The Best City Guide to Historic Charleston, SC by a Local

One of the most historical cities in the United States, Charleston is the perfect place to take a gentle step back to see what makes the South so special.

All the hype about Charleston is true, it’s one of the most history-rich cities in America that will captivate audiences of all ages. Founded in 1670 as Charles Town by British colonists from Barbados, Charleston was planned right from it’s inception with a town square and streets.  Though the Civil War, hurricanes and earthquakes have taken it’s toll on the city, the people of Charleston have always paid respect to their heritage while restoring and rebuilding.   Southern hospitality abounds here and it is easy to fall under the spell that speaks of culture, civility and charm.

Map of Charleston 1711

To really get to know this city, we’ve asked a local to give you a GUIDE TO A DAY IN CHARLESTON to HELP YOU navigate the historic highlights of the city.  Even if you are there for just one day, you’ll see history peeping out of every corner of this southern gem of a town. 

Breakfast or Sunday Brunch

If this is your first time in the south, you should know that there’s one thing that they take very seriously – brunch. While it’s much more popular on the weekends, most of these restaurants offer some of their highlights from the brunch menu for weekday breakfasts. Here are some of the local favorites:

Toast of Charleston serves Southern food with a twist
Toast of Charleston serves Southern food with a twist

WEBSITE: TOAST
155 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401
843.534.0043

Located right in the heart of downtown, Toast’s Southern food is just as lovely as the atmosphere they provide. The menu boasts traditional southern food such as Shrimp Etouffe with grits topped with fried green tomatoes, crab cakes topped with a poached egg and remoulade sauce, or good ol’ homemade corned beef & hash, eggs and grits. They don’t deviate from the real deal Southern recipes – after all,  If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Although Edmund's Oast, a well known brewery since the 1760 makes it own not -to-be-missed brew, you'll want to be there for Sunday Brunch as well.
Although Edmund's Oast, a well known brewery since the 1760 makes it own not -to-be-missed brew, you'll want to be there for Sunday Brunch as well.

WEBSITE:  EDMUND’S OAST
1081 Morrison Drive
Charleston, SC  29403
843-727-1145

Edmund’s Oast goes pretty unnoticed by tourists for their Sunday brunch which, in the opinion of many locals, is their best asset.  Founded in 1760 by Edmund Egan, nicknamed in his day as “The Rebel Brewer’, this celebrated English style brewery brings out the best of European traditions upon which Charleston was founded.  And the answer is yes, you may have a beer with your brunch!

EXPLORING

Plantation Tours

Boone Hall, one of the oldest operating farms (Plantation) in the country
Boone Hall, one of the oldest operating farms (Plantation) in the country

Take the morning to explore the rich history of the most famous plantation in Charleston, Boone Hall. Located just over the bridge in the town of Mt. Pleasant, this 320 year old plantation is one of the oldest working farms in the country.  The Avenue of Oaks, planted in the early 1800’s, leads to the mansion, which was built in 1936 replacing the existing frame house. It, as well as many of the outbuildings and existing slave quarters and gardens, are open daily to tour and view .  Among their ongoing exhibits includes  an homage to Black History by showing the role black slaves played in the building of the south. They discuss their lives on the plantation from their daily life, struggles and historical progression up to current times. Check out their continual special events they hold throughout the year.

Drayton Hall in Charleston, SC is unique in that it is a Preservation not a restoration.
Drayton Hall just outside of Charleston is unique in that it is a preservation not a restoration.

Drayton Hall is different than other plantation you’ll visit down South.  It is not a restoration it is a preservation.  What’s the difference?

” In order to preserve the seven generations of history within its walls, a radical decision was made to stabilize the house rather than restore it to a particular period, and to preserve it as it was acquired from the family in the 1970s.”

They focus on the architecture, the gardens, the outbuildings and talk about how they were used, designed and maintained.  If you want to learn about how people lived back in the day, this is the place to visit. Be prepared to step back in time.

Lunch by the Water’s Edge

FLEET LANDING

Fleet Landing - a perfect place to lunch and rejuvenate before tackling the rest of the day!
Fleet Landing - a perfect place to lunch and rejuvenate before tackling the rest of the day!

WEBSITE: FLEET LANDING
186 Concord Street
Charleston, SC
843-722-8100

For a casual waterside experience, walk over from the Battery to Fleet Landing.  You will find good ol’ Southern comfort food on the menu while relaxing from your busy morning. Lunch is served from 11 am to 3:30 pm.  If you just want to grab a drink in the afternoon hours, ask for a Dark n’ Stormy or a Julep Noir.

Discover Charleston

The Battery in Charleston boast historic homes that line the waterfront
The Battery in Charleston boast historic homes that line the waterfront

THE BATTERY

Located along the water’s edge on the tip of the peninsula, Battery Park has some of the best waterfront views in the city as well as being the perfect place to discover the unique architectural history of Charleston. Bring your walking shoes as you’ll find yourself meandering down one enchanting street after another. Follow the path on the Battery and you’ll end up at Waterfront Park where the Pineapple Fountain is located. 

