As the oldest city in in South Carolina, Charleston is filled with historic attractions, scenic harbor views, romantic inns, date ideas, free attractions, award-winning seafood and other restaurants. Top things to do in Charleston for families include the aquarium, a picnic in Waterfront Park and shopping at the Charleston City Market. Couples can explore the oldest museum in the country, walk though romantic plantation gardens, get married at one of these unique Charleston wedding venues and dine at a great breakfast and seafood place. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
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Founded by the Drayton family in 1676, the Magnolia Plantation is one of the oldest plantations in the South. The plantation’s beautiful gardens were opened to the public in 1870 and are absolutely stunning.
Today, the Magnolia Plantation has been restored to the original plantation house prior to the Civil War and is operated as a house museum.
The museum has wonderful interactive and interpretive programs that reflect on the African-American history at the plantation, including slavery and freedom. Other interesting attractions at the plantation include a marsh boat tour through the surrounding waterways, a nature train, a wildlife area and a petting zoo.
The gardens have beautiful collections to explore, such as the Barbados Tropical Garden, the Biblical Garden, the Cattail Wildlife Refuge and bird observation tower. Cypress Lake is home to impressive 100-year old bald cypress trees and is one of the top attractions for outdoor enthusiasts in Charleston SC.
3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina 29414, Phone: 843-571-1266
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Stretching over 1,000 feet along the coast with spectacular views of the Charleston Harbor, Waterfront Park is one of the peninsula's most visited parks and a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Dotted with old-fashioned park benches where visitors can sit and watch sail boats cruise past, the park boasts winding walkways, ornate fountains that light up at night, a large grassy lawn for picnicking, sun tanning and playing, and beautiful floral displays year round. Drinking fountains are scattered throughout the park, as well as wireless Internet access.
Centrally located, the park is within easy walking distance of the harbor and the bustling Market district for great shopping and sightseeing. Take a relaxing stroll through the park in the evening and watch the twinkling lights of the harbor come alive. If you are looking for great things to do in Charleston, South Carolina on a sunny afternoon, Waterfront Park is a beautiful place to visit for couples and families.
3. Things To Do: South Carolina Aquarium
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Located in the historic Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium provides a fun-filled day of adventure and exploration for the whole family.
Home to more than ten thousand marine plants and animals, ranging from sea otters and seals to penguins, sharks and tiny seahorses, the aquarium not only offers an array of mind-boggling displays and exhibits, but also interactive dive shows, animals programs and conservation workshops.
Visit the Great Ocean Tank, which spreads over two floors of the aquarium and houses some seven hundred sea creatures, including tiger sharks and sting rays; come face-to-face with with rays in the Stingray Encounter; or touch a horseshoe crab and other marine animals in the interactive Touch Tank.
See a rare albino American alligator or take a tour of the Sea Turtle Hospital to learn how the aquarium takes conservation to the next level.
100 Aquarium Wharf, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 800-722-6455
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4. Charleston SC points of interest: Charleston Music Hall
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The Charleston Music Hall in downtown Charleston hosts extraordinary musical, artistic, and theatrical experiences for audiences in the city, with the aim of promoting local, regional, and national talent and encouraging communal participation.
Built in 1849 as a passenger station for the South Carolina Railroad, the building, which is the oldest on the block, had a tumultuous history of construction, renovation, decoration and, following the Charleston earthquake of 1886, dereliction, leaving it standing empty for 60 years.
Finally, in 1995, it was transformed into the amazing arts venue that it is today. Since opening its doors, the Music Hall has hosted a variety of top class performers, including David Byrne, Joan Baez and world-renowned bluegrass musician, Ricky Skaggs. Next read: South Carolina beaches and South Carolina resorts
37 John Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29403, Phone: 843-853-2252
5. Charleston Culinary Tours
© Charleston Culinary Tours
Experience the best of Charleston with Charleston Culinary Tours, which combine the history, heritage and culture of this charming Southern city with its unique and world-renowned cuisine.
