Things to Do in Charleston, SC
Charleston, South Carolina has endless entertainment opportunities! We've lived in Charleston for almost twenty years and still haven't visited all of the museums and attractions. There are simply that many options. We've included here the must-see attractions like Fort Sumter and Waterfront Park along with the lesser known sites that are hidden gems. Below you'll find free things to do, parks and outdoor activities, plantations and historic homes, plus annual festivals and events.
Historic Sites, Museums, and Other Entertainment
Gibbes Museum of Art
This is Charleston's main art museum. It has a great collection of regional pieces, from paintings by local artists to portraits of Charleston's historic figures to drawings that show downtown Charleston more than two hundred years ago! The works range in date from the 1700s to present, and one gallery is devoted to modern and contemporary art. You’ll also find an entire gallery dedicated to miniature portraits. The first of these types of American portraits were painted in Charleston, so it’s fitting that the Gibbes has the most prestigious collection in the United States with over 600 pieces. Although most of the regionalism works stay on display throughout the year, the museum usually also has a circulating exhibition (so be sure to check out their website to see the current display). You'll also find events for both kids and adults throughout the month. The columned façade and Tiffany style glass dome in the rotunda gallery stand out even among Charleston's renowned buildings. 135 Meeting Street
Explore Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum
Take a self guided tour of the aircraft carrier Yorktown, which was commissioned in 1943 and served during World War II and Vietnam. You can browse the planes on its 40,000 square foot hangar deck, view the engine rooms that powered the ship, imagine what daily life would have been like in the bunk rooms and living quarters, and pay homage to the many memorials throughout the ship. At 888 feet long, the massive scale of this preserved vessel can only be appreciated in person. Visitors can also tour the adjacent submarine USS Clagamore with additional paid admission. Active duty military men and women in uniform can enjoy free admission to both sites. Youth groups can sign up for overnight camping on the ship among other educational programs.
40 Patriots Point Road in Mt. Pleasant
This National Park Service site has over 200 years of coastal defense history. Its strategic location on the Charleston Harbor side of Sullivan's Island has proven useful for Charleston since the Revolutionary War. Palmetto logs were used by the colonists here instead of the standard brick fortifications of the time. The logs absorbed repeated cannon fire without shattering, leading to the success of the Battle of Fort Moultrie. Today, South Carolina has its official nickname of the Palmetto State and the palmetto on its flag because of this successful strategy at Fort Moultrie many years ago. This is also where Edgar Allan Poe was stationed during his brief military career before he was able to support himself as a writer (Sullivan's Island was the setting for his short story "The Gold Bug"). 1214 Middle Street on Sullivan's Island
The Powder Magazine
Built in 1713, this is the oldest public building in the Carolinas and one of the oldest from the early British colonies. During this time, Charleston was the southernmost English settlement and had high walls and a moat around it for protection from pirates as well as French and Spanish naval ships. The Powder Magazine was used to store Charleston's gunpowder supply. It is a national historic landmark and has undergone a good deal of restoration in the past 10 or 15 years. 79 Cumberland Street
Fort Sumter National Monument
See where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, and also get incredible views of the Charleston Harbor, the Ravenel Bridge, and Downtown Charleston! Fort Sumter is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Charleston - not only because the fort provides an in-depth look at a defining moment in our country's history, but also because the boat ride to this island offers unbeatable views of the city. Construction of this island fort began in 1829, and it was part of a series of forts aimed to defend the major port cities along the southeastern coast. Fort Sumter was used through World War II and became a national monument in 1948. Boats depart from two locations - Liberty Square in downtown Charleston (just south of the aquarium) and Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. Tours last a little over two hours, so plan to spend more time at this site compared to some of the others in this list! 340 Concord Street
Tour Boone Hall Plantation
