Are you planning to visit Charleston, SC soon? It’s no surprise that families and couples are flocking to the South East coast for the summer. Charleston, South Carolina has been named the number 1 tourist destination IN THE WORLD by countless publications, including the most recent and reputable source, Travel + Leisure. And for good reason too. The city rankings are based on ratings from Travel + Leisure‘s readers on a variety of factors that include a destination’s landmarks, culture, cuisine, value, and more. Charleston is a history lover’s dream come true with its cobblestone streets lined with 18th- and 19th-century homes, copper gas lanterns, and horse-drawn carriages. Known for the beaches and Southern-style cuisine, the city has something to offer everyone.
So how would one decide what to see and what to do in a city seeped with charm and buzzing with excitement? After living here for 10 years and working with countless vendors as well as tourists, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Here is a compacted list of the TOP 10 sights to see/ things to do in Charleston, SC. Need some additional resources like where to stay and rentals for babies? CLICK HERE for vacation rental properties & baby furniture rentals.
Waterfront Park is a eight-acre park along approximately one-half mile of the Cooper River in Charleston, South Carolina. The location of the park, between Vendue Range to the north and Adger’s Wharf to the south, had historically been a center of maritime traffic with several wharves and shipping terminals. One of the peninsula’s most visited parks, it is a favorite of visitors and locals alike, offering breathtaking views of the Charleston harbor. A large rectangular lawn provides a great spot for picnics and sunning.Filled with old-fashioned park benches, and family-sized swings Waterfront Park makes a perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon together. Walkways are ideal for strolling, and two large fountains make for fantastic places for children to play, splash and cool off. One of which is shaped like a giant pineapple. In a city of true southern hospitality and charm, everyone knows that the pineapple is the ultimate symbol of welcome.
If you visit the park, be sure to take a stroll down the iconic Rainbow Row, as it is only walking distance from the park. Rainbow Row is the name for a series of thirteen pastel colored historic houses. It represents the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States. The houses are located north of Tradd St. and South of Elliott St. on East Bay Street, that is, 79 to 107 East Bay Street.
3. Historical Sights, Gardens + Plantations:
- Magnolia Gardens Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation has survived the centuries and witnessed the history of our nation unfold before it from the American Revolution through the Civil War and beyond. It is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry, and the oldest public gardens in America, opening its doors to visitors in 1870 to view the thousands of beautiful flowers and plants in its famous gardens.
- Middleton Place The Gardens, which Henry Middleton envisioned and began to create in 1741, reflect the grand classic style that remained in vogue in Europe and England into the early part of the 18th century. The efforts of the Middleton family led the Garden Club of America to describe Middleton Place in 1940 as the “most important and interesting garden in America.” It remains so to this day. It is a National Historic Landmark And America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens In Charleston, SC. The plantation, house museum, restaurant, and stable yards are open daily.
- White Point Garden White Point Garden is located in the heart of the historic district downtown along the battery. This park provides beautiful views of Fort Sumter and of the Charleston Harbor. It features lots of grass space, shaded by beautiful old oak trees. The park has a gazebo in the center and is lined with historical cannons.
- Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens Boone Hall plantation has been recognized as the #1 Plantation in the Charleston area according to USA TODAY 10BEST. Originated in 1681, Boone Hall has been a working plantation, continually growing crops for over 320 years. Best known for its moss-draped 3/4-mile Avenue of Oaks & original slave cabins, it symbolizes southern heritage and will take root in your memory for many years. Boone Hall offers a wide variety of tours designed to be both educational and entertaining for visitors of all ages.
- Charleston Tea Plantation Just a few miles south of the historic city of Charleston, the Charleston Tea Plantation is the home of American Classic Tea, tea grown in America. It is located on picturesque Wadmalaw Island in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Its grounds include 127 acres of Camellia Sinensis tea plants, a working Tea Factory and a charming Plantation Gift Shoppe.
- Patriots Point & Home of USS Yorktown Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, at the mouth of the Cooper River on the Charleston Harbor, across from Charleston. It is South Carolina’s most unique attraction and home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, the USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clagmore Submarine, various aircraft, the Vietnam Exhibit, and Medal of Honor Museum. With fresh exhibits, educational programming and other one-of-a-kind events, this museum experience is perfect for the whole family. On your way out, be sure to grab a bite at the Fighting Lady Cafe’, and swing by the gift shop for one-of-a-kind memorabilia.
4. Outdoor Activities:
- paddle boarding
- kayak rentals
- boat tours
- dolphin tours
Charleston Outdoor Adventures’ private location and launching site gives you direct access to marshes, creeks, tidal flats, and barrier islands where you can see a plethora of wildlife including dolphins, osprey, wading birds, and sea turtles. Owned by a professional family of guides and captains dedicated to leading trips through some of the most beautiful saltwater estuaries in South Carolina, they support and promote environmental education, stewardship, and conservation, while showing you a wild side to Charleston!