Five tours are offered through various districts in the city, which visit several different restaurants, bars, and markets to taste the best of Charleston’s cuisine, while at the same time highlighting the history of the area.
Each tour is led by a local culinary and history buff, who will take you on a journey through the city’s history, with stops at popular restaurants and bars. Each stop will allow you to sample and taste some of the Lowcountry's finest food offerings, as well as meet with the owners and chefs of the establishments making a mark on Charleston's burgeoning culinary scene.
The five tours that can be taken are Downtown, Upper King Street, Chef’s Showcase At the Farmer’s Market, Chef’s Kitchen and Mixology.
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6. Things To Do in Charleston, SC: Charleston Museum
© Charleston Museum
Founded in 1773 as the first museum in the United States, the Charleston Museum was opened to the public with the aim of exploring and preserving the natural and cultural history of Charleston and the South Carolina coastal region.
Today, the museum is home to a number of collections and exhibits that display the heritage of the region.
The museum is spread over two historic buildings, namely the Heyward-Washington House - an 18thcentury house owned by Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward, Jr, and the Joseph Manigault House – a federal-style home adorned with early 19th century furnishings.
The museum's exhibits include local history displays and decorative arts, including an exquisite silver collection. Visitors can view the only known fossil of the largest flying bird ever discovered – the now extinct Pelagornis sandersi.
360 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29403, Phone: 843-722-2996
7.McCrady’s Restaurant, Charleston, SC
© McCrady’s Restaurant
One of Charleston’s finest eateries, McCrady’s Restaurant, which dates back to 1778, fuses the elegant dining space with expert cooking techniques and an unrivaled tasting menu to create the perfect fine dining mix. Tucked away on Unity Alley, McCrady’s dining hall echoes the taverns of old with exposed brick walls and Tudor-style beams, while an elegant bar serves handcrafted cocktails and an award-winning wine list.
2 Unity Alley, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-577-0025
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Calhoun Mansion is a 35-room Italianate mansion built in 1876 for businessman George W. Williams and his family. It is the largest historic private home in Charleston and arguably one of the most beautiful. Open to the public, it is part of many tours of the city’s historic downtown. Elegant and stately, the mansion has a grand ballroom, high ceilings, terraces, elevators, piazzas, Japanese gardens, and even a koi pond. Lawyer and preservationist Howard Stahl bought it in 2004 after it had been meticulously renovated and is using it today to display his extensive collection of Gilded Age artifacts.
16 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401, Phone: 843-722-8205
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9.The Ordinary, Charleston, South Carolina
© Squire Fox, The Ordinary
Serving sublime seafood dishes, and out-of-this-world shellfish, the Ordinary is a Southern seafood hall and oyster bar located in a historical bank building in the heart of Charleston.
The beautifully refurbished bank building sets the backdrop against which an exceptional seafood menu is served, with 22-foot high ceilings and stylish round-topped windows.
A gleaming white bar serves towering platters of oysters and clams on the half-shell from local producers, while regular fixtures, like pickled shrimp and fried oyster sliders have become firm favorites.
The menu changes daily - there is a prix fixe option with a featured entree dish. If you are looking for date night ideas in Charleston, this is a great restaurant to try.
544 King St, Charleston, South Carolina 29403, Phone: 843-414-7060
10.Points of interest: Middleton Place
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Once the primary residence of several generations of the Middleton family, an important family at the center of the colonial and antebellum history of South Carolina, Middleton Place is a sprawling plantation in Dorchester County that is now a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens.
Built in 1755, Middleton House is a museum with a wonderful collection of furniture, silver, rare books and portraits, displaying the rich history and heritage of a home that remained under the same family stewardship for 320 years.
Spread over 65 acres, the exquisite gardens surrounding Middleton Place are home to a wide variety of blooms, designed so that there are blossoming flowers year round.
4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina 29414, Phone: 843-556-6020
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© Husk Restaurant
Tucked away in historic downtown Charleston, in two beautifully restored Victorian-era buildings, Husk Restaurant celebrates Southern cuisine with an ever-changing menu of locally sourced seasonal delights.
