Well known for the exceptional charm and incredible foodie scene, Charleston SC and her beaches have been a token destination for couples, girlfriends, and families alike. The Southern character oozes from the colorful homes, lush gardens with ornate gates, and towering church steeples. The Holy City welcomes visitors from all over the world who amble down the historic streets or ride in one of the old horse drawn carriage tours.
There are a variety of places to stay downtown that are perfect for a long weekend. If you want to stay longer, I recommend staying near one of the surrounding beaches and choose a day or two to drive into the downtown area for day trips. This post will highlight the many activities of downtown Charleston, but also the wonders of the Charleston beaches.
Getting To Charleston
If you are on the east coast, you can have a nice road trip to Charleston and hit other highlights in NC and SC along the way. Parking can be pricey at hotels in the historic district, so be prepared for that. If you are just there for the day, consider parking at the visitor center for $4 every 2 hours. The airport sits just northwest of downtown. If you plan to visit/spend time out at the Charleston beaches you will want a rental car, but if you are just there for a long weekend for downtown activities Uber or a taxi would be best.
Best Time to Visit Charleston SC
There is no wrong time to visit this charming city. The winters are mild and the crowds are nowhere to be found, but you won’t get much enjoyment at the beach from November-February. March to May is wonderful in terms of weather and the crowds will pick up some, but we love to visit in spring (aside from the spring break weeks). The flowers are bountiful and beautiful and it’s a joy to do a garden tour during these months. June through September can be brutally hot downtown, but the beaches are the best on the East coast. If you can deal with the crowds and the waits at popular restaurants, summer can be an awesome time to visit. Late September and October are stunning weather and less crowds and often you can still enjoy the beach with residual warm ocean waters.
Where to Stay in Charleston with your Teens
People flock to Charleston for different reasons, but this little peninsula is so walkable and so compact that eventually you will end up doing most of the things on your list, of course depending on the amount of time you have. A few ideas of where to stay include The Vendue near Waterfront Park, The Indigo Inn or The Mills House Wyndham, both in the heart of the city or The Hyatt Place near the airport.
Where to Stay on the Surrounding Beaches
After years and years of vacationing at the various beaches surrounding Charleston SC
What to do in Charleston
⇒Shopping: The first place you will read about shopping in downtown is on King Street. The long, historic street offers both chain retail stores as well as unique boutique shops. Here are a few of my favorite local spots…
⇒Carriage tour: If there is any activity you spend money on, definitely take a carriage tour. We do this nearly every time we venture downtown, which is at least once a year. Every tour guide is different and you can have a different experience each time. At times we’ve had a very local perspective, one time a humorous guide, and some are super detailed with their history and factoids. Accept that you cannot choose which type you get and enjoy the experience you are given. This is a great activity to do the first day you are in town so you can get an overview of the peninsula and get your bearings.
⇒Ghost tour: These tours are a fabulous nighttime activity, especially if you are uninterested in the typical nightlife. This is probably not a good activity for littles, but older kids (above age 12) would likely enjoy this a lot. As a small group, you will trek along on foot and listen to ghost stories that coordinate with certain homes and locations. Don’t forget your bug spray.
⇒Garden/Home tour: Another walking guided tour that is one of the most sought after activities, but are typically only offered in Spring (March) and fall (October/November). The Charleston Garden Club and the Preservation Society both offer tours. If you are a garden lover, we also recommend Middleton Place.
⇒Fort Sumter: If you have a history buff in the family the boat ride and self guided tour out to Fort Sumter will give a wealth of Civil War history, not to mention give you wonderful harbor views of the Holy City.
⇒Things to do in Charleston SC with kids include the Pineapple Fountain near Waterfront Park, The SC Aquarium, and the City Market. You can take a drive out to John’s Island to visit the famous Angel Oak Tree, too! There are also harbor tours and sunset cruises that teens would enjoy.
