downtown charleston garden in spring, the best time to visit charleston sc

The Best Time to Visit Charleston, SC: Top Choices

drayton hall in the summer, one of the best times to visit charleston scThere is no best time to visit Charleston, SC. Like any other place in the world, each season and month has positives and negatives.
 
That said, before I experienced my first summer here, I dreaded the summers in Charleston.
 
Anyone who’s lived through one has a tendency to hype it up to those who haven’t. Some of the things I was told were that the heat is oppressive, but the humidity makes it so much worse. Walking outside during a hot and humid summer day is like swimming through air. Another analogy I heard was that it was like struggling under a hot, soaked towel wrapped around you.
 
But as someone who moved from Vermont explained to me once, summer in Charleston is like winter in New England. You spend as little time outside as you have to unless you’re doing something fun. And there are a lot of fun outdoor things to do in Charleston:
  1. kayaking
  2. paddleboarding
  3. surfing
  4. going to the beach
Barely scratch the surface of outdoor activities.
 
But that’s not to say that summer is necessarily the best time to visit Charleston. There are a lot of great options for different reasons.

Is Winter the Best Time to Visit Charleston, SC?

Starting with the beginning of the Western calendar, winter is not a bad time to be here. Temperatures are cold for people who live here, but anyone visiting from the North or Midwest won’t mind at all. I’m not sure you would want to get in the water, but obviously no one is going to stop you. And you’ll likely have the beach to yourself.

January and February: Winter Cold in Charleston

There are about two weeks in February where even locals look to get out of Charleston and escape to warmer climes, usually Florida. I would be exaggerating if I said Charleston, South Carolina, becomes a no-man’s land then, but it’s close. While not as cold as up North, the humidity makes the cold feel worse. The cold sticks to your bones.
 
The other plus of winter is that it’s not tourist season in January or February. Hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions generally all offer discounts or lower-priced rooms.

Alright, Spring May Actually Be the Best Time to Visit Charleston, South Carolina

Spring is arguably the best time to visit Charleston. The temperatures are perfect, the humidity isn’t too strong, the bugs haven’t gotten bad yet, and this is when the flowers are in bloom. The flowers start with the camellias in February. They’re followed by:
  1. azaleas
  2. dogwoods
  3. jasmine
  4. finally crepe myrtle
live oaks lining a road in the summer, the best time to visit charleston scCharleston smells amazing from March through April to May or June, depending on how early flowers start to bloom. I also highly recommend meandering through one of the Charleston-area plantations then: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Plantation, Drayton Hall, or Boone Hall.
 
March is when things start to heat up, with several meanings. That’s around when the annual festivals start up again. SEWE (the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition) is typically the first weekend event in February.

Springtime Charleston Events

Some of the other major Charleston events in spring include:
  1. February Events in Charleston

    SEWE
  2. Charleston March Events

    Charleston Wine + Food Festival
    Charleston Fashion Week
  3. April Events in Charleston

    Cooper River Bridge Run
    Volvo Car Open Tennis Tournament (formerly known as the Family Circle Cup)
  4. Charleston May Events

    North Charleston Arts Festival
    Piccolo Spoleto Arts Festival
The weather is also quite nice, relatively speaking. Some family that visited me in March from Connecticut felt like it was warm enough to be swimming in their hotel pool. Even ocean water is brisk but tolerable.

Perfect Temperature Ranges in April, May, and June in Charleston

The temperature in April is usually in the 70s range, with highs from 71 degrees to 78 degrees. The temperature never fluctuates beyond the mid-60s and mid-80s.
 
May is a bit warmer than April, with temperatures in the 80s during the day and 60s at night.
 
June is still pretty hot, but not unbearable. And Charleston is a beach town, so be sure to spend some time at one of the beaches near Charleston, SC.

Charleston Has 4 Seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Marsh Hell

July is the start of the hottest months of the year. The hottest time of year continues through August to the end of September. Evenings are still usually pleasant, if a little buggy. And a significant portion of the 230 days of sunshine each year are enjoyed now. Stay in the shade as much as you can if you don’t want to sweat. The live oaks planted along the streets and White Point Gardens are a Godsend this time of year. In reality, though, no one is grossed out by people sweating because everyone else is sweating bullets too.
 
The other plus of this time of year is most of the college kids from the various universities leave for the summer. Upper King Street is not as busy, and downtown is remarkably less rowdy at night.
 
charleston beach in summer, the best time to visit charleston scMy one complaint with the end of the hottest time of the year, usually the end of August and September, is that even the ocean gets warm. The water at the beach feels like bathwater around then, which is not all that pleasant when the air is so hot. But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Charleston Events in the Summer

Major events that take place in Charleston in the summer include:
  1. July Charleston Events

    Fireworks in Charleston Harbor for the Fourth of July
  2. Charleston Events in August

    My birthday (ie: not much)
  3. September

    MOJA Arts Festival
    Taste of Charleston Festival

October is Also Pretty Perfect: Autumn in Charleston, SC

But then October comes around, and the best month of weather in Charleston. The weather is perfect, the bugs have started to die off due to the cooler nights, and ocean water is even cooling off. No flowers are blooming, but it’s finally cool enough to warrant bonfires. And October is also the start of oyster season, so roasts are possible on those bonfires you’re lighting on the beach and in your backyard.
It’s also a perfect time to enjoy local bars with outdoor seating, or Charleston breweries.
 
Pleasant weather also makes October perfect for enjoying Halloween activities like:
  1. haunted houses
  2. corn mazes and pumpkin patches at Boone Hall Plantation
October weather is usually the best, provided we don’t get another Hundred Year Flood or hurricane. Warm ocean and warm air temperature is usually high time for hurricanes and major storms. So it may not be the best time to visit (unless you have travel insurance), but if you live here (and can evacuate easily), it can be pretty awesome.
 
Hey, no place is perfect.

The Charleston Holiday Season: November and December

christmas holiday lights in marion square in downtown charleston, the best time to visit charleston scNovember and December is the holiday season. The Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park is a major draw for people from throughout the Southeast. It fits in well with the plenty of other attractions in town feature holiday activities. A historic example is the Christmas 1860 event at the Edmondston-Alston house. And just like in January, the weather is still quite pleasant.

The Best Time to Visit Charleston, SC? Just Pick One!

If you held a gun to my head and demanded to know the best time to visit Charleston, South Carolina, I would say either April, May, or October. But be ready to pay through the nose at any of the best places to stay in Charleston, SC. But in reality anytime of year is a good time to experience the best things to do in Charleston, SC.
 
Just watch out for hurricanes.

And the Best Time to Visit Charleston and Savannah?

I don’t live in Savannah. But people usually try to visit both Savannah and Charleston when they come to the Lowcountry.

Similar to my argument about summer, the Presidents Quarters Inn seems to feel pretty strongly about experiencing summer in Savannah as well. But I would say that the best time to visit Savannah is the same time as Charleston: the spring or fall.

boone hall plantation and gardens

What to Look for at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

allee of oaks at one of the charleston plantations

Any film buff visiting Charleston feels almost obligated to visit Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens.
 
The silver lining is that visiting one of the most beautiful Charleston plantations certainly doesn’t feel like a chore.
 
This antebellum era plantation is one of the oldest living, working plantations in the country.
 
Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is on Wampacheeoone Creek in Mount Pleasant. Mount Pleasant is across the Ravenel Bridge from Charleston, South Carolina.
 
This historic plantation is about a ten mile drive from historic downtown Charleston. Like a big chunk of Charleston, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens includes a huge Colonial Revival plantation home which replaced the first house on the site. The site also includes flower gardens, some slave cabins, and the famed “Avenue of Oaks”. The Avenue of Oaks is a line of live oak trees along an almost one-mile drive to the house. The trees, which line both sides of the allee, were originally planted in the year 1743.

History of Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

Boone Hall Plantation’s history begins with the earliest reference to the site in 1681.  Theophilus Patey gave a land grant of about 470 acres as a wedding gift to his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Major John Boone, that year. These initial 470 acres are what started the site now known as Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens.

The first wooden house was built in 1790. This house was a two-story, wooden building with a one-story porch in the front. The Boones focused on growing the cash crops of rice and indigo, a plant used to create blue dye in colonial America.

The Boone family was heavily influential in Charleston as well as the founding of America. Two of Major John and Elizabeth Boone’s great-grandchildren, John and Edward Rutledge, were signers of the American Declaration of Independence.

In 1817, the plantation was sold to two brothers, John and Henry Horlbeck. The brothers were prominent architects and builders in the Charleston area. The Horlbecks planted cotton on the plantation and expanded the hand-made brick-laying operation. The Laurel Hill Brickyard supplied bricks for many of the most famous historic buildings in the Charleston area.

Slavery at Boone Hall Plantation

boone hall plantation and gardens

These bricks, cotton, and gin were not produced by the plantation owners themselves, of course. All products were made by the extensive numbers of slaves typically found on Southern plantations at the time. On the plantation today sit nine of the first slave cabins on the plantation. Most can be dated back to 1790-1810.

These slave cottages are normally found along the drive to the plantation home. This was intentional. Having your slaves’ quarters lining the front drive is akin to the modern-day displays of expensive cars or other forms of wealth.

During and after the Civil War, the Horlbecks shifted production from cotton to pecan trees. By the early 1900s, Boone Hall Plantation was the largest producer of pecans in America.

Who Owns Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens?

In the 20th Century, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens shifted hands from several different families. First Thomas and Alexandra Stone purchased the plantation in the early Twentieth Century. Dimitri and Audrey Djordjadze bought the plantation in 1940. They lived there for 5 years before selling it to the current family that owns it, the McRae’s.

3 Famous Structures at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

A smoke house is also still present on the property, which can be dated back to 1750. The Cotton Gin House, constructed in 1853, is still standing, though barely. It was used as a restaurant until the building was deemed structurally unsound and not safe to enter.  Today, it sits, heavily supported. And there it will wait for an infusion of funds to repair it before the elements or an earthquake provide the final blow to its structure.

The first seedlings of the afore-mentioned Avenue of Oaks were first planted by Captain Thomas Boone, son of Major John and Elizabeth Boone, in 1743. The oak allee was not completed until 1843 by the Horlbeck family. These live oak trees are huge and cover the entrance down to the front house gates.

