Oh Charleston… or also known as “Chal-ston” for the deep Southerners. History and Beauty run here rampant. Throw in some food and drinks and trips to the beach, why would you want to live anywhere else? Sure we can get hot here, but that’s alright, we got plenty to do to keep you busy to take your mind off that heat.
We got so much to do here that we haven’t been awarded as a top destination city for nothing. While there are plenty of books and magazines and websites that tell you what to do while you’re here, trust a born/raised/living there Charleston native. These are the things that I like to do or places I take my friends and family when visiting. While some of these are in what seems like EVERYONE’S list of what to do, I try to give you a decent taste of Charleston if you had a long weekend to spend here that will want you craving more. In this, I would like to offer a part description/part photos. A photo is worth a thousand words right?
Let’s start with Downtown/Historic Charleston. Downtown offers so much to do, so I’m gonna split this up into 2 days so that you don’t exhaust yourself!
Day 1 – Downtown
Yes, the rumors are true: Parking can be a pain sometimes. You try fitting up 50,000+ people on a festival weekend on a peninsula. But the best thing is, if you can find a spot, parking at the Battery is FREE parallel parking. Leaving your car here at the tip of the peninsula, feeling the wind off the harbor, watching the boats and if catch the time right to see a sunrise or sunset, is a great feeling. Mind that you watch where you’re parking, especially read your signs! Some of the spots are 2 hours only or park-able from this time – this time. Don’t fret though, if you can’t find a Battery spot, it’s raining, you or someone you know has trouble walking, we have parking garages (run $1-3/3o mins) galore and street meters (run 9am to 6pm – silver coins only).
After you’ve enjoyed the Battery with it’s harbor view, cannons and little park, walk up East Bay St. You’ll pass Rainbow Row on your left side. Each of the 13 houses have its own (mostly pastel) color and unique history. Definitely worth a sight and a postcard worthy picture. On your right, a few of the minor roads still have cobblestones instead of being paved. As you get to the corner of East Bay and Broad, you’ll pass the Old Exchange Building & Dungeon. Here you can get on the DASH trolley bus system of downtown. It’s hunter green and gold and in the old trolley bus style. Better yet, it’s FREE and some of the trolleys start as early as 6:30am and run to 10:15pm. There are 3 lines to take you thru the entire peninsula.
You’ll come to a light, corner of East Bay and Vendue. On your left is Southend Brewery, very good brews and wood fire pizzas. You can see the process of the beer making. Take a right onto Vendue and at the very end you’ll see a fountain. You’ve made it to Waterfront Park. Here boasts 2 fountains, one being the famous Pineapple Fountain, swings and boardwalk. It my tradition to get in the fountains (you’re more than welcome to and the water is safe) or at the very least touch the water of each fountain, no matter how cold. If it’s summertime, I’ll go wading knee deep in the Pineapple Fountain. Walk down to the end of the boardwalk and enjoy the harbor. Take a peek thru the free viewfinder (no quarters needed!) to REALLY be able to look out on the harbor. You can actually see people walking on the bridge or walking on the flight deck on the USS Yorktown across the water.
Once you’re done here, walk back up to East Bay/Vendue and take a right. You’ll get to the next corner/light with the impressively white US Customs building on your right and one end of the Market on your left. Keep straight, cross the street and then cross left onto N. Market St. There on the corner is one of your first stops: Praline Samples. Fresh, hot, buttery, free Praline samples. It’s glorious. Even better, as you walk down N. Market, you’ll find 2 more sweet shops that’ll offer said samples: The Fudgery and Market Street Sweets. Kilwins on the S. Market side will offer praline, fudge and ice cream samples. Talk about getting your dessert on! Should you be hungry but not really hungry-hungry yet, stop in the pink Rainbow Market building (it’ll be on your right on N. Market St). Inside, look for Pizzeria Di Giovanni. This pizzeria offers the biggest slice of pizza I know for a single slice and drink just for $5! I mean, really, it’s HUGE!
