Hi, friends! After my recent trip to Charleston, I wanted to share a list of things to do (besides eating) while visiting Charleston because after two trips to the city, I am an expert. Just kidding. This post is in no way original but I hope my experiences and opinions help you in building your itinerary.
Take a Picture with Pineapple Fountain
Considering pineapples are symbols of hospitality and wealth often associated with Charleston, the Pineapple Fountain is pretty iconic. Snap some photos with the famous pineapple! Your kiddos (or yourself?!) can play in the fountain! You can even get married at the fountain, it turns out!
Visit Rainbow Row
Some might call it basic but I call it a must! Rainbow Row is a series of historic, pastel-colored homes on East Bay Street. The colorful row houses are pretty to look at and make a gorgeous backdrop. If you feel inclined, have a photoshoot like I did here (thank you, Alex)! It is pretty busy with tourists taking photos so you might want to have a bit of patience if you want the perfect photo. (Can you tell I removed two people from this photo? I was patient but not that patient haha)
Walk Around The Battery Park
After taking some photos at Rainbow Row, keep walking and stroll on The Battery, the seawall promenade. You can look at the giant and gorgeous antebellum homes down the promenade and wonder how rich people must be to own these homes. Towards the end of The Battery is White Point Garden which has a gazebo, canons, and memorials (warning: includes a confederate statue). Shaded with beautiful oak trees, the Garden is the perfect spot to enjoy the breeze from the harbor.
Spend a Day at the Beach
While Charleston itself is a port city, there are several beaches a short drive away and you should definitely plan to spend a day at one of them if your schedule allows. I have been to Folly Beach and Isle of Palms, but Sullivan’s Island is also a popular spot. I found this guide from Traveler of Charleston helpful in choosing which beach to go to. FYI, alcohol beverages are not allowed on South Carolina beaches so make sure to be responsible and discreet if you choose to drink.
Do a Ghost Tour
Charleston, being one of the oldest cities in the US, offers many ghost tours to choose from! During my most recent visit, we did the Ghosts of Charleston Tour with Tour Charleston. If you are into ghost stories, Buxton Bookstore, where the tour begins, has a whole book on Charleston ghosts. Above photo was taken at one of the graveyards/cemeteries we visited during the tour. I have also done the Haunted Jail Tour with Bulldog Tours which takes you inside the Old City Jail. I did not find the two tours to be redundant as they tell different stories so you might want to do both during your visit!
Tour McLeod Plantation Historic Site
If you are wanting to do a plantation tour while in Charleston, I suggest the McLeod Plantation. We were interested in visiting a plantation for the first time, and I found a couple of online reviews that recommended McLeod Plantation for their honest and ethical presentation. Operated by the Charleston County Parks, McLeod Plantation Historic Site calls plantations what they are—forced labor camps that have been beautified and glorified. The tour guides do not shy away from discussing slavery. In fact, they spend significant amount of time discussing the heritage and culture of Gullah/Geechee people who were enslaved in the Lowcountry.
I am not sure if you can purchase admission tickets in advance online or over the phone (I tried and couldn’t find explicit information) but we were able to visit on a weekday and get tickets at the visitor’s center. Interpretative tours are included in admission. Our tour guide John was a South Carolina native and descendent of Gullah/Geechee people, and I found his tour personal and informative. When we visited, they were limiting the number of people on each tour but I am not sure if that was due to the pandemic. Alternatively, you can do a self-guided tour with their mobile app. The main house isn’t part of the group tour so make sure to stop by on your own either way (only the first floor is open to public).
Support an Independent Bookstore
Visiting local bookstores is always on my list whenever I travel! While in Charleston, I visited two independent bookstores in town–Blue Bicycle Books and Buxton Books. We came across Blue Bicycle Books while wondering around. They have several smaller rooms in the back as well as a blue bicycle! And a bookshelf full of rainbow books. I picked up a copy of Popisho by Leone Ross, which seemed weird and interesting.
Ghosts of Charleston tour departed from Buxton Books. Before the tour began, we spent a good fifteen minutes browsing the bookstore which led me to purchase my first Isabel Allende book (The House of Spirits)! Fun fact: I met Isabel Allende when she visited my college to give a talk and I have her autograph on the program!