The house which now stands was constructed by Thomas Stone. He was a Canadian ambassador that purchased the land in 1935. He preferred a “grander style” house to the original home built on the property in the 1700s. As such, he constructed the Revival-style house which stands there today. Many of the bricks used in the construction of the house were extracted from the Horlbeck brickyard, located on the property.

5 Shows and Movies Filmed at Boone Hall

slave quarters at boone hall plantation and gardens in mount pleasant, sc, near charleston, sc

The plantation house cannot be used for filming. Yet its surroundings has been used for several movies and series. Some notables include:

  • Days of Our Lives
  • North and South
  • Queen
  • The Notebook
  • There’s No Place Like Home

Tour guides are happy to point-out filmed locations on the property. One of the most obvious is a set constructed for and abandoned immediately after the filming of Queen.

The Avenue of Oaks does seem reminiscent of the film, Gone with the Wind. In reality, Boone Hall’s allee inspired the set that was constructed in California for the iconic film.

Tom Hanks was originally supposed to run down the Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation for the film Forrest Gump. Before filming, he refused when he saw how long of a run it would be. A shorter one was found at a plantation near Savannah, Georgia. Fans of Forrest Gump would do well to visit Boone Hall to get the feel before exploring filming sites in Savannah. A top spot includes the location of the Forrest Gump bench.

Major Attractions at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

Grab a Boone Hall Plantation map to get here and explore more easily. You can also simply enjoy the various tours offered around the property.

1. Boone Hall Plantation House

Visitors are welcome to take a guided Boone Hall Plantation House Tour during their visit. The tour is about thirty minutes and gives the history of the house and all the previous owners of the property.

2. Boone Hall Plantation Avenue of Oaks

The old gigantic oak trees covered with Spanish moss make the Avenue of Oaks one of the most beautiful backdrops for a wedding party. The oak branches create a perfect canopy over wedding guests during the ceremony. Walking under them any time of year is fairly pleasant. That includes even the muggiest of Charleston summer days.

3. Black History In America Exhibit

The Boone Hall Slavery Exhibit is open year-round for visitors to this site. It was declared one of the most important African-American Historic Places in South Carolina. The exhibit is situated in several of the old slave cottages. It consists of life-size figures and audiovisual presentations. The exhibit of the African-American experience at Boone Hall Plantation has won awards for its emotionally powerful presentation. Gullah performances are often offered close to the African-American history exhibit.

4. Boone Hall Farms

The farms are the oldest surviving colonial farm and is still producing crops. It also has a farmers market which was opened in 2006. If you’re interested, it’s located across Route 17 from the farm.

5. Boone Hall Plantation Cotton Dock

This dock is ideal for wedding ceremonies. It was the venue for the celebrity wedding of Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. Even if you’re not getting married, this iconic structure overlooking the surrounding tidal marsh is still fantastic for a photo opportunity.

6. The Grounds of Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens

The plantation spans 738 acres of Lowcountry landscape. It includes naturally preserved wetlands, seasonal crop fields, ponds, and creeks. Other attractions include the Butterfly Pavilion. There, visitors can see butterflies in various stages of their lifecycles.

Plan a Boone Hall Plantation Wedding

Perfect wedding venues, depending on the preference of the couple, abound at Boone Hall Plantation:

  • The Avenue of Oaks
  • The Cotton Dock
  • The Front Lawn
  • The Back Lawn
  • The Pavilion

It costs $4,500.00 to use the Cotton Dock and – $3,000.00 to use the front lawn. The back lawn costs $3,000.00, and the Pavilion costs $2,000.00 while the creekside costs $1,500.00.

To explore the possibilities yourself, be sure to contact Natalie Knox at Boone Hall Plantation.

Visiting Boone Hall Plantation

the african-american exhibit is hosted in the old slave quarters at boone hall plantation and gardens in mount pleasant, sc

Boone House Plantation is located at 1235 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464. Check the website for Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens hours, as they change throughout the year.

Wondering how long it takes to tour Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens? It’s recommended to allot about three to four hours. In that time, you’ll be able to:

  • Tour the mansion
  • Take the open wagon tour around the entire plantation and farm
  • Explore the gardens
  • Tour the slave quarters of the Black History in America Exhibit
  • Listen to a presentation of Gullah culture

If you’re hungry during your visit, there is a snack bar and small souvenir shop. Boone Hall Plantation tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children 6 to 12, and free for children under 6 years of age. It’s actually the least-expensive of the Charleston plantations, last I checked.

Some Fantastic Events at Boone Hall Plantation

1. Boone Hall Fright Night

This October event features four terrifying attractions all on the plantation premises. Previous years’ Fright Night attractions included: the psycho clowns in 3D, Terror Trail hayride, Nightmare Manor, Horror High, and a zombie-infested town. It was a major bummer when they cancelled this event for Halloween 2016. That said, they’re promising a better event in 2017.

2. Boone Hall Plantation Christmas Events

During the Christmas season, the plantation is decorated and adorned with ornaments. Previous Boone Hall Christmas attractions included Christmas Town, Santa’s castle and holiday hayride.

3. Wine under the Oaks

This particular event is a popular one in Charleston. The Wine Under the Oaks event always features live entertainment, delicious Charleston food, a champagne tent, ice sculptures and, of course, good wine.

4. Low Country Oyster Festival

This festival is the largest oyster festival in the world and features oyster eating and oyster shucking contests.

peaches can be picked at boone hall plantation and gardens

Boone Hall Plantation Photos

Visitors are not permitted to take photos of the house, but there are plenty of opportunities to snap a few while you’re visiting. The only way to truly understand why Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is the most photographed plantation in the South is to see it. Visit the Boone Hall website photo gallery to get a feel for the property.

Even More Fantastic Charleston, SC, Plantations

No visit to Charleston would be complete without a visit to the local plantations, and there are plenty of options. A few more Charleston plantations to explore include:

1. Drayton Hall

A Palladian 18th-century plantation home, Drayton Hall is a landmark in Charleston. It is well-known as one of only three in the Charleston area that survived both American wars (the Civil and Revolutionary Wars).

2. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

This beautiful plantation is located on Ashley River and is open daily for tours. Highlights of Magnolia Plantation include the extensive gardens. This is the first recorded site of azaleas in North America.

3. Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

This national park preserves a part of the Snee Plantation of Charles Pinckney. Charles Pinckney was a signer of the American Constitution and South Carolina governor. It’s also across the road from the entrance to Boone Hall (and quite a bit cheaper, though there’s not as much to do here).

4. Middleton Plantation

This plantation houses America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens. Beautiful flowers include camellias that are over a hundred years old, magnolias and roses and many more. The sweeping view of the Ashley River from the butterfly ponds that separate the Middleton Place house and gardens from the river is breathtaking.
And be sure to explore more of the Best of Hipster Charleston website to learn all the best activities and things to do in Charleston, SC!

Photo by JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

coffee maker at one of the best charleston coffee shops

11 of the Most Fantastic Charleston Coffee Shops

 

coffee ready to be served at one of the best charleston coffee shopsThe first time I drank coffee, I felt like I could wrestle a pig–literally.
I experienced my first jolt of energy, concentration, and vigor while working at a farm in upstate New York. I had to be dissuaded from wrestling one of the pigs on the farm. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked. For this particular addiction, I moved to the right place. As is the case with any major hipster city, there are more than a few excellent Charleston coffee shops to be found.
 
I have to admit that I was not much of a coffee snob before moving to Charleston. I’m still not too elitist about my coffee choices. I admit I recently accepted gas station coffee to avoid a caffeine withdrawal headache. But I do know and appreciate good coffee, as I have to keep the beast at bay, especially early mornings.

The 11 Best Charleston Coffee Shops

Without further ado, my favorite top 10 Charleston coffee shops are:

1. Brown’s Court Bakery

This place is pretty cute. It’s a bakery within a converted Charleston single home. There are porches and an upstairs area to spread out and do some work while sipping your freshly brewed coffee or tea. Brown’s Court Bakery also has some fantastic baked goods like baguettes and macaroons, many of which sell-out early in the morning. This is the place I frequented almost daily back when I was unemployed. Of the Charleston coffee shops, this one is the best place to work, though socializing is not frowned-upon.

2. Kudu

This was one of the more unique business combinations in Charleston when it first opened. Kudu is both a coffee shop as well as a bar, though it closes at 9 pm. Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer offers the typical fare of any coffee shop like ham and cheese croissants. As their name implies, they also have a sweet craft beer selection to enjoy any time of day. The outdoor patio is a fantastic place to relax, or read. There’s no Wifi at Kudu, so work is difficult to do here. But that’s the point.

3. Black Tap

Kudu probably has the best atmosphere of the Charleston coffee shops downtown. And yet, Black Tap Coffee arguably has the best coffee. This place is down on Beaufain Street. I sometimes take a stroll down here on Sundays to read the New York Times, which is free and readily available on the tables. Their pour-over coffee is considered the best by all the Charleston coffee snobs I know. Other popular items include the China Black Tea and Iced Vanilla Latte. That said, the space is a little small with seating that fills up fast.

4. City Lights Coffee

This quaint little place is on Market Street, close to the Charleston City Market. Run by an Irishman, it has the feel of an Irish pub or cafe. City Lights Coffee is usually the go-to place if I’m starting to feel drained in the touristy part of historic downtown Charleston. It beats the Starbucks a few blocks away, hands down.

5. The Daily

work station all set up at brown's court bakery, one of the best charleston coffee shopsLocated on King Street where the North and South-bound parts of Route 17 split into separate by-passes, The Daily is the epitome of cool. You can sit outside in a fairly exposed outdoor seating area, or enjoy the industrial-style though open interior. Besides their hot and iced coffee, their smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, and especially their bread is not to be missed.

6. Bearded Cafe

Recently opened up on Spring Street is the Bearded Cafe. The friendly (and bearded, of course) staff serves local King Bean coffee. All coffee is served using the elite pour-over technique style of serving coffee. With specials every weekday and special discounts hidden in some sleeves of your drink, the Bearded Cafe is worth checking out when you’re exploring the area. The Bearded Cafe is near Xiao Bao Biscuit and other nearby Charleston casual restaurants in the hip Elliotborough-Cannonborough neighborhood.

7. Tricera Coffee

This little cafe close to the Cistern of the College of Charleston campus has taken an owner’s obsession with triceratops to a whole new level. The entire cafe is themed around the dinosaur, with fossils decorating the walls. Tricera Coffee offers some things one expects at a coffee shop. It also has more unique offerings like a saffron latte, an egg sandwich on an everything bagel, or even a glazed donut sandwich on the menu.