With 738 acres to explore, Boone Hall is one of Charleston's most picturesque plantations. Visitors can tour the home, which is furnished with fantastic antiques, experience the azaleas in full bloom, catch a glimpse of farming and plantation life, learn about the struggle of slavery at the original slave cabins, and gain a greater understanding of the role Charleston has played in our country's heritage. Visitors can harvest veggies and pumpkins from its U-Pick fields which have grown crops for over 325 years. Halloween brings the annual event, Fright Nights, which features South Carolina's largest haunted house. The October corn maze is a great way for kids to get outdoor exercise. Boone Hall also hosts the Lowcountry Oyster Festival (usually in January), which is the largest oyster festival in the Low Country. Last year, about 80,000 pounds of oysters were shucked! You'll find additional educational programs and fun events at Boone Hall throughout the year. Located at 1235 Longpoint Road in Mount Pleasant
Eat or Shop in the Old Village Commercial District
Don't get us wrong - Towne Center is fantastic for catching a movie or browsing the large retail stores, but there's a charm in the Old Village commercial district that's hard to find. You might recognize Pitt Street Pharmacy from the movie The Notebook. The store has changed little since it opened its doors over 60 years ago, and getting a drink from their soda fountain is a popular treat among locals. You'll find an indulgent array of desserts and sandwiches at The Village Bakery. The Old Village Post House Inn offers 6 guest rooms and quaint yet gracious hospitality. On the ground floor of the inn, you'll find one of the best brunches on Saturdays and Sundays at its restaurant. Dinner is also served nightly there, and both guests of the inn and street goers are welcome (we recommend making a reservation). Located along Pitt Street in Mount Pleasant
Established in 1949 by Roman Catholic monks, the 3,000 acre site is located on the Cooper River in Moncks Corner (about an hour's drive from Downtown Charleston). Today, monks continue to devote their days to prayer, work, and spiritual study. Visitors can walk through their gardens, take a guided tour of the church, or browse regionally made food and crafts in their store. The abbey's farm also supplies mushrooms to some of the fine dining establishments in Downtown Charleston. The abbey is closed on Mondays, and tours are only given during certain days of the week, so be sure to check their website for availability. 1098 Mepkin Abbey Road in Moncks Corner
Free Entertainment in Charleston
Looking to experience Charleston on the Cheap? These options are free and open to the public!
Fish or Take a Stroll on the Mount Pleasant Pier
This 1,250 foot long pier stretches into the Charleston Harbor beside the iconic Ravenel Bridge. Visitors can enjoy harbor views from the bench swings and shady spots spaced throughout the pier. The River Watch Café and Gift Shop sells sandwiches that are made to order along with other snacks. There are fishing rod rentals available and tackle sales here as well. You'll also find events throughout the year hosted on the 8,100 square foot covered pavilion such as Shaggin' on the Cooper and Movies on the Grand Lawn. The pier is just one of many sites operated by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. If the pier catches your fancy, you might also check out Palmetto Islands County Park in Mount Pleasant which offers 943 acres of running and biking trails, a dog park, the Splash Island Waterpark, a smaller crabbing dock, kids’ playground, and much more.
Located at 71 Harry M. Hallman Jr Boulevard at Memorial Waterfront Park
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Located at the College of Charleston, this museum usually offers 5 to 7 exhibitions every year. With an exhibition space of about 3,200 square feet, the institute does a great job of circulating in new artists so that visitors never have exactly the same experience twice. You’ll also find lectures, screenings, workshops, and other special events on their website. Its convenient location (just a block off the corner of King and Calhoun) makes it a great respite from an afternoon of walking and shopping in the summer weather. 161 Calhoun Street
Mace Brown Natural History Museum
Located on the second floor of the CofC’s School of Sciences and Mathematics Building, the natural history museum is free and open to the public. It displays over 15,000 fossils, and a surprising number of these were found right here in the Charleston area. Their collection of shark teeth and dinosaur bones will bring out the inner dork and kid in you! 202 Calhoun Street
Picnic at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