- City Market The City Market, or Centre Market, is a historic market complex in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. As one of the nation’s oldest public markets and the cultural heart of Charleston they feature several hundred artists, craftspeople, and entrepreneurs. No matter what time of day or season you plan to visit, there is something to see! The Charleston City Day Market operates from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily and The Charleston City Night Market operates from 6:30 – 10:30 p.m. on Friday & Saturday nights from April – December.
- Belmond Charleston Place Belmond Charleston Place is a luxury hotel located at the very heart of downtown Charleston with boutique shops on their ground floor. Whether you’re passionate about unique, locally owned stores or big-name brands, you’re sure to find Belmond Charleston Place a shopper’s paradise. When you are ready for a break, revel in the warmth of their Southern hospitality with sumptuous dining at the award winning and newly renovated Charleston Grill, as well as the Palmetto Cafe.
- LOCAL CUISINE: Peninsula Grill Renowned hotel eatery serving elevated Southern fare in a roomy, posh space. Sitting across the street from the City Market, Peninsula Grill has been a Charleston staple since 1997. With its great location tucked inside the luxurious Planter’s Inn, this Four-Star restaurant has the sophistication of an urban eatery without losing sight of its southern charm. Peninsula Grill at the Planters Inn is an upscale steakhouse and seafood restaurant that’s well known for their famous Ultimate Coconut Cake.
- FINE DINING: Halls Chop House Halls Chop House offers sizable cuts of beef & seafood served in elegant surrounds, and is known for its Sunday gospel brunch. This premier steakhouse on upper King St. in Charleston, SC offers Private Dining, Live music, bar, late night, Free Wifi, Vegan and Vegetarian options.
- AFFORDABLE: Five Loaves Five Loaves Cafe goes to great lengths to create a healthy, sustainable and more responsible menu and restaurant for their customers. They have mastered the fine art of the soup-and-sandwich combo, and that’s why there’s usually a line out the door at lunchtime. The rotating selection of half a dozen soups are made daily with fresh ingredients in a sparkling array of flavors. But Five Loaves is not your typical soup & sandwich place, but rather a gourmet eatery. All of their chicken is free range, all natural from Tanglewood farms. The beef is grass fed, hormone free, and straight from Meyers farm. They even use all fresh pasta made locally by Bertolini’s Fresh Pasta Company. With two locations, Mt. Pleasant, and Downtown Charleston, this underrated gem is the perfect spot for lunch or a sit down dinner that won’t break the bank!
- LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Mex 1 Coastal Cantina MEX 1 is not just food, it’s a lifestyle, providing their patrons with a full-
circle experience promoting daily balance & good food. Mex 1 is a casual Baja style, surf inspired Coastal Cantina offering up chill vibes, craveable tacos, fresh squeezed margaritas, and lots of tequila! Their indoor and outdoor seating (pet friendly outside) makes it the best place to cool down after a long day at the beach.
Ready to get your tan on?! You can’t enjoy the complete Charleston experience if you don’t pay a visit to one of its beautiful beaches while in town. Three public beaches are within a few minutes’ drive from downtown Charleston. Each is distinctly different from the others, and each offers its own special brand of Lowcountry fun and relaxation. Free-spirited Folly Beach, with its mix of beachcombers and bohemians, is the most laidback of the local island scene. Spend the day watching surfers line up in the Washout, an area on the east side of Folly, or opt for a more family-friendly beach like IOP or Sullivan’s. What all of the Charleston area beaches have in common is that the waters are generally gentle; the slope is very shallow (walk in a hundred feet and you might only be in water up to your knees); the surface is smooth (no coral, few shells) and the water is greenish-brown with limited visibility (not good for snorkeling). The gentle slope of the beach results in hugely varying tides – the difference between water coverage at low vs high tide can be 50 or more feet, and at lunar high tides some beaches might leave very limited beach space. It’s helpful to check tide tables and go out when it’s not high tide.
8. Tours and Activities:
What better way to explore the city than by taking a tour!? Being a city known for tourism and hospitality, Charleston is riddled with tour companies and tourist traps. But don’t be alarmed, we’ve explored the various options and compiled the best and most unique Charleston tours for you! Wether you are interested in learning about history, getting your fright on with a ghost tour, or advancing your photography skills with a walking workshop, Charleston offers it all!
- Walking photography workshop
- Big City Hunt
- Charleston ghost tours
- Charleston Harbor Tours
- Adventure sight seeing tours
The South Carolina Aquarium, located in Charleston, South Carolina, opened on May 19, 1989 on the historic Charleston Harbor. Leading the way to connect people with water, wildlife and wild places the SC Aquarium is a great place for the whole family. Fun, wonder and education come together at the South Carolina Aquarium, a home to more than ten thousand plants and animals including North American river otters, loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, great blue herons, owls, lined seahorses, jellyfish, pufferfish and more!
10. Angel Oak Tree
The Angel Oak tree is a Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) located in Angel Oak Park on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina. The tree is estimated to be 400