8. King Street Cookies

Although the name implies otherwise, King Street Cookies has some great coffee. It also makes a point of highlighting that its coffee is local and a better experience than the Starbucks on the other side of Calhoun Street from it. And you can feed your sugar addiction after taking care of your caffeine addiction with one or more of their dozens of varieties of cookies.

9. Harold’s Cabin

Up by me, this is a recent addition to the restaurant and coffee shop scene in Charleston. Bill Murray’s new restaurant at the corner of Congress and President, Harold’s Cabin has some of the best coffee in Charleston. And its atmosphere is great for relaxing, though I suspect ordering a coffee, whipping out a laptop, and getting to work may not be encouraged.

10. Collective Coffee Company

coffee maker at one of the best charleston coffee shopsTricera Coffee replaced Collective Coffee Company at its downtown location. That said, the Mount Pleasant coffee shop is still doing quite well. The industrial feel of the interior of the Collective Coffee Company is hip, and features all the classic menu items one expects to find at a coffee shop. It also offers breakfast and lunch everyday. The friendly and helpful staff at Collective Coffee will help regulars and newbies to the rotating collection of Counter Culture coffees and Rishi teas. In this hipster’s opinion, Collective Coffee Company is arguably the best coffee shop in Mount Pleasant, SC.

11. Charleston Coffee Roasters

If you’re looking for another locally-produced coffee from here in Charleston, Charleston Coffee Roasters is made on Huger Street. It’s right next to Palmetto brewing company. While their product is available in most grocery stores in the area, their brand is more often found in local Charleston restaurants like:
  1. Fish
  2. Five Loaves
  3. Graze
And there you have it, this hipster’s favorite coffee shops in Charleston, South Carolina (and nearby). Personally, sitting and reading with a cup of coffee is one of my favorite things to do in Charleston, SC.
 
So grab a book from one of the nearby used book stores in Charleston and head to one of these chill, relaxed, and above all hip locations to imbibe your favorite caffeinated beverage. Preferably before you bite someone’s head off.

 

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Ghost Tours in Charleston, SC

ghost tours in charleston sc

When I was little, I was really into ghost stories. As is the case with most people, I loved the adrenaline rush from fear. I also both hated and loved the vagueness of the stories: whether they were real or no.
 
Later on in life, I had the benefit of living in some of the most haunted places in America. And Charleston, South Carolina, is high on most lists related to hauntings and ghosts. And there are some fantastic ghost tours in Charleston, SC, that take advantage of the depth of local lore.
 
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, ghost stories are one of the last forms of oral history passed down in modern American society. The legends that survive the times are testament to what a local culture values and abhors. As such, they’re one of the most fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night.
 
As one of the oldest cities in the country, there is a fair amount of ghastly history to sift through, like:
  1. New Orleans
  2. Baltimore
  3. Savannah, Georgia

Common Places to Find Ghosts in Charleston, South Carolina

Historic downtown Charleston, SC, is believed to be a hot bed for ghost activity. Some of the most common places for sightings include:
  1. The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
  2. Various Charleston city graveyards, like the Circular Church graveyard and St. Philips Cemetery
Some of the best places to stay in Charleston are supposedly haunted, such as the Battery Carriage House Inn.
 
Beyond downtown Charleston, many of the Charleston plantations have their own ghost stories. The most common ones for ghost legends (which you can hear on plantation tours) are Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation.

Some Great Choices for Ghost Tours in Charleston, South Carolina

Some cool options for ghost tours in Charleston include exploring the local graveyards and the Old Charleston Jail. You could also take a carriage ride or plantation tour, but the ghost side of things would need some self-guided touring. Many carriage and plantation tour operators avoid talking about the paranormal side of the Lowcountry. Seeing as not everyone believes in ghosts and children are often on these tours, that seems pretty fair.

The 5 Best Charleston Ghost Tours

Alright, so what tour companies offer the best ghost tours in Charleston? All will touch upon some of the most famous ghost stories of Charleston, including that of John and Lavinia Fisher and Stede Bonnet. Usually it’s more a matter of which haunted venues in which you’d like to get spooked. From a Charleston graveyard tour to a haunted tour of the Charleston jail, you’ve got plenty of options.
 
Keep in mind that I don’t work or have any relation to these companies. I try to keep prices up to date, but check with the individual tour companies. Prices and availability change, of course.

Bulldog Tours

graves in a graveyard, explored on one of the best ghost tours in charleston sc

Bulldog Tours is a premier Charleston tour company that’s received many awards over the years for its tours. Guides take the curious on walking tours around downtown. Tours start from their headquarters on Anson Street, near the Historic Charleston City Market. Bulldog Tours has exclusive access to some of Charleston’s most popular haunted attractions. Some of the big draws include the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and the Old City Jail.

Charleston Ghost & Graveyard Tour

The Charleston Ghost & Graveyard Tour is highly regarded. It takes visitors through the shadowy churches, alleys, and graveyards of Charleston for about 90 minutes.

Haunted Jail Tour

The 45 minute Haunted Jail Tour explores the Old City Jail. This is one of those things you cannot miss when you’re on vacation in Charleston. To be fair, it’s also good if you live here and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Built in 1802, the Old City Jail has held notorious or misunderstood personalities in Charleston’s history from the Fishers to Denmark Vesey. An evening tour of this Charleston attraction–known as one of the most haunted places in America–is just plain spooky.

Darkside of Charleston Walking Tour

The Darkside of Charleston Walking Tour guides visitors through a brief and uncensored introduction to Charleston. Get the low-down on Lowcountry’s experiences of:
  1. corruption
  2. prostitution and brothels
  3. crime
  4. scandals throughout its history
Bulldog Tours offers its ghost tours most evenings, with a starting charge of $25 per adult, and $15 for children 7 to 12. Other tours on offer include culinary and history tours.

Holy City Walking Tours

One of the newer tour companies in Charleston, Holy City Walking Tours claims to offer the best ghost tour in Charleston. The walking ghost tour starts on the third floor of the Lagunitas Taproom, another one of America’s most haunted buildings. It then guides visitors through many of the top haunted attractions on the peninsula such as the Battery and White Point Gardens.
 
Tours start at $18 per person. Holy City Walking Tours also offers a Walkthrough History, Sunset Tour, and a Battery Walk.

Walks of Charleston

Established in 1994, the Ghosts & Legends of Charleston Walking Tour is Charleston’s first year-round walking ghost tour. And it remains highly acclaimed to this day. These tour guides have the right to take visitors to the Unitarian Church Graveyard among other spooky attractions.
 
This walking takes about 90 minutes, starting on Pinckney Street and ending at Waterfront Park. Other potential stops may include:
  1. the Old City Market
  2. the Wagener Building
  3. St Philip’s Church
  4. Philadelphia Alley
  5. Unity Alley
  6. the Old Exchange and Provost Building
Visitors may have the pleasure of learning about Gullah superstitions as well as a variety of Charleston ghost stories. Tickets start at $20 for adults, $12 for children 7 to 12, and free for children 6 and under . This tour is great for families and makes for one of the fun things to do in Charleston, SC, with kids at night.

Where to Find Charleston Ghost Tour Reviews, and Groupon Discount Tickets

street lights against the night sky on ghost tours in charleston scLooking-up reviews of Charleston ghost tours is pretty easy on the likes of TripAdvisor or YelpBefore you spend your money, after all, it’s a good idea to find what you feel will be the best Charleston ghost tours based off of reviews.
 
Groupon also still offers deals for ghost tour tickets, click here to see one deal for Charleston ghost tour tickets from Groupon.

What About Other Fantastic Charleston, SC, Tours?

Tours in general are pretty popular here in Charleston, and not just ghost tours. One of the best things to do in Charleston in general is to enjoy one of the carriage tours through downtown Charleston.

What Are the Best Carriage Rides in Charleston?

The answer to this question depends on what sort of an experience you’re hoping to have. What you see on your carriage ride is a complete crapshoot. There are 6 different carriage routes authorized by the city of Charleston. Routes are handed out at random at the beginning of the tour. These were instituted to limit the number of horse-drawn carriages tying-up traffic on downtown streets at any given time. The silver lining of this set up is that one Charleston carriage ride won’t cover everything.

Palmetto Carriage Works

All tour guides in Charleston have to study a thick book of local knowledge and take a pretty serious test before they can give tours to visitors. Supposedly, only the most qualified tour guides become carriage tour guides. Of those, only the best work for Palmetto Carriage Tours.
 
Located at the big red barn on Guignard Street, Palmetto Carriage Works mostly uses mules to pull their carriages. Mules are supposedly smarter, stronger, and more heat-tolerant than horses. They’re also more stubborn, so there’s that.
 
This is the carriage tour company that locals recommend when they have guests. Another bonus is their parking lot. Reserve a carriage ride with them and enjoy 4 hours of free parking in their lot close to the Old City Market. You’ll be able to keep poking around downtown before and after your tour.

Old South Carriage Company

This company is known for their guides wearing Confederate uniforms complete with a sash around the waist. Located a few steps away from Palmetto Carriage Works, the Old South Carriage Company offers a similar experience to Palmetto Carriage Works. The tour company guides are arguably better dressed guides. Their preferred draft animals are beautiful Percheron and Belgian draft horses. Old South Carriage Company and Bulldog Tours have been awarded best in Charleston by the Charleston City Paper.

Private Charleston Carriage Rides

Want intimate, private carriage rides in Charleston, South Carolina? Options include:

Charleston Carriage Ghost Tours

For those looking for carriage ghost tours in Charleston, SC, options are fairly limited. In fact, they’re likely non-existent with the closure of Olde Towne Carriage Company.

Some Awesome Charleston, SC, Plantation Tours to Enjoy

spooky charleston plantation field, could be a sighting on ghost tours in charleston scOnce you’ve exhausted the tours and sites of downtown Charleston, the next step is often to go farther afield. I recommend the various plantations near Charleston. While these tours are not likely to mention ghosts, they offer some interesting information on:
  1. slavery in the South
  2. the lives of slaves and slave-owners
  3. the annual growing season in the Charleston area
A few of them are still working farms, which offers another level of interest. Some other plantations close to Charleston include:
  1. Drayton Hall
  2. Magnolia Plantation

Which Plantations Should I Visit in Charleston, SC?

