Updated: May 21, 2015
Charleston South Carolina VacationOne of the nicest cities to visit in the southeast is Charleston, South Carolina. The Historic District of Charleston is the reason most people visit, with rows of lovely southern mansions set on a scenic peninsula that juts out into Charleston Harbor. Chosen for its protected location with easy river and ocean access, Charleston is bordered to the west by the Ashley River, and to the east by the Cooper River. Back in the early days of the colonies, before there were good, reliable year-round roads, river and sea traffic were the main avenues for moving goods around. Locating plantations along rivers made for an easy way to bring crops to market. If you're arriving by plane, you'll land at the Charleston International Airport, located just a short drive outside of historic Charleston off the Mark Clark Expressway (I-526, which connects with I-26 that takes you right into the city). There is convenient cab service for the quick ride into the city. For help on planning your trip, check out CharlestonCVB.com for information on where to stay, where to dine, what to see and do, etc.
Charleston WeatherOne thing to consider before heading for Charleston is the weather. Being in the south, the heat and humidity can be pretty oppressive in the warmest summer months. The waterfront location helps a bit with ocean breezes, but you need to consider how you will feel schlepping around all day in the hot sun, covered in sweat as you do your sight seeing. In January and February, you can expect highs of about 60F. March is usually in the high 60s, while April is usually in the mid 70s. May has highs into the low 80s already, while June, July, and August can average close to 90 most days. By Sept. Charleston is usually back into the mid 80s, and into the 70s again by October and into November. The best time to visit is thus in the spring or fall, when you can still enjoy warmer weather. Our last visit was in January, which brought us a mixture of sun and clouds, with temps around 60-65 -- cool enough that you needed a jacket at night, but not too bad for walking around and seeing Charleston.
What to do in Charleston?We recommend that you plan on spending two entire days in the historic district of Charleston. This will give you time to spend a lot of time walking around the town. The historic district is not big -- about a 1 square mile area. We recommend picking up a walking tour map or book, and following 2 or 3 to see the historic sites and read up on the history of the city and some of its homes. There are organized walks you can take as well, such as CharlestonWalks.com, which offer a number of 2 hour guided walks. They offer such things as the Ghost and Legends Walk, Historic Homes Walk, Civil War Walks, and the Charleston Walk. Most of the walks are about $10-15 per person, except for the home walks which include admission to the homes and cost about $10 more. Personally, we like the local flavor that a guide provides, so we would splurge for one or two guided walks rather than doing it on our own. But Charleston is a city made for strolling, and you can't go wrong adventuring out on your own either. You'll want to be sure to fit in at least 1 or 2 home tours as well, since Charleston is filled with historic homes, most of which are lived in by current families and are not just museums. Some of the most popular home tours include the Edmonston-Alston House (21 East Battery, looking out over the water), Nathaniel Russell House, Aiken-Rhett House, and the Heyward-Washington house. Most admission prices are around $15-$20 per house, but it is worth the cost to see the architecture and design style of these grand old homes. Be sure to include East Bay St. and the Battery area in your walks and explorations. Explore Meeting St. and Church St., and don't hesitate to explore some of the little sidestreets and alleys you come across - it's a great way to get a glimpse into some of the yards and courtyards that you miss from the main streets. One of the first things you will notice in Charleston is the unique property layouts, with house essentially turned sideways in their lots. So instead of the front door and balcony and porch facing the street, the home is turned 90 degrees and the side of the house faces the street, while the "front" opens to the driveways and alleys, or to the neighbors "back" of their house. Supposedly this was done to catch as much breeze as possible from the harbor to help stay cool in the humid summers, but you'll find houses positioned like this going all which ways with no regard to the wind -- we think that is just a legend. Whatever, it makes for very interesting designs and architecture as you stroll among the houses. If you have time, consider taking a boat out to Ft. Sumter, where the Civil War began -- you'll have great views from the harbor (see our page on Ft. Sumter).
Best Charleston Restaurants: For dinner, check out E. Bay St. or King St. for good restaurants. The area between Market and Broad St. along Bay has tons of great places to eat, whether you are looking for good southern style food, seafood, Italian, whatever. Some of our favorites include: Peninsula Grill (112 N Market St), Charleston Grill (224 King St), Magnolia's (185 East Bay Street), SLightly North of Broad (192 E Bay St), Fulton Five (5 Fulton St,), Circa 1886 (149 Wentworth St,), Cypress, and McCrady's Tavern (2 Unity Alley -- fronts Bay St. but entrance is off the alley). For good, simple BBQ ribs, try Stick Fingers at 235 Meeting St and Hasell.
Outside of Charleston, we recommend you put aside at least one more day, maybe two, to see some surrounding sites, like some of the historic Charleston plantations along the Ashley River (see our page on Charleston Plantations) or the Cypress Garden.