“Charleston is one of the best built, handsomest, and most agreeable cities that I have ever seen.” – Marquis de Lafayette
The Charleston Historic District
I’ve long held a high opinion of Charleston and must mention that bias coming courtesy of having close ties to the area. Some of my childhood was even spent living on nearby John’s Island, at my grandfather’s place and I can’t shake those memories of salt air, the laid-back atmosphere, and everything else that means “Charleston” to me. There are tons more people beyond me who love the Holy City, as evidenced by the crowds descending in droves to live and stay by those palmetto-lined streets, history, and an exquisite food scene. Now that we live one state over, I think it’s high time that I jumped in and shared one of my favorite parts—The Charleston Historic District—and just how I like to explore it from Upper King to the Battery.
The Historic District is easy to navigate and hardly as overwhelming as other big cities. It’s bike-friendly and easy on the feet as long as you’re ready to mingle with the crowds who’ve come for shopping and sightseeing. Parking can get tight and expensive, especially around the City Market and on busy weekends and holidays. Some garages charge flat daily rates but don’t allow multiple entries for short-term visitors. If you want to save money while seeing Charleston beyond the Historic District (see below), limit your trips back and forth and lump travel outside into one big day out.
King and Meeting Streets
—The Main Drag
It’s easy to get lost and find your way while walking around Charleston’s timelessly quaint avenues and side streets. King Street and Meeting Street are two of the main ones, filled with enough shops and historic markers to fill any traveler’s itinerary. Tour any of the city’s historic homes as I’ll mention in a minute, and you’ll learn more about Charleston’s history and the people behind it than any book ever could ever cover. The City Market was one of my favorite places to go as a child and though it’s changed quite a bit, I still enjoy walking through its busy food- and souvenir-filled halls.
Charleston Food—More than
Shrimp N’ Grits
The Charleston restaurant scene is more than shrimp n’ grits, though you should become familiar with that at least once. Kick back with a bloody mary and dine at Charleston’s finest restaurants, of which everyone has a recommendation. My personal favorites include The Ordinary on Upper King, whose outstanding raw bar will wow you long before you receive a dish that’s excellently presented. Low Country Bistro on South Market Street served my favorite shrimp n’ grits, with an interesting take of adding tomato paste to it—call me crazy. Hominy Grill on Rutledge Avenue had me sold soon after digging into their chicken and waffles. Just get in early or prepare to wait, as these places’ reputations mean you might have to wait during busy hours.
Historic District Things to See and Do
Book a room with a high-enough view of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in the mornings before you head out for the day. Walk down East Bay Street and veer toward the waterfront for a look at that iconic Pineapple Fountain that adorns many visitors’ Instagram feeds. Rainbow Row’s colorful pastel houses line East Bay Street right before the Battery, where you can walk around and look out toward Fort Sumter. Tours to that important point in American History can be arranged from Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston and Mount Pleasant. I’m also partial to Charleston’s historic buildings like the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, the churches that have stood tall for so long, and homes like the Nathaniel Russell or Edmonston-Alston houses.
Plantations and Beaches
Beyond the Historic District
Even though there’s plenty to see inside the Historic District, look beyond it and try to see more of Charleston. Drive through the marshy and oak-lined plains through the Historic Ashley River Corridor and tour homes like Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, and get a feel for the Old South. Boone Hall Plantation and its avenue of oaks are known as America’s most photographed plantation but I’ll let you be the judge. Don’t forget that Charleston has some wonderful beaches. The main ones (Folly, Sullivan’s Island, and more) are reachable by car but if you make friends with someone who has a boat and some local knowledge, you’ll be fortunate enough to find a picturesque island for swimming, fishing, or just hanging out by the water for the day.
Bill Murray Sightings
The only thing left to say about Charleston is that you are also heading to Bill Murray’s adopted home, and anyone you ask will attest to seeing him. He’s part owner and “Director of Fun” of the Charleston Riverdogs so if you’re in town during baseball season, look for him there. Otherwise, keep your eyes and ears open for a sighting of one of the funniest people alive. Or you can follow various Instagram accounts that mention Bill and travel to his supposed favorite restaurants. My best bet for seeing him is not to expect it, and we’ll eventually meet. One can hope, right?
I don’t need much convincing to revisit Charleston for more beyond the Historic District but this is definitely the best place to start exploring my onetime home. What did I leave out? I’d love to know about more of the best things to see and do in Charleston.
DISCLOSURE: Special thanks to Hyatt Place Charleston/Historic District and the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau for helping make my stay even better! All opinions within this article are my own. I may be an affiliate for products that I recommend. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. In fact, I oftentimes am able to negotiate a lower rate (or bonuses) not available elsewhere. Plus, when you order through my link, it helps me to continue to offer you lots of free stuff. Thank you, in advance for your support!