The answer to that question depends on what you, personally, find interesting:
  1. Magnolia for the gardens
  2. Drayton for the architecture
  3. Middleton for the views (and garden)
  4. Boone Hall and Magnolia for the full plantation experience and working farm
While this ostensibly started as a guide to ghost tours in Charleston, it expanded out to a guide to all the possible tours in Charleston:
  1. carriage
  2. plantation
  3. ghost
You’re welcome.
 
And if you’re tired of spending money, be sure to check our list of our favorite free things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

 

the fountain at Hampton Park in Charleston, SC

Is Hampton Park in Charleston, SC, Actually Worth a Trip Up Here?

entrance to hampton park in charleston, sc

The best things in life are free.
And if they’re not free, then at least cheap.
And that’s the case with Hampton Park in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.
While officially not in the historic downtown Charleston district, Hampton Park is still on the peninsula. There’s no question Hampton Park is high on my list of the best free things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.
The park sits between 3 neighborhoods and the Citadel Military College:
  1. Hampton Park Terrace
  2. Wagener Terrace
  3. North Central

Welcome to Hampton Park of Charleston, SC

This is by far my favorite park in Charleston. At 60 square acres, it’s the largest park on the peninsula. It’s not the largest in the city of Charleston, an honor that goes to West Ashley Park out past I-526. Still, it’s nice to have a park within walking distance on peninsular Charleston. Best of all, you can go to the middle of it and not see any accoutrements of city living. The major exception is the power lines that cross the middle of the park, but you can just ignore those.

A Little Hampton Park History

Hampton Park has a pretty long history in Charleston. It was first part of a plantation owned by John Gibbes. It was known to locals as the “Orange Grove Plantation” or just “The Grove”. After the Revolutionary War, locals called the area the town of Washington.
 
When the plantation was subdivided into lots in the 1800s, the South Carolina Jockey Club purchased a large tract. They used the land to create a race track for racing fanatics of the 1800s to watch the horses. The track is still traceable today. Circular Mary Murray Boulevard traces the outline of the track around the perimeter of Hampton Park.
 
During the Civil War, the racetrack turned into a camp for Union Prisoners of War. Hundreds of these men died of exposure and disease. They were buried in a mass grave under the park. As soon as the War ended, former slaves built a fence around the grave and held the first Memorial Day parade. By 1871, the cemetery fell into neglect, and the bodies were moved to Beaufort and Florence cemeteries.

Hampton Park in the Early 20th Century

After the South Carolina Jockey Club disbanded, the racetrack passed to the Charleston Library Society. Hampton Park was then the site of a Trade Exposition in the 1920s. The Expo lasted only 7 months despite a visit from President Theodore Roosevelt. Two buildings survive from the financial disaster that was the Exposition:
  1. the grandstand
  2. a former tea room that is now the City Parks Department offices
former foodstand at hampton park charleston scAfter the Exposition, the city of Charleston gave the park the name Hampton Park. The name comes from Confederate General Wade Hampton III, who was Governor of South Carolina after the War. The city also engaged John Charles Olmsted, adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted. Frederick Law Olmsted was the famous designer of municipal parks in America, including Central Park in New York City.
 
John Charles Olmsted designed a spectacular garden that would have stretched all the way to the Ashley River. That part of the plan foundered when the city sold 200 acres of waterfront property to the Citadel. The Citadel Military College used it to expand away from its old property by Marion Square.

Hampton Park in the Late 20th Century

In the mid-20th Century, Hampton Park was beautiful and even included a city zoo and aviary. Most of the animals were from the area (including a lion). The zoo fell into decline in the 1960s and the remaining animals were relocated to Charles Towne Landing in 1975.
 
The 1970s and early 80s were a low point for the park, though the city began devoting more resources to Hampton Park around that time. The city replanted the garden beds, made efforts to reduce crime, and returned the park to its former glory.

Hampton Park Today

Today, Hampton Park is again gorgeous. Beautiful old trees and rich plantings line the various alleys, walkways, and avenues of the park. Visitors can walk along the perimeter road of Mary Murray Boulevard. Mary Murray Boulevard is almost exactly a mile around, making it a perfect running trail. There are two parking lots along the track: one by Moultrie Street, one closer to the Citadel.
 
But head deeper into the park to find different exercise stations, as well as the McMahon playground and playing fields. My favorite attraction at the park is the sweeping lawn on the western end of the park. The middle of the park includes a big pond with an impressive fountain, bridge across the pond, and a lot of ducks. Hampton Park used to be the location of the Piccolo Spoleto Finale. That event grew too big for the park and has since moved to Middleton Place.

The Beauty of Living Near Hampton Park

the fountain at Hampton Park in Charleston, SCThere are plenty of opportunities to get lost in the well-planted nooks and crannies of Hampton Park. This off the regular tourist path Charleston attraction is worth checking out while you’re visiting downtown. Even just bringing a hammock or lounging in the grass is a splendid way to spend the afternoon.

The Benefits of Hampton Park Real Estate

Hampton Park neighborhoods are more lived-in than some neighborhoods further down the peninsula. Many of those are over-run with either the super wealthy or college kids (and sometimes both).
 
Even this far up the peninsula, houses are stupid expensive. But Hampton Park neighborhood rentals are still reasonable.

Restaurants and Bars Near Hampton Park

Some cool places to check out nearby include Hampton Park’s own tavern, Moe’s Crosstown. Moe’s Crosstown Tavern is in my humble opinion one of the best bars in Charleston, SC. A Tuesday afternoon spent in Hampton Park followed by a hamburger on Half-Priced Burger night at Moe’s would be an amazing Tuesday indeed. Walk up another block to visit the Park Cafe,.
 
You can also check-out Harold’s Cabin, the newest addition to the list of casual restaurants in Charleston. Harold’s Cabin just opened a few blocks down from Hampton Park at the corner of President and Congress Streets.

Hotels and Places to Stay Near Hampton Park in Downtown Charleston, SC

Part of the beauty of the Hampton Park neighborhoods is how not touristy they are. As such, there aren’t any hotels within a short walk.
 
That said, there are places within a 20-minute walk or so. The chain hotels near Brittlebank Park on Lockwood Avenue. Other chain hotels on Upper King Street are likely the next best options. While chain hotels, they are some of the best places to stay in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

How to Plan a Romantic Hampton Park Wedding

An evening stroll is one of the most fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night. But in reality, walking around Hampton Park anytime is a fun and free thing to do for couples.
 
Fitting for a romantic locale, Hampton Park is also ideal for a Charleston wedding. Getting married in Charleston parks is relatively inexpensive. The big bonus with this park is that it’s not as touristy. Hopefully there won’t be as many dudes wearing fanny packs under their guts to match their socks and sandals ruining every photo of your wedding. As a bigger venue, Hampton Park also allows more people. Weddings are limited to just 30 people (including the bride and groom) at White Point Gardens. By comparison, weddings as large as 100 people are held at Hampton Park. A permit to hold your Charleston wedding at Hampton Park requires an event permit of $400 from the city of Charleston.

All of the Best Things to Do in Hampton Park, Charleston, South Carolina

central walkway to the pond at hampton park charleston scThere’s a lot to do here:
  1. workout
  2. wander around
  3. feed the ducks
  4. get married
  5. eat nearby
 
Or just chill out on the grass while you’re exploring all the fun things to do in Charleston, SC.
 
Just sayin’.

 

friends cheering beers at a charleston bar, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at night

21 of the Most Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

evening over the charleston marina, a visit here is one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightThere’s no beating around the bush: Charleston, South Carolina, has a strong connection to alcohol and dining. Most lists of fun things to do in Charleston, SC, at night often feature food and booze at the top of the list.
 
But there are lot more options for evening activities in Charleston. Sometimes you just need to do a little extra brainstorming.
 
The other option is to come back to this list (ie: bookmark it). This list started when brainstorming an evening when no one involved felt like spending money on an expensive night on the town. And everyone’s livers needed a break.

Charleston Evening Activities

While drinking is the first thing on this list, there actually are a lot of other evening activities in Charleston.

Downtown Charleston Bars and Nightlife

friends cheering beers at a charleston bar, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightYes, there is a lot of drinking that goes on here. Day drinking is a regional pastime. But the number of options for just bars in downtown Charleston, SC, feel almost limitless. A few personal favorites are mostly great dive bars in downtown Charleston, strung along King Street:
  1. Burns Alley
  2. Upper Deck Tavern
  3. Recovery Room

Charleston Movie Theaters

popcorn at a charleston movie theater, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightI am a big fan of movies, especially in theatres. A few of my personal favorite movie theatres in the Charleston area include (ordered by uniqueness):

The Terrace Theatre

This place is one of those old-fashioned feeling movie theatres. It’s small, but kind of quaint. When I mean small, it really is: the hallways to theatres are so narrow, you have to wait to be called into the actual theatre so as not to block the way. But you can see pretty standard movies at the Terrace Theatre, while still feeling quaint.

Citadel Mall Stadium

The Citadel Mall Stadium is a standard movie theatre, out by the Citadel Mall in West Ashley.

Regal Cinemas Palmetto Grand

This other chain movie theatre is out in Mount Pleasant. Located in Mount Pleasant Town Centre, I prefer Regal Palmetto Grand over the other movie theaters in Mount Pleasant.

Cinebarre

God, I can’t stand Cinebarre. And it’s for the very thing that makes them unique. Servers travel around during the movies serving food and drinks. While some people love it for how convenient it is, I find it horribly distracting. And all that food makes for a messier movie theatre. I don’t blame them for having a harder time keeping it all clean. Although they have a pretty sweet movie deal on Tuesdays ($5 tickets).

Bowling in Charleston

bowling pins and a bowling ball at a charleston bowling alley, one of the best fun things to do in charleston sc at nightBowling is one of those things people don’t think of immediately. But it can be fun, with or without food. The bowling alley in Mount Pleasant closed and was replaced by an Aldi. But there are still two options for bowling in Charleston, South Carolina:

The Alley

A bar, arcade, and bowling alley all rolled into one. The bowling isn’t cheap, but when you’re the only game in town, you make your own rules. It’s still fun, and the Alley is within an easy walk of all that Upper King Street has to offer.

