Charleston, South Carolina is a fantastic vacation destination. This thoroughly modern city is steeped in rich history, which is obvious as you take a walk around the cobblestone streets and explore the downtown area. Charleston is consistently listed as a top visitor’s destination by travel magazines, and after one visit to Charleston, you will agree.
Charleston is on the South Carolina coast approximately 2 hours south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and two hours north of Savannah, Georgia. Charleston is a peninsula surrounded by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and the Charleston Harbor. While you may be familiar with Charleston due to it’s place in Civil War history, Charleston dates back to 1670 when it was settled.
When visiting Charleston you must keep in mind that the area is subtropical, which means the summers are very humid and hot, and winters are mild. There is a lot to do year around, but you will need to keep the heat in mind for a planned summer visit.
First and foremost, a visit to the Charleston historic downtown area is a must. If you are looking to see a little bit of everything and learn about the history then a carriage ride is a great option. There are numerous companies that offer carriage rides, with them all leaving the downtown city market area. Carriage rides are controlled by the city, and if it ever gets too hot during the summer the rides will be cancelled to protect the health of the horses and mules that are used, which is something to keep in mind if visiting over the summer. There are 3 different tour routes that are given out randomly by a city tourism official for traffic control. The tour companies have no control over the route given, but all three routes will offer a great overview of the history of the area and you will have a licensed tour guide narrating your tour. If you are looking to do a little walking, then walk along the Battery and promenade along the Charleston Harbor. At the very tip of Charleston, you can also take a stroll through White Point Gardens.
The gardens feature several Civil War era memorials and artillery pieces. If you walk north along the promenade, along East Battery to East Bay Street then you will walk right along the famously bright houses of Rainbow Row. The Charleston Waterfront Park is also another fantastic park to visit. The park’s 12 acres along the water allow visitors to sit on any of the numerous benches in the park or along the adjacent pier and enjoy the harbor scenery.
If you are interested in getting an up close view of the harbor, then a harbor cruise is a must. There are numerous companies that offer tours of the harbor. If you know you are going to be visiting Charleston than sign up for Living Social or Groupon, as both commonly have harbor cruises offered for sale. You can expect that your captain will be friendly and willing to share their knowledge and history with you. The views of downtown Charleston and the iconic Ravenel Bridge are spectacular from the harbor.
As you probably are already aware, Fort Sumter is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, as the troops of the newly formed Confederate States of America opened fire on the US Army forces stationed in the fort. The fort is off the coast of Charleston and accessible via boat only. Luckily, there is a National Park Service contracted company, which offers ferry service via the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center, which is near the Charleston Aquarium, or Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. The ferry ride is approximately 30 minutes long and narrated to give a brief background about the build up to the shots being fired. Once you land at the fort, you can listen to a park ranger’s brief history lesson and then walk around the fort on a self guided tour.
While you may already know about Fort Sumter, you may not know that there is another fort in the Charleston area that dates its history back to the Revolutionary War and the main influence behind South Carolina’s identity as the Palmetto State. Fort Moultrie is on Sullivan’s Island and is named after William Moultrie who was the commander who defended the fort from the British after a battle on June 28, 1776. The surprising defeat of the British after that battle was attributed to the strong Palmetto trees that made up the original fort, and is the reason behind the design of the South Carolina flag and their nickname “the Palmetto State.”
Since the Revolutionary War, Fort Moultrie has played an instrumental role in nationwide coastal fortification. The fort has been a part of every major American conflict through World War II. Since the end of World War II, the fort has been open to the public via the National Park Service. You can visit the park and learn about its place in American history and see how the fort would have been used.
Another historic and culturally relevant site to consider visiting is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site located in Mount Pleasant, just 6 miles away from Charleston. Charles Pinckney was a signer of the US Constitution, and this historic site is the remnants of his coastal plantation. You can walk along the property and trails that tell the story of the old house, archeological excavations, and history of the land. There is also a visitor’s center located in a Low-country farmhouse that houses museum exhibits.
Free in Charleston
If you are looking for a more relaxing type of vacation then a trip to the beach is a must. While all the beaches are fantastic in the Charleston area, Folly Beach is a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Folly Beach, known as the “Edge of America”, is a free beach that is approximately 25 minutes away from downtown Charleston. Up until recently, you could drink alcohol out of a plastic cup on the beach, but the town is revisiting the issue, and a temporary ban on alcohol is in effect, as of this writing. Folly Beach is known for having some great surf spots, so surfers often visit it. Parking can be an issue because there are a few small lots along the beach, which leads to most people having to park along the roads.
If you are looking to do something a little quirky and free, than take a trip out to John’s Island and check out the Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak Tree is a Southern Oak Tree and it is said to be the oldest tree East of the Mississippi River. The tree is believed to be between 300 and 400 years old. The tree is 65 feet tall, has a circumference of 25.5 feet along its base. The shade from the tree covers approximately 17,000 square feet. It’s truly amazing to be in the company of such an old living organism.
Sports in Charleston
If you visit Charleston during the summer months, take in a RiverDogs baseball game at the ”Joe”(Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park.) The RiverDogs are the class A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The RiverDogs’ games are always fun, and if you happen to go to a game on a Friday night you can stay to watch the Friday night fireworks presented by Piggly Wiggly. Keep your eyes open, Bill Murray is a part owner and is at a lot of the games.
If you are visiting Charleston in the winter then check out the South Carolina Stingrays, the area’s only professional ice hockey team. The Stingrays are part of the ECHL and play out of the North Charleston Coliseum PAC. They are a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
Charleston, South Carolina is truly one of America’s gems to visit. From historical places to beautiful outdoor activities, this is a city that has something for everyone. Once you visit here, you will understand just how special of a place it is and most definitely will want to visit again, because one visit simply isn’t enough.
***For another city that has a rich Civil War history, visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.