Dating all the way back to the late 1600s, Charleston is one of the oldest settlements in America — and it’s as rich with modern-day to-dos as it is with vibrant history. Well known as a foodie haven as well as a southeastern cultural Mecca, there’s so much to see, do, and explore in Charleston, SC.
Why We Love to Travel
From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
Benefits of Traveling Locally
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
- More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and local parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
- Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
- Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
- Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
- More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being close by definitely has its benefits.
Explore Local: Charleston, South Carolina
In our opinion, exploring a town’s local gems is the best way to get a real sense of life there… and that goes for long-term residents, too. Whether you’re born and raised, a recent migrant, or even just a visitor, it’s easy to overlook some of Charleston’s best attractions when there are simply so many of them!
We put together this post to help people learn about the best places to explore in Charleston, South Carolina, no matter their circumstances. Maybe you’ve got a big family, or maybe you’re a young adult exploring with friends or roommates. Maybe you’re taking the world on solo — but no matter what, you’ve got some incredible things to discover here in Chucktown. Read on to learn all about them!
State Parks in Charleston
When you’re not partaking in the city’s fine dining, nightlife, or local history, you can be meandering through some of the most idyllic and scenic landscapes this side of the Mississippi. Here are some of the best state and national parks near Charleston, SC to add to your itinerary of things to do.
- Colonial Dorchester State Historic Park offers visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience archaeology in real-time. The remains of this town, which dates back to the late 1600s, is visible and available for guests to visit — which means you “can stand below the towering remains of the brick bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, catch a glimpse of a log wharf during low tide or view the fort made of an oyster-shell concrete called tabby,” according to the park’s website.
- Edisto Beach State Park is located just 50 miles away from downtown Charleston along a gorgeous stretch of South Carolina coast. But the beach itself isn’t the only reason to make this worthy weekend getaway — this state park is also home to South Carolina’s largest network of ADA-accessible hiking and biking trails, making adventure truly accessible for the whole family.
- Givhans Ferry State Park is situated at the end of the Edisto River kayak and canoe trail, a 23-mile-long stretch of the river that begins at Colleton State Park. Along with river access, this state park offers a natural trail, shaded campsites, and picnic areas for day use and enjoyment.
- Huntington Beach State Park is a bit further north than Edisto, requiring a drive of an hour and a half each way. But those who make the trek will be rewarded not only by more seashell-laden beaches, but also by sea turtles, maritime birds, alligators, and a Moorish castle dating back to the 1930s.
- Myrtle Beach State Park is nestled in the crook of the city of the same name — otherwise known as one of South Carolina’s biggest tourist attractions. Although the crowds are not insignificant, this stunning seaside park is worth it, with generous full-hookup campsites, close proximity to the town’s amusements, and more.
- Congaree National Park is often overlooked in the scope of American national parks, but South Carolinians know it’s a hidden gem. Home to one of the oldest stands of hardwood trees in the east — and mercifully spared by the lumber industry — Congaree is filled with scenic walks through marshlands, forests, and more.
Best Hiking Trails
Although there’s no shortage of state parks to explore, you don’t even have to go that far into the wilderness to find some excellent strolls in South Carolina. Here are some of the best hiking trails in Charleston, SC.
The Magnolia Gardens amble is a 3.5-mile loop that sees almost no elevation gain (as you’d expect; this is South Carolina, after all). You’ll see sweeping swamp landscapes, gorgeous wildflowers, Spanish-moss-strewn oak canopy, and more.
West Ashley Greenway
A long and meandering trail that would measure more than 15 miles altogether if taken out and back in its entirety, the West Ashley Greenway is a Charleston-area trek that works great for some quick post-work exercise or for a long afternoon’s worth of strolling. A portion of the trail is paved, as well, making it a good option for those pushing wheelchairs or strollers.
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site Trail
Charles Towne Landing is already a must-visit, especially if you’ve got kids in tow. But along with its ample museum and other historical exhibits, this park offers a great opportunity for a relaxing walk in the sunshine — to the tune of about two miles all told, if you walk the Charles Town Landing State Historic Site Trail in its entirety.
