Top Things to See, Do, and Eat in Charleston, SC

Nestled in the heart of the Lowcountry — and filled to the brim with history, culture, and beauty — Charleston, South Carolina seamlessly blends rich heritage with a modern vibrancy.

With its cobblestoned streets, stately architecture, incredible food and music scene, and mild, pleasant weather, there’s a reason it has been hailed as the #1 Top City in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast, and Southern Living combined.

As custom luxury home builders in the Charleston area for almost 50 years, we’ve seen how Charleston has evolved yet still maintained its otherworldly charm. As locals, we’ll guide you through this historic city to the must-see attractions, activities, and culinary delights that make Charleston such an exceptional destination. 

Let’s uncover the essence of this Southern gem and discover why it stands out as a haven for those seeking an enriching and delightful way of life.

Top Things to See in Charleston

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1. Rainbow Row

A stroll along Charleston's historic Rainbow Row is like stepping into a vibrant watercolor painting. This iconic series of pastel-hued Georgian row houses is a delight and shows a portion of the city's architectural charm.

Located along East Bay Street, Rainbow Row is a must-see for those seeking a picture-perfect glimpse into Charleston's historic district.

2. Shem Creek

For a taste of local life and views, head to Shem Creek. This waterfront area isn't just a picturesque backdrop; it's a hub of fun activities right on the water, lined with restaurants, bars, and plenty of people-watching.

You’ll see locals gathering for a sunset happy hour, and you’ll often catch glimpses of dolphins as they play in the water during the spring season.

There are plenty of spots to dock your boat and enjoy the natural beauty of the marshlands. Don't forget to explore Shem Creek Park and take a stroll on its winding nature paths for a firsthand experience of Charleston’s unique ecosystems.

3. Boone Hall Plantation

Step back in time with a visit to Boone Hall Plantation, one of America's oldest working plantations, and a reminder of not only the beauty of Charleston’s history but its complexity, too.

The historic Avenue of Oaks is draped in Spanish moss for a truly magical feel among the meticulously preserved grounds. There are several options for tours to explore the area’s antebellum charm and a view into Southern plantation life.

4. Daniel Island Park

If you’re looking for a quiet, slow, serene escape from the daily grind, Daniel Island Park is a must-see destination. With its well-manicured land and inviting ambiance, you can enjoy a leisurely walk along the nature paths, for a truly peaceful retreat among its lush greenery and scenic water views.

Whether you're an avid nature enthusiast or simply seeking a slower pace, Daniel Island Park offers a refreshing oasis within the city.

“There is no city on Earth quite like Charleston. Wandering through its streets can be dreamlike and otherworldly, its alleyways and shortcuts both fragrant and mysterious, yet as haunted as time turned in on itself.”

– Pat Conroy, American Author

5. Beaches Galore

From the pristine shores of Sullivans and Isle of Palms to the lively atmosphere of Folly Beach, each Charleston beach has its unique charm.

If you’re looking for a quieter escape, head to Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island. All beaches are within a short drive from Charleston, meaning you can get the perks of city life and escape to the beaches anytime you like. 

Top Things to Do in Charleston, SC

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Charleston's vibrant scenery is the perfect landscape for outdoor activities you can enjoy with your friends and family. Here are some of the top things to do that will make your Charleston visit unforgettable.

Rent Bikes and Explore Downtown

Want an option other than walking? The city's compact layout makes it perfect for renting bikes and enjoying a leisurely afternoon ride.

Pedal down Waterfront Park for gorgeous views of the water and Charleston’s maritime history, or bike through the enchanting streets of historic downtown. The Spanish moss that drapes the antebellum architecture adds a magical and ethereal touch to the already stunning neighborhoods.

Glide past the Battery that’s lined with grand historic homes on the promenade, and catch glimpses of White Point Gardens and the iconic Pineapple Fountain as you pedal along this picturesque path.