If pizza isn’t what you’re looking for and want something unique, I recommend Burwell’s on N. Market (cross the street going straight with the US Customs on your right and take right. Burwell’s will be on your left side.) Stopped here as someone had stopped by the hotel I was currently working at with some promotional materials and dropped us off some goodies, figured I’d try it out and we ended up on a date night here and was not disappointed! It could be considered kinda pricey ($30-$50), but the food is WELL worth it and we had a great time over their 700 degree lava stone appetizer!!! They cut some steak bites for you and you cook it to your satisfaction with truffle potato chips and dipping sauce. Talk about an interactive dinner and definitely memorable dining experience.
Finish walking the Market down to the other end at Meeting St. Here you’ll see what most people will call the beginning of the Market as well as the Daughters of the Confederacy. Here you can enter the “beginning” side of the market and enjoy all the shops and vendors. You’ll find everything from food, drinks, spice rubs, jewelry, hats, clothing, art, crafts, kid stuff, toys, tourist-y things (postcards, maps, magnets and such) and other knick knacks.
Once you’re done and back at East Bay/Market and if you’re not tired or hungry yet, go back to the middle of the market to the left and grab a carriage tour. These last about 90 mins, are licensed tour guides by the City of Charleston and are pulled by the most magnificent (and personality-filled) horses or mules. Certainly a staple of the city, maybe even tourist-y, but as a Charleston Native, I took one a few years ago and I still learned things! The trip almost didn’t start as our horse was one of the personality-filled types and apparently is stubborn and he decided he didn’t want to leave just quite yet haha. With some gentle coaxing, he decided that he was finally ready to show us his city. (The one picture here isn’t the horse I had that day.)
As for attractions, you’re done for day 1! I’m sure you’re starving by now and I recommend an awesome deli on Broad St called Brown Dog Deli. It’s on the way back to the car and it’s such a fantastic spot. Good sandwiches, wraps, salads and other specialties along with a very unique atmosphere.
Day 2 – Downtown
Welcome to Downtown again, I hope that you enjoyed yesterday.
Today you have two options for parking. Where we’re going today, you have a few parking garage options close by. If you had easy parking yesterday (or perhaps you didn’t and wanna try your luck today) or just want free parking, park at the Battery. Hop on the DASH trolley bus at East Bay and Broad and change over at Meeting St. and Calhoun St. to hop on the DASH over to the Aquarium. Here you find the SC Aquarium at Aquarium Wharf/Liberty Square. I know, you must be thinking ‘Great, another aquarium, they’re just like the rest.’ Well, perhaps so in my limited experience, but here at this aquarium, you start off in our Greenville Mountains and meet our playful otters, work down the Piedmont with the Swamplands and meet Alabaster the Albino gator, down to the Coast and Marsh and then dive into the Ocean with our 2 story HUGE ocean tank with frequent diving shows. They recently opened up the Shark Shallows exhibit where you can actually touch sharks.
Once you leave the Aquarium, walk up to or hop on the DASH to take you to Marion Square (at the corner where you got on to get to the Aquarium). Marion Square runs from Meeting St. to King. St. On your way, you’ll walk past the Mother Emanuel AME church right before you get to Marion Square. Stop by to pay respects should you wish to. A horrible senseless tragedy but Charleston showed the world how to come together as a community and not strike back. They don’t call Charleston the 2nd City of Brotherly Love for nothing. Once you get to Marion Square, depending on the season and day, you might find some kind of event and tents or on Saturdays, the Farmers Market. Marion Square used to be old Citadel Parade Grounds and the now Embassy Suites hotel used to be the barracks (take a look inside the atrium, the winding staircases is a nice feature.
Once done there, walk or even drive down King (mind you that if you’re driving: A) it’s a one way street past Calhoun St, B) street parking is not always guaranteed and C) watch out for pedestrians). King Street boasts ultimate shopping and good restaurants. You can find pretty much any type of cuisine on King Street, but since you’ve done a good bit of walking, I suggest that you hit up Boone’s. It’s a bar, but they have amazing burgers and the dark wood makes it a nice spot. Once you’re done eating, I have one last spot for you to check out. If you’re driving, just keep going down King St. past Broad St. If you’re taking the DASH, remember that it stops at Broad St., as everything south of Broad is now residential area.) On your right will be the Miles Brewton House., a historical house in Charleston. I have had friends affectionally called it the “Zombie Apocalypse House” and I can understand why. If you’re stuck in your city with no way out, who wouldn’t want to have this little fortress haha.