James Island County Park Trail
Open year-round and featuring beautiful lakeside views, the James Island County Park Trail winds more than three miles round trip, though it’s enjoyable enough you won’t feel like you’ve walked more than fifty feet. Park admission is $2 per person, though Gold Pass members and children two and under get in for free.
Low Battery Trail
Whether it’s a quick run to get amped up for the rest of your adventure or a more relaxing and rejuvenating afternoon stroll, Low Battery Trail is a great place to get out and take in some fresh air. It’s peaceful, scenic, and only two miles in its entirety, so you can enjoy it even if you don’t have much time to spare.
Best Restaurants in Charleston
If all the exploring there is to do in South Carolina has left you hungry — that’s a good thing. Charleston is well-known for its ample and thriving foodie scene, and below, we’ve gathered some of the best restaurants in town for your consideration!
When it comes to date night, there’s nothing quite like a hearty Italian meal to do it right… and if you’re looking for hearty Italian in Charleston, you’re looking for Wild Olive. Considered one of the best restaurants in town of any variety, this old country kitchen serves up favorites in a comforting and classic atmosphere. Buon appetito!
It’s just not the south without southern comfort food… and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Workmen’s Cafe. Opened to feed, as its name suggests, working men such as those with jobs in construction, anyone can appreciate the hearty and delicious meals served at this no-frills eatery, such as pork chops, chicken, collard greens — and perhaps most importantly, cornbread.
Santi’s Restaurante Mexicano
Having been open for almost two decades now, Santi’s Restaurante Mexicano has become a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike — anyone looking for fresh, authentic, and spicy fare to add to their itinerary. Enjoy classic dishes like tacos al pastor and burritos, but if you really want a taste of what makes this place unique, order the Mama’s Specialty, a comforting chicken soup served alongside two delicious beef-filled tortillas.
If the best Asian food in the south is what you’re after, and sushi is one of your favorites, Shiki‘s got you covered. The longest-operating sushi bar in the city, this place offers fresh and delicious nigiri, sushi rolls, sashimi, and more, as well as hot entrees like teriyaki and katsu. (Hey, there’s always that one person along for the meal who isn’t so sure about raw fish!)
The Gathering Cafe Restaurant
Food can have a conscience and still be downright delicious — that’s the premise behind The Gathering Cafe Restaurant, a Charleston institution in West Ashley. A vegan-friendly joint with plant-based favorites ranging from salads and wraps to pizza and mac-and-cheese, you’ll find plenty of options for even the pickiest, most carnivorous eaters.
Fun Things to Do in Charleston
You’ve gotten a dose of vitamin D and enjoyed a delicious meal. But your Charleston adventure is just getting started! Here are some of the top things to do and places to explore in Charleston, SC, for singles, couples, families, and everyone in between.
For Kids and Families
Got some little ones along for the adventure? That works out — because Charleston is chock-full of fun things to do for visitors and residents of all ages. Here are some of our favorite things to do in Charleston with kids.
Charles Towne Landing
No experience of Charleston is complete without an understanding of the important role this place played in America’s history. Charles Towne Landing, located on the site of the original English settlement back in 1670, offers a fun and informative look into how the city came to be what it is today — and its influence on America as a whole.
South Carolina Aquarium
With more than 10,000 animals calling it “home” and a tank of more than 385,000 U.S. gallons in capacity, the South Carolina Aquarium is a sight to behold no matter how old (or young) you are. You’ll encounter everything from trout to tiger sharks!
Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
Children’s museums are special places, offering a unique combination of education and entertainment by way of hands-on exhibits that the whole family will want to dive into. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is no exception, inviting diverse families to come and experience its ability to spark imagination and stimulate curiosity.
Alright, so there are tons of amazing things to do in Charleston during the day. But do the sidewalks roll up once darkness falls?
Hardly. Here are some great options for those looking for some after-hours fun.
Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Tour
A variety of carriage companies offer custom guided tours through the city’s historic streets, both by day and by night. Kid-friendly tours are available, but you can also find more romantic options. Some folks have even been known to propose while onboard!