Tours & Sightseeing

Exploring Charleston's rich history through guided tours offers a unique blend of sightseeing and in-depth insights into the Lowcountry's compelling story.

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Coastal Expeditions

For even more fun on the water, renting a kayak and exploring the Charleston waters is a must. You’ll get an up-close view of the biodiverse coast and witness the unique ecosystem that surrounds Charleston. Paddle through serene waters, encountering the natural beauty that makes this coastal city so enchanting.

Charleston Harbor Tours

Whether you want to explore Charleston via a sailboat cruise, a carriage tour, or even a historical tour, Charleston Harbor Tours helps connect you with it all. You can schedule day trips and even book private events to help make any celebration or visit even more memorable.

Sunset Picnic at Pitt Street Bridge

Escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston for a tranquil sunset picnic at Pitt Street Bridge.

Bring your dogs along for this local favorite spot, where you can unwind, enjoy some sandwiches and wine, and witness the sun dip below the horizon. Immersing yourself in the warm glow of the setting sun is truly one of the most peaceful ways to end the day.


A Live Music Haven

Charleston's soul is intertwined with the rhythm of jazz, a genre deeply rooted in the city's history. If you enjoy live music, Charleston has plenty of that to offer you. Some of our favorite venues include:

  • Forte Jazz Lounge: A family-friendly venue located in the heart of King Street, reminiscent of the classic New York-style jazz clubs at the height of the genre’s popularity.

  • The Blue Note Bistro: One of the newer live music venues in Charleston, The Blue Note offers delicious local eats and a cocktail and wine bar for a lively evening of music and Southern charm.

  • Credit One Stadium: If you’re into larger concerts, Credit One Stadium hosts artists that tour nationally and internationally and adds to the city's vibrant music scene.

If music festivals are your thing, you’re in for a treat. Charleston hosts an array of music festivals throughout the year with an eclectic mix of genres that celebrate its diverse music culture.

The High Water Festival is one of the most celebrated music festivals in the Lowcountry, as well as the Charleston Jazz Festival, the Charleston Bluegrass Festival, and the highly touted Spoleto Festival, founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, featuring 150 performances in opera, dance, and theater.

If you enjoy live music and performance, then you're in for a treat with any of these festivals.

Top Things to Eat and Drink in Charleston


Charleston's culinary scene is truly one of the best in the world. It’s a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation and offers something for every palate, from down-home Southern cooking to James Beard Award-winning establishments.

Let's explore some of the must-try dishes and where to savor them.


Charleston's coastal location makes it a haven for seafood enthusiasts, and when it comes to oysters, the city reigns supreme. Dive into the briny delights at renowned establishments like:

  • The Darling Oyster Bar: Located on the hustling and bustling King Street, the ambiance of The Darling mirrors the freshness of their seafood. You simply cannot go wrong here.

  • 167 Raw: This is a seafood gem tucked away on East Bay Street, known for its intimate setting and expertly crafted raw bar offerings. It’s the perfect blend of local charm and culinary excellence.

  • Leon’s Oyster Shop: One of the more casual spots in Charleston, their oysters (and fried chicken) are spectacular nonetheless. It’s perfect for a weekend brunch with the family — just make sure to get reservations, as spots fill up fast.

  • Bowen’s Island Fish Camp: Nestled on the marshy edge of Bowen's Island, this iconic fish camp is celebrated for its unpretentious charm, offering a laid-back atmosphere to savor freshly harvested oysters, fried seafood platters, and stunning Lowcountry views. It’s a rustic waterfront spot that captures the true essence of Southern seafood dining. 

Shrimp and Grits

No visit to Charleston is complete without savoring the iconic shrimp and grits. You can indulge in this quintessential Southern dish at:

  • Poogan’s Porch: The historic charm of the venue is matched only by the richness of their flavors. Aside from the shrimp and grits, grab an order of the fried green tomatoes and their fried chicken. To die for.