Dating back to the late 1800s and evoking the timeless grandeur of Charleston, the adjacent buildings retain their antique charm on the exterior, while the interiors represent the transformation of the city with original windows, contemporary flooring, and exposed brick. And the food makes just as bold a statement, with classic Southern cuisine at its core.
Feast on old favorites like Deviled Eggs, South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew. Husk prides itself on being a gathering place for friends to enjoy Southern cuisine at a Southern pace – slow and relaxed, in a casual, yet elegant environment.
76 Queen St., Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-577-2500
12. What to do in Charleston, SC: Drayton Hall
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Drayton Hall is an 18th-century plantation located on the Ashley River in the ‘Low Country’ of Charleston, founded circa 1738 when the property was purchased by John Drayton.
The plantation was constructed in a Palladian style and was the only plantation house on the Ashley River to survive both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Drayton Hall is a National Historic Landmark, surrounded by early-English historic landscape.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation acquired the property in 1974 and has preserved it in such a way that lets visitors observe the impact of changing tastes though the centuries.
3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina 29414, Phone: 843-769-2600
13.Wild Olive Restaurant, Charleston, SC
© Wild Olive Restaurant
Striving to capture the cultural magic of true Italian dining, Wild Olive focuses on seasonal cuisine, and complimentary wines, served in a relaxed and casual atmosphere.
In true Italian style, food comes first and Wild Olive prides itself on sourcing as much product locally as possible and turning them into artisanal variations of regional Italian classics. The menu boasts Italian favorites such as crispy bruschetta with fresh goat’s cheese, beef carpaccio with parmesan, handmade pastas and house-cured charcuterie.
Beautifully prepared, simply seasonal food served in a convivial, friendly atmosphere, Wild Olive brings Italy to the table.
2867 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, South Carolina 29455, Phone: 843-737-4177
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14.Things To Do in Charleston, SC: Nathaniel Russell House Museum
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Located near High Battery in downtown Charleston, the Nathaniel Russell House is renowned for its neoclassical architecture.
Built by wealthy shipping merchant Nathaniel Russell in 1808, the interiors of the house have been completely restored, and along with the immaculate gardens, the house has been deemed a National Historic Landmark.
The museum features an outstanding collection of fine and decorative arts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, family items, shards of pottery and part of a slave tag. The museum is managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation.
40 East Bay Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-723-1623
15.Stars Rooftop and Grill Room
© Stars Rooftop and Grill Room
The only rooftop bar in Charleston, Stars Rooftop and Grill Room is located in the city’s downtown entertainment and dining district in a beautifully restored Arts and Crafts building. Rooftop Bar is a popular spot for a drink with friends, offering spectacular views of the city landmarks and a full drink menu that includes tap wines and interesting signature cocktails. Grill Room has a sophisticated 1930s décor and a beautiful fully stocked walnut bar. Guests can enjoy watching distinct Carolina cuisine dishes being prepared on a wood fire in the exhibition kitchen. The bar offers exceptional selection of beverages and cocktails, from artisan wines to local craft beer.
495 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-577-0100
More places to visit: Things to Do in Greenville, South Carolina.
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© Cupcake DownSouth
Cupcake DownSouth is the award-winning bakery and cupcake shop in downtown Charlestown, famous for their incredible cupcakes and desserts baked fresh daily. They are made with all-natural ingredients such as real vanilla beans, fresh fruit, sweet cream butter, and rich chocolate. Every year they make more than 50 flavors, with about a dozen offered every day in each of their four South Carolina bakeries. Besides cupcakes, mega cupcakes, and mini cupcakes, Cupcake DownSouth is known for their wedding cupcakes, cake pops, original alcohol-infused After Dark cupcakes, cupcake milkshakes, cupcake ice cream sandwiches, cupcakes for dogs, red velvet coffee, and much more.
