Best Things to do in Charleston, South Carolina in 2023

Whether you are planning a vacation for the first time, or are an experienced Carolina native looking to rediscover some new favorites, I am so glad you get to see the best of my favorite city in South Carolina on your next trip to this East Coast historical city.

Charleston is a beautiful historic town with tons to do from sight-seeing, learning the deep and often tragic history, tasting mind-blowing food, relaxing on lazy beaches, perusing the beautiful parks and scenery, and more. This guide will tell you everything you need to know on what to do in Charleston, SC to plan the perfect trip.

Things to do in Charleston, South Carolina

Guide to the Beaches of Charleston, SC

Charleston is a coastal town with some of the finest beaches in South Carolina, but how do you choose? Here are a few of the perks for the main beaches in this lazy Carolina town.

Isle of Palms

This is one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Charleston, so you will see more of a laid back crowd and bigger houses compared to Folly Beach. If you are renting a house in Charleston for a weekend vacation, this is a great spot to stay. When you drive in off the bridge at the light you can go straight which will ease right and go alongside the waterfront. On this side there is paid parking and a few shops. My tip is not to park here, but to instead at the light get in the left lane and follow that road along to the residential area and park for free along the street. There are lots of little paths to the beach, just look for “public beach access” signs and don’t end up going through someone’s yard. This one has the prettiest sand dunes that stretch out pretty far before the shore begins.

Sullivan’s Island

There are a ton of really good restaurants on this island and it is not very touristy. I would say this is more populated by locals and is a very laid back beach. Most of the beaches in Charleston are laid back actually. You cannot go wrong here.

Folly Beach

Folly Beach is probably my favorite one to go to, because there is a mini downtown area that is more developed than other beaches around Charleston.

The beach should be much a much longer shore than in the past as the city paid to have sand drudged up from the ocean and put back on the shore. They have issues with sand washing away (see about the washout below). It is probably the least manicured and more gritty of the 3 all well.  Like if you are into Reggae you probably live here lol. You have to drive through James Island to get there, and there is only one road so expect serious traffic if you don’t get out there early. There is a pier you can walk on and a little ice cream shop at the beginning of it.

Parking is just along the streets parallel and is free, you just have to find a spot. If you come down the main road- Center St, it goes straight to the end and makes a T with the waterfront road-Arctic Ave, at a hotel (Pier 101). Turn right for the less populated side of the beach. Down a ways on the beach front on this side is Windjammer bar. A friend of mine saw Darius Rucker play here before Hootie and the Blowfish was big. They have live music sometimes and a quick bite to eat that doesn’t require you to really leave the beach.

The food isn’t that great but its ease of access without having to go back to the center of town, and a toilet in a pinch. The pier in the center that I mentioned also has little outdoor showers at the base by the sand if you get in the water and get all sticky from the salt and the heat. This is the only of the 3 beaches you will find such a luxury.  Definitely eat at Taco Boy while you are out here. It is the best! Also, look for the little road stand of Tokyo Crepes.

*Pro Tip, if you come down the main road (Center St) and turn left on E Ashley Ave (the road just before the last one that is on the waterfront) you can drive all the way down to the washout – a place where people surf and where the main road and tons of previous houses have been washed out. Park here and walk through the sand dunes continuing down the road and you will come to the Folly Beach lighthouse! Such a cool spot out there with lots of driftwood and beautiful views.

Botany Bay

Have you ever been to a wild beach? Botany Bay is located just outside of Charleston in Edisto. It is an old plantation that has been repurposed into a wildlife refuge. Visitors can take a driving tour to see some remains of the land’s past, or park and walk the mile path out to the abandoned beach. Be sure to wear protective shoes as there are bleached trees all along the shore and in the water, and avoid going during high tide.

Exploring Downtown Charleston

King Street

Take a walk down the busiest street. The college of Charleston is literally integrated into downtown, so you will see dorms and bookshops peppered into the normal businesses of downtown. The urban outfitters is inside of an old concert hall.  The third or fourth Starbucks down is inside of an old bank- the vault is now a storage room. This place is rich with history and also restaurants and shops to see.

Pro Tip- on the Second Sunday of each month this street is closed to cars and becomes a huge pedestrian market! This is super fun so if you will be there on a second Sunday do not miss.

Charleston Market

This famous market is part of Charleston’s darker history – previously used during the time of slavery, but is now a center for handmade goods and local restaurant stalls. Take a stroll to see the handmade artisan goods and delicious local fare. If you’re on a budget, don’t buy the first of anything you see, as there are usually several repeated locally made items of varying prices throughout the market.