Attention history buffs and political junkies: Mount Pleasant was once home to a Founding Father. Charles Pinckney was a principle author and signer of the U.S. Constitution in addition to being a South Carolina governor, a United States senator, and a member of the House of Representatives. The Charles Pinckney Historic Site is a small portion of the family's original 715 acre plantation, Snee Farm. The site is often overlooked among Charleston' long list of historic hot spots. However, this cultural environment strongly influenced Pinckney as he helped to frame the Constitution – a document which restructured the foundation of our government to accommodate the growing pains of the United States in the mid 1780s (well after the 1776 Declaration of Independence). Only an hour or two is needed for this site, since the tour only consists of the home, a gift shop, and a video. We'd recommend bringing your own picnic so that you can enjoy the grounds. Perhaps the best part is that it has free admission! 1254 Longpoint Road in Mt. Pleasant
Charleston Library Society
Founded in 1748, this society was established as a lending/research library well before public libraries were in existence. Its current building on King Street is just over 100 years old and is worth a visit by anyone who enjoys architecture, books, or history. Admission to the Main Reading Room is free, and you'll find events each month like lectures and intimate concerts that are offered to both members and non-members for reasonable prices. Its Bindery and Archival Lab preserve and restore books, handwritten letters, and other historic documents. 164 King Street
Enjoy Panoramic Views at Pitt Street Park
A lesser known local gem, Pitt Street Park is laid on top of the old Pitt Street Bridge which connects Mount Pleasant to Sullivan's Island. Before the Revolutionary War, it was a plank bridge that was built on barrels. In 1864, the submarine HL Hunley crossed the footbridge to access Breach Inlet on its test dive. From 1898 to 1927, a trolley provided the only access to the island from the mainland. Today, Pitt Street Park charges no admission fee, and you'll be hard pressed to find a better backdrop than the panoramic views of the marsh and Cove Inlet. The historic markers also make for a unique exercise experience.
Located at the end of Pitt Street in Old Village
Parks and Outdoor Activities
Charleston County Parks
You’ll find park locations throughout James Island, Folly Beach, Mt. Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Kiawah, Johns Island, North Charleston, and Ravenel. Total, these parks offer several thousand acres of preserved woodlands, wetlands, and coast line. You'll find over 10 miles of walking trails, plenty of green spaces and intramural fields, kids' playgrounds, beach accesses, picnic areas, dog parks, and camping sites. Many of these parks offer unique amenities. For example, the James Island County Park has the largest climbing wall in the state. The Folly Beach pier offers 7,500 sq ft for fishing. The Johns Island County Park has an equestrian center with trail riding and competitions. The parks also have events year round, like the Holiday Festival of Lights, Yappy Hour for dogs and their owners, races and competitions, the Lowcountry Cajun Festival, and the East Coast Paddlesports Symposium, just to name a few. If you're looking to get outdoors, these parks and facilities are an inexpensive way to enjoy Charleston's mild weather year round. 861 Riverland Drive on James Island
Golf Where the Pros have Trodden
With 4 golf courses that are open to the public, Mount Pleasant is a fantastic place to enjoy Charleston's mild weather year round. Patriots Point Links is the main public golf course in Mt. Pleasant, and its location overlooking the Charleston Harbor offers big views with a surprising small price. Dunes West is perhaps the most impressive Charleston golf community, and its Arthur Hills designed course is immaculately maintained. After a round of golf, you might enjoy lunch or a cocktail at its Low Country styled club house (the wrap around porch offers peaceful marsh views). Rivertowne Country Club boasts an Arnold Palmer Signature course which was the site of the 2007 LPGA. Charleston National offers a Rees Jones course positioned along the Intracoastal Waterway and is also reasonably priced. www.patriotspointlinks.com/ | www.duneswestgolfclub.com/ | www.rivertownecountryclub.com/ | www.charlestonnationalgolf.com/
Kayak or Paddleboard Shem Creek
Coastal Expeditions offers a great kayak tour that starts in Mount Pleasant’s quaint Shem Creek and takes you to the Charleston Harbor where you can see the Holy City's skyline and Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary. Shem Creek is a fun waterway to explore since the shrimp boats attract lots of birds, dolphins, and other wildlife. You can also find kayak and paddleboard rentals at Nature Adventures Outfitters conveniently located on the creek. After your adventure, be sure to walk the 2,200 foot long boardwalk (for free) at Shem Creek Park. There are also good outdoor dining options at Tavern and Table, Red’s Ice House (very casual), or RB's Seafood.