433 King Street on Upper King, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-853-8181
© Lewis Barbecue
Located in Charleston’s North Morrison Drive, Lewis Barbecue is a popular and always packed Texas-style barbecue joint. Pit master John Lewis serves succulent cut-to-order brisket, house-made sausages called “hot guts,” and mouth-watering ribs prepared in his huge custom-built smokers. The spacious industrial-chic counter-serve dining space has high ceilings, concrete floors, a large bar, and several different seating areas. There is also a nice outdoor space with picnic tables shaded by an ancient oak. With delicious meats come some great sides, such as the green chili corn pudding. Wash it all down with their excellent sangria or margaritas.
464 N Nassau St, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-805-9500
18. Charleston City Market, Charleston, South Carolina
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As one of the nation's oldest public markets, the historic Charleston City Market is the bustling and vibrant cultural heart the city.
The year-round market plays host to over 300 local entrepreneurs who come together to display their wares, ranging from arts and crafts, collectables and antiques to jewelry, clothing and artisanal fare.
The market is spread over a large area, which includes The Market Hall, a Greek Revival-style Market Hall built in 1841, and three Open Air Sheds, which house hundreds of entrepreneurs operating small local businesses.
The popular night market is held from Thursday to Sunday, featuring an array of local items, from handmade clothing and body products to fine art and sculptures, as well as a variety of food and beverage stalls, offering tasty treats. If you are wondering what to do in Charleston with kids, this is a great place to visit.
188 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-937-0920
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19.Charleston Brews Cruise
© Charleston Brews Cruise
Discover Charleston’s beer scene with a Charleston Brews Cruise tour of the local craft breweries. Charleston’s beer scene has grown in leaps and bounds, with an array of local breweries dotted about the city.
Brews Cruise Tours offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the art of beer-making, the art, science and passion behind the craft and the hard work that goes into making every glass of beer as unique and special as the next.
Brews Cruise tours are run by bus on a daily basis, and include complimentary samples of beers and ales, snacks and water at each brewery, as well as the provision of a large cooler on the bus to keep any brewery purchases cold.
Brews Cruise also offer ‘Tap into History’ walking tour through the streets of Charleston, which focuses on the history of the city as well as a visit to three local pubs, each of which offers a unique flavor of micro-brews that have been brewed locally in the Lowcountry.
© Cru Cafe
Cru Cafe is a delicious fine dining experience in Charleston, owned and operated for nearly two decades by restaurateur and executive chef John Zucker. The restaurant, which opened to the public in 2002, is an extension of Zucker's award-winning catering company, which is known for its exquisite gourmet takes on comforting Lowcountry cuisine. Lunch and dinner are served daily, featuring entrees prepared with locally-sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. Small plates and entrees focus on comfort fare such as fried green tomatoes, pork schnitzel, and potato gnocchi, with unique land and sea fare available, including maple leaf duck breasts, grilled basil shrimp, and mojo-marinated pork chops. Extensive wine and beer menus are served, with a focus on regional craft drafts and international wines.
18 Pinckney Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-534-2434
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© Theatre 99
Theatre 99 is a comedy club in the heart of downtown Charleston that displays original and upcoming comedians on three nights of the week.
Known as “Charleston's Home For Improv Comedy", Theatre 99 boasts a variety of humor-based entertainment, ranging from sketch and standup comedy, cabaret and music shows during the week, as well as showcasing top talent from around the country at festivals throughout the year.
Shows are generally PG-13 as they contain adult language and tickets can be bought at the door. Theater 99 also offers supportive, non-competitive classes for those wanting to learn how to improvise or improve their stand-up skills.
Classes do not require previous theater experience and need to be booked in advance.
280 Meeting St # B, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-853-6687
22.The Edmondston-Alston House, Charleston, SC
© The Edmondston-Alston House
The Edmondston-Alston House is one of Charleston’s historic houses that are steeped in history. Located at 21 East Battery, the house was originally built by Charles Edmondston in 1825 and was later sold to rice plantation king Charles Alston.
Built in the the late Federal style by Edmondston, when Alston bought the house, he updated the design to the Greek Revival Style, adding Corinthian columns, a cast-iron balcony, and the Alston coat of arms.
