Things to do in Charleston
From sporting events to haunted walking tours, Charleston residents and tourists are never short on entertainment options. Whether organizing a family vacation to the Lowcountry or just planning a Saturday outing, here are few suggestions from seasoned Charlestonians.
Visit a Plantation
Bask in the Sun at the Beach
Take a break from the sizzling summer heat by cooling off in the soothing salt waters at one of Charleston’s tranquil beaches. Ranked one of the top ten beaches in the nation, Kiawah Island’s Beachwalker Park is quiet stretch of oceanfront and river views that is well known for its playful dolphins, who are frequently spotted playing near shore. The public portion of this beach features a lifeguard, restrooms, and outdoor showers. Another quiet beach is found at Edisto Island Beach State Park. Here, visitors can spend the day frolicking in the water, biking along the beach, basking in the sun, or they can spend several nights camping on the white sand. For a livelier atmosphere, partygoers enjoy Folly Beach, a funky little beach town east of James Island. Folly Beach is particularly popular for surfers, who enjoy riding gnarly waves at Washout Point near the Folly Pier. The town itself has a hippyish vibe and showcases swanky beach boutiques and fresh seafood restaurants such as Taco Boy, Rita’s, The Crab Shack, The Island Grill, and Blu at the Tides hotel. Folly has a vibrant nightlife as well with a few of the restaurants transforming into dance clubs and others featuring live music of all varieties. East of the Cooper, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms are both popular beaches for locals and visitors. On Sullivan’s Island, visitors park alongside residential houses and enjoy the wide oceanfront and white sand. To take a break from the sun, beachgoers walk over to Dunleavy’s, Poe’s Tavern, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, or The Obstinate Daughter for lunch or dinner. Nearby, Isle of Palms also offers wide beaches and fun bars and restaurants such as the Windjammer, Coconut Joe’s Beach Grill, Acme Lowcountry Kitchen, Seabiscuit, and Morgan Creek Grill. Isle of Palms County Park offers parking, restrooms, showers, playground, picnic area, beach access, and a guarded swim area.
Tour Historic Landmarks
Even most native residents have yet to explore all of Charleston’s historic landmarks as the list is exhaustive. However, in order to gain a full understanding of the Holy City’s storied and significant past, one must tour certain landmarks. In downtown Charleston, individuals should pay tribute to the High Battery, the Four Corners of Law, the Powder Magazine, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, the historic churches, and the South Carolina Historical Society. Next, patrons can peruse through Charleston’s City Market and admire the antebellum architecture of the Nathaniel Russell House, the Calhoun Mansion, the Edmonston-Alston Home and the Joseph Manigault house. Finally, new residents and visitors should head over to Mt. Pleasant and visit the USS Yorktown Submarine at Patriots Point and Fort. Sumter, the site where Citadel cadets fired the first shots to ignite the American Civil War. On Sullivan’s Island, individuals can explore Ft. Moultrie, a strong refuge built out of Palmetto logs that was used during the American Revolution and American Civil War. Other points of interest include Morris Island Lighthouse at Folly Beach, Charlestowne Landing in West Ashley and the Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island, a beautiful tree estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old!