Ashley Lanes Tavern

I have never been to this bowling alley in West Ashley, only driven-by. As far as I’m aware, though, these are your two options now. So, I’d be remiss in not mentioning them both. That said, I’m told this one is a little run-down.

Charleston Sporting Events

RiverDogs Baseball Game

A minor league baseball game at the Joseph P Riley, Jr. Park can be a pleasant afternoon or evening activity in the warmer months. While certain levels are more suitable for an outing with friends, seats closer to the field are better for a romantic date. Be sure to see one of the fireworks displays after a Friday night home game.

soccer ball on the pitch at a charleston battery soccer game, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightCharleston Battery Soccer Game

For such a small city, Charleston, South Carolina, has a great soccer team. Their stadium on Daniel Island is quite nice (though a little buggy in the evenings, close to the swamp). And the Charleston Battery has an ardent group of supporters that belch yellow smoke out at the end of the game. Whether you’re a soccer fan or no, this is a fun evening activity.

Mini-golf at Blackbeard’s Cove

Speaking of buggy, be sure to bring bugspray during warm months if you head out to Mount Pleasant to play mini-golf. Blackbeard’s Cove is now called Charleston Fun Park. But it’s the same thing. While this is more targeted towards children, mini-golf is fun for all ages. The course is a little run-down though. But come on, you’re not looking to play the Masters! Also, you can get a bucket of beer to cart along with you through the courses. Not bad, no?

Hipster Charleston Concert Venues

No list of hipster things to do at night anywhere would be complete without a list of places for live music. I’m not a huge fan of live music at bars and restaurants. I come to eat, drink, and socialize. I prefer to go to an actual concert venue for live music. The exceptions are when I go to a bar for the music (like Royal American or Pour House, below).

Music Farm

concert at a charleston concert venue, one of the most fun things to do in charleston sc at nightMusic Farm is a concert venue downtown between the Charleston Visitors Center and King Street. Some big names perform here, check out their events calendar to see who’s performing soon.

Royal American

This place on North Morrison Drive is the epitome of hipster cool in Charleston. And they get awesome bands and performers from throughout the States (especially the South) that perform on the little stage next to the bar. Royal American has a decor someone once described to me as a “New Orleans bar at Christmas-time”. But this bar has a lot going for it:
  1. The beer’s great
  2. The food’s even better
  3. The atmosphere is relaxed
And this is usually the place to go to see some pretty good bands before they start performing at Music Farm. Some of those bands continue to perform here even after they get bigger.

Pour House

This is a bar and restaurant with outdoor seating on James Island. The Pour House is also an awesome concert venue, with great bands and artists coming regularly. Plus tickets and covers are never too expensive, regardless of who’s performing.

Charleston Night Tours

Night is the appropriate time to take a Charleston ghost tour, of course. But you can also take evening carriage rides or historic walking tours. The plus is that it’s usually cooler at night in the summer months.
 
Maybe.

Charleston Ghost Tours

evening ghost tour, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightAnother personal evening favorite of mine is taking one of the best ghost tours in Charleston. Bulldog Tours from Anson Street near the Charleston City Market is a top tour provider in Charleston. Their Graveyard Tours or Old City Jail Tours are worth the time and money to get to spook your kids a bit.

Evening Carriage Rides

Though limited in number, there are some night carriage ride opportunities. Old South Carriage Company offers romantic evening carriage rides through downtown Charleston. They also offer less intimate evening carriage rides through historic Charleston for larger groups.
 

Charleston Sites and Attractions to Visit at Night

A lot of Charleston tourist attractions are best experienced at night: cooler temperatures, lighting isn’t as harsh, and you usually have the place to yourself.

Rainbow Row

As I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t list Rainbow Row as my absolute favorite downtown Charleston attraction. But the street lamps along Rainbow Row and the interplaying shadows are quite pretty on the walls at night. You can head down from either Waterfront Park or Broad Street to Rainbow Row, then continue on to the Battery.

The Battery and White Point Gardens

The Battery and White Point Gardens are also gorgeous at night. Visitors can stand where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet and look back at the city to see Charleston at night. To quote late Pat Conroy in his novel, South of Broad, all Charleston is “the Mansion on the River”. The city and its bejeweled mansions are lit up along the Battery and Murray Boulevard. Meanwhile street lamps light up the live oaks and promenades of White Point Gardens.

Ravenel Bridge

This is an even better place to see the lit up city spread out before you. The only drawback is that the portion of the peninsula closest to the view from the Ravenel Bridge is the port. Which isn’t gorgeous, but neither is the line of luxury high-rise condos on the Mount Pleasant side. But the harbor is lovely, and historic downtown Charleston is laid-out beyond the port. And the highway that crosses the bridge is usually much quieter at night.

Fun Things to Do at Night in Charleston, SC, for Couples

romantic lights, exploring them is one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightThere are few things better than a night on the town with your boo in Charleston. The many options for romantic things to do in Charleston at night are guaranteed to please.

Enjoy a Show at the Dock Street Theatre

The historic Dock Street Theatre has existed for four centuries in the French Quarter neighborhood. Built on the corner of Church and Dock Streets (now Queen Street), the first performance at the Dock Street Theatre opened on February 12, 1736. Take your date out to dinner at one of the fantastic nearby restaurants, then meander through the French Quarter. Bring your date up to the romantic ironwork of the Dock Street theatre with your pre-ordered tickets, and your night will be set.

Charleston Waterfront Park

While a fantastic free attraction during the day, Charleston’s Waterfront Park takes on a distinctly romantic tone at night. Wander under the live oaks, or sit on a swinging bench on the pier. You can also sit or lie on a bench next to the water and stare at the moon. Unless the mosquitos are out in full force, of course.

College of Charleston Campus

The central and oldest part of the College of Charleston campus has been beautifully restored and worth exploring. The lights and Spanish moss dripping from the limbs of the giant live oaks make nighttime at the Cistern a magical experience.

Hampton Park

60 acres large, Hampton Park is the prettiest and most relaxing park in Charleston, in this writer’s humble opinion. The circular drive around the park is well-lit at night. The major thoroughfares have old-fashioned lamps, and the central pond’s fountains run all night. That said, don’t tempt fate and wander in here after about 11 pm. Central Park’s not safe that late at night, either.

Romantic Places to Eat in Charleston, SC

Seriously, a list of things to do at night in Charleston, South Carolina, would be embarrassingly lacking if it didn’t mention the food here. There are a ton of options:
  1. wine glasses at a restaurant, one of the fun things to do in charleston sc at nightCheck out our list of high-end fine dining restaurants in downtown Charleston for special romantic evenings.
  2. There are also plenty of choices as far as seafood restaurants in downtown Charleston as well.
  3. I also personally think there are more than a few romantic choices from our list of casual restaurants in Charleston, SC.

Fun Free Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

I’ll be honest: fun and free evening activities in Charleston, South Carolina, are rather lacking. But here are two, depending on when you’re looking:

French Quarter Art Walk

The French Quarter Art Walk is the first Friday of every month. Art galleries in the French Quarter stay open later and offer refreshments to those wandering through. Wine is offered in many of the art galleries, fair warning.

Spoleto Spoleto Festival Events

Spoleto is the free version of Charleston’s world renowned arts festival, Piccolo. Free events to the public are scattered all over Charleston. Be sure to check the Piccolo Spoleto calendar of events for free evening activities.

All of the Best Fun Things to Do in Charleston, SC, at Night

And there you have it: regardless of the evening, you’re sure to have a few options to choose from off this list. Let me know of any you think need to be on here! And for the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina, anytime, check out our list.
the gardens at the nathaniel russell house in downtown charleston sc

Discover the Beauty of the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, SC

side of the nathaniel russell house in downtown charleston sc

Charleston, South Carolina, became an international tourist destination first for its historic homes.
 
Historic downtown Charleston, SC, was in poverty for so long that nothing was torn-down. In the past few decades, America has finally come around to appreciate historic buildings and its history again. And Charleston still has most of its charm.
 
Of all those historic buildings, Charleston is most famous for the beautiful (and impressive) homes on Rainbow Row and South of Broad.  There are plenty of architectural gems to keep any avid fan interested during a visit.
One of the most famous is the Nathaniel Russell House of Charleston, SC.

Welcome to the Nathaniel Russell House

While walking around town is a delight, exploring the inside of some of the most impressive homes adds another level of interest. The Nathaniel Russell House is a draw for those curious about:
  1. historic architecture
  2. historic interior design
  3. how people lived in the height of Charleston’s influence and wealth
Learning about the history of the antebellum South is definitely one of the best things to do in Charleston. It’s difficult to find examples of how the vast majority of Charleston’s inhabitants lived (the slaves and urban poor) back then. That said, there are several excellent examples of the upper crust’s lifestyle. One of the best is the Nathaniel Russell House.
 
This neoclassical styled home most famous for its flying staircase is a must see when looking at Charleston historic homes. This home is one of the best examples of neoclassical architecture in America. The home on 51 Meeting Street has been beautifully restored to its original state by the Historic Charleston Foundation.

History of the Nathaniel Russell House of Charleston, SC

the flying staircase at the nathaniel russell house in downtown charleston scNathaniel Russell and his wife Sarah Hopton occupied the home during the 1800s along with their two daughters. Mr. Russell moved to Charleston from Rhode Island. He gained his wealth as a merchant from engaging in the trade of local goods, such as exporting:
  1. cotton
  2. tobacco
  3. rice
Mr. Russell also participated in the slave trade. Mr Russell married Sarah Hopton in 1788 when he was fairly advanced in age (50), and his wife was 35.
 
Construction began on the Nathaniel Russell home in 1803 on two combined city lots. The family had moved in and was living in the luxurious rooms of the mansion by 1808.

The Nathaniel Russell House Today

The house and gardens are in pristine condition thanks to the Historic Charleston Foundation’s work. Few of the articles currently in the home were actually owned by the Russell family. And yet they are accurate to the period and many are from Charleston.
 
The home was declared a historic site in 1973, and it is one of the many stunning Charleston historic homes in the area.

The Nathaniel Russell House Floor Plan

The Nathaniel Russell house floor plan includes an oval dining room, which is consistent with the geometrical design of the home. All rooms in the house were designed in rectangular, oval and square shapes. There are many ornate decorative plaster pieces in the various rooms that extend to the ceilings.

