, in Mount Pleasant, SC Grace & Grit (see image below) is popular for well…grits! You’ll find everything from pimento cheese, truffle, jalapeno cheddar, smoked bacon, and many, many more. Non grits lovers can get biscuits or a variety of egg dishes.
- Acme Lowcountry Kitchen — This Isle of Palms staple is a local favorite, even more so now that Frank Kline has taken over as chef. Acme combines upscale, yet casual elements of traditional coastal cuisine with classic dishes and I personally take all my friends and family there when they visit. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe it! 😋
- Rodney Scott’s BBQ — BBQ lovers should definitely make it a point to stop here. The chef is Rodney Scott’s from Top Chef and this super popular BBQ joint is THE place to go for pulled pork, ribs, and rib-eye sandwiches in Charleston SC. It’s also a popular spot for fried catfish!
Charleston SC 5 Star Hotels
If Charleston is known for anything outside of its beautiful gardens, historic southern mansions, and delicious fine dining, it’s that Charleston SC 5 star hotels are rated some of the best in the nation. Here’s a few of my favorites!
- Belmond Charleston Place — Where Southern charm meets timeless elegance. This hotel combines elegant design with a warm Southern charm and is consistently ranked among the best hotels in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines.
- Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina — This waterfront resort on the Charleston Harbor has a full-service marina, spa, 3 restaurants, fitness center, & 3 pools.
- Emeline — The hotel is full of charm, so take your time to explore it. It’s located north of the historic open-air market, yet still feels very private and luxurious, especially on the higher floors and within the bi-level townhouse-style rooms opening to the courtyard. It’s also within walking distance of countless restaurants, including F.I.G. and Husk.
- Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston — This boutique hotel is in the heart of the historic district, and features an exclusive rooftop bar, popular wine-blending experience, outdoor wine bar and art gallery.
- HarbourView Inn — This refined waterfront retreat is in the heart of historic downtown with a private rooftop terrace and exquisite views of the harbor, city skyline, and waterfront park. Not to be missed!
- Hotel Bennett — Located at Marion Square and King Street, the Hotel Bennett is a luxury hotel situated at one of Charleston’s most iconic neighborhoods with a two-tiered restaurant, patisserie, rooftop dining, and elegant bar. Formerly the Charleston County Library and The Citadel, this historic property was completely redesigned to create an authentically southern, world-class retreat.
- John Rutledge House Inn — This hotel was voted #1 hotel in Charleston by Travel & Leisure magazine and dates back to 1763. It was originally built as a wedding gift from John Rutledge for his bride, but also happens to be a place where portions of the U.S. Constitution were drafted. It’s stately and luxurious and just steps from King Street.
- Kiawah Island Golf Resort — This is a premier luxury beach resort near Charleston, SC on Kiawah Island along the island’s coastline. On the agenda: self-pampering spa days, fine dining, tennis, kayaking, and world-class golf.
- Planters Inn —Planters Inn is an landmark luxury boutique hotel that combines elegant southern style with contemporary sophistication — and reader’s of Travel & Leisure have ranked it the #1 US boutique hotel. It’s located in the heart of the historic district.
- The Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina — This resort was voted #1 Resort in South Carolina by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards and named one of the Best Hotels in the World by Fodor’s Travel! So, you can imagine your stay at this resort will be memorable! You can soak up the sun or lounge in a private cabana by the sparkling pool, enjoy a relaxing massage at the estuary spa and take the Charleston Water Taxi from the marina to the historic downtown area for a day of exploring.
- The Dewberry Charleston — This mid-century modern stunner has an elevated and elegant vibe but it’s also fun and not too fussy. Originally an abandoned federal office building it’s been transformed into a luxe 155-room hotel with outstanding service and positions itself as “Southern reimagined”, with impeccable attention to detail and design.
- The Restoration — The Restoration is more than a boutique hotel, it’s an unforgettable experience. Located on iconic King Street, The Restoration is at the center of it all and elegantly blends classic design with a charming southern touch, exceeding the luxury traveler’s highest standards by any means.
- The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island — A short 21 mile drive from downtown Charleston, this elegant resort is located on a luxurious 10-mile stretch of private beach and is home to 5 championship golf courses, 24 tennis courts and 6 pools.
- The Spectator Hotel — This boutique hotel is beautifully designed, has a very sophisticated bar, and is just steps from Charleston’s historic market. It has a vintage elegance, is in a perfectly central location, the rooms are bright and airy and it has a fabulous 1920s glam vibe with a contemporary twist. Not to be missed!
- The Vendue — The Vendue is the first and only hotel in Charleston dedicated to the arts – in all forms. It’s comprised of 2 upscale boutique hotels nestled within 7 warehouse buildings dating back the 1780s.It’s located on East Bay Street, just steps from all the shopping, dining and sight-seeing you could imagine. Inside you’ll find captivating art displays and panoramic city views from the rooftop.
- Wild Dunes Resort — This Isle of Palms resort is an award-winning oceanfront paradise offering golf, tennis, spa, paddleboarding, fine dining and miles of pristine beach. Inside this resort you can choose from 3 inn’s to entire residential vacation homes. While it’s a 30 minute drive from downtown Charleston, it’s worth a stay if you enjoy being oceanside.
- Wentworth Mansion — Originally built as an opulent 19th-century private residence in historic Charleston, Wentworth Mansion is one of the world’s finest and most unique inns with Italian crystal chandeliers, hand-carved marble fireplaces, gracious hospitality, and luxurious amenities.
- Zero George — From lush guest rooms to cozy piazzas, Zero George redefines luxury in the holy city within this impressively restored circa-1804 building! It’s understated, authentic elegance makes it a hidden gem in Charleston, and I can’t recommend staying here enough!
Charleston SC Visitors Guide
As you can tell, there’s never a dull moment in Charleston, SC. Hopefully you learned a lot from this Charleston SC visitors guide! From the celebrity chefs and onslaught of amazing dining experiences to the exquisite 5 star hotels in Charleston, to the charming boutique shopping on King Street to the pristine beaches along the coast, there truly is something for everyone in Charleston. Whether you’re a history buff or simply need a long weekend away to relax and rejuvenate your soul, this city will not disappoint. Just be prepared to for some walking, unique shopping, causal beach days and unforgettable dining! And of course, come back often because there’s always new restaurants, stores, spas and hotels opening for you to experience another time!
More Travel Guides
Interested in reading some more city guides? Make sure to chick here next to read up on some of my favorite places to travel!