Parts are now enclosed and air conditioned, but other parts are still open air. Even if you don’t buy anything it is a fun experience to walk through and see what local artisanal finds make Charleston such a special place.

Battery Park & Rainbow Row

These are two Charleston classics you have to see. The battery park is at the tip of the peninsula and surrounded by historic million dollar homes. If you have time this is generally a beautiful walk from the heart of downtown but if not parking is free if you can find a spot along the road closer by.

There is a gazebo and lots of shading trees and you can walk right along the edge where the water meets the peninsula. From here you can head back downtown and hit the famous row of colorfully painted houses. There isn’t much to it but the homes around this area are beautiful and as most are neutral colors the Rainbow Row really sticks out.

Waterfront Park

This beautiful park is just down the road from a really nice rooftop bar called The Vendue. The park has a pier that has giant swings and a nice view of the water. You can also see the famous Pineapple fountain, and the echo stones.

These are elevated round slabs that you can only hear yourself echo from on top of standing in the middle. After checking out the waterfront, head down the road for a gelato or head upstairs for a cocktail with a view at the rooftop bar The Vendue.

Other Things to Do in Charleston

Visit the International African American Museum

This brand new museum just opened in June 2023 and is a must-see during your trip to Charleston, South Carolina. It is no secret that Charleston has a sordid past involving the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and this museum does the history justice. Not only do the exhibits cover enslavement in South Carolina and globally, it also goes on to follow the African Diaspora through time, even honoring accomplished Black figures in the current day.

I was lucky to snag a ticket during the first month of the museum’s opening, and I have to say it is incredible and encourage anyone who is able to visit. They even have a room dedicated to those who have reconnected to their ancestors after being forcibly removed hundreds of years ago.

Sail off to Fort Sumter

The Visitor’s Center for Fort Sumter is located right between the International African American museum and the South Carolina Aquarium.

I have yet to personally visit, however back when we were dating, my husband Diego went on a tour to this fort one day with a friend while I was working. He loves history so it was right up his alley. The south has a ton of history- albeit sad at times. 

This is a great tour to take if you are interested in learning about the war and some historic things about Charleston and the South East.

See the Angel Oak

This beautiful old and incredibly huge tree is an amazing & free attraction located on beautiful John’s Island. The island is a bit of a drive from Charleston proper, so make a side trip out of it and find somewhere to grab lunch or brunch. The oak is huge and estimated to be around 300-400 years old. There is no fee to visit and it is a unique sight to see. It’s definitely worth the trek, so make sure to fit it into your itinerary.

Cooper River Bridge

Formally known as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, this architectural marvel spans the Cooper River from downtown Charleston to the city of Mt. Pleasant. To enjoy it from up close, park and walk from the Mt. Pleasant Side. There is a parking lot by a park under the bridge with free parking. You can also walk out to a waterfront view across the river and then take the ramp up to the bridge. This is a nice 2.5 mile run or for less of an effort you could walk to the middle of the bridge to take in the view and turn around. I used to love training for runs here. It is so beautiful.

Visit a Plantation

There are many plantations around the Charleston Area, but we wouldn’t recommend all of them. Some plantations operate as wedding venues and don’t do justice to the history of the enslavement and violence that built them.

The McLeod Plantation Historic Site does an excellent job of honoring this past. It is a Gullah Geechee heritage site that tells the story of these enslaved people who populated the Sea Islands and preserved their African heritage. Entrance is $20, or free with a Charleston County Parks Gold Pass.

Charles Town Landing

This is a really cool historic site and systems of trails. I believe there is also a zoo that my adviser from college volunteered at. I never made it but this place is on my list for my next trip.

Take a Tour to Learn More About Charleston

Also the most obvious would be to take a tour. I think a historic tour that gives you a little story to go along with the old buildings would be super cool. I have done a walking food tour before and really loved it, but it was a gift so unfortunately do not have the contact info on that. 

You could also just give yourself a food tour by eating everywhere lol. 

There are horse drawn carriage tours but tbh you could skip that. A lot of people say its not good to have the poor horses on the same busy roads with cars and in the heat. There have also been multiple incidents of collapsing horses in the heat. Probably best to just leave that piece in the past.

Where to Eat in Charleston, SC

If you are wanting to venture out into this lazy yet bustling Southern town on your own, the three main streets to see can be found downtown and run parallel with each other: King St, Market St, and Bay St. All 3 have tons of options for amazing fare and I am sure you couldn’t go wrong. In fact, some of my favorite spots are tucked away and are best found as a day of aimless wandering and exploration, which is perfect in the city of Charleston.