The Nathaniel Russell House Flying Staircase

A main feature is the flying staircase, which is also called an elliptical spiral staircase. The Nathaniel Russell house staircase spirals up three floors to the roof without any structural support. The staircase consists of mahogany rails, and is a key feature of the house. It reaches up to three floors entirely without any structural support.

holidays at the nathaniel russell house in downtown charleston scVisiting the Nathaniel Russell House

The home is open to visitors, and there are no reservations required for home tours.
This writer’s favorite tour guide, Louise, is a sweet little old French lady with whom this writer would not mind being friends. If you’re wondering, yes, this writer has been here multiple times. It’s a beautiful house. And the tickets aren’t that expensive.
That said, Louise may try to convince you to volunteer for the Spring Tour of Homes if you try to make friends with her and she finds out you’re from Charleston. You’ve been warned.
During the holiday season, the exterior and interior is decorated with Christmas decor. The Nathaniel Russell House is part of the Charleston house tours offered during the holiday season. Holiday house tours feature many events planned at the various houses. The Fall Tour of Homes is also a great opportunity to see several homes over a few days.
The gardens on the property do not require a ticket to enjoy, by the way. They’re one of the best free things to do in downtown Charleston, SC.

Restaurants Near the Nathaniel Russell House

The Nathaniel Russell House is in the South of Broad neighborhood on Meeting Street. That means you need to walk up to Broad Street before you find anywhere to eat. But close-by casual restaurants in downtown Charleston include:

  1. Fast and French
  2. Brown Dog Deli
  3. Blind Tiger

Hotels and Places to Stay Near the Nathaniel Russell House

The closest bed and breakfast to the Nathaniel Russell House is the Two Meeting Street Inn. It’s a beautiful, historic mansion, and arguably one of the best places to stay in Charleston, South Carolina.

Further up the peninsula are many of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, such as:

  1. The Spectator Hotel
  2. Zero George
  3. The Grand Bohemian
  4. The Vendue Inn

Even More Historic Charleston Attractions

The Nathaniel Russell House is within walking distance of many of the best things to do in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

The Aiken-Rhett House

An individual visitor or family will want to also plan to make stops at the Aiken-Rhett house. It is now a museum. The home remained in the family for around 142 years before the Charleston Museum purchased it. It has since been owned by the Historic Charleston Foundation since 1995.
 
moss between the stones of nathaniel russell house in downtown charleston scThe home has many architectural details that make it a stunning Charleston residence. Many former Aiken family purchases still adorn the rooms. Visitors will get a glimpse into the Victorian past of Charleston.
 
Keep in mind that this home is preserved in the shape it was in when the Charleston Museum took it over. There has been little effort to improve appearances as at the Nathaniel Russell House. Work has been done at the Nathaniel Russell House to even determine what paints were used when refurbishing the old home, by comparison.
 
On the plus side, the Aiken-Rhett House offers more parts of a Charleston city plantation home dominated by the house slaves. Visitors are welcome to explore:
  1. the kitchens
  2. the stables
  3. sleeping quarters located above both those locations

More Historic Charleston Homes Nearby to the Nathaniel Russell House

More homes to tour when visiting downtown Charleston include:
  1. the Joseph Manigault house
  2. the Hayward Washington House
Travelers should also take a look at the Charleston Confederate museum, a favorite stop for any history buff. A glance inside of the Powder Magazine of Charleston should give visitors an idea of an even earlier part of Charleston’s history. The building dates back to 1713. Another attraction close to the South of Broad neighborhood is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

Fort Sumter

Other fantastic historic afternoon activities include visiting Fort Sumter. It’s easily accessible with one of the Fort Sumter Tours offered by Spiritline cruises of Charleston, SC.

Charleston, SC, Plantations

More options farther afield include the various Charleston plantations:
  1. Middleton Plantation
  2. McLeod Plantation
McLeod Plantation is a relatively new attraction on James Island. This plantation focuses on the slaves forced to provide the foundation for the elite’s lavish lifestyle.
 
While famous for its restaurants and food scene, Charleston is still an amazing destination for visitors looking to experience the antebellum South.
Photo Credits

By Elisa.rolle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

docent standing at the entrance to the old exchange and provost dungeon facing easy bay street in historic downtown charleston sc

Don’t Miss a Visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

the front of the old exchange and provost dungeon, as seen from broad street

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of the oldest buildings in Charleston.
It prides itself as the birthplace of South Carolina.
If that sounds boring, that’s because it can be.
But you can’t blame the people who work at the Old Exchange and Provost from trying to make it interesting.
Plus, the ghosts stories are kind of cool. I am a bit of a history nerd myself, so I decided to write about it.
 

Where to Find the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

This particular attraction is a major snooze-fest for some. For those with any interest in American history (or ghosts), this will undoubtedly be one of the top things to do in Charleston, SC, on your next visit.
 
The Old Exchange Building is situated in the historic downtown Charleston district. More specifically, it’s on East Bay Street at the start of Broad Street. The building is a masonry building of two stories, and is roofed with a hipped roof and fixed on an elevated brick basement. The primary facade faces west and has a three-bay triangular section at the center. The flanking walls also have a Palladian window situated on a brick base with a low railing or balustrade.

History of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Exchange building was built over a four year period from 1767 to 1771 by the provincial government of South Carolina. It was used in the 18th century for different civic functions, including:
  1. custom house
  2. public market
  3. public meeting place
  4. jailhouse
During the American Revolution, confiscated tea was stored in the building in 1774. Revolutionary leadership held councils within its halls throughout the war. After the capture of the city by the British in 1780, it became a barracks to house troops. The basement was converted into a military prison, fitting for the historic use as a dungeon. An investigation held in 2012 documented that at least 120 people were held as prisoners in the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

The Old Exchange and Provost Building in Early America

The Exchange Building was the venue which hosted the South Carolina convention which ratified the U.S Constitution in the 17th century. George Washington even hosted banquets in the Great Hall when he visited the city. The building remained an Exchange until it became a post office in the 19th Century.
 
During the American Civil War, the building continued as a post office of the Confederate States. It was abandoned after suffering damage from Union shells.

The Old Exchange and Provost Building in the 1900s

docent standing at the entrance to the old exchange and provost dungeon facing easy bay street in historic downtown charleston scIn World War I, it served as an army headquarter of General Leonard Wood and the Lighthouse Service of the US. In World War II, the exchange building was a USO facility and a canteen for the troops. It was also a Coastal Picket Station for the United States Coast Guard Sixth Naval District.
 
In the mid-1900s, plans were made to tear-down the Old Exchange and Provost building and build a gas station in its place. A vehement response from locals led to the Daughters of the American Revolution taking it over for preservation. The building has been in their care ever since.
 
The cupola of the building was first damaged in the 1800s by a hurricane while the second cupola suffered damaged from the Great Earthquake, which occurred in 1886. The third, however, was not affixed until 1981 on the opening of a museum in the building.

The Fun Stuff: History of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is actually almost 100 years older than the building above it, however. The dungeon is actually a part of the old wall that ran around the city of Charleston. The Court of Guard originally sat above it, though it was torn down and replaced by the current building with the expansion of the city.

Stede Bonnet and the Pirates of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

This was the dungeon that held Stede Bonnet, also known as the “Gentleman Pirate” and his crew before their hanging in 1718. Stede Bonnet earned his nickname for being a Barbadian plantation owner before becoming a pirate. He abandoned a life of privilege supposedly because he grew bored with his charmed life. The other theory is he left because he grew tired of his wife’s nagging.
 
Either way, Stede Bonnet became a pirate known for being relatively classy by pirate standards. He held Charleston hostage in tandem with Blackbeard, which earned him Charleston’s lasting hatred. They held the city hostage in exchange for medicine including mercury, used at the time to treat a certain ailment common among pirates. Afterwards, Bonnet and Blackbeard sailed north from Charleston towards North Carolina.

Capture, Imprisonment, and Hanging

The Charlestonian elite followed the Gentleman pirate to Cape Fear, where they did battle and brought him and his men back in chains. Bennet was initially treated with respect, and even hosted in the home of a local Charlestonian. He was placed in prison with his men after he attempted to escape (supposedly in women’s clothing). A dozen of the men were hung along with them at what is now White Point Gardens. Their bodies were left hanging as a warning to future pirates. Many claim that reminder is why pirates were never again a problem in Charleston and the coastal South.

Plan a Visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Exchange and Provost building now offers some guided tours around the building. Tours teach Charleston’s history to visitors interested in Charleston’s role in the Civil and Revolutionary wars.

The Ghosts of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Docents will tell you stories of the many people, influential or no, who passed through its halls while reenacting the period to make it feel more real. That does sometimes lead to confusion, however. Ghost stories of the Old Exchange and Provost building include visitors not being able to tell the difference between a docent dressed in attire suitable to that time and a ghost. These visitors have reported being mortified to see the docent disappear into thin air when approached.
 
But the ghosts upstairs don’t compare to the ones down in the dungeon. Prisoners in the old prisoner were often chained to the walls and left to rot. Some would drown when the dungeon flooded (which happened often, as it was below sea level). As such, there are supposedly more than a few unhappy spirits in the dungeon. It is said that the sounds of cries and moans of the prisoners can be heard from the stone walls. Some visitors also report seeing chains used to block traffic being pulled or tugged for no apparent reason. Other visitors to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon claim to have been pushed, and even choked.
 
To learn the stories of even more ghosts of downtown Charleston, sign-up to enjoy one of the best Charleston, SC, ghost tours.

Places to Eat Near the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

lunch at one of the places to eat near the old exchange and provost dungeon in downtown charleston scLike every other downtown Charleston attraction, there are plenty of restaurants for lunch nearby. Some options a stone’s throw from the Old Exchange and Provost are great casual restaurants in Charleston, SC, for lunch:
  1. Fast and French
  2. Brown Dog Deli
  3. Blind Tiger
For higher-end downtown Charleston fine dining, head up East Bay Street towards Market Street for more choices:
  1. Magnolias
  2. SNOB
  3. Poogan’s Porch
There are even nearby downtown Charleston seafood restaurants. My personal favorites nearby are:
  1. Sushi Blue (try their evening special on weekdays)
  2. Raw 167

Hotels and Places to Stay Near the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

There are plenty of nearby places to stay, including several fantastic boutique hotels. Most of the best luxury boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are within walking distance. The list of boutique hotels and bed and breakfast inns include:
  1. The Vendue Inn
  2. Rutledge House Inn
  3. The Spectator

Visit Even More Historical Attractions in Downtown Charleston

the customs house on east bay street, close to the old exchange and provost dungeonA visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is easy. An added benefit is it’s easily accessible to other downtown Charleston tourist attractions. There are plenty of other fantastic free Charleston attractions to enjoy nearby as well!