  • Page’s Okra Grill: Classic comfort food meets Lowcountry charm. Grab a table for some seriously finger-lickin’ shrimp and grits and unparalleled Southern hospitality.

  • 82 Queen: Here, the marriage of shrimp and grits is an art form. Nestled in a restored 18th-century carriage house, it’s a perfect spot for lunch, brunch, or dinner.


For those craving a succulent cut of steak, Charleston boasts an array of top-notch steakhouses and restaurants.

  • Hall’s Chophouse: An upscale steakhouse celebrated for its prime cuts, exceptional service, and a lively, welcoming atmosphere that embodies Southern hospitality. It’s the type of place that’ll have you loosening your belt after the meal.

  • Oak Steakhouse: Nestled in a three-story historic building on Broad Street, Oak offers a sophisticated dining experience with a focus on expertly grilled steaks, strong martinis, and a diverse selection of fine wines. Pro tip: Get the cornbread — the recipe is a secret, but we’re convinced they add pure magic to the batter.

  • High Cotton: Say hello to Southern charm and refined cuisine. The menu features inventive twists on classic Lowcountry dishes, all within a beautifully restored historic building.

General Restaurant Gems

  • Chubby Fish: A champion of sustainable seafood, Chubby Fish offers dishes like the Crispy Lionfish Tacos, showcasing the chef's commitment to local, fresh ingredients, and a creative twist on coastal flavors.

  • The Obstinate Daughter: Located close to the beach on Sullivan's Island, The Obstinate Daughter features popular dishes that marry Italian-inspired flavors with Lowcountry charm. Try the Ricotta Gnocchi and the Rutledge pizza.

  • Frannie & The Fox: Located inside Hotel Emeline, Frannie & The Fox blends modern and Southern influences in dishes ranging from seafood to meatballs to pasta, and offers a taste of contemporary cuisine within a stylish setting — great bar, too.

  • Southbound: Located in a beautiful, two-story Charleston home with a patio ready for dining, Southbound captures the essence of Southern comfort. Their menu changes often to include seasonal, fresh ingredients, but their commitment to quality and their delicious flavors are always consistent. 

  • Muse Restaurant & Wine Bar: Take a stroll on Society Street and you might miss this unassuming but charming restaurant tucked away in a historic home. They maintain several signature dishes throughout the year (try the scallops or the braised short ribs), but they too change their menu according to the seasons.

Coffee & Sips

Not only is Charleston iconic for its beauty, charm, and food scene — its coffee scene is nothing short of spectacular. We’ll edit down this list otherwise this blog might be 12,000 words long.

Here our the top Charleston favorites (we’ve also added in a few cocktail spots, just in case):

  • Kudu: Nestled in the heart of historic downtown Charleston, Kudu is a beloved coffee shop known for its European-style ambiance and artisanal coffee offerings. Grab a to-go or stay a while — they have ample seating on their outdoor patio.

  • Baba’s: With two locations (one on Cannon Street and one on Meeting Street) Baba’s is a trendy coffee shop that goes beyond the ordinary, offering a unique blend of coffee, Middle Eastern-inspired treats, and a vibrant atmosphere, making it a popular spot for a laid-back sip. Craving wine? They’ve got that, too.

  • The Daily: Situated on Upper King Street, The Daily is a multifaceted gem serving as a coffee shop, cafe, and marketplace. This stylish spot caters to diverse tastes with its fresh-brewed coffee, gourmet sandwiches, and a curated selection of artisanal goods. If you’re an avocado toast aficionado, this is a must-try place.

  • Harken: Tucked away in the historic district, Harken is a chic coffee shop known for its minimalist design and dedication to quality coffee. With a focus on sustainability, Harken offers a tranquil space to enjoy expertly crafted coffees and beverages.

  • Second State: Found in the heart of downtown Charleston, Second State is a sleek and modern coffee shop that prides itself on its specialty coffee drinks and contemporary atmosphere. 