You will likely receive a billion recommendations from everyone you talk to who has visited, and I would say those are likely all excellent, but listed here are the restaurants I have heard of friends obsessing over or have personally obsessed over myself.


In Charleston, we take brunch seriously.. like we-have-champagne-on-tap in the soda guns and mimosas-for-$1 in some places kind of serious. So welcome to the Holy City- please get yourself some brunch!

Caviar and Bananas

Good for a light breakfast/brunch or also lunch. This little place has shelves of fancy cooking oils and chocolates and a deli case so come to poke around and stay for a quick brunch. The duck confit sandwich and the mimosa go well together.

Toast All Day

As always, the location downtown is the best one, but parking is like in most large cities and hard to find. You will have the most luck sticking to a parking garage.  Come here for brunch, order carbs.

Lost Dog Cafe on Folly Beach

Perhaps a step up from standard diner food, the Lost Dog Cafe won’t break the bank but will fill you up and perhaps even cure your hangover, if you have one of those. The walls are satisfyingly filled with cute framed dog photos from floor to ceiling. Grab breakfast here then hit folly beach for a day of lounging and exploring.

Where to Find the Best Coffee in Charleston, SC

Kudu Coffee

 Kudu has the best of both worlds: coffee and beer. I tend to prefer coffee options from the Carolinas so naturally love this place! Also, if you are visiting from the west coast- welcome to the south my friend! No more IPAs… and plenty of white wheat and Belgians! Try alllll the local beer while you are here 🙂

Second State

This used to be called Black Tap but has since changed the name. Second State is a standard coffee shop with basic pastries and coffee offerings- but done well. I loved it because they had lavender syrup which is hard to find. Many of my friends claim this coffee shop as their favorite.

Best Restaurants in Charleston for Lunch or Dinner

Five Loaves Cafe

The best Five Loaves location is Mount Pleasant (plenty of parking options in a lot), or you can visit the newest location farther North in Summerville.

This is a local spot your friends will probably never tell you about. For a deal, check out the half price bottles of wine on Wednesday and Sunday. I am obsessed with their white chicken chili which is always a soup of the day, their seasonal grilled peaches wrapped in prosciutto and drizzled in honey, and their mussels with a draft of local beer.

Water’s Edge

I have been here many times with my bestie as they have a really good brunch buffet on weekends. Grab brunch by the water, then head out to the boardwalk on Shem Creek to enjoy the marsh and the sunshine while you walk it off. Trust us – you will want to after these amazing brunch offerings, where one of everything sounds good!

Poogan’s Porch

Really any meal would be good here. I recommend trying at least one of these next few. You can’t come to Charleston without trying one of the ole’ faithful local places (i will mark these with a * so you know to try at least one of them). Once a year Poogan’s will roll back their prices to decades past- which is when I went. I think its a little pricier normally, but I was a broke college student so you may not even notice.

Page’s Okra Grill

Tons of people will recommend places that are super fancy and expensive like Hall’s Chophouse or Hominy Grill. Just look at the pictures and if it looks super uppity then its not the same as these old faithfuls. I am talking carbs-and-butter delicious southern food that isn’t too fancy to be what it is.

Santi’s Mexican

This is literally the best in Charleston. As always go to the one downtown on Meeting Street and avoid the Mt. Pleasant location. There should be plenty of parking. And Margs. Get a margarita in the Carolina Sunshine. Life. Complete.

Home Team BBQ

It is hands down the best BBQ in Charleston and coveted by the locals. It was always crammed with people so I never wanted to deal with the crowds, but you can’t come to the South and not have amazing barbecue. Try to come for lunch to beat the happy hour crowds. There are a few locations but I think the one on the beach is the best (Sullivan’s Island).

Coast Bar & Grill

Well you are on the coast so you need to have some good seafood! A lot of people like places on the water like Fleet’s Landing. I don’t think you can go wrong with that but I personally really loved Coast the one time I went during restaurant week. Just make sure you have good seafood at least somewhere on your Charleston vacation!

Best Burgers in Charleston

I have 2 burger suggestions for you. Sesame Burger and Big Billy’s Burgers. Both should be pretty close to Boeing and the Tanger Outlet Mall.  Both of these have their own spin on burgers so it is anything but boring. Big Billy’s is unique because it has beer from the Bahamas and sweet potato tots. They also have a rotating menu of exotic meats such as bison and boar. Sesame Burger has more unique toppings like fig jam, etc. Either one is an excellent choice for a fun and unique experience in Charleston to satisfy your burger craving.