The Charleston Market has over 300 vendors selling everything from sweetgrass buckets to caviar & bananas!
The Charleston Market has over 300 vendors selling everything from sweetgrass buckets to caviar & bananas!

One of the most authentic Charleston experiences is the indoor markets. It’s a great place to discover both new and traditional Charleston crafts.  You’ll find a plethora of hand crafted items, Southern food and even jewelry. Ask the women who are weaving baskets along the side of the market about their craft and the generations of basket weavers that came before them and you’ll get an insight into some of what Southern life is like here in Charleston.

CARRIAGE TOURS

Taking a Carriage Tour is a great way to learn and see this southern city by the sea.
Taking a Carriage Tour is a great way to learn and see this Southern city by the sea.

After you’ve finished with the markets, you’ll find the carriage tour stands right outside. It might sound a little corny or touristy, but your guide will give you an overall narrative and the lay-of-the-land of the city.  If you’d rather walk, there are also plenty of historical walking tours available also.
Palmetto Carriage Tours
Old South Carriage Tours
Classic Carriage Tours

Old Charleston Walking Tours  (Ghost Tours)
Bulldog Tours (Discover where Carriages are not allowed)

Dinner

Poogan's Porch - Southern cooking and Ghosts, all in one place!
Poogan's Porch - Southern cooking and ghosts, all in one place!

WEBSITE: POOGAN’S PORCH
72 Queen Street
Charleston, SC
843-577-2337

Poogan’s Porch is one of the most sought-after restaurants in Charleston by tourists and locals alike. They serve farm-to-table southern food such as Biscuits & Gravy, Fried Chicken Salad,  Shrimp Etouffee .  The house itself is well known for the many spirits that are said to haunt it, one of  which is the restaurant’s namesake, a dog named Poogan.

One of the best restaurants in Charleston. Make reservations before you leave home!
One of the best restaurants in Charleston! Make reservations before you leave home!

WEBSITE: MAGNOLIA’S
185 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC
843.577.7771

Magnolia’s is the most famous restaurant in Charleston and for a good reason. They started the revolution of traditional Southern foods mixed with modern flair in Charleston serving such yummies as Low Country Bouillabaisse, Shellfish over Grits, and Butternmilk Fried Chicken. Don’t forget to ask for a side of skillet Mac & Cheese or their Brussels Sprouts Slaw. Magnolia’s is the best place to find upscale southern cooking in the heart of the city

Plan Your Trip Around These Special Events

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA

Late May to Mid-June

MOJA FESTIVAL

September through October

Spoleto Festival USA happens annually in Charleston in late May to early June. Daily festival performances in all avenue of the arts are to be seen and are held all around the city.
Spoleto Festival USA happens annually in Charleston in late May to early June. Daily festival performances in all avenue of the arts are to be seen and are held all around the city.
The Preservation Society of Charleston sponsors this annual self-guided tour of special historic homes and gardens in Charleston. You'll get a peak into what is behind the doors of homes ranging from the Colonial era to the High Victorian times.
The Preservation Society of Charleston sponsors this annual self-guided tour of special historic homes and gardens in Charleston. You'll get a peak into what is behind the doors of homes ranging from the Colonial era to the High Victorian times.
Moja Arts Festival September 27 - October 7 This year celebrates Moja's 35th year celebration African-American and Caribbean Arts. Half of the events are free and the other half have modest ticket prices. The festival venue addresses events that focus in Dance, Health & Recreation, Music & Literary Theatre, Heritage & Community and the Visual Arts. That is not to mention there is food, storytelling and children's activities, just to name a few!
This year celebrates Moja's 35th year celebration African-American and Caribbean Arts. The festival venues address events that focus in Dance, Health & Recreation, Music & Literary Theatre, Heritage & Community and the Visual Arts.

Ten little known facts about Charleston:

  1. Charleston holds the nickname of the “Holy City” because of the amount of churches.
  2. Charleston started out with a population of just about 150 in 1670 and has expanded to over 132,000 people today.
  3. The majority of the land that makes up downtown Charleston was originally marshes, giving it the nick name of the lowcountry.
  4. Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in the United States and is located in the center of downtown.
  5. Pineapples can be found all over the city as a symbol of hospitality.
  6. The first official battle of the Civil War occured at Fort Sumter, just off the coast of Charleston.
  7. Charleston serves as one of the major cruise ports in America.
  8. Some of the most well preserved houses and plantations in the United States can be found in Charleston.
  9. Many noteworthy characteristics of Charleston houses are there for spiritual reasons.
  10. Charleston has miles of beach front to enjoy on both sides of the city.