Many of the original family items remain untouched in the house, such as family portraits, books, furniture and silver, documenting life in the house as it was decades ago. Managed by the Middleton Place Foundation, the museum is open to the public every day and holds private tours that can be booked in advance.
21 East Battery, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, Phone: 843-722-7171
23.The Darling Oyster Bar
© The Darling Oyster Bar
The Darling Oyster Bar is a lively Charleston seafood restaurant operated by Robert Young and Ben Russell-Schlesinger, opened to the public in 2016 within a restored century-old storefront. The restaurant has become an instant classic in the city's culinary scene, offering a 12-seat raw bar serving up delicious oysters caught in South Carolina, Texas, Rhode Island, and New Brunswick, alongside seafood delicacies such as king crab parfait, ceviche, and tuna tartare. Classic and inventive land and sea entrees are available at dinner, including oyster spaghetti, shrimp and grits, and house-smoked salmon dip, with shrimp, fish, and oyster fry buckets available for sharing. A full-service bar also serves up local draft beers and clever house cocktails.
513 King St, Charleston, SC 29403, Phone: 843-641-0821
24.Charleston Charter and Yacht
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Charleston Charter and Yacht offers a variety of yacht-based tours and cruises for every occasion, ranging from harbor cruises and tours to custom charters, corporate events, business meetings and weddings.
The Charleston Charter and Yacht fleet consists of state-of-the-art air-conditioned luxury yachts, which can be rented on an hourly, daily or multi-day basis. The company offers exclusive tailor-made excursions to various scenic spots, including Kiawah Island, Beaufort, Fripp Island, Hilton Head Island, McClellanville, and Georgetown, as well as customized charters to destinations of your choice.
The yachts are fully-equipped with high-end technology, such as GPS, generators, chart-plotters, and auto-pilot and boast luxurious amenities to ensure absolute comfort at sea.
The vessels are captained by highly trained and experienced sailors who will ensure the utmost safety and take care of your every need during the trip.
25 Best Things To Do in Charleston (South Carolina)
- Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of anwin - Fotolia.com
- Waterfront Park, Photo: Courtesy of eurobanks - Fotolia.com
- Things To Do: South Carolina Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of Jill Lang - Fotolia.com
- Charleston SC points of interest: Charleston Music Hall, Photo: Courtesy of maxcam - Fotolia.com
- Charleston Culinary Tours, Photo: Charleston Culinary Tours
- Things To Do in Charleston, SC: Charleston Museum, Photo: Charleston Museum
- McCrady’s Restaurant, Charleston, SC, Photo: McCrady’s Restaurant
- Calhoun Mansion, Photo: Courtesy of Shelley - Fotolia.com
- The Ordinary, Charleston, South Carolina, Photo: Squire Fox, The Ordinary
- Points of interest: Middleton Place, Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Meunier - Fotolia.com
- Husk Restaurant, Photo: Husk Restaurant
- What to do in Charleston, SC: Drayton Hall, Photo: Courtesy of KAREL - Fotolia.com
- Wild Olive Restaurant, Charleston, SC, Photo: Wild Olive Restaurant
- Things To Do in Charleston, SC: Nathaniel Russell House Museum, Photo: Courtesy of rossco - Fotolia.com
- Stars Rooftop and Grill Room, Photo: Stars Rooftop and Grill Room
- Cupcake DownSouth, Photo: Cupcake DownSouth
- Lewis Barbecue, Photo: Lewis Barbecue
- Charleston City Market, Charleston, South Carolina, Photo: Courtesy of Grafvision - Fotolia.com
- Charleston Brews Cruise, Photo: Charleston Brews Cruise
- Cru Cafe, Photo: Cru Cafe
- Theatre 99, Photo: Theatre 99
- The Edmondston-Alston House, Charleston, SC, Photo: The Edmondston-Alston House
- The Darling Oyster Bar, Photo: The Darling Oyster Bar
- Charleston Charter and Yacht, Photo: Courtesy of nd700 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Katia - Fotolia.com
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