Where to have drinks in Charleston, SC


 Exactly as it sounds it is a 20s style bar with house infused moonshine and speakeasy style drinks. Pretty cool! Other than that, just find a rooftop and sip away! The sunsets on the east coast are truly the best, so enjoy!

Grab a local brew to enjoy anywhere

Two of my favorite beers are from Charleston breweries Holy City Brewing and Westbrook Brewery. Whatever your taste in beer, be sure to try out some local brews while in the Holy City.

Firefly Distillery

Not sure where to start with drinks? Start with the Firefly Distillery. Not only can you indulge in a variety of delicious spirits, but you can also enjoy live music on their spacious outdoor stage. 

While Firefly is known for their famous Sweet Tea Vodka, there are many more spirits and cocktails you can enjoy. In fact, for just $13, you can take a tour of the distillery and enjoy six tastings of their unique and flavorful creations. 

The Firefly Distillery is more than just a place to sample liquor – it’s a full-blown music venue with a huge outdoor area. So, bring some friends, grab a cocktail, and settle in for an unforgettable night of music and spirits under the stars.

Bay St Biergarten

This is literally the coolest place ever. You can put money onto a ‘tap card’ then fill your own glasses with beer from all over the restaurant. There are taps in the community tables where people can sit first come first serve and you just squeeze between them to fill your glass, and there are also taps and different shaped beer glasses all along the walls. The food is typical German and super good. There is a nice outdoor patio as well with cornhole boards in the summer.

Where to Stay in Charleston, South Carolina

Hyatt Place Charleston Historic District: The Hyatt Place Charleston Historic District is a great option for mid-range budget-conscious travelers. This hotel features modern and comfortable rooms with amenities such as a fitness center, outdoor pool, and free breakfast. It is also conveniently located within walking distance to many of Charleston’s top attractions.

The Francis Marion Hotel: For those seeking a more upscale experience, The Francis Marion Hotel is a luxurious option that won’t break the bank. This historic hotel is located in the heart of downtown Charleston and features elegant rooms, a rooftop terrace, and a full-service spa.

NotSo Hostel: If you’re looking for an affordable and unique stay, consider NotSo Hostel. This cozy and charming hostel offers both private and shared rooms at an affordable price. It also features a communal kitchen, outdoor patio area, and is located just a short walk from many of Charleston’s top sights.

FAQ About Visiting Charleston, SC

Do you have you pay for parking in Charleston?

Yes – most parking in downtown Charleston is paid. If you plan to drive or rent a car, you should be aware that in the downtown district parallel parking along main streets is metered, so bring quarters and check for “2 hour parking” limits.

At the time of writing, metered parking is free after 6 pm and all day on Sundays downtown. You can also park in parking garages around the city, marked with a P for public parking. Most of these can be paid with cash or card.

Does Charleston have public transportation?

If you are coming from a city with great public transportation you may be surprised to learn the Charleston does not have such an easy infrastructure.  There are a few public bus lines but these are extremely inconvenient and not frequently used by most residents. 

When is the best time to visit Charleston, SC?

If you are coming to Charleston for summer vacation, be warned: the Southern summer heat is like nothing else. Imagine being in the humidity of the tropics like Belize or Hawaii, but without a bathing suit on, and pack accordingly. 

Also prepare for stormy downpour if rain is in the forecast. Downtown Charleston is below sea level and WILL flood during heavy rains and hide tides. Check the weather and plan accordingly for that as well. You may want to pack a rain jacket and boots, as an umbrella won’t be enough in this type of heavy rain.

Why are there children giving out free sweetgrass flowers?

You will probably see people performing or making baskets and flowers out of sweetgrass. Sometimes younger children will “gift” you one then ask for money to pay for it. Many opinions exist surrounding this, but our advice for you is to inform yourself and interact in the way you see fit, but no matter what ALWAYS treat the people whose home you are visiting with the utmost dignity and respect.

Final thoughts on this Guide to Visiting Charleston, South Carolina

Adventurers, we’ve come to the end of our journey through Charleston, South Carolina. From its vibrant culture and rich history to its stunning architecture and mouth-watering cuisine, this city truly has it all.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, I hope this guide has given you some inspiration for your next trip to Charleston. But remember, there’s always more to discover in this charming city, so don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and create your own adventure.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your bags, lace up your walking shoes, and get ready to experience all that Charleston has to offer. And if you have any questions or want to share your own Charleston travel tips, leave a comment below. Let’s keep the conversation going and continue to inspire each other to explore and experience the world. Happy travels!

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below with any must-know tips to include before visiting!

Until next time, Happy Adventuring!

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