Activities for Teens in Charleston
If your teenagers are looking for some other activity options that give a little more adventure we have two ideas. A kayak tour in the blackwater swamp is a very cool experience with easy paddling, wildlife, and an incredible serene nature immersion. Take your teens to SUP in Shem Creek across the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant. Sunset is a great time if you want the possibility of paddling with dolphins, but another popular idea is to go when there is a full moon!
∞Isle of Palms & Beach
Isle of Palms is a an easy drive from downtown, through the town of Mount Pleasant, SC and across the IOP connector. This Charleston beach is a classic destination. The island is made up of predominantly rental homes, some with beach access and some with intercostal waterway access. There is a marina and a wonderful golf course located at a development named Wild Dunes. Our family has vacationed here a multitude of summers and we love the vacation feel and close proximity to Charleston. There are a few restaurants here including Coda del Pesce and Acme Lowcountry Kitchen.
∞Sullivan’s Island & Beach
Sullivan’s is adjacent to Isle of Palms and there is a bridge/connector between the two. Sullivan’s is much smaller and is filled predominantly year-round or semi-year round residents. There are rentals available, but most are for month long stays. We love Sullivan’s for day trips because it is much quieter and less touristy feeling. You can make a stop at Fort Moultrie, as well, for a history lesson and sweeping views of the ocean. There are several restaurants on the island, our teens favorites are Poe’s Tavern and Home Team BBQ.
Folly Beach is also a quick drive across the area of Charleston known as James Island. Folly Beach has mostly rental properties and is fairly well built up with a lot of tourists attractions and restaurants, ice cream places, etc. Try Lost Dog Cafe for breakfast and The Crab Shack for dinner. On the far end of the beach is a county park that is beloved. We have never vacationed here, but my parents have and enjoyed it as another, cheaper option amongst the Charleston beaches.
Seabrook is a private island community that hosts beautiful homes that are typically semi year-round residents, a few year rounders reside as well. This island is perfect for those who like to ride bikes, paddle kayaks through the marshes or spend quiet days on the beach. There is no public access to the beach here and you can really tell the difference. If you enjoy the private club and golf feel and want to be in a home to relax and get away from it all, this is a great spot. Getting to downtown Charleston is not nearly as convenient as the above mentioned beaches, but you could make a day trip there. There are a few restaurants available in the community and you can make a quick hop over to Kiawah’s restaurants, but going into downtown Charleston would be a challenge.
∞Kiawah Island Resort & Beach
Kiawah is another larger resort island community that boasts an incredible golf course, a top notch hotel (The Sanctuary) and spa with the most amazing brunch buffet as well as world class tennis facilities. There are some year rounders here, but there are quite a few rentals here. This Charleston beach does not accommodate many rentals that are beachfront, but many of the rentals come with a golf cart to get you to the beach. Biking is a huge part of the lifestyle here so bring your bikes or rent some! The restaurants on the island are fabulous and you may not even care to make your way downtown. This resort island is truly like a paradise and is especially wonderful as a romantic getaway for a long weekend OR an incredibly week for a memorable family vacation.
Charleston Indoor Activities
If you are looking to stayed entertained on a rainy day, check out bowling at The Alley or go see a movie at The Terrace. The Gibbes Art Museum and the Charleston Museum offer wonderful exhibits. Charleston can be enjoyed indoors as well as outdoors.
Best Charleston Restaurants
There are SO many restaurants to choose from with every kind of taste bud in mind. It’s nearly impossible to select the very best. Here is a short list to get you started for your main three meals in a day.
Breakfast: You can go for a heavy first meal of the day at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, or go lighter at adorable coffee shop Harken Cafe. Miller’s All Day is a favorite brunch spot located in the French Quarter.
Lunch: Butcher & Bee has an eclectic menu of sandwiches, salads, and sweet treats located in the northern area of downtown. If you’re into oysters, you will definitely want to consider Leon’s.
Dinner: Chubby Fish is all the rage right now with its innovative seafood plates. A true Southern meal can be enjoyed at Husk or 82 Queen, which are on the same street block. If it’s a steak you’re craving we highly recommend Halls Chophouse for an outstanding dinner experience.