  • La Patisserie: Situated in the luxurious Hotel Bennett, La Patisserie is a French-inspired bakery offering decadent pastries and desserts. After you satisfy your sweet tooth and caffeine cravings, hop on over to the champagne bar for happy hour.

  • Gingerline: Embodying a fusion of Asian flavors, Gingerline is a chic and stylish spot with coastal-inspired plates and fantastic cocktails.

  • Citrus Club: Perched atop The Dewberry Hotel, Citrus Club is a rooftop lounge with gorgeous panoramic views of Charleston. Offering craft cocktails and a sophisticated atmosphere, it's a perfect place to watch the sunset.

  • Clerks Coffee: Hotel Emeline makes its second appearance on our list with its built-in coffee shop, Clerks Coffee. It’s a cozy spot that lacks no charm, and it’s a fantastic place to stop in for a caffeine fix and enjoy the ambiance.

Charleston Food and Wine Festival

Charleston is a city that loves to celebrate, and food festivals are a testament to this spirit. For a truly immersive experience, indulge your taste buds at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival, which features world-class chefs, winemakers, and foods from local, national, and international cuisines.

Gullah Cuisine: A Taste of Cultural Heritage

Charleston's allure extends far beyond its cobblestone streets and antebellum charm — it offers a truly unique gastronomic journey through the rich and vibrant world of Gullah cuisine.

Rooted in the Gullah Geechee culture, a community of African descendants residing along the coastal areas, Gullah cuisine is a testament to resilience, history, and the blending of diverse culinary influences. It has become a captivating attraction in Charleston, drawing both locals and visitors alike.

A Fusion of Heritage and Flavor

Gullah cuisine, at its core, is a celebration of heritage and a fusion of culinary traditions. Emerging from the Gullah Geechee people's deep connection to the land and sea, the cuisine seamlessly blends West African, European, and Native American influences.

Its distinctive dishes, like red rice, okra soup, and Hoppin' John, showcase the region's historical reliance on rice plantations and the abundant seafood found in the Lowcountry.

The use of fresh, seasonal vegetables and the creation of one-pot wonders further underscore the communal nature of Gullah dining, inviting people to gather, share stories, and savor the robust flavors crafted over centuries.

Cultural Identity on Every Plate

Gullah cuisine is not just a meal; it is a cultural experience that serves as a living link to Charleston's complex history. The dishes, often passed down through generations, carry the stories of resilience, adaptation, and survival.

This rich culinary tradition is a magnetic force that draws those seeking an authentic taste of the city's roots. Gullah cuisine's influence on modern Southern cooking further cements its status as a culinary attraction and brings a soulful, flavorful addition to Charleston’s booming food scene.

If you’re interested in carrying the flavors of Charleston's rich heritage into your own kitchen,  pick up the classic Charleston Receipts Cookbook. Originally published in 1950 by the Junior League, this recipe book is a timeless collection of 750 traditional and historical recipes from Gullah and Charleston traditions. 

It’s a great way to embrace the Southern hospitality of Charleston while hosting guests and gives plenty of opportunities to indulge in the joy of preparing classic Southern bites. This cookbook is a cherished piece of Charleston's culinary legacy and brings warmth, tradition, and a taste of history to every meal.

High Appeal in the Lowcountry

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It’s readily apparent that Charleston is a destination that cannot be missed. With its vibrant dining scene, diverse music tastes, and gorgeous nature and architecture, there’s a sense of community that underlies everything Charleston is known for.

If you’re thinking of visiting or even building a custom home in Charleston, you’re opening yourself up to a world of beauty, leisure, and a blend of excitement and tranquility.

Charleston invites you not just to witness but to immerse yourself in its narrative — a narrative of timeless grace, vibrant culture, and an unparalleled fusion of nature and history.

Until your next visit, or if you’re ready to talk ideas for building your dream home, send us a message. We’ll get you started on making Charleston living a reality.


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