Perfect Day in Charleston, S.C.

Got only a day in one of the most popular cities in the United States? Make the most of it! Here’s a sampling of a day in Charleston, S.C. – just note that this is a mere sampling of the many amazing places and sights to be found throughout Charleston!

8 a.m. Get that caffeine fix from Bitty & Beau’s Coffee (159 Church St.), a small chain which employs people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Not only is it a great employer, but they make a great cappuccino. Also try the apple muffin. Want something more substantive? Head to the nearby Toast (155 Meeting St.) and choose from their complete breakfast menu.

9 a.m. Take a drive out to Middleton Place (4300 Ashley River Rd.), a former rice plantation dating back to the 1730s. It’s now a National Historic Landmark preserving the country’s oldest landscaped gardens. A general admissions ticket gets you access to the grounds and house museum; there are also special guided tours you can take part in, including “Beyond the Fields” which looks at the history and lives of the enslaved Black people who built up and worked on the grounds.

Also open and nearby is Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (3550 Ashley River Rd.), founded in 1676 and now America’s oldest, largest romantic-style garden. You can tour the gardens on your own, or add on extra, guided tours including the nature tram and boat.

Noon You can eat lunch at either Middleton Place or Magnolia Plantation, but we recommend heading back toward downtown Charleston – in a city known for its barbecue, lunch at Home Team BBQ (1205 Ashley River Rd.) will hit the spot. It probably will be packed for lunch, but we promise the wings are worth it. If you’re craving some Southern food, try Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen St.). Guests rave about the she-crab soup and pimiento cheese fritters. (You may also spot a ghostly apparition or two here … it’s reportedly haunted, including by the dog who is the restaurant’s namesake!)

1:30 p.m. Hop the ferry over to Fort Sumter National Monument – operated by the National Park Service, you can walk around the fort itself as well as check out its small museum. Rangers typically provide interpretive services throughout the day; guided tours are offered at the nearby Fort Moultrie (check for times).

3 p.m. Walk around the historic Charleston City Market (188 Meeting St.). The centerpiece Great Hall houses multiple local crafts and artisans – you’ll be sure to find souvenirs and mementos of your trip here. You’ll also find plenty of yummy snacks!

4:30 p.m. Hurry to the Nathaniel Russell House Museum (51 Meeting St.) before it closes! Mr. Russell moved to Charleston in 1765, establishing himself as a local merchant. Him and his wife made their home one of the more interesting architectural feats of its day and age, and it’s now a National Historic Landmark, restored as nearly as possible to its early 1800s glory. Depending on what time of year you visit, the site also offers candlelit evening tours.

6 p.m. Kick off your evening at The Gin Joint (182 E. Bay St.) and let the atmosphere whisk you back to a 1920s speakeasy. You can opt for a beer or wine, but a specialty cocktail just feels a little bit fancier, doesn’t it? For a drink with the view, head to The Vendue (19 Vendue Range), a stylish hotel offering a rooftop bar.

7 p.m. A special day deserves a special dinner, and High Cotton (199 E. Bay St.) delivers – lobster tail or a ribeye steak always taste better over live jazz music! We also have to give a shoutout to the banana pudding mousse – definitely save some room for dessert. For another option with a beautiful waterfront view, head to Charleston Crab House (41 S. Market St. or 145 Wappoo Creek Dr.) – you can’t go wrong with any of the fresh seafood here.

9 p.m. End the day at the vintage jazz club The Commodore (504 Meeting St.) for live music and dancing. For something more sedate, The Cocktail Club (479 King St.) has delicious craft cocktails and a rooftop bar for some breathtaking views.

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT:

Rainbow Row (83 E. Bay St.) – A cluster of pastel-painted Georgian-style rowhouses, dating from 1748 to 1845. A great way to get those Instagram grid pics of your vacation!

Firefly Distillery (4201 Spruill Ave.) – This is Charleston’s oldest working distillery, and is usually offering tours and tastings on Mondays through Saturdays, with the occasional live music thrown in. Check their online calendar for upcoming events.

Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St.) – Charleston can get HOT and HUMID – enjoy some air conditioning alongside one of the premier collections of American art while also incorporating the history of Charleston. It also regularly hosts special exhibitions alongside its permanent collection.

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon (122 E. Bay St.) – Portions of this tour are both guided and self-guided; built in 1771, the building has been a commercial exchange, custom house, post office, city hall and military headquarters.  City leaders once entertained George Washington here, and this was also the building where colony leaders debated and approved the U.S. Constitution. It went on to be the site for most of Charleston’s public slave auctions.

Joe Wiley Waterfront Park – Walk the waterfront, chill out on a swing, enjoy the views of Fort Sumter … and generally, just take a moment to breathe and relax at this popular spot by the water. You may even catch a glimpse of a dolphin or manatee.

Folly Beach – Charleston offers plenty to keep you more than occupied, but we get it – sometimes you just need the sand beneath your toes. There are plenty of great restaurants in this area offering cold beers and fresh seafood; also check out some of the tours which can take you out kayaking, jet sailing or parasailing on the water. 

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