Planning a short visit to Charleston and looking for a few ideas of what you should do??
The real challenge in answering this question is limiting the list. Charleston is one of those rare places that the opportunities are so abundant, and so many of the opportunities are of such high quality, that making a short list of things to do during a quick visit is a tall task. And, if you ask 1000 different people who live in Charleston what they would suggest, every list would be different.
With that here are my quick suggestions:
if I had only one day to visit Charleston, I would spend it in the downtown historic district. Charleston is an incredibly historic area, steeped in Southern tradition and rich culture. So my first suggestion is to take in a few sites that give you a feel for the history and culture of what makes Charleston great.
Your first stop needs to be in the historic district of downtown Charleston. Just being in the downtown Charleston area is like walking into a beautiful museum filled with incredible architecture and unmatched scenery. Begin on the Battery, where you can enjoy beautiful antebellum mansions facing Charleston's magnificent harbor. Take a quick tour through the Edmonston Alston House located midway on the High Battery and learn about how this property was used to direct the siege on Fort Sumter.
From their head around the corner to White Point Gardens, a beautiful park on the point of the Battery with a rich history including pirates and ragtime bands. The location is still used today for weddings, picnics and so much more.
Take a walk down King Street. King Street is divided between upper King Street and Lower King Street, separated by Calhoun Street. Lower King is known for its incredible shopping district which includes, not only interesting one-of-a-kind shops but also art galleries and restaurants. Upper King Street has recently gone through a major transition and is now a hot destination for those looking for great restaurants and exciting nightlife.
While downtown, get lost in some back alleys. No matter how many times I visit downtown Charleston, I discover new and interesting places hidden away from the main tourist routes. The back streets and back alleys of downtown Charleston are filled with beauty, history and interesting people.
Stroll through the College of Charleston's gorgeous campus, considered by many to be the most beautiful college campus in America. As with many other areas in Charleston, you may recognize various locations on the campus from movie scenes such as in the mini-series North and South or in the movies White Squall and The Patriot.
A great park to visit downtown is the Charleston Waterfront Park which stretches an eighth of a mile along the Charleston Harbor. Relax in a swing on the pier or hop on a water taxi to Patriots Point just across the harbor, home of the Yorktown.
If you'd like to take a tour of Fort Sumter, you can get on a tour boat from downtown Charleston. There is a charge for the transportation but visiting the Fort itself is free because it's a national monument.
You could spend a month in Historic Downtown Charleston and still not see it all.
Downtown Historic Charleston is a good start but only a small part of the long list of great things to do on a day trip to Charleston.
If you're interested in plantations, Charleston has a few that are open to the public and are well worth a visit. Boone Hall Plantation is located in Mount Pleasant and is known for being the most photographed plantation in America. It has served as the backdrop for movies and television shows. Another great spot is Middleton Plantation located west of the Ashley River off of Highway 61. This beautifully maintained property includes the oldest landscaped gardens in America. It has also been used for movies such as Mel Gibson's, The Patriot.
Just down the road from Middleton is Magnolia Plantation with some of the most beautiful flowering gardens in Charleston. Adjacent is Drayton Hall Plantation, the best preserved Georgian style plantation in America.
Here are some other suggestions:
Parks – Mt Pleasant Waterfront Park and Pier, Shem Creek boardwalk, Folly Beach Pier, Pitt Street Bridge Park in Old Mt Pleasant, and Hampton Park are all worth the visit.
For great water parks for the kids go to James Island County Park, Palmetto Islands County Park (near Boone Hall in Mt Pleasant). If a 25-minute drive inland is OK, then SC's largest water park at Wannamaker County Park is a must.
Charlestowne Landing is a very nice state park and a well done historic site in West Ashley just 10 minutes from downtown Charleston where you can see remnants of the original Charlestowne settlement, a replica sailing ship to tour, and a natural zoo area with quite a few animals including puma, bobcats, a bear, and other animals once very common in the area - also well worth the visit.
Museums – The Children’s Museum (downtown) is my favorite. Don't miss the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History on the College of Charleston campus if you like dinosaurs. And, Charleston boasts the oldest museum in America, the Charleston Museum, located on Meeting Street.
Beaches – My favorite is Isle of Palms – also nice are Sullivans Island Beach and Folly Beach. Drive 45 minutes to Kiawah Island to the renowned Beach Walker Park (rated in the top ten in the US). For a very secluded feel, try Botany Bay on Edisto Island for an incredible unspoiled experience or take a boat ride out to Capers Island or Bulls Island (take the Bull's Island Ferry). Both islands are protected and totally undeveloped. It is a nice day trip to either but be sure to bring everything you need, including bug spray.
Dining – Charleston is THE culinary capital of the South. Here are just a few places I like:
Waters Edge , Blossom Cafe, Swamp Fox (in the Frances Marion Hotel - amazing chef), D'Allesandro's (great Pizza), Charleston Grill, Dog and Duck (English Pub - best fish and chips), Five Loaves Cafe, Fulton Five, Charleston Cafe (breakfast is amazing), Hominy Grill, Grill 225, Jack’s Cosmic Dogs (for a cool, George Jetson styled hot dog place), Groucho’s Deli, Long Point Grill (get the crab cakes or for brunch, get the chicken and waffles), Magnolia’s, Mustard Seed, New York Butcher Shoppe, Papa Zu Zu’s, The Wreck (best fried seafood - hidden in Old Mt Pleasant - ask me where it is because you will not find it), Bowens Island, (especially for the sunset views and the amazing oysters), Poe’s (best fish taco's) , Smokey Oak ( great BBQ) , Peninsula Grill (go when they have the Jazz), Slightly North of Broad, Poogan’s Porch, 82 Queen (get the shrimp and grits), FIG, Jestine’s Kitchen, Old Village Post House, Oak Steakhouse, Halls Chophouse, Amen Street, Virginia’s on King, Husk (voted best in the US), and Hymans Seafood, Opal, Graze, and Pages Okra Grill (outstanding local dishes).