1. Ryan’s Mart

Many incorrectly believe the Historic Charleston City Market was where slaves were bought and sold in Charleston. The Old Slave Mart, or Ryan’s Mart, was actually the antebellum slave gallery for auctions, built in 1859. It is believed that this building is the last standing slave facility in South Carolina. It has been registered as a Historic Place on the National Registry.

2. Confederate Museum

 
The site of the Confederate Museum of Charleston was originally occupied by a MASONIC hall. That hall was destroyed by fire and the market hall was built in its stead. It was made as a copy of the Wingless Victory Temple in Athens.

3. Heyward-Washington House

 
This house was built in 1772. It housed both Thomas Heyward, who was the owner of the house and source of half of the name. George Washington stayed here when he visited the city and hosted those banquets at the Old Exchange and Provost building. Guess where the Washington part of the name comes from? Today, it is a museum.

4. Dock Street Theatre

This theater is situated in Charleston’s historic French quarter, a block away from St Philip’s church. The Dock Street Theatre is on the site of the first building constructed solely for hosting the performing arts in America. The original building burned down and was replaced by a hotel known as the Planter’s Inn. The site was converted into a theater in the mid-1930s. A show here is one of the best romantic things to do in Charleston, South Carolina.

5. Powder Magazine of Charleston

This building stands as the oldest public building in South Carolina. Constructed to store the city’s gunpowder, it features some unique ideas to deal with such an explosive material. Unique features include walls that angle outwards as they increase in height, and a roof with a heavy layer of sand. The wall construction was meant to direct the theoretical blast up and away from the city. The sand on the roof was supposed to quickly fall back down and help blot-out any fires started by the explosion. Neither of these features were ever put to use, however, as the Powder Magazine obviously never exploded. This building is also registered as a historical landmark.

More Charleston, South Carolina, Tourist Attractions for the History Buff

6. Drayton Hall

drayton hall plantation, another charleston tourist attraction of interest to fans of the old exchange and provost dungeonDrayton Hall is an 18th-century Charleston plantation which was designed with architectural sophistication. This building is remarkable for being considered one of the most beautiful of the remaining plantation houses. The building has not been modified for over 200 years. It still has many of the architectural details that made it a landmark example of American architecture. The mansion was built after John Drayton acquired the land in the 1700s. He invested in the highest level of architectural elaboration in constructing the mansion.

7. Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter is most well-known for its role in the first Civil War battle, as it was the first fort fired upon by Civil War soldiers. Supposedly, the first shots were fired by Citadel cadets. This sea fort in South Carolina was reduced to rubble during the War. It was rebuilt to be used as an educational center accessible only by boat.

8. Magnolia Cemetery

This cemetery is the oldest public cemetery in the Charleston area and was founded in 1849. It is sited on the bank of the Cooper River and is also listed as a Historic Place in the National Register. It is the burial place of many generations of Southern leaders, including governors such as:
  1. Thomas Bennett
  2. Horace L. Hunley
  3. Langdon Cheves
  4. Robert Barnwell Rhett
Hundreds of Confederate soldiers are also buried here, some notables include:
  1. James Conner Micah Jenkins
  2. Roswell Ripley
  3. Arthur Manigault
  4. C.H. Stevens
All these attractions like the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon make Charleston perfect for an educational vacation. Whether it’s fun or not depends on what you consider fun.

Photo by JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

the loggerhead turtle at the south carolina aquarium

14 Fantastic Exhibits to See at the South Carolina Aquarium

the loggerhead turtle at the south carolina aquarium

No trip to Charleston, South Carolina, would be complete without visiting the South Carolina Aquarium.
Opened in May of 2000, Charleston’s Aquarium inspires conservation with some spectacular exhibits.
It is home to more than 5000 animals.
This unique facility in historic downtown Charleston is both educational and entertaining for at least a few hours. It’ll keep you busy even longer if you’ve got kids. Be sure to come see why the SC Aquarium has been consistently voted one of the best attractions in Charleston for families!

A Preview of Some of the 60 South Carolina Aquarium Exhibits

South Carolina has some of the most varied ecosystems in the United States. Visitors to Charleston’s Aquarium get to experience the majority of them, as well as some more exotic locales, in the various exhibitions on site. With:
  1. a salt marsh aviary
  2. two-story aquarium tank
  3. touch tanks
  4. educational tours and programs
And much more surrounded by moving views of the Charleston harbor and the Ravenel Bridge. A visit to the South Carolina Aquarium is well-worth the price of admission. Sections of the Aquarium are divided into the major geographic regions of South Carolina:
  1. Mountain Forest
  2. Piedmont
  3. Coastal Plain
  4. Atlantic Coast
  5. Open Ocean off of South Carolina’s coast

1. Shark Shallows

The Shark Shallows is one of the first exhibits visitors to the Aquarium see from the entrance on Liberty Square. The 20,000-gallon tank features a deep end and a shallow end, designed so that visitors can touch the sharks and rays as they pass. Be sure to swing-by the touch tank by the harbor before entering the Aquarium to touch:
  1. bonnethead sharks
  2. stingrays
  3. cow nose rays

2. Touch Tank

This exhibit allows visitors to touch a variety of crabs, whelk, and sea urchins. The professional staff is always on hand to answer any questions you may have.

3. Mountain Forest

The Mountain Forest exhibit displays the natural ecosystem of the Blue Ridge mountain region of South Carolina. This ecosystem centers around Greenville. This exhibit is as close as most visitors will come to visiting an old-growth forest. The Mountain Forest features:
  1. a bald eagle
  2. a variety of different birds from that area
  3. freshwater fish found in the fast-moving streams of the mountains (including brook trout)
  4. North American river otters
A major draw of the SC Aquarium, visitors watch in awe as river otters swirl through the cold waters of their habitat.

4. The Piedmont

The Piedmont region is the foothills in the middle of the state leading to the Blue Ridge mountains. This particular exhibit focuses on the fish and wildlife of that region of the state. It also educates about South Carolina during prehistoric times. Millions of years ago, the coast was at Columbia, while all the Lowcountry was underwater. You can still find megalodon teeth fossils to this day in South Carolina.

5. Coastal Plain

The Coastal Plain exhibit showcases the fish and wildlife of the South Carolina Lowcountry. This exhibit is connected to the Piedmont section of the Aquarium. It features fish, amphibians, and plants found along the Carolina coast and in its freshwater marsh and swamp habitats. The displays even include cypress trees downed by Hurricane Hugo. It also features such reptiles as Alabaster, the albino alligator resident at the SC Aquarium. Several venomous snakes found in the state also hang out here, including the Eastern diamondback and copperhead snake. Visitors may even get to witness a Venus Flytrap in action.

6. Coast

The shallow waters along the coast of South Carolina permit a lot of varied microclimates. It’s sometimes shocking how many different varieties of sealife are found in abundance on the coast of the Lowcountry. With:
  1. shrimp
  2. crabs
  3. stingrays
  4. lobster
  5. flounder
  6. sea turtles
  7. seahorses
  8. invasive species like lionfish and many more
This is a fairly extensive exhibit.

7. Open Ocean

The SC Aquarium continues to add more attractions to this Charleston tourist attraction. Still, the two-story, 385,000 gallon Great Ocean Tank in the Ocean exhibit will likely always remain a major draw. Some of the species that may be encountered in the tank include:
  1. reef fish
  2. sandtiger sharks
  3. black tip reef sharks
  4. barracuda
  5. sea bass
  6. red drum
  7. a 220-pound loggerhead sea turtle named Caretta
  8. and much more!
Other tanks surrounding the Great Ocean Tank include such fish as scorpion fish, moon jellyfish, dog chain fish, eels, and black sea bass.
 
The divers who clean and maintain the tank are known to entertain aquarium-goers while they’re in the tank. The diver will carry his trumpet around with him in the tank and play it during performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. The Weeki Wachee mermaids have also been known to make an appearance in this giant tank.

8. Saltmarsh Aviary

Another semi open-air exhibit, this is one on the top floor of the South Carolina Aquarium. The Saltmarsh Aviary shows-off a lot of coastal birds in the Carolinas including:
  1. herons
  2. egrets
  3. pelicans
It also features:
  1. pufferfish
  2. blue crabs
  3. diamondback terrapins
  4. stingrays
All swimming around in a 6,000-gallon stingray tank. These tanks are surrounded by pretty spectacular views of the Charleston harbor, by the way. You’ll notice that the tanks in the coastal bird habitat are lacking in small fish. All fish small enough to be scooped-up by a pelican bill were hunted-out shortly after the recent introduction of the pelicans. Much to the chagrin of the keepers, pelicans eat a lot in a day. They do appear to be gaining their own following at the SC Aquarium, so it’s not likely they’ll be gone soon.

9. Animal Care Exhibit

As one can imagine the veterinarian of the aquarium is a very important member of the team. You can learn how to treat various animals while using the mock equipment in the Animal Care Exhibit. This exhibit is a big hit for children.

10. Madagascar Journey

The newest exhibit at Charleston’s Aquarium features four unique habitats from the island of Madagascar. Almost all the species at the Madagascar exhibit are endemic to the island. As such, they’re found nowhere else in the world. Be sure to check out:
  1. The red ruffed lemurs
  2. A Nile crocodile
  3. White-spotted bamboo sharks
  4. Tomato frogs
  5. Vasa parrots
  6. Hissing cockroaches (which are actually grosser than palmetto bugs, in this writer’s opinion)
  7. Mini-gascar, a play area for toddlers
This area used to have ring-tailed lemurs, though these guys have since moved on. They were replaced by the red ruffed lemurs. You’ll be very sad if you come to Charleston and don’t see lemurs, just sayin’.

11. 4-D Theater

Other than actually going out and experiencing it in person, there is no more realistic adventure than a movie in the 4-D theater. Sit back and watch a 3-D family-friendly movie and feel as if you are in the show. While watching you will feel the effects such as ocean sprays, wind blowing across your face, even movement under your feet!