Go for a Moonlit Paddle
If you haven’t tried stand-up paddleboarding yet… well, what are you waiting for? And yes, we’ve got this one in the right section — you can take to the waters at night, too! Water Dog Paddle Company offers special sunset and full moon paddle tours, as well as rentals you can take out any ol’ time you like. And yes, as if we need to point this out… this is definitely one of the best things for couples to do in Charleston!
Cheap and Free Things to Do in Charleston
We get it: you want to get familiar with town, but you don’t want to spend your children’s college fund to do it. Read on to learn about some of the best cheap things to do in Charleston, including some totally free options.
Enjoy the Charleston Gallery Association Art Walks
Taking place on the first Friday in March, May, October, and December, the Charleston Gallery Association Art Walks are a wonderful way to get better acquainted with the city. With more than 40 galleries participating, there are plenty of places to pick up a map, and then you can create a DIY tour as you traipse through town to gaze and partake in light refreshments.
Visit Angel Oak
A sprawling live oak tree located on Johns Island, the Angel Oak is more than 1,500 years old… which means, yes, it’s seen a lot of stuff. Bring a picnic and sit underneath to add a small part of your story to this tree’s fascinating history, or just marvel at its sheer size: it measures about 65 feet high and almost 26 feet (!!) in circumference, offering more than 1700 square feet of shade. (That’s way bigger than some downtown Charleston apartments!)
Meander Battery Park and White Point Gardens
You likely already know that Battery Park played an important role in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars — but it’s also a fine place to take an afternoon sunshine stroll, completely free of charge. Meander under the shade of ancient oaks and palmetto palms, and once you work up an appetite, head to Broad Street for a pastry or a sandwich.
Spas in Charleston
Need some TLC? Who doesn’t? Here are some of the best day spas in Charleston for those looking to get their relaxation on.
Elyon Boutique Spa
In need of a restful massage, rejuvenating facial, or just a quick wax? Elyon Boutique Spa offers each and every one of these services, and many more, in a professional, comfortable environment — and at reasonable prices.
Maybe you’ve never heard of sugaring, but it’s the sweet answer to the usually not-so-sweet experience of hair removal — and Sweet 185 is all about this unique service. However, more is done here than body sugaring; they also offer massage, facials, brow and lash tinting, and more. In other words, it’s a sweet escape!
Best Gyms & Yoga Studios
Staying in shape is important, no matter what else is going on in your life. Whether you’re into lifting weights or holding asanas, here are the best gyms and yoga studios in Charleston to add to your weekly routine.
Big Work Fitness
Considered by many to be the #1 gym in Charleston, Big Work Fitness Factory is all about, well, big work… in service of the big results that work can get you. Open 24/7 and staffed with knowledgeable and motivating personal trainers, this place isn’t about frills — just fitness.
Charleston Power Yoga
Think yoga doesn’t count as a workout? Think again. One trip to Charleston Power Yoga will put that idea to bed once and for all, with class offerings based in the unique and well-regarded Baptiste Power Yoga method. It’s been voted the best yoga studio in town and is beloved by its faithful followers.
Indoor cycling has become something of a revolution — and at CHS Revolution, it’s easy to see why. One part workout and one part nightclub dance experience, these spin classes will leave you sweaty, smiling, and feeling better than you did when you got there.
Day Trips in Charleston
While there’s clearly no need to set off to a sister city in search of adventure, there are plenty of options if you choose to do so. Here are some great day trips to take from Charleston, SC as a home base.
Bee City Zoo
Located in the quaint town of Cottageville, South Carolina, the Bee City Zoo is a great opportunity for families looking to spend a fun day together. Originally known for its honey retail shop and tasting room, the location is also home to an interactive zoo!
In some ways, you haven’t really experienced the south if you haven’t been to Savannah. Known for its live oak, Spanish moss, historic squares, and chocolate, there’s no way not to enjoy your time in this charming southern gem of a town, which is just two hours from Charleston.
Note: some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Charleston that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Charleston? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.