Explore Educational Museums
For history buffs or art critics, exploring one of Charleston’s many museums is both educational and exhilarating. The Charleston Museum, located in the heart of the city on Meeting Street, features permanent exhibits such as Lowcountry History, a tribute to Native Americans and African Americans; Charleston Silver, an exhibit showcasing the quality craftsmanship; The Armory, a collection of guns and weaponry dating back to 1750; the American Revolution, a lesson on Charleston’s role during the war; and Kids Story, a hands on environment and movement area. The museum also has temporary exhibits and hosts renown curators. Additionally, the Charleston Museum offers kids programs, kids camps, and social events throughout the year. For Civil War enthusiasts, the Confederate Museum, also located on Meeting Street within the Market Hall, features Civil War artifacts and confederate treasures. Fort Sumter, located on a small island in Charleston's harbor, is where the Civil War began. Being only accessible by boat, tours to this historic national monument and museum happen daily from Liberty Square downtown or Patriot's Point in Mt. Pleasant. Art aficionados are drawn to the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street. Here, patrons have the pleasure of viewing unique displays and temporary works such as Still Life, Realm of Spirit, Whistler and Japonisme, and others. Permanent works include 18th and 19th Century American Paintings and Sculptures, 20th Century Charleston Renaissance, Portraits, and Modern and Contemporary Paintings. The Gibbes Museum also offers educational classes, seasonal events, and lectures with visiting artists. Recognizing the importance of art education and exposure at an early age, the Gibbes Museum proudly provides art and sculpture classes and camps for children. Even children who shy away from art will find something that suits their fancy at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Located near the Charleston Visitor Center on Ann Street, the Children’s Museum simultaneously sparks imaginative play, cognitive awareness, and critical thinking with its multi-sensory, kinesthetic play environment. During the week, the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry offers child-focused programs such as Mini Masterpieces, STEM Challenge, Baby Scholars, Dance Moves, Art Surprises, and Early Connections.
Burn Calories with Physical Activities
Because Charleston has relatively mild winters, residents are able to enjoy outdoor recreation year round. On the water, anglers navigate the canals for fresh fish, shrimp, oysters, and crabs. Local captains offer inshore and offshore fishing charters such as The Reel Deal, giving clients the opportunity to not only take in the beauty of Lowcountry tidal marshes and coastline, but also the privilege to take home and divulge into tasteful, fresh seafood. Also on the water, folks can get up close and personal with Charleston’s ecosystems by paddleboarding or kayaking down Shem Creek with Coastal Expeditions. In a more relaxing vein, couples can relax on a sunset cruise and tour of the Charleston Harbor while simultaneously learning the city’s history. Apart from the water, Charleston is well known for its nationally ranked golf courses such as the greens at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Daniel Island Golf Club, Bull’s Bay, and The Country Club of Charleston. Exercise enthusiasts enjoy jogging or walking the Ravenel Bridge, biking the Marrington Plantation Bike Trail in Goose Creek, climbing the faux rock walls at Coastal Climbing Gym in downtown Charleston, balancing on tight ropes at the Wild Blue Rope Course in James Island, jumping fearlessly at Sky Zone in Mt. Pleasant, or developing warrior skills at Velocity Air and Ninja Course in North Charleston. Children and parents are all smiles at Frankie’s Fun Park in Summerville or the Charleston Fun Park in Mt. Pleasant, both of which feature putt-putt courses, race cars, bumper boats, arcades, and more.
Enjoy an Evening of Music and Theater
Charleston is quickly becoming an epicenter for cultural events and live music. Actually, the city’s theatrical talent dates all the way back to 1736 with the opening performance of The Recruiting Officer at Dock Street Theatre, America’s oldest playhouse. Located in the historic French Quarter district downtown, Dock Street Theatre is home to Charleston Stage, a full production company that teaches stage crafting, acting, costuming, and directing. The recently renovated Gaillard Auditorium downtown, named for one of Charleston's past mayors, is a mainstay with locals for all kinds of civic events and performances including national and regional music acts, ballet, stand-up comedians and children's theater. Nearby, the Charleston Music Hall, a previous passenger station built in 1850 for the South Carolina Railroad, presents local and national musicians, theatrical performances, and renown speakers and presentations. For locals, the weekly bluegrass music at the Awendaw Green Barn Jam in Awendaw is soulful fix each Wednesday. The outdoor amphitheater hosts local bands and singer-songwriters and only requests a $5 donation at the door. The event is family-friendly, and four-legged members are welcome too. More popular entertainers and bands are generally scheduled at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center. Here, mega superstars and bands such as Adele, Miranda Lambert, and the Goo-Goo Dolls as well as shows such as Broadway’s Annie, Disney on Ice, and Monster Jam entertain thousands of Lowcountry residents.