12. Carolina Seas

See an array of colorful and fascinatingly beautiful (or not, in one case) fish native to the reefs off the Carolina coast. This exhibit is in a 15,000-gallon tank situated close to the entrance of the Aquarium.

13. Backyard Habitat

This beautifully designed exhibit has plenty of native flowers and other varieties of native plant life. The Backyard Habitat at the entrance to the Aquarium offers native wildlife some shelter in Liberty Square. It also aims to give you an idea on how you can improve your backyard to attract native fauna to your backyard:
  1. native birds
  2. butterflies
  3. other pollinators
  4. insects
  5. and more

14. Sea Turtle Hospital

Pay a little extra to visit the Sea Turtle Rescue Program’s Sea Turtle Hospital on site at the SC Aquarium:
  1. $10 for adults
  2. $5 for children 3 to 12
  3. toddlers free
It’s the only facility in South Carolina devoted to the care and treatment of sick and injured sea turtles. Tours are offered daily at noon and 2 pm and usually sell-out quickly.

Visiting the South Carolina Aquarium

South Carolina Aquarium is located at 100 Aquarium Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina 29401. Also known as Liberty Square, this is the wharf from which tour ferries leave for Fort Sumter. The number for the SC Aquarium is: 843-577-3474, while the toll-free number is 800-722-6455. South Carolina Aquarium hours are 9-4 daily. It’s open 9 to noon on Christmas Eve, closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Getting South Carolina Aquarium Tickets

a shark at the south carolina aquariumThough you can pay an entrance fee for one-time visitation, if you would like unlimited access, a membership pays for itself with only two visits. Memberships allow unlimited visits for one full year from the date of purchase. You also get discounts on the Sea Turtle Hospital Tour, cafe, gift shop and more. The 4-D theater is included in your membership. Members receive a membership card and a decal for their car.
 
Some of the Membership Options Include:
  1. Family Plus – two adults living at the same address as well as any children or grandchildren you list. You also get two guest privileges for a cost of $209.00
  2. Family – two adults living at the same address and all children listed under 18 years of age for an annual fee of $169.00
  3. Grandparent – two adults living at the same address and all listed grandchildren listed under 18 years old for $129.00
  4. Individual Plus – one adult and one guest pass for $109 per year.
  5. Dual – two adults for $109.00
  6. Individual – one adult for $79.00

Daily Rates for SC Aquarium Tickets

A visit to the Aquarium is a great option for families, but it will certainly cost you a pretty penny. After all, all those animals have to eat (especially the pelicans)!
 
  1. Adult pass – $29.95
  2. Children (age 3-12) pass – $22.95
  3. Child aquarium only (age 3-12)- $17.95
Note: Members are allowed unlimited access, these prices do not affect members. Toddlers under 3 are free.

South Carolina Aquarium Parking

The city of Charleston has opened a parking garage at 24 Calhoun street, a short walk from the entrance to the Aquarium. Metered parking is available along Washington and Concord streets.

South Carolina Aquarium Events

The South Carolina Aquarium is a beautiful venue for a wedding and wedding reception. With the Great Ocean Tank or views of the Charleston harbor as a backdrop, there’s no question it’s a pretty fantastic place to hold your wedding. Contact customer service for availability and price.

Places to Stay Near the South Carolina Aquarium

The South Carolina Aquarium is within walking distance of most of the hotels and inns in historic downtown Charleston. A few of the best boutique hotels in downtown Charleston, SC, are especially close:

  1. Zero George
  2. The Dewberry

Slightly farther away (though still close) include most of the best places to stay in Charleston, SC:

  1. The Francis Marion Hotel
  2. The Restoration on King

South Carolina Aquarium Jobs and Internships

As is the case with any place as awesome as a zoo or aquarium, jobs at the aquarium are hard to come-by–people who hold positions here rarely want to leave. Plus, there is always a ready supply of people looking to work here when there are openings.
 
But there is the internship route for young people in the Charleston area who are interested in volunteering. Every year, 10 eleventh grade students are selected to enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity to intern at the South Carolina Aquarium. There are actually quite a few opportunities, check the website for details.

Is There a South Carolina Zoo?

There is a South Carolina Zoo, sort of. The closest thing to a South Carolina Zoo would be the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s about an hour and a half drive away from Charleston. As far as other places to see animals near Charleston (outside of parks), other options are:

1. Riverbanks Zoo

The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a 170-acre zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden on the banks of the Saluda River in Columbia.

2. Charles Towne Landing Zoo

This 22-acre historical animal forest is one of a kind at the site of the first settlement in the Charleston area by the English. This zoo at Charles Towne Landing shows species of animals that lived in the Lowcountry when European settlers arrived. Some of the animals that can be visited here include:
  1. turkeys
  2. white-tailed deer
  3. skunks
  4. bobcats
  5. mountain lions
  6. bison
  7. black bears
  8. more North American river otters!
And farm animals like pigs, sheep and goats.

3. Edisto Island Serpentarium

This unique facility has an indoor area, gift shop and a variety of shows and lectures. It features snakes, sea turtles, alligators, and lizards. Check the Edisto Island Serpentarium website for times, shows. You’ll sometimes find discount ticket prices there, too.

4. Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry

This is a fantastic child-friendly attraction in Charleston and close to the SC Aquarium. The Charleston Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is a hands-on museum for children 10 and under. They feature a variety of shows and learning adventures.
And once you’ve finished exploring these fantastic kid-friendly attractions in Charleston, SC, be sure to see our list of the best things to do in Charleston, South Carolina!
rainbow row in charleston sc

Why is Rainbow Row So Famous in Charleston, SC?

rainbow row in charleston sc

I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t understand why Rainbow Row is such a big deal. The line of colored buildings are pretty to look at the first couple times you see them. But there’s no long-term appeal of this historic Charleston tourist attraction.
 
I actually joked with a friend the other day that I am tempted to dress as a homeless person and hang out at Rainbow Row. I could then force people to pay me not to be in their pictures of the site. But that would go against one of the tenets of Charleston: being one of the friendliest places in the world.
 
So instead I’ll just write about Rainbow Row and give you a better idea of what to look for while you’re there. As you walk by, slowly. That first visit will be enough. I don’t hate Rainbow Row, I just think it’s not a place to linger for too long. There are so many other attractions around Broad Street to occupy your time, like the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.

Alright, Fine. Add Your Photo to the Pile of Rainbow Row Images

Rainbow Row is arguably iconic Charleston. It is one of the most photographed locations in all Charleston, South Carolina. In my opinion, it is a place to stop and take one photo to put on Instagram to prove you’ve seen it.

Other Nearby Iconic Charleston Points of Interest

the pineapple fountain in waterfront park, near rainbow row in charleston scYou can then continue your walk to nearby attractions like:
  1. The Battery and White Point Gardens

  2. The Edmondston-Alston house

  3. Waterfront Park and the Pineapple Fountain

That said, Rainbow Row is always included in the list of the top 10 things to do in Charleston, SC. It’s consistently right alongside the Charleston City Market, Fort Sumter, and Magnolia Plantation. And checking-out Rainbow Row is one of those few free things to do in Charleston.

Rainbow Row History

Rainbow Row dates back to around 1740. The line of Georgian row houses fronted the Cooper River when they were first built. There are a few local legends on why the houses were first painted such bright colors.

Why is Rainbow Row Painted in Rainbow Colors?

One theory relates to the various stores owned and operated on the street. When the homes were first built, merchants operated shops on the first floors of the houses. They then lived on the upper floors. Different colored homes allowed slaveowners to send illiterate slaves to the correct building for the days’ purchases.
 
Another theory for the colors of Rainbow Row was to help visiting drunk sailors. Different colors told them which building they were sleeping in when they stumbled back from the taverns.
 
Still another theory claims that European settlers from Barbados introduced the practice from their home islands of painting their homes bright colors. The practice helps keep the houses cool on the inside in the hot Barbadoan. And the practice seemed to work quite well for Lowcountry summers, as well.
 
Either way, there was a local tradition of this line of 13 homes on East Bay Street being painted bright colors.

Later History of Rainbow Row

rainbow row in charleston sc as seen from a horse carriage tourThe row of houses fell into disrepair after the Civil War.
 
They remained in a sorry state until Susan Pringle Frost, founder of the Preservation Society of Charleston, bought six of the houses. Her first purchases were 87 and 91 East Bay in 1920.
 
Ms. Frost was not capable financially of restoring all the houses. And yet, she did set the precedent for turning-around the neighborhood.
 
Dorothy Haskell Porcher Legge purchased the houses numbered 99 through 101 East Bay Street shortly after. She painted her houses in a colonial Caribbean theme, a practice her new neighbors followed when restoring their homes in the 1930s and ’40s.

Are Any of the Houses on Rainbow Row for Sale?

Today, Rainbow Row real estate is some of the most expensive real estate in Charleston. Condos in these homes, most of which share walls with their neighbors, can be worth millions of dollars.
 
Personally, I’d rather not spend all that money to have tourists gawk at my house all day, but I’m no fiduciary.

The South of Broad Neighborhood Around Rainbow Row

There is some appeal to living on that little stretch of housing north of Tradd Street and south of Elliot Street, though.
  1. Taking a stroll around the South of Broad neighborhood
  2. Exploring the local art galleries
  3. Meandering up to the Dock Street Theatre across from the Huguenot church
All have a certain appeal. Plus, you’d have the pride in knowing that your home is among one of the most important examples of historic Charleston architecture. That’s big for a city well known for its architectural importance in American history. But still, that’s a lot of money, ignoring the money pit those historic houses are to maintain in their pristine conditions.

The Darker Side of Rainbow Row Charleston’s History

the battery near rainbow row charleston scIf you’re visiting Rainbow Row, Lowndes Grove, or any other attractions in historic downtown Charleston, don’t forget the obvious. Namely, that the wealth and culture of South Carolina was derived from the hard work of thousands of enslaved.
 
After you get your pictures and see how wealthy folks lived in historic Charleston homes, check out monuments to the former enslaved population. Nearby attractions include Ryan’s Mart, the only former slave-trading site still standing in Charleston.

Keep Exploring More Nearby Charleston Attractions

But be sure to snap your own pictures of Rainbow Row while you’re visiting Charleston, SC. And keep exploring more of the Best of Hipster Charleston for more recommendations on what to do here, like the best shopping in downtown Charleston, SC.

Photo courtesy: John Hoey/Flickr

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