Nature Adventures Outfitters
Take Sailing Lessons on the Harbor
Perhaps the only thing that’s better than gazing at the Charleston Harbor is being able to see the city directly on the water! Whether you're a novice or an avid boater, these lessons are an affordable way to enjoy sailing without having to purchase your own equipment. Plus, the instructor is on the boat with you the entire time. Having taken the classes ourselves, we encourage you to sign up for at just one to give it a try. If you can get a small group of four or five people, your instructor will be able to tailor the lessons so that you learn more and more each session. The instructors are extremely knowledgeable at the Ocean Sailing Academy, and you'll be amazed at how much there is to learn about knots, wind conditions, general sailor jargon, the physics of the boat, and more.
24 Patriots Point Road
Walk or Run the Cooper River Bridge
Everyone should - at least once in their lives - experience the thrill and the chaos of tens of thousands of people running and walking the length of the Ravenel Bridge during the Cooper River Bridge Run. We're still relieved that the rickety old Cooper River Bridge has been replaced with the massive, cable stayed Arthur Ravenel Bridge. Not only does it feel much more structurally sound, but its 8 lanes offer more room and a higher vantage point. The 10K race usually takes place in April. Or, if you want to avoid the crowds, you can walk or run the pedestrian lane which offers phenomenal Charleston Harbor views for free!
Cooper River Bridge Run
North Charleston Waterfront Park
Located up the Cooper River from Downtown Charleston, this lesser known park offers a boardwalk, picnic tables and grills, a playground, and covered pavilion. You'll find outdoor events and concerts throughout the year. It's also home to the Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial.
West Ashley Greenway
This 10.5 mile long railroad has been repurposed for walkers, runners, and bikers to enjoy. It runs parallel to Hwy 17 in West Ashley and connects the South Windermere Shopping Center to Johns Island.
Our Favorite Restaurants in Mt. Pleasant
Page's Okra Grill
With the best shrimp and grits in Charleston, this local diner serves Southern styled dishes that would make Paula Deen jealous!
SOL Southwest Kitchen and Tequila Bar
This trendy and modern cantina is far from your traditional Mexican restaurant!
Old Village Post House
Located at the bottom of a quaint inn in the historic Old Village, the refined Post House offers a phenomenal brunch on Saturdays and Sundays in addition to nightly dinners.
Tavern and Table
Overlooking Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, this is a fantastic place to enjoy a sunset with seafood, burgers, and cocktails.
In addition to a contemporary atmosphere, you'll find simply the best Thai food in Charleston.
The Mustard Seed
Offering a healthier menu, this upscale restaurant is an ideal spot for vegetarians since they have a large selection of options!
Coleman Public House
This pub has an ever changing selection of taps in addition to hearty appetizers and burgers.
Five Loaves Café
With several locations throughout Charleston, this local café has the best sandwiches and soups in Mount Pleasant and is a great place to meet up for lunch!
Jack's Cosmic Dogs
You’ll find just about any type of hot dog imaginable, plus their fresh cut fries are crisped to perfection!
This regional chain is known for their delicious handcrafted pizza, laid back atmosphere, and hippy inclinations.
Entertainment Within a 15 Minute Drive of Mount Pleasant
Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island
Most homes in Mount Pleasant are within a 5-15 minute drive to these 2 beaches!
Shopping on King Street
Nowhere in Charleston do history and modern life blend effortlessly than the trendy boutique stores, restaurants, bars, hotels, and coffee shops in charming 1920’s storefronts of King Street.
Ideally located on the Charleston Harbor, this attraction is popular with kids and adults of all ages! Check their calendar for interactive dive shows, free events, and updates from the sea turtle hospital.
The United States’ oldest museum was established here in 1773. In addition to silver, pottery, and weaponry, you can learn to make sweetgrass baskets at their workshops. You’ll find lots of kids’ events, too!
Perfect for rainy or warm weather, kids will find hours of indoor entertainment at their art center, medieval creativity castle, grocery play room, water tables, and pirate playground!
Family Circle Cup
The world's largest women's tennis tournament takes place on Daniel Island each spring.
Charleston's professional soccer team also plays on Daniel Island, and their season usually runs from March to September.
Bulls Island Ferry Rides and Eco Tours
Coastal Expeditions works in partnership with the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to offer ferry services, eco tours, guided bird migration trips, and more.
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Need more information about Charleston Real Estate?
For the best assistance in buying or selling Charleston area homes, contact The Keadle Group online or call 800.804.2187.