Cheer on a Local Sports Team
The late theater critic Richard Gilman once explained that “being a sports fan is a complex matter, in part irrational but not unworthy; a relief from the seriousness of the real world, with its unending pressures and often grave obligations.” Certainly, escaping to a sports venue with friends and family is a special way to build camaraderie, make memories, and develop sportsmanship. The Charleston Riverdogs, a minor league baseball team co-owned by Bill Murray, is wildly popular for people of all ages. With its unusual marketing schemes and unique concession options, baseball fans enjoy the entertainment, the food, and - of course - the game. The Riverdogs play at Joseph P. Riley Stadium, a beautiful facility overlooking the Charleston Harbor. Soccer enthusiasts flock to the MUSC Health Stadium on Daniel Island to watch the Charleston Battery, a professional soccer team affiliated with the United Soccer League. During the summer, the soccer club hosts several camps and clinics for children and teens. Winner of the Kelly Cup Championship in 1997, 2001, and 2009, the Charleston Stingrays, a professional minor league hockey team incorporated in 1993, never fails to disappoint fans with intense, passionate play from its highly competitive team. Games are held at the North Charleston Coliseum, and the team practices at the nearby Carolina Ice Palace. On a collegiate level, Charlestonians enjoy cheering for the College of Charleston Cougars, the Citadel Bulldogs, and the Charleston Southern Buccaneers in a myriad of sports.
Check out Seasonal Events
As the weather changes so does Charleston’s calendar of events. The new year kicks off with the annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, a popular event housed at Boone Hall Plantation. In addition to bushels of steamed oysters, the event features live music, Lowcountry-inspired food options, and a children’s play area. The event benefits local organizations including Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, The Ronald McDonald House, and the Hollings Cancer Center. Beginning in February, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition showcases nature and wildlife with a three day celebration that draws in more than 40,000 attendees. The event encompasses original artwork, demonstrations, and conservation education, and it echoes the Charleston spirit of encouraging environmental responsibility.
Spring is in full bloom for the annual Flowertown Festival in Summerville, a three-day event usually held the last weekend of March or first weekend in April. In addition to celebrating the colorful azaleas, the festival features a farmer’s market, numerous artisans, live music, food, contests, and kids’ activities. The Cooper River Bridge Run, also held the first Saturday of April, is a 10k race with the primary objective to promote physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Runner and walkers alike enjoy the scenic trek and the wide array of activities and entertainment following the race. Another event that happens the first of April is the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island, a tennis tournament featuring the world’s most prominent, professional players.
The spring season closes with the notorious Spoleto Festival USA and complementary Piccolo Spoleto Festival , a three week cultural celebration that features international theatrical performances, dance troupes, writers, poets, musicians, singers, and artists. Famous opera singers, jazz musicians, and choral groups fill downtown Charleston with harmonic sounds while classical ballet and contemporary dancers as well as premier performances and playwrights take over Charleston stages. Vendors sell original artwork and craftsmanship pieces, valuable treasures that represent diverse heritages.
From April to November, the Charleston Farmer’s Market is open every Saturday from 8a.m. until 2 p.m. In addition to offering fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, the farmer’s market also sells local artwork, crafts, seagrass baskets, flowers, and homemade treats. The venue is held at Marion Square and patrons are able to enjoy food trucks, drinks, and live music while they shop. Other events that take place during the summer and fall include the Taste of Charleston, Charleston Home Tours, and Fall Tour of Homes, History, and Architecture, a special event hosted by the Preservation Society of Charleston.
The calendar year concludes with the annual Holiday Festival of Lights showcase, a magnificent showcase of lights and designs held at the James Island County Park. Patrons peruse through the ornate lights in their vehicles and then park and enjoy s'mores, hot chocolate, and holiday activities at Santa’s Village. Christmas shows, parades, and tree lightings are also signature holiday happenings.